York County got off to rocky start on race

Early in a speech this week in York, consultant David Rusk provided a provocative statistic:
York County had 499 slaves in 1790.
Morgan State’s Debra Newman Ham has pointed out that York County ranked second to Philadelphia statewide in number of slaves and number of freed slaves. (For a sampling of this York native’s work, just Google her name.)
Why would York County rank so high? …


Consider some of the following possibilities (my views, not Rusk’s):
Although Pennsylvania was gradually emancipating slaves in 1790, York County shared a long border with Maryland, a slave state through the Civil War. The county, then including current-day Adams County, was large. Adams County, like southeastern York County, had a large Scots-Irish population. Scots and others from the British Isles were more inclined to accept slavery than Germans. York County was strongly agricultural, which meant there was a demand for labor.
So, York County got off to a rough start on the race issue. And as Bill Ecenbarger has pointed out in “Walkin’ the Line,” the Mason-Dixon Line tends to attract hate groups who want to take advantage of its symbolism. http://www.ecenbarger.com. That doesn’t help the county’s fight against racism today.
Another interesting statistic from Rusk: Enslaved and freed blacks made up 3.5 percent of the county’s population in 1790. Blacks make up about 4.2 percent today. So, the number of blacks as a percentage of population has changed little since 1790.

About Jim McClure

Editor of the York Daily Record/Sunday News, ydr.com and its many digital products. East Region Editor, Digital First Media. Journalism/history blogger: yorktownsquare.com. Author or co-author of seven York County, Pa., history books.
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