A little-known fact is that Eagle Iron Works employed a small number of paid African American workers long before the Civil War. The company’s time book for 1815-1828 records an entry that indicates simply, “Black man started Tuesday, September 10, worked 6 ½ days” (1). A later entry indicates that “J Brown, Negro, worked 23 days in July, 1824” (2). Records of the company store at Curtin Village documents the purchasing of goods by 12 African Americans over a three-year period, 1830-1833 (3).
Slavery did exist Pennsylvania, but was gradually abolished by an act passed in 1780. People born as slaves prior to that date could be held in slavery for their lifetime; children of slaves could be indentured servants until age 28 (4). There is no indication that the African American workers in Curtin were in either of those two categories, however, and it seems very unlikely. Their employment and purchases were recorded in the ledgers alongside other workers’ transactions.
Workers at Eagle Iron Works were given free lodging, either in a boarding house or company-owned houses. Whether or not the African American workers were housed in the same accommodations as Caucasians is not recorded.
1 -- Manuscript Group 155, Curtin Iron Works Records, 1810-1941: Time Book and Miscellaneous Accounts, March 3, 1815 – September 1, 1828, p 44 cited in Hodge, R E : “Guide to African American Resources at the Pennsylvania State Archives”, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, 2000.
2 – Ibid p 83
3 – Manuscript Group 155, Curtin Iron Works Records, 1810-1941: Provisions Book, August 9, 1830 – April, 1833, cited in Hodge, R E : “Guide to African American Resources at the Pennsylvania State Archives”, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission, Harrisburg, 2000.
4 – Owens, C: Pennsylvania officially abolished slavery in
1780 … “The Philadelphia Inquirer”, Feb 27, 2019
Jerry is a retired general surgeon and a new Board Member of the Roland Curtin Foundation. He has Curtin roots extending back to 1831, through four previous generations.