Friday, February 1, 2019

Benjamin Harbeson and America's Original Sin

Any American genealogist sooner or later encounters slavery. Several of the Harbisons who emigrated to the southern states were slaveholders. But what is not generally realized is that slavery was quite common in the northern states around the time of the revolution. After independence, most abolished it, although Pennsylvania merely heavily restricted it, and did not end it until 1848.

This came somewhat brutally to my attention when doing a standard search of 18th century Philadelphia newspapers turned up the following advertisement, in the Pennsylvania Packet of Tuesday, January 29, 1782. What I find particularly disturbing is its callousness. The girl's pregnancy was actually a selling point, and Harbeson's adding he also had borax for sale adds to the ad's inhumanity.

It turns out Benjamin Harbeson was one of Philadelphia's best-known citizens, a copper- and silver-smith. His metalware is highly prized to this day. He was, reportedly, born in Philadelphia in 1727, and his ancestor therefore likely came to America at the very beginning of the major Ulster-Scots migration, or even possibly before it.

DNA suggests the Protestant Harbisons are unrelated to the Catholic Harbisons who came to Philadelphia later, and who often fought for the Union. Still, I wish I hadn't seen this.

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