An eyewitness to Philadelphia’s early days and the birth of America will be remembered this weekend as part of a Juneteenth celebration, commemorating emancipation of African-American slaves.
Saturday’s ceremony will tell the tale of a slave known as Alice. She was said to have lived to 116 years old, witnessing the birth of Pennsylvania and Philadelphia’s early years. Alice’s life story also provides a detailed look at slavery, said retired Temple University history professor Susan Klepp.
“She puts a human face on the institution of slavery. I mean, we know about slavery in the North but we have almost no individuals who we can look to, to understand how slavery affected someone over the course of a very long life,” said Klepp.
Though in servitude all of her life, Alice achieved unheard-of status for a slave by managing Dunk’s Ferry, in what is now Beverly, New Jersey. Alice supervised fisheries that supplied ships leaving Philadelphia, Klepp said, even though as a slave she was denied any chance to learn how to read and write.
Alice worked in a tavern and, at age 8, was tipped a few cents for lighting William Penn’s cigar, Klepp said. She also was a communicant at Philadelphia’s Christ Church and may have met George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Robert Morris, and Benjamin Rush, among others.
Dr. Audrey Henry, a member of the Riverfront Historical Society which is putting on the event, said Alice was outspoken about wanting to be free.
“Alice, of course, never had that opportunity because she died well before that — because she lived her entire life in slavery. So we’re going to bring her life story forward on this very important occasion,” said Henry.
Klepp’s talk begins Saturday afternoon at 1 at St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church in Beverly.