Emancipating Cliveden Project


AASLH National Leadership in History Award for the Special Project: Emancipating Cliveden read more →

After over a decade of discovery, research, and dedicated community participation, Cliveden tells the intriguing stories America’s past through the interpretive project Emancipating Cliveden

Beginning in 1994, research of the Chew family papers (over 230,000 documents) related to enslaved Africans and servants at Cliveden and Chew family owned plantations throughout Pennsylvania, Maryland, and Delaware, has inspired this enormous project that has in effect rewritten history in historic Germantown. The interpretive planning began with Cliveden staff members and volunteers, working with Cliveden’s Heritage Education Committee, researching the voluminous collection of papers, which were a gift from Chew family members and are currently owned by the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.

Funding from the Heritage Philadelphia Program of the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage has provided support for the Emancipating Cliveden project, which includes a new multimedia orientation exhibition titled Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness?, incorporating previously unseen images and documents.

Cliveden’s mission is to engage neighbors by the site’s unique history and help build vibrant communities in Greater Germantown. The project content is grounded in the exploration of slavery and its ongoing impact for all Americans. The historical facts and modern perspectives weave American stories of privilege, oppression, independence, slavery, race, the struggle for freedom and the tensions between democratic ideals and capitalist principles. Emancipating Cliveden is about telling the whole story in ways that allow visitors to question their assumptions about American history by examining its many contradictions.

Emancipating Cliveden is made possible by the dedication of many, and among the most valuable contributors is the late Dr. Edward Robinson. Over the past few years Dr. Robinson contributed much of his time, talent and wisdom. His experience and support helped teach Cliveden staff ways to avoid “shame and blame” so that the stories of individuals would showcase “empowerment” and “active agency”, rather than property.
Among Dr. Robinson’s final ways of supporting Cliveden was to offer his voice as one of the most significant characters, James Smith, in Cliveden’s film. James Smith was born enslaved, bought his freedom, and continued to live and work at Cliveden with Anne Sophia Penn Chew until his death in 1871.