With hope of being free, James Pennington fled Rockland estate

July 19, 2011|By TIFFANY ARNOLD
  • The Rockland estate house, from which James Pennington fled in 1827, remains today, on 25 acres near Fairplay. The house was built around 1803.
File photo

With a piece of India

n flour bread in his pocket and hopes of becoming a free man in his heart, James W.C. Pennington ran away from Rockland Estate in search of freedom.

The so-called fugitive blacksmith would go on to become a minister in Presbyterian churches in New York and Hartford, Conn., and a delegate to several international abolition conventions.

He led efforts to desegregate New York City’s public transit system and fought for the right of blacks to vote. He also received a Doctor of Divinity from the University of Heidelberg and helped the Africans involved in the historic Amistad case form a Christian mission in Sierra Leone.

But before he went on to be a leading 19th-century abolitionist, Pennington was owned by Frisby Tilghman, founder of the village of Tilghmanton, south of Hagerstown.

“His story is absolutely riveting and I think it’s inspiring,” said Dean Herrin, a historian for the National Park Service and a coordinator of the Catoctin Center for Regional Studies.

Pennington chronicled his 1827 escape from Rockland in his autobiography, “The Fugitive Blacksmith; or, Events in the History of James W.C. Pennington.” The book is among a slim set of accounts written by slaves, part of a popular 19th century nonfiction genre known as the slave narrative, Herrin said.

Herrin said the National Park Service is working to republish the book.

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