Little Africa of Northwestern Pennsylvania
In my research for the Locket Saga, I have found numerous amazing historical accounts of African Americans in America’s early history. In honor of Black History Month, this month, I have been sharing some of the accounts that I found from our history and how they relate to the Locket Saga series. This week’s subject is different because I discovered something that had been right under my nose since I was a little child, but of which I had never heard of until recently.
The Underground Railroad
Of course, I learned in grade school that the Underground Railroad was a network of secret routes and safe houses used by 19th-century enslaved people of African descent in the United States in efforts to escape to free states and Canada with the aid of abolitionists and allies who were sympathetic to their cause. The term is also applied to the abolitionists, both black and white, free and enslaved, who aided the fugitives. There is evidence that some of my ancestors may have been a part of this underground railroad or at least knew of it because just a few miles from where I grew up there had been an African American community still known by the locals as “Little Africa”.
End of the Rails: Little Africa
I learned about this place a few years ago, when my brother and I were having a conversation and he brought up the name “Little Africa”. I asked him what it was, and he told me that it was on Jackson Hill which was less than ten miles from where I grew up.
I learned that this was a community of free and escaped blacks. All I could learn from history was that this community was established in Spring Creek Township, Warren County, in Northwestern Pennsylvania prior to the Civil War where fugitive slaves were welcomed on their journey to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
Before 1850, African Americans who had escaped freely lived in that community where they built homes and established crops, not only to eat, but to sell in the market place. However, it makes sense that there are few written accounts of this place. The locals and the escaped slaves wanted to keep it secret so that slave hunters would not be able to locate the fugitives. After The Fugitive Act became law in 1850, that all changed. African Americans could no longer live anywhere in the United States without fear of being sent to southern plantations. Even Free blacks were often kidnapped, their papers destroyed, and sent south to unscrupulous slave traders.
Because of this new law, African Americans fled across the border into Canada because the British government (which Canada was a territory) outlawed slavery. The community was abandoned as a permanent settlement, but the story of “Little Africa” did not end there.
The blacks who crossed the border, continued to help other slaves escape north by maintaining “Little Africa” as a place of refuge. Former slaves who escaped north in the spring would plant crops that the slaves in the summer would cultivate and the slaves of the autumn months would then harvest. This provided slaves who went through there in the winter and those of the following year with sustenance.
Special thanks to Jan Bemis and Diane Miller for the photographs they took on their Facebook group “Wanderlost”!
Read the books of The Locket Saga
Though the Little Africa story is not currently part of The Locket Saga, I do plan to include Little Africa in a future book in the series. It will take me a while to write that book, but if you get started on the rest of the series now, maybe it will be published by the time you get to that book in the series.
In print at http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/cygnetbrown
On Kindle: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B076ZSK5PB/ref=series_rw_dp_sw
It is a fascinating part of our history, one which needs to be told and kept alive. Well done!
Sometime ago I heard about “Little Africa” and I was told it was up in a hollow somewhere near Garland in Warren County, but I have never been able to get details of its exact location. Though I have done a search many times, this site finally came up. It turns out Little Africa is located within a few miles of my daily trek to work.
I am glad that I was able to share this with you, Blake!
I live on Jackson Hill and I remember that what is now called Patchen Road used to be know as Little Africa Road. I don’t know when it was renamed but there was a sign-post for it. There are a few places where the remains of isolated buildings are found.
I would love to know more about what you know about this! The information I have been able to piece together has been spotty
I’d like more information on this place as I live in Pittsfield ty
I live here and yes it’s still called “little Africa”. There is underground railroad history here for sure. Very cool.
Is the Little Africa outside of Garland the same place of which you write?
My husband grew up on Collins Rd., Spring Creek Twp., a few miles from Little Africa. We knew where it is but not the history. Thanks for this info. I grew up at East Branch, a stone’s throw away also.
It is amazing how you live near something all of your life and never know the amazing things that occur right in your back yard! I am glad you enjoyed the article.
I know where Collins Road and Patchen Roads are. Does anyone have a GPS coordinate for where Little Africa was? Thanks!
I’m 62 and back when I was a kid Little Africa was known for it’s white sand people used to go get it there for their childrens sand boxes. Where they got it there I have no idea. They got some for my younger brothers.
Africa hill road is he steepist road in this part of the counttry maybe the whole country.
Africa hill road does not get plowed in the winter so i gets used for sled riding with snow mobiles pulling the sleds up the hill. I knew John and Lois Moravek also Clomer Woodin i lived next door o Merle Gibons clomer and i grew uptogether.
Is that the road with all the new fancy steel gates? Is someone leasing that land for hunting? I used to take care of the gas wells around there.
I knew John and Lois! My Dad went to Grange with them!
Would be great to know the location !
Read the comments! The readers add to the location information.
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