Written Especially For Grit
On what is now known as the old John Crain farm, in Decatur township, Clearfield county, Pa., may be found the first known burial ground used exclusively by colored people in Central Pennsylvania. Many mounds, only faintly distinguishable, are all that now remain to show that human bodies, once animated with the strenuous life of pioneer days, lie beneath the wild growth and brush and vines. The last interment was made many years ago. And there will be no more. For, so far as any purchase or deeded burial ground having been used as such at a time when there was no opposition to the use of unclaimed land as a resting place for the dead. At any rate the tract containing the graveyard has long been the private property of white residents of the community. How more than three-quarters of a century ago, a Negro burial ground became established in the wilderness, where there were few white people, and where a black man was almost a curiosity, is an interesting and heretofore little known chapter of the history of the region.
Ninety-six years ago several residents of the village of Philipsburg found, near where the Pennsylvania railroad bridge spans Moshannon creek, a strange Negro, probably 30 years of age, hiding in the heavy timber which at that period covered the whole surrounding country. He was in a starved and almost helpless condition. Food and clothing were given him by the kindly disposed white people, and when he was assured no harm was intended to him he gave an account of himself. His name he said was Samuel Green, and that he was a slave and ran away from a plantation in Northern Virginia. He had traveled the entire distance by foot, tramping at night to avoid being seen, and sleeping and hiding during the day. He begged piteously for his freedom, being in deadly fear that his newfound friends meant to detain him and inform his southern master of his whereabouts. But the big hearted Pennsylvania mountaineers, themselves as free and unshackled as the air they breathed, had no such intentions. They at once became his staunch friends, offering him a home in the settlement. This however, he could not be induced to accept, the fear of discovery being too strong with him. Willing hands helped him to erect a small cabin near where he had been found. Here he lived in solitude undergoing all the hardships of backwoods life. The pantherís night cry disturbed his slumbers, and prowling beasts of prey were a constant menace to his rudely stored stock of food provided by the friendly whites. And, night and day the fear of the hunted was upon him.
It is related that a strange man upon one occasion mounted, with pistols belted to his waist and in riding boots and spurs, rode directly to Greenís cabin door. In the simple mind of the slave there was only one meaning to the coming of the stranger his enforced return to slavery. Almost paralyzed with fear he begged for freedom. His visitor, somewhat surprised, assured him of his kindly intentions, and soon had the negroís fears quieted. He learned from Green his story, and on leaving, after partaking of food, slipped a number of coins into Greenís hand, cautioning him not to mention the visit to any of his white friends. Many months passed before the Negro felt liberty to speak of the visit. The identity of the man was never positively learned, but it appears to have been the generally accepted belief, from the description given by Green, that his visitor was Connelly, the famed highwayman of Central Pennsylvania, a character who is said to have performed many deeds of kindness during his notorious outlawed career. After a stay of about a year, Green abandoned his hut and located farther up the creek, to where Dunbar Station is now located. Here he built another cabin. Living in primitive freedom, the fear of capture wore away. He became acquainted in the neighborhood, and shortly met and married a free woman of his own race, Mary Mc Naul. They went to housekeeping in the Dunbar cabin, and lived happily in their home in the wilderness for many years. Eleven children were born to them, nine sons and two daughters. The daughters died young, and were buried near where they were born, their graves being the first in this lonely graveyard. The old slave and his wife also were in time laid at rest there. The nine sons grew to manhood.
Of the nine sons Abraham appeared to be the most prominent and popular. He married a white woman, Eve Herdman. Abraham, who possessed the happy, carefree disposition of his race, had many friends. Much of his spare time was spent in Philipsburg and for many years he was a trusted employee of Dr. C. R. Foster, one of the early practicing physicians in that region. The first funeral sermon preached by the late Bishop Kephart, of the United Brethren church, was over the boy of Abraham Green.
Elizabeth Green, whose picture appears with this article was a daughter of Abraham Green. She was married in 1864 to Elijah Only, whose likeness is also here given. Both pictures are from photographs by Lewis Press, of Pittsburg. Mr. And Mrs. Only reside at Philipsburg, and are greatly respected. Elijah Only was born in slavery in Montgomery county, Maryland, in 1820, and when only 18 years of age his master, Charles Mackifer, refused an offer of $1,800. for him. For four years he was overseer on the plantation on which he was a slave. He was given his freedom when 23 years of age. He came to Philipsburg in the early 60ís, returning to his native state as a soldier fighting for the cause which meant so much for his race. He enlisted in the famous Bucktail regiment. Twice he carried Col Irvin, wounded, from the battlefields of Antietam and Fredericksburg. Naturally, Col Irvin, who now resides at Curwensville, thinks a great deal of him. Being tall and of sturdy build, he doubtless possessed in his younger day a great physical strength credited to him.
Submitted by: Connie Cole
Source: Miscellany Section Pennsylvania Grit Newspaper Clipping not dated. Estimated about June 1906. The story on the other side is about the upcoming July fourth boxing event between Frankie Neil and Abe Attell.