Friday, January 25, 2013

African Americans at Hopewell Furnace



For more than a century, African Americans lived and worked at Hopewell Furnace. Maybe that's not surprising. But what is remarkable is that it appears they were treated as equals by their white co-workers at a time when slavery was still widely accepted in many parts of the country.

Overall, very little is known about the African Americans whose lives once revolved around the now historic furnace. Frances Delmar, the National Park Service chief of education and interpretation at Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site, set out to learn more about them. She pored through historic daybooks, ledgers and other records from what was once one of the most important iron furnaces in America.

The information she gathered is now the subject of The African American Experience at Hopewell Furnace, a slim, 24-page book that provides a glimpse into how these men and women lived. The book examines how they came to Hopewell, earned their wages, interacted with and were treated by other villagers.

In conducting her research, Delmar discovered a "startling lack of segregation."

"Here, workers and residents of Irish, German, English, Welsh and African backgrounds lived, worked, studied and worshiped together, apparently with little regard to ethnicity or race," Delmar wrote in the book.

On Tuesday, February 12, Delmar will speak about the book at the Schuylkill River Heritage Area offices on 140 College Drive in Pottstown. The book is attractively illustrated with photographs of re-enactors portraying 19th century African Americans on Hopewell's grounds. It sells for $5.95.

Interested in coming? Space is limited, so call 484-945-0200 or email ckott@schuylkillriver.org  to reserve a seat.

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