Letters to the editor

I enjoyed reading about the proposed sale of Elizabeth Farms and the history included in the article (“Selling the farm,” Oct. 9). The paragraph that mentioned how the farms were used “to grow crops and raise livestock that fed the several hundred workers under Robert Coleman’s employ” caught my attention. The impression is given that Coleman had paid employees whom he also supported with food and housing. How many of those in “his employ” were in fact enslaved Africans who raised their own food, as well as that consumed by their master? While informative, the piece glosses over the involvement of Lancaster’s Colonial elite in the African slave trade. On deposit at LancasterHistory are the fragmentary returns to the Gradual Abolition Act, a law passed in 1780 to provide transition from a slave-based economy to one using indentured servants. In 1780 we find Robert Coleman, ironmaster of Elizabeth Township identifying as his property:

— 1 Mulatto female named Bet aged 30 years, slave for life

— 1 Negro female named Jame aged 30 years, slave for life

— 1 Mulatto male named Anthony aged 17 years, servant until the age of thirty-one years

— 1 Mulatto male named Charles aged 12 years, slave for life

— 1 Negro female named Nan aged 9 years, slave for life

— 1 Negro boy named Tony aged 6 years, slave for life

The above were the returns for 1780; the law was amended in 1788 and additional entries were made. I do not want to imply that the present owners knowingly seek to hide this history. I suspect that, like other contemporaries, they are unaware of the important role enslaved Africans played in the local economy. Coleman was not the only local enslaver. A glance at the 1780 returns for Lancaster Borough (Lancaster did not become a city until 40 years later) reveals that the slave masters came from every ethnicity and were shopkeepers, tavern owners, lawyers and clergymen. 

Much as the helots in ancient Greece provided the elite with leisure time to philosophize, enslaved Africans helped to create the local wealth that produced multiacre properties for the majority community.

Leroy Hopkins, Ph.D.

Professor Emeritus,

Millersville University


Editor's note: The article mentioned in this letter has been updated on LancasterOnline.com to reflect additional historical context about Elizabeth Farms.


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