Six Penny Creek and the Underground Railroad

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The area was affiliated with the Underground Railroad, and the community was founded in the valley of Six Penny Creek by self-emancipated individuals (escaped slaves) from the South[1]. The land upon which communities comprised of self-emancipated individuals resided when they reached the North was generally less than ideal[2] and was sometimes located near iron forges and foundries[3] involved in iron production. When farming was not a viable option, members of these communities would support themselves through lumbering, timbering, charcoal production as colliers, foraging, and baking[4]. Many self-emancipated individuals found refuge in the woods as charcoal burners or woodcutters employed by places such as Hopewell Furnace in Pennsylvania, which was near the Six Penny Creek Community[5]. Several local furnaces also aided self-emancipated individuals on their journeys North[6].

The Scarlet(t) Family

The Underground Railroad, in its early stages, was comprised of Quakers and their friends and acquaintances or of members of other religious groups who would shelter and assist self-emancipated individuals on their journeys North[7]. The Underground Railroad grew in strength with the passage of the Federal Fugitive Slave Acts[1][8]. At the edge of a boarder state, Southeastern Pennsylvania was identified as a location early on where self-emancipated individuals could seek freedom[9]. Self-emancipated individuals from the South would come across the border into Pennsylvania and travel to Berks County, PA[10]. The Six Penny Creek community grew near the home of Quaker Elizabeth Scarlet (1787-1839)[11]and her son Joseph (1821-1882)[12][13]. The Scarlets owned one of the earliest grist mills in Berks County[14], Scarlet Mill[15], which was built by John Scarlet, an early Quaker settler in the area and abolitionist[16]. The Scarlet family was very prominent in the community and was influential in establishing Robeson Family Friend's Meeting in 1740[17]. The Scarlet family housed self-emancipated individuals[18] in "Quaker Valley," Robeson Township, PA near Birdsboro,[19] Berks County, PA.

Joseph Scarlet

Joseph Scarlet was active in aiding self-emancipated individuals beyond providing shelter at the family home. According to a newspaper article following his death, he was "an ardent friend of fugitive slaves, and did not hesitate at personal danger in assisting them"[20]. He was once in Pennington (now Atglen), PA, when he noticed an individual chained to a bar rail in a public house and learned that the man was to be taken away by slave hunters[21]. Overnight, the bar rail was sawed through and the man was gone, along with the handcuffs[22]. Following the event, a pair of damaged handcuffs appeared on the wall of Scarlet's home[23].

The Christiana Tragedy

Joseph Scarlet was also involved in the Christiana Tragedy in 1851[24], an event which can be seen as an important precursor to the Civil War[25]. After leaving his family home, Joseph Scarlet moved to Sadsbury, Chester County, PA, which was near Lancaster, PA, the location of the Christiana Tragedy[26]. The Christiana Tragedy began on September 9, 1851, when news that Edward Gorsuch of Anne Arundel County, Maryland had obtained warrants for arresting William Parker and others who had resided in an African American community near Christiana for several years was made known[27]. William Parker, who had been operating an Underground Railroad station within the community, heard the news the following day[28]. In the early morning, several men including Edward Gorsuch, his son Dickerson Gorsuch, and a Deputy U.S. Marshal named William H. Klein arrived on Parker's property and attempted to enter his house[29]. Parker's wife blew a horn from the window, a signal intended to alert friends of the Underground Railroad that there was trouble[30]. When she refused to stop, Klein shot at her and was shortly joined in the attack by the Gorsuch family and the local "Gap Gang." At this point, Joseph Scarlet arrived at the scene with several other white men and was asked to help aid in the arrests[31]. Joseph Scarlet and the others refused to help[32]. Shooting resumed on both sides; and Edward Gorsuch was fatally wounded, his son injured[33]. As the attackers dispersed, the Gorsuch father and son were left behind[34]. Joseph Scarlet inserted himself between Dickerson Gorsuch and those wishing to harm him further, saving his life[35]. Joseph Scarlet was charged with treason and levying war against the United States government; and, although found not guilty, he spent ninety-seven days in Lancaster County Prison following the event[36]. He was one of three White men from the event to spend time in prison[37].

Later Life

In 1870, Joseph Scarlet held a celebration for the anniversary of the emancipation proclamation on his property[38]. Joseph Scarlet was married[39] and was engaged in the green grocery business[40]. He passed away in 1882[41].

