Illuminating Hidden Lives

Black Stories of the Mid-Atlantic Region

This project is a collaboration between Cliveden of the National Trust, the African American Geneaology Group, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and seeks to make accessible documents relating to the enslaved and free African American people represented in the Chew Family Papers.

Illuminating hidden lives
Benjamin Chew Sr. (1722-1810)

The Chew Family Papers comprises one of the largest collections housed at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. With more than 288 linear feet of material, the collection centers on Benjamin Chew, Sr. (1722-1810) and his family, and includes numerous documents relating to servants and enslaved people. 

Illuminating Hidden Lives: Black Stories of the Mid-Atlantic Region's scope covered the period of Benjamin Chew Sr.'s life with a focus on documents by him and others who overlap within this time frame and may have written about or produced documents regarding enslaved and free African Americans. The project first digitized documents relating to properties in Philadelphia and will extend coverage to properties in Delaware, Maryland, and other states. 116 documents have been digitized and are available to the public. Click the button below to view.

One letter mentions tabacco and plantations, possibly regarding potential crop trade potential with England
Letter from Benjamin Chew Jr. (1758-1844) to his father regarding visiting plantations in MD and notes the amount of enslaved people.
Letter from Benjamin Chew Jr. (1758-1844) to Samuel Chew (1737-1809)

On Tuesday, February 22nd, Cliveden, the African American Genealogy Group, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania presented Finding Black Families: Stories from The Chew Family Papers via Zoom detailing the research, digitization work, and how to use various kinds of documents to trace their family history. Andrew Williams, Digital Archivist at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania; Adrienne Whaley, Programming Chair and former President of the African American Genealogy Group; and Carolyn Wallace, Education Director at Cliveden, were the program speakers.

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Cliveden's Education Director published an article for the National Trust detailing the research and discoveries made during the project. Click the button below to read the article.

Project Participants

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The African American Genealogy Group

The African American Genealogy Group was founded in January 1989 in response to the ever-increasing number of people who expressed a desire to research their family “roots.” Our mission is to educate, provide resources, and create a community for anyone interested in African American family history and genealogical research. Based in Philadelphia, PA and with a membership largely from the Tri-State region, we serve those who are interested in researching their family history locally, regionally, and nationally. https://aagg.org/

Cliveden of the National Trust

Built as a country house for attorney Benjamin Chew, Cliveden was completed in 1767 and was home to seven generations of the Chew family. Cliveden has long been famous as the site of the American Revolutionary War Battle of Germantown in 1777, as well as for its Georgian architecture. New research is unearthing a more complicated history at Cliveden, which involves layers of significance, including the lives of those who were enslaved and in service to the Chew family. This information broadens the meaning of Cliveden as a preserved historic place, exploring themes and stories of American identity and freedom. Traces of the history of the Cliveden property and its occupants can be found throughout the five acre woody landscape.

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania

The Historical Society of Pennsylvania, founded in 1824, is one of the nation’s largest archives of historical documents. We are proud to serve as Philadelphia’s Library of American History, with over 21 million manuscripts, books, and graphic images encompassing centuries of US history. Through educator workshops, research opportunities, public programs, and lectures throughout the year, we strive to make history relevant and exhilarating to all. For more information, visit hsp.org.

This project was funded by the National Trust for Historic Preservation's Interpretation and Education Endowed Fund that was made possible by a challenge grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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