National Park Service
U.S. Department of the Interior
The African-American Experience in Southwestern PA
Bakers Alley – Uniontown
1754 to 1860
The history of African-Americans in southwestern Pennsylvania is full of interesting and intriguing stories many of
them untold. Here they lived, worked and traveled. Below are vignettes of their story related to the Great Meadows
and the National Road.
"A charming field"
Part of an Immense
On April 20, 1755, George Washington sent letters
to Carter Burwell and John Robinson two powerful
members of Virginia's House of Burgess. He was
requesting reimbursement for losses of personal
property at the Great Meadows in 1754. To Burwell
he wrote, " . . . for beside the loss of many valuable
Paper's, a valuable Servant (who died a few days
after of his Wounds) . . . ." and to Robinson, " . . . for
I had, unfortunately, got my baggage from Wills
Creek but a few days before the Engagemt in wch I
General Edward Braddock arrived in 1755 and
attempted to force the French from the Ohio River
valley. Much is made of the general, his staff and
soldiers, but little is told of the camp followers.
also had a valuable Servt Wounded, who died soon
Although Washington refers to him as a servant he
was a slave, Washington's property. This nameless
soul tackled the 1754 campaign only to be wounded
in the battle. But unlike the thirty British dead
remembered on the battlefield, this individual along
with other wounded suffered along the retreat route
to later die and perhaps be buried in a dark and
As part of Col. Dunbar's column Jenkins never took
part in the frightful July 9th battle. He saw the
results though, as his wagon and others were put to
use hauling the wounded.
Among this group is Samuel Jenkins a slave owned
by a British officer. Jenkins attained a job as a
wagon driver on the expedition. His responsibilities
for the care of the horses, wagon and supplies were
important to the overall success of the campaign.
For his extra duties beyond servitude he was paid.
In 1802, the Jonathan Clark family of Virginia
decided to move to Kentucky for a better life.
Jonathan asked his younger brother William to help
move his property. On January 19, 1802 a group of
thirty to thirty-five slaves entrusted to William
began their journey from Spotsylvania County,
By February 3, they were at the Great Meadows
traveling the Braddock Road. That day's walk began
at Great Crossing of the Youghiogheny River and
would finish in the village of Woodstock
[Hopwood, PA], 21miles away. The following day
they arrived at Redstone Landing [Brownsville, PA].
Writing his brother, William bemoaned the bad
state of the roads, towns and weather slowing his
progress. Having reached the Monongahela River
they continued their trip by water to Louisville,
arriving safely February 23.
A year later Clark's friend, Meriwether Lewis,
travelled this route to join William at Louisville and
continue their famous exploration.
Seeking Freedom along
the National Road
In 1806, President Thomas Jefferson laid plans for the National Road. Construction of
the road began in 1811 in Cumberland, Maryland. By the 1830s, construction of the
road came to an end in Vandalia, Illinois, but the popularity of the road never ceased. In
fact, the National Road even has its ties to the Underground Railroad.
The National Road served several purposes in history, first as a major route of
commerce between the east and west linking towns and communities and opening a
new era of communication. Lastly, the National Road served as an important escape
route for slaves seeking freedom. Following the North Star led them to this significant
road which could either enhance or hinder them towards their ultimate goal.
The National Road was one of several escape routes
used by the slaves on the Underground Railroad.
Some slaves escaped northwest from Maryland over
the National Road into Uniontown. Slaves made
use of Indian paths and old roads as they made their
way to freedom. Baker's Alley located off the
National Road in Uniontown was a famous haven
for slaves finding shelter, help and directions.
Turkey's Nest section of the National Road, located
on the western slope of Chestnut Ridge, was also a
noted safe haven.
According to Fayette county historian Buzz Storey
there were twenty-four stations in Fayette, Greene,
Washington and Westmoreland counties. Authors
Switala and Swetnam declare the National Road
served as an important artery for fleeing slaves
whom once they reached Uniontown from the
Morgantown area then traversed the road to
Brownsville and Washington.
Several people gave accounts of slaves using the
National Road. One of the best known is Howard
Wallace's account. Wallace speaks of the slaves
getting help from people living along the National
Road with a list of area "conductors" on the
Underground Railroad. Two he mentions are Curry
and John Payne of Uniontown. Equally, he
mentions area people willing to catch slaves for a
price. Here is an excerpt of Wallace's account.
Coal Works are now situated, thence up
through Denbo, at which time was a dense
forest, but there piloted by the old pioneers,
until they reached the Old National Pike
coming out between C.I. Dorsey's residence
and Malden, thence up the Pike to where the
gate now stands on the farm, owned by
William Pepper, thence to Pike Run Road,
then across the field to William Wallace's the
house now occupied by Lewis Deems. It was
considered about the best stopping place on
When they left Brownsville in company with
Lloyd Demas and others, they would
generally go up river to where the Diamond
Another well known helper of slaves on the road
was William Willey. Willey lived in Somerfield and
assisted runaways with food and directions. In his
book on the National Road, Philip Jordan writes,
"Abolitionists knew the National Road as the
thoroughfare for runaway slaves. They lurked along
its edges, crept for shelter under its S bridges and
burrowed in hay lofts of stage barns." Thomas
Searight in his book also relates about slaves seeking
freedom along the road and the unfortunate
episodes of those caught. It was not uncommon to
see slaves being transported over the National Road
in leg irons and encounter along the same mile a free
African American drover or wagoner.
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