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A Guide to the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia

Explore historic sites that served as a refuge for African-Americans on a quest for freedom…

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Philadelphia, home of the 17th-century Quaker abolitionist movement and the city where a young Harriet Tubman found freedom, played a vital role in the Underground Railroad.

For centuries, Philadelphia’s Historic District was an active port where African individuals and families were brought to be sold, separated and sent off to enslavement.

And yet, this same district was home to the nation’s largest neighborhood of free African-Americans, the Seventh Ward (between Spruce and South Streets and 6th and 23rd Streets), and the first African Methodist Episcopal Church (Mother Bethel).

Freedom was the goal for the thousands of enslaved Africans on the Underground Railroad, a secret network of safe houses, churches and farms that offered shelter and safety, which many found in the Philadelphia region. Here, you’ll find notable Philadelphia sites and Philadelphians who bravely worked to keep the route running.

Read on to learn more about where to visit historic Underground Railroad sites in Philadelphia, and view a full downloadable guide (PDF) of all of the related landmarks, historical markers, libraries and archives throughout the region.

01

The Liberty Bell Center

Dramatic home of the internationally known symbol of freedom

The Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia The Liberty Bell Center in Philadelphia
— Photo by D. Cruz for Visit Philadelphia

“Proclaim liberty throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof” reads the biblical inscription atop the famously cracked Liberty Bell, a symbol of the abolitionist movement. Exhibits and videos trace the evolution of the Bell into an international icon of freedom.

Where: 6th and Market streets Philadelphia, PA 19106

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02

The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation

Commemorating the lives of nine enslaved Africans at the nation’s first executive mansion

— M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

In the shadows of Independence Hall stand the remnants of the home where President George Washington enslaved nine Africans. In 1796, one of them, Oney Judge, used the help of Philadelphia’s community of free blacks to escape bondage. This open-air site provides visitors with different perspectives of this powerful story.

Where: 600 Market Street Philadelphia, PA 19106

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03

Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church

The oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans

— R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

Founded by Bishop Richard Allen, Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church sits on the oldest parcel of land continuously owned by African-Americans and serves as the “mother” church of the nation’s first black denomination. Allen and his wife, Sarah, offered escaped Africans refuge here. Harriet Tubman, Lucretia Mott, Frederick Douglass and William Still spoke from Mother Bethel’s still-active pulpit. Visitors can view the Allens’ tombs and early artifacts.

Where: 419 S. 6th Street Philadelphia, PA 19147

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04

The African American Museum in Philadelphia

Celebrating and interpreting African-American history and culture

— J. Fusco for Visit Philadelphia

The African American Museum in Philadelphia, the country’s first museum dedicated solely to African-American history, has one permanent exhibit Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia 1776-1876. The exhibition features a narrated timeline and video portrayals of Bishop Richard Allen, Frances Ellen Watkins Harper, Octavius Catto and more trailblazers and activists. The museum also hosts rotating art exhibitions exploring the modern black experience.

Where: 701 Arch Street Philadelphia, PA 19106

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05

Historic St. George's Methodist Church

Where Reverends Richard Allen and Absalom Jones staged a walk-out for equality in churches

— Courtesy St. George's United Methodist Church

In 1784, Reverends Richard Allen and Absalom Jones became the first licensed African-American Methodist ministers, but the two led a walk-out when the leaders of St. George’s restricted seating for its black members. In 1787, the pair founded the Free African Society, a nondenominational “mutual aid” society that helped fugitive slaves and new migrants.

Where: 235 N. 4th Street Philadelphia, PA

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06

Belmont Mansion

A secret hiding place for fugitive slaves

— J. Smith for Visit Philadelphia

The Belmont Mansion belonged to Judge Richard Peters, who purchased slaves in order to free them and hid fugitives in his attic. The site’s Underground Railroad Museum tells of Cornelia Wells, a freed African-American woman.

Where: 2000 Belmont Mansion Drive, Fairmount Park 19131

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07

Historic Fair Hill

The final resting place of abolitionists

— Courtesy Historic Fair Hill

Fair Hill, a Quaker burial ground built in 1703, is the final resting place of Lucretia Mott, Robert Purvis and other abolitionists. Today, it’s also an environmental education center. Six murals depicting Philadelphia’s social justice history surround the Germantown site.

Where: 2901 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19133

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08

The Johnson House Historic Site, Inc.

Germantown’s vital stop on the Underground Railroad

The Johnson House The Johnson House
— R. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia

The Johnson House is a circa-1768 Germantown home that belonged to devout Quakers Samuel and Jennet Johnson, who, in the early 1800s, took in escaped slaves. Secret hiding spots, including a trap door in the attic, are visible today. William Still visited the house and, according to family lore, so did Harriet Tubman.

Where: 6306 Germantown Avenue Philadelphia, PA 19144

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09

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

Detailed accounts about enslaved people who passed through Philadelphia

A post shared by Will Lassiter (@willlassiter) on

Hundreds of documents relating to the abolitionist movement are part of this repository of 600,000 printed items and more than 21 million manuscripts and graphic items at The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Visitors can view Underground Railroad agent William Still’s journal that documents the experiences of enslaved people who passed through Philadelphia.

Where: 1300 Locust Street, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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10

The Library Company of Philadelphia

Thousands of documents and books about the African American experience on display

Among the Library Company of Philadelphia’s holdings is the 13,000-piece Afro-American Collection, which includes documents and books about slavery and abolitionism, Frederick Douglass’ narratives, portraits of African-American leaders and other artifacts.

Where: 1314 Locust Street Philadelphia, PA 19107

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11

Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University

Where first-edition works by Phyllis Wheatley, W.E.B. DuBois and more are held

World-renowned for its vast collections, the Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection features narratives by Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, first-edition works by Phyllis Wheatley and W.E.B. DuBois, correspondence by Haitian revolutionaries and other priceless items.

Where: 1330 Polett Walk, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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12

Chester County Historical Society

Focusing a spotlight on local history and handicrafts

Artifacts and manuscripts at the Chester County Historical Society recount the region’s abolitionist history and role in the Underground Railroad.

Where: 225 N High St, West Chester, PA 19380

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13

Kennett Underground Railroad Center

Volunteers at the Kennett Underground Railroad Center offer guided and self-guided tours of key sites. Tours depart from the Brandywine Valley Tourism Information Center.

Where: 300 Greenwood Road, Kennett Square, PA 19348

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14

The National Archives at Philadelphia

Exhibition and research facility of the official records of the American democracy

Part of the National Archives Federal Records Center, this Northeast Philadelphia site has microfiche, digital and paper versions of 18th- through 20th- century texts documenting military service, Freedmen’s Bureau, courtroom transcripts and family search websites to research residents of Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia and West Virginia.

Where: 14700 Townsend Road, Philadelphia, PA, USA

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The Liberty Bell Center
The President’s House: Freedom and Slavery in the Making of a New Nation
Mother Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church
The African American Museum in Philadelphia
Historic St. George's Methodist Church
Belmont Mansion
Historic Fair Hill
The Johnson House Historic Site, Inc.
The Historical Society of Pennsylvania
The Library Company of Philadelphia
Charles L. Blockson Afro-American Collection at Temple University
Chester County Historical Society
Kennett Underground Railroad Center
The National Archives at Philadelphia
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