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Thursday, 28 February 2019 21:18

The Human Relations Commission

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Interior of the New York Store

One of most interesting collections we have here at the Historical Society of Montgomery County is the Leonard Friedman Papers, much of which concerns his work on Norristown’s Human Relations Commission.

Leonard Friedman was born in Philadelphia in 1918 and attended the University of Pennsylvania. He served in the army during World War II, then spent fifty years running his family’s business, the New York Store. In the 1970’s he served on Norristown’s Human Relations Commission which was created in 1966 to help the borough cope with racial issues.

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His papers have many items relating to race relations in Norristown in the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, providing a snapshot of life in Norristown during a turbulent time. One newsletter of the Interfaith Committee for Social Action describes a protest of 150 young black people at Norristown Borough Hall. At that protest Arthur Hall, a young man from Norristown, gave a speech demanding more respectful treatment from local police, questioning the curfew, and for an increase in the number of black police officers.

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Arthur Hall from the 1968 Norristown High School Spice yearbook

Another issue Friedman’s papers focus on is fair housing in Norristown. In 1969, borough council passed Ordinance 2065 prohibiting racial discrimination in housing. There’s many newspaper clippings about white sellers refusing offers from black buyers and information for realtors to prevent discrimination in housing.

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Pamphlet from the Fair Housing Committee

The Human Relations Commission was also concerned with the Norristown Area School District. Throughout the country at this time, cities tried to desegregate schools through bussing. A newsletter called "News ‘N’ Views" distributed by the school district explains six proposed ideas for achieving racial balance in NASD schools. In addition to that, Mr. Friedman himself wrote a letter to a Harold T. Huber, looking for help in redesigning NASD’s curriculum to include African-American history.

From the records, it looks like Friedman was on the Commission until 1973. There is a Human Relations Commission in Norristown today, but it was started in 2018, according to its website, so I don’t know the fate of the original commission.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 21 February 2019 21:06

“I will save my horses, or perish myself!”

 

Ned Hector

Historical marker at the site of Ned Hector's log cabin

Montgomery County has a rich history of the American Revolution. George Washington, Lafayette, and “Mad” Anthony Wayne all came through our county at some point. But today, we’re going to look a less well known soldier of the revolution: Edward “Ned” Hector.

Ned Hector first comes into the historical record at the Battle of Brandywine in September, 1777. He served in Colonel John Proctor’s 3rd PA Artillery as a teamster (wagon driver) and bombardier (part of a cannon crew). He was one of about 9000 black soldiers to fight on the American side (many more fought for the British who promised freedom) His commanding officer ordered a retreat calling for everything to be abandoned, including weapons and horses. Hector was heard to say, “I will save my horses, or perish myself.”

In civilian life, Hector had also worked as a teamster, so we can assume that he was skilled in managing horses. He not only saved himself and the horses, but many discarded weapons, keeping them out the hands of the British.

Hector also fought at the Battle of Germantown and probably served in the militia until 1780.

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An example of a cannon crew of the Revolutionary era

We don’t know exactly where or when he was born, but probably around 1744. After the war, he settled in a sparsely populated part of Plymouth township, which would later became part of Conshohocken (founded in 1850). His log cabin was at Hector and Fayette Streets. Hector St. was named after him in 1850.

In the early Republic, many veterans had trouble getting pensions from the federal government, and Ned Hector was no different. He petitioned Congress in 1827, 1829, and 1833, and was rejected all three times. In 1833, Congress did award him a one-time reward of $40. He died one year later at the age of 90.  He might have originally been buried at Mt. Zion AME Church in Norristown, but the bodies from that graveyard were relocated to Robert's Cemetery in King of Prussia.  It is most likely that his remains are there.

Sadly, his wife, Jude, died very soon thereafter (some records say one hour after Ned’s funeral and some say two days later). They probably had several children.  One son Charles married a widowed woman who had been born into slavery named Leah. Leah Hector outlived her second husband dying at the age of 108 in Bridgeport. She’s listed in the 1860 Census as a “washerwoman,” but a 1929 Times Herald article by “Norris” says that she was known for making and selling herbal medicines.

Leah Hector

There are no images of Ned Hector, so I’ll leave you with a picture of Noah Lewis, who has extensively researched Ned Hector and often plays Hector in re-enactments.  Much of the information in this article was based on Noah's work, especially his 2013 article in the Historical Society's Bulletin, "Being Edward Hector."  Check out his website: nedhector.com.

