Isaac Norris

Isaac Norris Trustee

Isaac Norris, c. 1750

Isaac Norris and his sister, Elizabeth, inherited slaves from both of their parents. His father, Isaac Norris, Sr. had freed many of enslaved people in his will. He declared that his slave, Will, should be free 3 years after his death ‘on condition he serve his mistress whose property he will be.’ When Mary Lloyd Norris, Isaac Sr.’s wife she bequeathed her 'negro girl Dinah' to her daughter, Elizabeth.

While serving as trustee, Norris also served as the speaker of the Pennsylvania Provincial Assembly. In 1751, his first year as speaker, the assembly ordered a bell for the Pennsylvania StateHouse. Norris ordered that the bell should be inscribed with the Bible verse, ‘Proclaim liberty throughout the land unto all the inhabitants thereof,’ Leviticus 25:10. Though he was a slave owner at the time, he ‘prized liberty and thought of it as a universal right.’

In the 1830s, the statehouse bell earned the name ‘The Liberty Bell’ and became a symbol for the abolition movement. Had Isaac Norris suggested a different verse the bell may not have gained the significance it still carries today. Isaac Norris Jr. and his sister did hold onto their parents' slaves for some time, and eventually freed the slaves who their parents had bequeathed in their wills.

~VanJessica Gladney