The House in the Cemetery Podcast Series

Episode 3: Terms of Freedom: The African American Experience at the Woodlands (1740-1815)

Elgin Gardens Greenhouse Boston Public Library.jpg

This episode focuses on a family of African Americans that was once bonded to William Hamilton and then choose, and were chosen, to stay with him and his family, and work for him for as waged laborers. It explores the lives of Frances, George, and William Hilton, a remarkable black family with some remarkable abilities and an ethos that helped them survive and thrive in an era when the harshest and cruelest fates the world has even known could befall black people.  

The episode is designed to answer three questions:

  • How were the statuses of black men, women, and children defined within the system of slavery and indentured servitude that existing in Pennsylvania?
  • How did the black people choose to define themselves in response to the arbitrary limitations imposed on them?
  • How would you characterize the specific relationship between the Hilton family, a black family, and William Hamilton, a member of the white gentry?  

As we answer these questions, we’ll begin to understand and learn about the following:

  • The character of slavery and bonded service in Pennsylvania
  • Defining a slave, a bonded worker, and a free black
  • The Regulative Act of 1726 & The Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery in 1780
  • Statistics about the free or slave status of black people in Philadelphia and in Chester County
  • Challenges to the black family and circumstances of black women and childbirth
  • Understanding that black resistance to bonded service could manifest in multiple ways


Recommended Reading:

Dunbar, Erica Armstrong. A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City. New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Nash, Gary B. Forging Freedom: The Formation of Philadelphia’s Black Community, 1720-1840. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988.

Nash, Gary B. Race and Revolution. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 2001.

Nash, Gary B., and Jean R. Soderlund. Freedom by Degree: Emancipation in Pennsylvania and its Aftermath. New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

Library Company of Philadelphia – African American Subjects


About the podcaster: Vicrim Chima is a Tuition Scholar in his second year of study at Villanova University. He was awarded his undergraduate degree in Political Economy from the University of California at Berkeley and has spent the last 10 years practicing Historic Preservation and Urban Design in Pasadena, CA.


This podcast is part of "The House in the Cemetery" project, part of the Villanova Public History Program. More information about this project can be found here.