Iron Production

The location of the Six Penny Creek Community was close to Hopewell and Joanna furnaces[42] and to the forges in Birdsboro, PA[43]. The furnaces ran along an Underground Railroad route which went from Morgantown, PA to Hamburg, PA[44]. Self-emancipated slaves leaving the South had the opportunity to be housed at the Scarlett's house or within the Six Penny Creek community[45] and work at nearby Hopewell Furnace[46] to earn money as they established residence or to aid in their continued journey North[47] to Canada[48]. In the South, more people self-emancipated from iron foundries than from any other industry, except for the agricultural industry[49]. As the community grew, the individuals within Six Penny Creek began to establish themselves as professionals. Some took work as colliers, farmers, stonemasons, laborers, teamsters, or woodchoppers who worked on Harvesting Wood for charcoal production. Many were involved in the iron production industry. For example, members of the Six Penny Creek Community such as Peter Jones, listed in the 1850 and 1860 Censuses[50] of Union Township in Berks County, PA, and John Hart, also listed in the 1850 Census of Union Township in Berks County, PA[51], were recorded in the nineteenth century Hopewell Furnace journals as cutting cord wood that was then used in charcoal production to fuel furnaces[52]. In addition, in the Hopewell Furnace ledgers more members of the Six Penny Creek Community are identified, such as Sarah Bendigs; Charles Butler; Isaac Cole; Edington Ford; Levi Hart, son of John Hart; Eliza Hill; Thomas Jackson; William Jacobs; and Joseph Tolbert[53]. More information on members of the Six Penny Creek community employed by Hopewell Furnace can be found on the Six Penny Creek Community page.


The owner of Joanna Furnace, Levi Bull Smith (1806-1876)[54] aided self-emancipated individuals by taking them to remote locations in the woods that were around the furnace and staying with them when there was danger nearby[55]. At other times, self-emancipated individuals would be able to find their own refuge in the collier huts of colliers who worked for Joanna Furnace[56]. Levi Smith's father John Smith (1762-1815)[57] had married into the Bull family, who had been instrumental in building the furnace one generation prior[58]. The furnace had been constructed by Thomas Bull (1744-1837), Thomas Rutter (1731-1795), Samuel Potts (1736-1793), and Thomas May (1731-1792) and went into blast in 1792[59]. In 1833 Levi Smith became the owner of the furnace[60] and lived in the furnace mansion at Joanna Furnace[61]. Before he assumed control of the furnace, however, Levi Smith worked at Hopewell Furnace, hauling one load of feed from Birdsboro according to the Hopewell Furnace 1825-1827 ledgers[62]. His wage rates were the same as Jonathan Jones, a Black employee who hauled flour from Birdsboro[63]. At Hopewell Furnace there was little difference between the wages paid to different races throughout the furnace's operation[64]. Levi Smith was likely responsible for recruiting Henry Segner as a guide for the Underground Railroad[65]. As a hunter and part-time supervisor of charcoal burners in the area, Henry Segner was well suited for the role, as he had an extensive knowledge of the terrain around Hopewell[66]. It was said that Henry Segner would send a group of self-emancipated individuals guided by a charcoal burner off in one direction and then lead nearby slave hunters in another direction deep into the mountains so that they could not find their way out for several days[67], allowing the group of self-emancipated individuals time to move on. Levi Smith was not an anomaly. Many ironmasters were participants in the Underground Railroad and offered protection under the guise of work to self-emancipated individuals,[68] not only in Pennsylvania, but in other states as well, such as Ohio[69]. In the Hanging Rock Iron region of Ohio, furnace operator John Campbell used some profits to subsidize the Underground Railroad in the area by providing supplies such as horses, saddles, and wagons[70]. The routes formed from the various connections among iron furnaces were important to the pathway to freedom for self-emancipated individuals[71] as ironworks and transportation routes were utilized to move self-emancipated individuals from furnace to furnace[72]. These pathways for transporting self-emancipated individuals between iron forges and foundries were in use before the Underground Railroad[73].

Another furnace local to the area that was affiliated with the Six Penny Creek Community was Hopewell Furnace. The furnace was initially constructed by Mark Bird in 1771[74]. The furnace was built at edge of Union Township, Berks County, PA, near Chester County[75] on the North branch of the French Creek[76]. Hopewell Furnace obtained iron from the Warwick mine in East Nantmeal, Chester County, PA[77]. Many of the records that remain at Hopewell Furnace show that some individuals worked at the furnace for very limited amounts of time, which may be indicative of escaped or freed slaves moving further North[78]. The names of these self-emancipated individuals were not recorded in the furnace's records to protect their identities[79].


