Thursday, 04 February 2021 19:37


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While researching places in Montgomery County connected to Black history, I came across claims that enslaved people and Native Americans are buried at Pawlings Cemetery, a private cemetery near Graterford prison (marked by the blue point in the picture below).

Pawlings Cemetery

Location of Pawlings Cemetery

We know there were several Montgomery County families who had enslaved people even prior to the formation of the county in 1784. It was not until the Gradual Abolition Act of 1780 that slavery was slowly removed from Pennsylvania over several decades.

However, this was the first time I learned of an actual gravesite for enslaved people in our county. Determined to learn more, I looked through our cemetery photos at HSMC. Sure enough, I located a file labeled "Pawlings Cemetery." Back in 1978 someone got permission to go to the cemetery and take photographs of the headstones. Although not the high quality photographs you see with today's cameras, you can make out names on many of the headstones.

Ben John Eliza

Elizabeth Pawling

Then I came to the last photograph in the file. A small headstone surrounded by trees and leaves.


I could not see any writing on the stone so I turned over the photo to see what was written on the back. This is what I saw: "slave."

Liza back

I admit my heart may have skipped a beat when I read this. Who was this person and are there more at this cemetery in unmarked graves?

According to an article written by the Rev. Judith A. Meier in 2008 for the Historical Society of Trappe, Collegeville, and Perkiomen Valley, this person's name is Liza. Meier explains the Pawling family had several enslaved people throughout the 1700s. The names we know are: Jack, Bess, Cate, Jane, Bet, Oilever, Tom, Tim, Bettee, Peggee, Rose, Susannah, Johannes, Jacob, Thomas, Robert Mark, Anna Margretha, Margreth, Robert, George, Robin, Phillis, Peter, Anthony Mix, Pegg, and Margaret/Peggy. The Rev. Henry Muhlenberg conducted baptisms and marriages for some of these individuals.

At the moment, I do not know anything more about Liza or the other individuals listed in the above paragraph. I hope one day to learn more so their lives can be properly remembered.


*Please note: I do not know who currently owns/oversees Pawlings Cemetery.  It appears to be on private property so we do not advocate visiting it unless you have permission from the owners.*


Read 1574 times Last modified on Thursday, 04 February 2021 20:01