Historical Markers
Freedom Road Historical Marker
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Freedom Road

Lake Erie Region


Marker Location:
US 62 Southwest of Sandy Lake

Dedication Date:
August 23, 1948

Behind the Marker

In 1820, the Pennsylvania legislature adopted a personal liberty law that aimed to protect black residents from being kidnapped by southern slave catchers. This law was amended and strengthened in 1826. Following these changes, free blacks or escaped slaves felt more confident residing in Pennsylvania.

This newfound sense of security disappeared, however, when the U.S. Supreme Court overturned the laws in Prigg v. Pennsylvania (1842). The court's decision was not a complete reversal. The ruling also established new guidelines for acceptable personal liberty provisions. In 1847, the state adopted a new version of its anti-kidnapping statute.

Southerners continued to cross the state boundary looking for fugitives, but small communities of blacks remained in places like "Freedom Road" (also called Liberia) near Sandy Lake, Mercer County; "Africa" in Washington County; "Tow Hill" in Columbia, Lancaster County; and "Wilmore" in Cambria County.

It was the 1850 Fugitive Slave Law, however, that finally changed the perceptions of many Pennsylvania blacks about their safety. The law made it easier for southerners to enter the North and recapture runaways. It authorized financial rewards for slave catchers, and severe penalties for those who helped fugitives escape (six months in jail and up to $1,000 in fines). The statute stripped blacks of rights and banned testimony from the accused fugitives themselves. The result was the near abandonment of black communities in places like Freedom Road and elsewhere.

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