Contributions to Black Genealogy

Why Black Genealogy?

In Summer 2022, Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy ’24 and Zahara Martinez ’23 created this site to store their work as Black Genealogy Fellows at Swarthmore College. Here, you will find a variety of resources including Quaker manumissions, 1847 Philadelphia African-American Census data, datasets for the Association for the Care of Colored Orphans, and more. As Swarthmore was originally a Quaker institution and Quakers were detailed record keepers, all of this information comes from the Friends Historical Library at Swarthmore College. This site also includes Whitney and Zahara’s own reflections on how their work with Black Genealogy has impacted their lives.

All of the stories of Black ancestors, from the most difficult struggles to the most successful triumphs, deserve to be told. The purpose of this project is to make these powerful stories about an incredibly marginalized group available to a wider audience. We hope that any piece of information housed on this site is helpful in contributing to connecting dots in the Black diaspora through Black Genealogy.

Blog & Gallery

(left) Whitney and Zahara scanning and indexing manumissions.

(right) A look downstairs into retrieving archives from the FHL.

(left) Flipping through a book of manumissions before they are scanned.

(right) Whitney using the Bookeye to get high resolution scans of manumissions.

(Picture & Video Credits: Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy ’24)


Click here to view manumission datasets.

Click here to search for scanned manumission documents.

Manumission is a powerful part of Black history. However, it is not very most well known. Here are pieces of enslaved stories and their path to freedom.

– Whitney & Zahara

What is a manumission?

A manumission is a formal document that promises to free an enslaved person. Most manumissions follow a similar formula:

  • Name of enslaver(s)
  • Place of residence of enslaver(s)
  • Acknowledgment of the immorality of slavery
  • Names, ages, and assumed gender of the enslaved
  • When the enslaved will be free
  • Date of signature
  • Signatures of witness(es)
  • Signature of enslaver(s)

No two manumissions are exactly alike, but most follow some order of these guidelines. In many cases, some manumissions will be missing information (most often about the enslaved people). Additionally, enslavers will often keep ownership over minors until they reach the age of 21 (for men) or 18 (for women). It is important to note that while a manumission is a promise of freedom, it is entirely possible that said freedom was not fully given immediately.

(top) Manumission of Jack by Thomas Temple of Chester County, PA | 07.09.1776
(bottom) Manumission of Katherine Bynes by Christopher and Tarah Hollingsworth of New Castle County, DE | 01.08.1779

(Picture & Video Credits: Whitney Grinnage-Cassidy ’24)

History of Quakers & Slavery

Quakers have a complicated history with slavery. They are known as abolitionists, advocating for the freedom of Black people across the Americas. It is imperative, however, to dive deeper into this history and gain a thorough understaning of Quakers’ role in slavery during the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. While Quakers were widely abolitionists, it is also true that many were indifferent to slavery, participated in the slave trade, and/or were enslavers themselves. Over the course of two centuries, more and more Quakers became advocates for abolition leading up to the 13th Amendment ratified in 1865.

This image, originally a medallion, was created by Josiah Wedgwood, a British ceramics maker and abolitionist, around 1787. The image of the kneeling slave in chains asking “Am I Not a Man and a Brother?” became an international symbol of the abolitionist movement. The image was widely reproduced during the late 18th century becoming a fashionable accessory among English abolitionists.
(Source) | (Picture Credits)

Timeline of Quakers & Abolition

  • In 1676, Irish Friend William Edmunson is the first Quaker to write that slavery is unchrisitian. Edmunson highlighted the conflict enslavement created between two important Quaker beliefs: the sancity of property rights and the belief that each person should be free to explore their own relation with God.
  • In 1688, the Germantown Friends in Philadelphia were the first to bring the issue of slavery to a body of friends in the Germantown Protest Against Slavery.
  • In the 1700s, the main perspectives on slavery held that the majority of Quakers had no qualms with enslavement and did not find it inconsistent with Quaker beliefs. Others believed that enslaved people should be treated kindly but did not go as far as emancipation. Few, like Edmunson, Warner Mifflin, Elias Hicks, Abigail Goodwin, Lucretia Mott, and others were full abolitionists who moved other Quakers to manumit their enslaved people.
  • In the 1700s and continuing into the 19th century, the London Yearly Meeting warns Friends in the United States to stop participation in the slave trade.
  • In 1717, John Farmer writes Epistle Concerning Negros and presents it at Rhode Island Yearly Meeting and is disowned.
  • In 1737, Benjamin Lay publishes *All Slave-Keepers, That Keep the Innocent in Bondange, Apostates and is disowned from Philadelphia Yearly Meeting.
  • Throughout the 1750s and 1760s, John Woolman becomes an abolitionist and publishes Some Considerations on The Keeping of Negros.
  • In 1774 and 1778, many Yearly Meetings restrict the buying and selling of slaves but do not completely abolish ownership of slaves.
  • Throughout the last two decades in the 18th century, more restrictions on slave trade are put in place and many Quakers begin to petition Congress to abolish slavery.
  • In 1833, slavery is abolished in the British Empire, and in 1865, slavery is abolished in the United States after the Civil War.

Blockley Almshouse – 1847 Philadelphia African-American Census

(Above Photo Credits)

Click here to view 1847 Census Data.

Click here to view scans of 1847 Census documents.

1838 view of the Blockley Almshouse from the East bank of the Schuylkill River in West Philadelphia. Permanent Market Street Bridge shown at right.
(Photo Credits)

Free Black Americans were alive in the 1850s. Their stories are told in the 1847 Philadelphia African-American Census.

The Philadelphia African-American Census of 1847, conducted by a committee of Quakers appointed by the Meeting for Sufferings of Philadelphia Yearly Meeting (Orthodox), contains forty-three elements of information for more than four thousand households. The purpose of the committee initially was to prepare a report on the slave trade, but after further consideration, the committee determined that it was also important to examine the condition of the African-American population of Philadelphia. Their vision was both to document the existence of an “industrious and thriving” portion of that population and to discover what portion of the community may have been in need of attention and assistance. Their survey was distilled into a 44 page report published as A Statistical Inquiry into the Condition of the People of Colour of the City and Districts of Philadelphia (1849).

The census contains information from over four thousand “households,” but this does not include the many free African-Americans were living in the Blockley Almshouse at the time. This section is dedicated to Blockley Almshouse volume of the 1847 Census.

Association for Care of Colored Orphans

(Above Photo Credits)

Click here to view the ACCO datasets.

Click here to view scanned ACCO documents.

What is the Association for Care of Colored Orphans?

“The Association for the Care of Colored Orphans, also known as ‘The Shelter,’ was founded in Philadelphia by Quaker women in 1822 to care for black orphans, both boys and girls, within a nurturing, home-like environment. In 1915, it relocated to Cheyney, Pa, and became a home for girls. In 1965, its name was changed to “Friends Shelter for Girls,” and its mission evolved to serve as a home for teenaged girls. In 1981 it ceased to function as a group home and was succeeded by Friends Association for the Care and Protection of Children which functioned as an emergency shelter.”

– Association for Care of Colored Orphans