  1. National Park Service 2015
  2. LaRoche 2017, 99
  3. LaRoche 2017, 90
  4. LaRoche 2017, 100-101
  5. LaRoche 2017, 96
  6. LaRoche 2017, 96
  7. Homan 1958
  8. LaRoche 2017, 118
  9. Homan 1958
  10. LaRoche 2017, 96
  11. Find a Grave
  12. Find a Grave
  13. LaRoche 2017, 96
  14. Speros and Lynch 2013, 66
  15. LaRoche 2017, 96
  16. Santamour 1976
  17. Speros and Lynch 2013, 65
  18. National Park Service 2015
  19. Claussen 1968
  20. Reading Times, 25 July 1882
  21. Homan 1958
  22. Homan 1958
  23. Homan 1958
  24. The Times, 30 January 1882
  25. The Daily Evening Express, 21 August 1875
  26. Homan 1958
  27. Homan 1958
  28. Homan 1958
  29. Homan 1958
  30. Homan 1958
  31. Homan 1958
  32. Homan 1958
  33. Homan 1958
  34. Homan 1958
  35. Homan 1958
  36. Homan 1958
  37. The Saturday Express, 15 November 1851
  38. The Lancaster Examiner, 28 September 1870
  39. Find a Grave
  40. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 July 1882
  41. The Philadelphia Inquirer, 19 July 1882
  42. National Park Service 2015
  43. LaRoche 2017, 96
  44. LaRoche 2017, 96
  45. DCNR 2019
  46. Speros and Lynch 2013, 47
  47. DCNR 2019
  48. Youker 2009
  49. LaRoche 2017, 95
  50. United States Census, 1860
  51. United States Census, 1850
  52. National Park Service 2015
  53. Walker 1969, 494
  54. Find a Grave
  55. LaRoche 2017, 96
  56. Homan 1958
  57. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2005, 27
  58. Berks History Center 2019
  59. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2005, 27
  60. Berks History Center 2019
  61. Homan 1958
  62. Walker 1969, 491
  63. Walker 1969, 491
  64. Walker 1969, 494
  65. Homan 1958
  66. Homan 1958
  67. Homan 1958
  68. LaRoche 2017, 97
  69. LaRoche 2017, 95
  70. LaRoche 2017, 74
  71. LaRoche 2017, 71
  72. LaRoche 2017, 74
  73. LaRoche 2017, 95
  74. Walker 1966, 19
  75. Walker 1966, 19
  76. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2005, 24
  77. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania 2005, 24
  78. Walker 1966, 307
  79. LaRoche 2017, 96


  • Berks History Center. 2019. Joanna Furnace: The Lost Years. Berks History Center.[2]
  • Claussen, Edmund. 1968. The Underground Railroad. The Mercury, December 4, 1968.[3]
  • The Daily Evening Express. 1875. A Scrap of History, August 21, 1875.[4]
  • DCNR. 2019. Stories of Black History in Pennsylvania State Parks and Forests. Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.[5]
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 20 January 2021), memorial page for Elizabeth Pownall Scarlet (25 Mar 1787–26 Jun 1839), Find a Grave Memorial no. 167131942, citing Robeson Monthly Meeting Cemetery, Berks County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by N.D. Scheidt (contributor 47099775).[6]
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 20 January 2021), memorial page for Joseph P. Scarlett (15 Mar 1821–8 Jul 1882), Find a Grave Memorial no. 87337897, citing West Laurel Hill Cemetery, Bala Cynwyd, Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Mary Harrell-Sesniak (contributor 46488639).[7]
  • Find a Grave, database and images ( : accessed 21 January 2021), memorial page for Levi Bull Smith (8 Feb 1806–8 Aug 1876), Find a Grave Memorial no. 62637878, citing Charles Evans Cemetery, Reading, Berks County, Pennsylvania, USA ; Maintained by Tricker (contributor 47304675).[8]
  • The Historical Society of Pennsylvania. 2005. Collection 212: Forges and Furnaces Collection, 1727-1921. The Historical Society of Pennsylvania.[9]
  • Homan, Wayne E. 1958. The Underground Railroad. Historical Review of Berks County, Berks History Center.[10]
  • The Lancaster Examiner. 1870. Celebration, September 28, 1870.[11]
  • LaRoche, Cheryl Janifer. 2017. Free Black Communities and the Underground Railroad: The Geography of Resistance. Urbana, Illinois: University of Illinois Press.
  • National Park Service, Hopewell Furnace. 2015. African-Americans at Hopewell Furnace. National Park Service: U.S. Department of the Interior.[12]
  • The Philadelphia Inquirer. 1882. The Slaves' Friend, July 19, 1882.[13]
  • Reading Times. 1882. An Exciting Episode Recalled by Death, July 25, 1882.[14]
  • Santamour, William. 1976. Robeson Township's History Compiled. Reading Eagle, September 26, 1976.[15]
  • The Saturday Express, 1851. Visit to the Christiana Prisoners, November 15, 1851.[16]
  • Speros, Susan and Michelle Lynch. 2013. Prioritizing Berks County Cultural and Historical Resources Within and Nearby the Hopewell Big Woods. Friends of Hopewell Furnace NHS.[17]
  • The Times - Philadelphia. 1882. The Riot at Christiana, January 30, 1882.[18]
  • United States Census, 1850, database with images, FamilySearch [19] : 9 April 2016, Pennsylvania > Berks > Union > image 22 of 40; citing NARA microfilm publication M432 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  • United States Census, 1860, database with images, FamilySearch [20] : 24 March 2017, Pennsylvania > Berks > Union Township > image 9 of 53; from "1860 U.S. Federal Census - Population," database, ( : n.d.); citing NARA microfilm publication M653 (Washington, D.C.: National Archives and Records Administration, n.d.).
  • Walker, Joseph E. 1966. Hopewell Village: A Social and Economic History of an Iron-Making Community. Oxford University Press.
  • Walker, Joseph E. 1969. A Comparison of Negro and White Labor in a Charcoal Iron Community. Labor History 10, no.3 (June): 487-497.
  • Youker, Darrin. 2009. What's the connection between Hopewell Furnace and the Underground Railroad? Reading Eagle Company.[21]