History's Headlines: Saying no to slavery
Written By: Frank Whelan (Civil War Round Table Board Member)
Posted on WFMZ: Sep 21, 2019 06:00 AM EDT
On Saturday, September 14th the Quakertown Historical Society gathered to celebrate the fulfillment of a long-held dream. At the corner of 401 South Main Street in Quakertown in front of a large, stone 19th century house, they witnessed the unveiling of a Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission marker. The marker hails the home’s former owner, Richard Moore, for performing what in his lifetime was an illegal act, aiding and abetting in the smuggling of enslaved African Americans in their flight to freedom on the Underground Railroad.
In the 19th century everybody in Quakertown knew Richard Moore. He and his family were of English Quaker stock. Their ancestor, Mordecai Moore, came to America in the 18th century. He was a doctor. Richard had come to Quakertown in 1813. In 1819 he married Sarah Foulke, a member of the original Quaker family in Richland Township. An educated man, Moore taught school from 1813 to 1825. Shortly thereafter, with a growing family he purchased a pottery that had been founded by Abel Penrose along the Bethlehem Pike. It was in 1834 that his house was built next to the pottery and kiln. Moore, a devout temperance man, did not provide, as the saying then was, “spirituous liquors” to the men who built it. At a time when working men regarded receiving their “dram” of alcoholic refreshment as the norm, this was very much the exception.
By 1850 Richard Moore had a great deal to be happy about. He had two children, John Jackson and Hannah. The pottery was doing well, employing up to ten men, making it one of the largest employers in Richland Township. But Moore’s personal prosperity that year was overcome by the political events taking place around him. All eyes in America were on Washington D.C. as political leaders from the North and South once more confronted the seemingly intractable issue of slavery. The Compromise of 1820 was no longer working. Back then Founding Father Thomas Jefferson, a slave holder himself, had declared the issue like holding “a wolf by the ears, we can neither hold it nor let it go.” But finally, Senator Henry Clay, the “Great Compromiser” from Kentucky, had appeased a restive South by adding to his Compromise of 1850 a harsh Fugitive Slave Act. Although one had been created in 1793 it had largely been ignored by the free states.
But this law compelled citizens to assist in the capture of runaway slaves. It denied slaves the right to a jury trial. Those who interfered with the law were to be fined $1,000 and fined six months in jail. A series of federal commissioners was established. They were to be paid more for returning a slave to his master than letting him go free. This, some argued, made the agents round up free blacks and kidnap them and take them South. Denied the right of trial it was said that obviously a slave would lie and claim to have been free and kidnapped.
When this law became public on September 18, 1850 it brought a firestorm of protest across the North. For some people, it was less about what was happening to the slaves than the fact that other states had the right to come into free states, hunting for slaves. In 1898 Edward S. Magill, the son of a prominent Quaker abolitionist and from 1871 to 1890 president of Swarthmore College, wrote an article about Bucks County’s role in the Underground Railroad. This excerpt gets as close as we can get to Moore and his feelings at that time:
“The home of our friend Richard Moore in Quakertown was the last important station on the Underground Railroad in our (Bucks) county, and the point where the northern Chester county line and most of the Buck’s county lines converged. From his grandson, Alfred Moore, of Philadelphia, learned that Richard Moore, while not ready to unite with the early abolitionists in their revolutionary motto ”No Union with Slaveholders” still felt prompted by sympathy many years ago to aid on their way the escaping fugitives. His home soon became known to friends further South as a place where all fugitives forwarded would….