Perkasie Manor

Perkasie Manor was a 2,500-acre tract of land in Bucks County that, along with the Norristown property, was one of the University’s major early real estate holdings. The land was donated by Thomas Penn in 1759 and would remain in the University’s possession into the nineteenth century. Though some scholars have made connections between Perkasie Manor and slavery, Penn & Slavery Project research has concluded there was no direct link between the tenants of Perkasie Manor and slavery.

There are two major reasons it would appear there was no slaveholding at Perkasie Manor. First, the descriptions of the property provided to the University Trustees bemoan the poor quality of the land. Especially notable is the fact that the land was unimproved. It would seem highly unlikely that land in such poor a condition would have been worked by slaves. Furthermore, the tenants living and working the land at Perkasie Manor were mostly poor ethnic German immigrants. These immigrants would likely have lacked sufficient capital to own slaves. Historical research has also demonstrated that slave-ownership was relatively uncommon among ethnic Germans in Pennsylvania.

The property had been donated by the Penn family to serve as an endowment for the University. However, given the poor state of the land in question, the University’s immediate response was to attempt to sell Perkasie Manor, which was valued at £3000. This was a significant sum and the sale of Perkasie Manor would have generated a significant financial windfall for the University. Thomas Penn prevented the University from making such a sale, though he donated an additional £500. This donation, along with a fundraising trip by Provost Smith to Great Britain helped to solve the immediate financial crisis facing the University.

Nonetheless, the inability of the University to sell Perkasie Manor, and by extension, secure a more reliable long-term revenue stream, later placed the trustees in a position where they decided to solicit money directly from slaveholders in places characterized by pervasive and profitable slaveholding. In other words, the fundraising trips to South Carolina and Jamaica in the 1770s can only be properly understood in the context of the University’s continued ownership of Perkasie Manor. This speaks to the overall climate of complicity inherent in a society in which slave ownership was ubiquitous.

 ~Samuel Orloff

Perkasie Manor