Noah

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 07 February 2019 19:53

LaMott A. M. E. Church

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Originally known as Camptown, the village of LaMott lies in Cheltenham Township, right on the border of Philadelphia. The name Camptown came from Camp William Penn, the first federal camp to train African-American troops during the Civil War. The camp was on land owned by Edward M. Davis which he leased to the federal government. He was the son-in-law of Lucretia Mott, one of Montgomery County’s most famous residents. She was a Quaker minister, women’s rights advocate, and abolitionist who also lived in Camptown from 1857 until her death in 1880.

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After the Civil War, Davis developed the land into the community Camptown, seilling land to both newly freed African-Americans and Irish immigrants. William Butcher, who worked for Davis as a farmer, was the first black man live in the area, on the street that was eventually known as Butcher Street.

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George Henry was the first black man to purchase a home in what would become La Mott, buying land in 1868. The area’s name was changed to La Mott, in 1888 when the post office opened (there was already a Camptown, Pa.). Lucretia Mott had died in 1880, and the post office was named in her honor.

In our collection at the Historical Society, we have a 75th anniversary book of the LaMott A. M. E. Church (1963). According to the booklet the church goes back to a Sunday school started in the Butcher house, which was eventually associated with the Campbell AME Church in Frankford, Philadelphia. Six members of the Sunday school organized to build the first church for $1500 in 1888. The original six congregants were William and Hester Butcher, Emanuel and Jennie Johnson, and Abbie and George Washington. The first pastor was Rev. W. H. Hoxter.

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Rev. H. D. Brown from the 75th anniversary book

Rev. H. D. Brown oversaw the building of the current church in 1911. Under his guidance the congregation grew and fundraising efforts were very successful.

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The 1963 anniversary book shows off some of the church’s various ministries such as choirs, Sunday school, and missionary societies. Many of these ministries continue at the church today which remains a vibrant part of the village of LaMott.

Published in Found in Collection
Thursday, 23 February 2017 20:59

Mt. Zion and the Roberts Family Burial Ground

By Michael Green

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This cemetery in the King of Prussia area contains not only the burial remains of the Roberts family members but also some 190 departed souls from the Mount Zion AME Church in Norristown, Pennsylvania.  The burial ground was established by Jonathan Roberts, a United States Senator early in the nineteenth century.  He died in 1854 and was buried there.  Senator Roberts made provision for the indigent to be buried in the area surrounding the central family plot.  It is in this context that we embark on the journey of those of Mount Zion who were buried or reburied in this cemetery.

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The journey those Mount Zion parishioners was a long one beginning in 1832 from the early days of the founding of the church.  According to the “History of Mt. Zion Church Anniversary Booklet” the church was organized by Mr. and Mrs. John Lewis.  The church parishioners were reportedly “runaway slaves” who liberated themselves from the South and migrated to the Norristown area by way of the Underground Railroad.

These early church pioneers established their first building at Airy and Walnut Streets in a dwelling house in 1832.  This period of self-determination of reportedly interrupted by slave owners arriving to abduct escaped bondsman and use the legal system to force their return South.  As the story goes, two escaped slaves were to be transported South after capture.  However, the local black residents and two white citizens protested.  The latter paid the enslavers $600 and $300 respectively and successfully procured the men’s freedom.  According to the church record, it was during this disruptive time for the Norristown community that a number of the church members fled Norristown to Spring Mill, some even leaving for Canada.  Members John and James Lewis held meetings and services in their residences in Spring Mill, near Conshohocken during this time.

In 1845, the church members regrouped in Norristown, purchased land, and built a one story church on Lafayette Street between Chain and Pearl.  It was from this location 190 burials were reinterred at the Roberts Cemetery after the property was sold.  The church moved in 1853 to Basin Street and again in 1915 to its current location on Willow Street.  To this day this edifice exists at the same location.

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Once the church congregation moved and with restrictions on where blacks could be buried, the bodies at Mount Zion Cemetery were removed and reinterred at the Roberts Burial Ground in the 1870’s.  It should be noted that a number of black Civil War veterans were buried there as late as 1894.  Moreover there were many Civil War veterans who were active members of Mount Zion.

In closing, the journey of those interred at Red Hill Cemetery is truly a remarkable one.  The story of the Mount Zion Church is crowned by many achievers and achievements to advance voting rights in the 1870’s, Civil Rights in the 1880’s led by Pastor Amos Wilson, as well as improvements in education and the health and welfare of citizens.  Not to be forgotten in this story is the commitment to humanity exhibited by the Roberts family whose leader years ago dedicated his land to the benefit of all.

Published in Found in Collection