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Department 1

Civil War Institute


African-Americans have always been a part of Gettysburg’s community fabric. Slaves belonging to Samuel Gettys, the area’s first settler, arrived as early as 1762 to build one of the first local taverns. Samuel’s son James, who founded Gettysburg in 1786, also owned slaves, including Sydney O’Brien. After her owner’s death, O’Brien obtained her freedom, and in purchasing a small lot along South Washington Street helped establish the borough’s African-American neighborhood. The free black community continued to grow over the first decades of the nineteenth century as Pennsylvania’s policy of gradual emancipation effectively ended slavery in the state by the 1840s. And with uniquely promising economic, social, and educational opportunities, Gettysburg attracted black residents, free and enslaved, from a number of neighboring states. [excerpt]


This blog post originally appeared in The Gettysburg Compiler and was created by students at Gettysburg College.