This Black Businessman Confessed To Helping Runaway Slaves Escape To Freedom

| How Africa News
Stephen Smith


Stephen Smith was a merchant as well as an abolitionist. Around 1795, he was born into slavery in Dauphin County, Pennsylvania, to Mary Smith. His father is not mentioned in any records. Early in life, Smith was able to purchase his freedom.


He later established a business in Columbia, Pennsylvania, where he owned coal, lumber yards, and land where these resources were obtained. During the years before the Civil War, the main manner of transporting coal and lumber from the source was the system of canals.


The canal system was also linked to the Susquehanna River in Central Pennsylvania. Smith was known to travel up and down the river on this route to make deliveries, purchases, and check on his holdings. This route was also used by slaves to flee to freedom and travel north to Canada.


Following the Civil War, Smith admitted that the lumber company he owned had assisted in the transportation of many escapees to freedom, most likely via the canal network and, later, the railroad network that connected into Canada. Smith fled to Canada after the Fugitive Slave Act was passed in 1850. He later returned to Pennsylvania and resumed his business operations. Stephen Smith donated $250,000 after the Civil War to establish the Stephen Smith Home for Aged and Infirm Colored Persons.


Smith became involved in civil rights activities as well. He opposed the policies of the American Colonization Society and demonstrated his opposition in 1831, when he led a public meeting of free blacks in Columbia. He later worked alongside men like David Ruggles, John Peck, Abraham Shadd, and John B. Vashon as the first black agents for Freedom’s Journal and, later, The Emancipator.


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