Harrisburg, Pennsylvania – 14th Ward Inspector of Elections, and Republican Committeeperson Jason Lindemuth today proposed renaming the City of Harrisburg on account of its founder’s history of slave ownership.
Lindemuth’s proposal was shared to the local Facebook group Concerned Citizens of Harrisburg, where the idea was discussed. He said that Harrisburg could perhaps be renamed ‘Capitol City.’
A suggestion by city resident Kristen Moe to sell the naming rights of Harrisburg to the highest bidder drew much attention, and Lindemuth said that he would take that idea into serious consideration. Moe said the naming rights are an unsold asset.
John Harris Jr., the founder of Harrisburg, was known to have owned three slaves including one by the name of Frank, according to the 1780 slave register. His father, John Harris, Sr., owned a slave named Hercules who is an historic figure of Harrisburg’s past.
According to the book African American History of Harrisburg, Hercules was the slave who brought friendly Native Americans to the aid of John Harris, Sr., when he was tied to the now famous mulberry tree on Front Street, Harrisburg, where he was to be burned at the stake by a tribe of furious Indians. According to legend, because Hercules could speak the Native language, he was able to negotiate the release of Harris, Sr.
Upon saving the life of his Master, Hercules was freed as a slave, and he then began the free African American community of Harrisburg.
Frank, the youngest slave of John Harris, Jr., has been confused with Hercules who may have also been named Frank. Upon news of his death in 1839, Frank (Hercules) was quoted in a Philadelphia newspaper column. According the the National Gazette:
Frank remembered when the Indian smoked his pipe and when the forest covered what is now the site of Harrisburg. He used to say he had ‘turned many a furrow between the Canal and the bridge across the river.’
There were 10 slave holders in Harrisburg, and 80 slaveholders in Dauphin County, as recorded in the federal census of 1790. Burial sites of those African American slaves are located in the Paxton Presbyterian Church cemetery at 3500 Sharon Street in Paxtang, where they were members of the church.
A fairly complete listing of persons held as slaves in Dauphin County (and elsewhere in Pennsylvania) is found on the Afrolumens website. Dauphin County is tabulated here: http://www.afrolumens.com/slavery/dauph1.html
There were many more slaveholders in the town and county than noted above.