Sunday, February 28, 2016

The Underground Railroad's Secret Operations in Crawford County

As we reflect on this country's African American heritage, it’s worth noting Crawford County’s role as a branch of the Underground Railroad. In the years leading up to the Civil War, area residents, like much of the state, predominantly held to anti-slavery views, even though the Census of 1810 shows that 32 slaves were registered by owners in the northwestern counties including Crawford. Pennsylvania, however, was among the first states that attempted to legislate the abolition of slavery beginning with the 1780 Act which prohibited residents from importing new slaves into the Commonwealth. This was further reinforced in 1788 by an amendment closing loopholes in the original Act that slave owners had been using to their advantage. 

While Pennsylvania may have chartered an anti-slavery course, at the Federal level the stance was much different. Congress passed the Fugitive Slave Act of 1793 which, in effect, gave teeth to the Constitution’s provision under Article 4, Section 2, protecting the rights of slave owners to recover their property in the form of escaped slaves. When Pennsylvania attempted to extend freedoms to these escaped slaves in 1826, it sparked a legal debate concerning state versus federal authority on the matter.  With Prigg v. Pennsylvania, the issue reached the U.S. Supreme Court, and the Court deemed the escaped slave law unconstitutional as well the previous Acts of 1780 and 1788. The harsher penalties imposed by the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850 only aggravated Northern states which by then, were already teaming with slave owners, agents, and spies relentlessly hunting down escaped slaves without recourse. 

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

The Early Days of Meadville's Diamond Park

The Tarr Mansion with its balconies intact
We are excited to announce the Crawford County Historical Society is now the proud owner of the James and Elizabeth Tarr Mansion on Meadville’s Diamond Park! Even though we have purchased the building, the work is far from completed with fundraising efforts stepping up to begin restoration projects. You will find a donation form in this issue to assist with these efforts. Any amount, regardless of how large or small, is a great help in saving this beautiful structure.

Diamond Park was a gift from David Mead to the city of Meadville in 1795, and was used by residents in many different ways, including drill practice by the Pennsylvania militia led by Mead. It eventually became surrounded by churches, government buildings, businesses and residences, many of which are still standing today. With the newest structures (the exception being the new county Judicial Center currently under construction next door to the Tarr Mansion) dating to the early 1900s, the Diamond has retained much of its charm-or gained charm it didn’t have.

Sunday, February 7, 2016

How Crawford County Forever Changed Women's Undergarments

Lady Mary Crawley's corset in an early episode
Change stands prominent as the obvious theme depicted in TV’s historical drama, Downton Abbey. The show begins famously with news of the Titanic’s sinking in 1912 and spans to 1925 where it will close out its sixth and final season. Most familiar with this period recognize the breadth of change that took place between those years and the lasting impact yet to come in the decades that followed. While there are almost innumerable aspects of this that could be analyzed through the story of the Crawley family and their house staff, the increasing freedom for women is consistently at the forefront of a larger majority of plot lines.

The topic of women’s growing independence could alone be scrutinized through varied contexts, and in fact, has already been visited in an earlier Crawford Messenger post dealing with women’s right to vote and to hold public office. Another representation of change for women can be seen, quite literally, in the evolving fashions highlighted throughout each season. Fashion offers one of the clearest expressions of women's growing freedom, and no item of apparel better represents this than the corset.