Black History

Stories of our ancestors

Who were the Black individuals living in and around Bartram’s Garden during the 1700s and 1800s? What were their lives like?

Since 2017, we have worked with historian Sharece Blakney to expand our understanding of this place and its past, with a specific focus on the Black history of Bartram’s Garden and nearby neighborhoods.

The historical discoveries made by Blakney speak to the humanity of people who lived in and around Bartram’s Garden in the late 18th and early 19th centuries and the inhumanity they suffered, both in their time and in their absence from the historical record. The details of their stories have the power to reach the deepest parts of us because they describe the way our ancestors were treated, how they treated others, and the essential fallacies at the heart of this nation’s founding.

Detail from Census of African Americans residing in Philadelphia and the Liberties. Vol. 4, Spring Garden & West Philadelphia (1847), Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of Friends, Swarthmore College Friends Historical Library.

Black History BlogGarden Insights

Abraham Willing

May 5, 2022

Abraham Willing

Abraham Willing negotiated the purchase of his wife and son in Kingsessing Township in 1781. The sale of Dinah and Abraham Willing Jr. was somewhat unusual because they were enslaved...

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Stories We Know: Recording the Black History of Bartram’s Garden and Southwest Philadelphia

Blakney’s initial research from 2017 is collected into a booklet called Stories We Know, edited by Aislinn Pentecost-Farren. The history includes a directory of people and places identified through archival research, including census records and manumission documents, and is paired with essays that reflect on the meaning of the research along with poetry by four youth interns at the Sankofa Community Farm.

The booklet is available for sale in the Welcome Center, priced at the cost of printing. A digital version can be accessed here.

This project was initiated as part of Southwest Roots, a partnership with Mural Arts Philadelphia funded by ArtPlace America.

Those We Met Along the Way: African American History and Bartram’s Garden

Blakney’s continued research into the Black history of Kingsessing and Southwest Philadelphia includes a series of vignettes further exploring the lives and histories of this area.

A digital version of the collected vignettes can be accessed here.

Harvey’s Memorial Garden

Designed and Written by Yasir Hall, Youth Apprentice

Within the Garden’s many layers of history lies the story of a free Black person who was mentioned in some historical sources as working with the Bartram family and likely living here at the Garden. His job title is unknown: in fact, not very much is known about him at all. His name, like the names of many other Black people throughout history, was wiped from history and forgotten.

According to Curator Joel T. Fry, “When the Bartram family sold the property in 1850, the grave of this individual was marked here in the southeast corner of the Botanic Garden, near the river. In the 1860s, probably decades after his death, this person was identified in an early biography of John Bartram as being named ‘Harvey.’ ‘Harvey’s Grave’ remained marked for at least a century more and was generally included among the early tourist attractions at Bartram’s Garden, even before the garden became a public park in 1891.”

A new memorial in the botanic garden will honor not only the life of Harvey but also the lives of all those who have gone unrecognized for their hard work.

It features an unusual green rose (Rosa chinensis ‘Viridiflora’), which is said to have been discovered in China during the mid-18th century. However, it did not gain attention until the mid-19th century, when it was rumored to have been used by abolitionists to show that their homes were welcoming to all people who were in need of shelter while fleeing enslavement.

The green rose will represent the welcoming and acceptance of all people here at the Garden. Its green color also represents the connection between life and nature, showing how although it may seem like we are so very different, humans and nature have much more in common than we think!

About Sharece Blakney

Sharece Blakney is an independent historical research consultant. Her research interests focus on American slavery and freedom in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, specifically in legal and social history. Her current work, Stories We Know and Those We Met Along the Way, involves the development of the African American community in Kingsessing and Southwest Philadelphia. Previous projects include Charting a Path to Resistance, an interactive mural and mobile app commissioned by the City of Philadelphia. The mural centered on abolitionism, Black women activists, and racial violence in nineteenth-century Philadelphia.

Blakney holds an MA in American History from Rutgers University-Camden and is currently pursuing an MI in Library & Information Science with a concentration in Archives & Preservation at Rutgers University-New Brunswick.

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Publications

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Shared History

Honoring shared histories at Bartram’s Garden.

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Biking & Walking

Follow the Schuylkill River Trail from the North Mile to 56th Street and beyond.

Birds

Look up! More than 100 species of birds rely on this ecosystem.

Boating & Fishing

Enjoy all that the Tidal Schuylkill River has to offer.

Flowers, Plants & Trees

See what’s blooming, find a favorite tree, and stroll the gardens and natural lands.

Gardening

Bring the Garden home! Shop for plants and grow your own food.

History

Uncover the interconnected stories of this historic site.

Kids' Activities

Join us year-round to learn, make, share, and wonder.

Sankofa Community Farm

“Go back and get it!” Growing food sovereignty with an African Diaspora focus.

Southwest Philadelphia

Resources and opportunities especially for neighbors in Southwest Philly.

Water Quality

Find our latest data on the river’s bacteria levels and recent rainfall.

Workshops, Wellness & Culture

Enjoy upcoming workshops, self-care, and events. Are you a Southwest artist? Let’s partner!

Youth Internships

Calling Southwest students: paid internships available with the river, the farm, and the trees.