August 13, 2021
Kendal-Crosslands Communities was founded by a grant from the Philadelphia Society of Friends, also known as Quakers, in 1973 to transform the experience of aging. The Committee on Aging group decided to form this new community where people could age together, enjoy the next chapter of life and receive excellent care for health issues that can affect older adults. Kendal’s founding in 1973 was seen as an innovative act, but perfectly in keeping with the Quaker tradition of addressing social injustice and improving the quality of life at every turn.
Kennett Square is a perfect setting for Kendal-Crosslands, with its long history of advocacy for social justice causes and desire to seek a more inclusive and just community at every turn. The long term Quaker commitment to justice – especially in Kennett Square – is crystalized through the many written accounts of bravery as local activists opposing slavery worked to help people escape bondage through the Underground Railroad network.
Making Change By Turning Beliefs into Action
For fugitive slaves, understanding where the demarcation line was between the northern “free” states and the southern “slave” states was critical information. The Mason-Dixon Line provided a boundary between Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. This demarcation line became well known as the line between those states that allowed slavery and Free states, like Pennsylvania.* (see note below) While crossing the line meant freedom, reality was much more fraught. Many fugitive slaves, and even local free black citizens were vulnerable to people seeking to recapture fugitives for profit. This desperate need to escape bounty hunters and kidnapping led to the formation of a network of people and homes that became known as the Underground Railroad to help ferry people to safety and new lives.
Old Kennett Meeting and The Underground Railroad
The Old Kennett Meetinghouse, located at the front of our Kendal at Longwood campus, was the site of many important events, with historic figures like abolitionist and suffragette Lucretia Mott and Sojourner Truth speaking there.
The “Old” Kennett Meetinghouse was first built in 1710 and finished in 1731. It is still one of the oldest intact Quaker Meetinghouses in the United States and is active to this day.
Just down the street, a few hundred yards, you can see where Sarah Pearson established a “Free trade” post in Hamorton in 1844. Sarah Pearson was among the first to value the concept of ethical commerce where people could buy goods that were made without slave labor
. In effect, her trading post represented an early boycott where residents could align their beliefs with their pocketbooks. You can still see the building at the intersection of Rt. 1 and Rt. 52, currently the site of Chester County Hospital’s Encore resale shop.
A Dynamic Black Community
The local area welcomed a large number of free black citizens. They established an African Union Church on Bucktoe Creek in 1824. You can still visit the small cemetery where some of the earliest African American settlers in the Kennett area are buried.
The free black citizens and local Quaker abolitionists worked closely together to help former slaves travel from safe house to safe house, on their journey northward to find a safe place to live. Kennett Square became a hub where former slaves had choices of how they wished to travel on, and in what direction, safely.
An Active Network to Help People Seeking a Better Life
Kennett Square and surrounding communities saw large numbers of fugitives making the journey northward up from Delaware, often right up what’s now known as Route 52/Kennett Pike.
Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall lived near what is now the intersection of Hillendale Road and Kennett Pike. As active Quakers, they attended Kennett Meeting and Isaac served as treasurer of the Chester County Antislavery Society starting in 1838.
The Mendenhalls felt that they had a moral duty to help those seeking freedom. But their passion for freedom was not universally shared by the greater community. After the government passed the Fugitive Slave Act, some local residents worried about the risk of fines and jail, let alone personal safety involved in harboring fugitives from the Southern states. This led to Isaac being disowned by Kennett Meeting. Not to be deterred, Isaac and other local abolitionists soon founded The Society of Progressive Friends at Longwood to continue their passionate work . The Cox family donated a building on their Longwood Farm to use as a meeting house that you can still see, located just behind Longwood Fire Company and next to Longwood Gardens.
Thomas Garrett, a Quaker businessman who lived in Wilmington, was married to Rachel Mendenhall, a relative of Isaac and Dinah Mendenhall. Garrett worked closely with political activist and abolitionist Harriet Tubman. Garrett was personally credited with helping more than 2,500 fugitives to freedom. It is likely that many of them traveled up to the Kennett Area and the network of safe homes provided by members of Longwood Progressive Friends Meeting. ** (See note below)
Freedom in All Forms
Abolitionist and social reformer Lucretia Mott, from nearby Philadelphia, spoke frequently to groups in the area. She helped form the female Anti-Slavery Society in 1833 and in 1848 organized the first Women’s Rights Convention in Seneca Falls, NY in 1848. She held the first women’s rights convention in Pennsylvania in nearby West Chester in 1852. After the Civil War, Mott became the first president of the American Equal Rights Association, advocating for equal rights for African Americans and women throughout society. In 1853, she spoke at a convention held at the Old Kennett Meetinghouse where the Pennsylvania Yearly Meeting of Progressive Friends was formed, and remained the main group for pushing reformist and social justice ideas.
Freedom- Fairness- Opportunity
The long and rich history of Quakers throughout Southern Chester County fighting for social justice and equality for all continues today with traditions at Kendal-Crosslands. Our residents regularly work with groups from Lincoln University, a historical black college and university, on different intergenerational projects. Many of our residents also teach ESL classes to many of the Central American and Mexican immigrants in the area, the latest generation of people seeking a welcoming home and opportunity to thrive in Kennett Square and surrounding communities.
True to our roots, Kendal-Crosslands Communities celebrates all faith traditions, ethnic backgrounds and diversity of all kinds. From our rich history of social justice in the abolitionist movement to the welcoming of each immigrant group as they came to our shores, our Quaker tradition is based in community, diversity and justice.
We hope you will come visit us and consider joining our progressive and welcoming community. The next chapter of our story is waiting for you.
*You can still see many of the stone markers placed by Mason and Dixon throughout the area. One of the Arc stones, demarking the boundary between Delaware and Pennsylvania, is located on Kennett Township’s Spar Hill Farm on Burnt Mill Road.
**The Thomas Garrett – Harriet Tubman link was so vital to the success of the underground railroad network that it has been acknowledged as such today through the dedication of a park known as the Tubman-Garrett Park at the Riverfront in Wilmington, Delaware. Relatives of Thomas Garrett still live nearby in Southern Chester County.