Joseph Reed

Joseph Reed Trustee.jpg

c. 1785

Joseph Reed was a trustee from 1778‐1785, and he was President of the Board of Trustees from 1779‐1781. He was a very well‐connected man, aide‐de‐camp to George Washington during the Revolution, and eventually Governor of Pennsylvania. In 1780, the Gradual Abolition Act was passed in Pennsylvania. Records show that Joseph Reed was, in fact, both a strong proponent of the act and the author of the preamble. For multiple sessions of assembly leading up to its passage, Reed pleaded with the assembly to pass an abolition law. One source, dated September 9th, 1779, quotes Reed as saying

‘Our anxiety to perpetuate and extend the blessings of freedom, and enlarge the circle of humanity, induces us to remind you of the bill emancipating the children born of negro and mulatto parents. We wish to see you give the complete sanction of law to this noble and generous purpose, and adorn the annals of Pennsylvania with their bright display of justice and public virtue.’

Clearly, there is some inconsistency in Joseph Reed’s life. While what I have read about him suggests that he is morally opposed to slavery, he certainly owned a slave at one point in his life. Perhaps his opinion on the matter changed, perhaps he did not see his owning of a slave as in opposition to his belief in abolition. He may have seen himself as a kind master, and therefore not included in the plague of slavery. Regardless, it is clear that Reed fell on both sides of the slavery issue during his life.

Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration records serve as further proof that Joseph Reed owned 1 enslaved people in the year 1774:


"1 Negro"
Joseph Reed Taxes
Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration Records, 1774