Reading: The Town of Widow Finney

During the month of March (National Women’s History Month) I will be posting a blog on some of the women of Berks County. I hope I will be choosing some women that will be interesting to you and you may find them as amazing as I do. Also, I will include a Mystery Woman of the Week for you to read and test your knowledge.


Have you ever eaten at The Speckled Hen? For the longest time, historians thought that this log cabin had been the home of Sarah Finney, better known as Widow Finney. Later it was determined that the original Finney home was where Judy’s on Cherry is located today.

Sarah was born about 1685 in Philadelphia, to what we might call “well-to-do” parents. She married Joseph Finney and the two of them decided to make a life of their own as homesteaders near the ford in the Schuylkill River along what was called the Perkiomen Path. They had two sons, Sam and John and two daughters, Rebecca and Anne. Joseph planned a plantation with fruit trees and for two years, Joseph and Sarah and their sons and daughters worked tirelessly to clear the land, and make a home for the Finney family. Unfortunately, Joseph died in 1734 only a few years after making their homestead. Not long after that, Sam and John died also.

Making a life in the wilderness was no easy task! So Sarah was left along the frontier, with her two daughters. Her family wanted her to come back to Philadelphia and live there with them. Whether she was stubborn or determined, I’m not sure, but she decided to stay at their homestead. She couldn’t bear the thought of leaving the land they had worked so hard to settle. Her home became a haven and rest stop for travelers, hunters, trappers and Native Americans as they walked or rode along the Perkiomen Path. Sarah always had fresh bread, soup or stew on the hearth for those who stopped in. And, oh yes, her pies were made with the fresh fruit from the orchard! Occasionally, a traveler might spend the night.

Her homestead was so well-liked that the area which today is Reading, was once known as The Town of Widow Finney! For more than ten years Sarah welcomed and chatted with Conrad Weiser, Mordecai Lincoln, Joseph Hiester and the Lenni Lenape Indians. She said she got along better with the Lenni Lenapes than she did with Thomas and Richard Penn and Thomas Lawrence! She felt that they represented land hungry businessmen! They owned the property adjacent to hers, and had mapped out a city plan and they were after her prime property. Sarah died in December of 1743 and the deed to the property went to Rebecca. Through the use of clever land agents and surveyors, the Penns were able to recover the prominent site from the widow’s heirs and build their town at the best location. And, the rest, so they say, is history!


Mystery Woman of the Week (Watch for the answer in my next blog)

I was the first female doctor in the US, graduating from Geneva College in 1847, even though my acceptance there was considered to be a joke!


Hallie Vaughan is a Women’s History enthusiast, instructor and reinactor and longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center. As a guest blogger Hallie will focus on Women’s History in Berks County. 


The Price of Freedom: Life in Berks County After the Emancipation Act

From the Berks History Center Research Library Manuscript Collection

In 1780, Pennsylvania passed a gradual emancipation act. The act marked the start of the decline of slavery in the state. Still, the act’s specifics were more gradual than immediate, which created a system that allowed slavery to persist in this state. There were slaves in Berks County just like many other places in the state. Like elsewhere these enslaved people struggled to gain that freedom.

In 1796, an eight year old African American girl named Margaret was sold to Thomas Boyd for the sum of forty pounds. More than likely, Margaret worked as a domestic servant taking care of her master’s house. What is striking about Margaret’s case was that slaves were, in 1780, not allowed to be imported into the state and everyone born in Pennsylvania after 1780 was not to be considered a slave but indentured. Despite these regulations, Margaret was clearly considered a slave by Boyd in this document.

After many years of unsanctioned enslavement, Margaret gained her freedom in 1816. But, the bill of sale suggests that she did so at a steep price. The bill states that between 1816 and 1819 Margaret paid $117.75 for her freedom. This cost her almost three times her original sale price in 1796. Like so many others, Margaret bought freedom at an inflated price when she should have already been free. All enslaved people were supposed to be freed at the age of 28 in Pennsylvania. In 1816, Margaret reached the age of 28. This document clearly shows the extent to which black Americans went to better their lives in a society that constantly attempted to cripple their advancement.     

Written by guest blogger, Sean Anderson as part of a project funded by the National Endowment for Humanities entitled: Metadata, Marketing, and a Local Archive: Creating Popular Interest from Archival Sources at the Berks History Center Research Library.

The Underground Railroad in Berks

Schomburg Center for Research in Black Culture, Jean Blackwell Hutson Research and Reference Division, The New York Public Library. “The runaway.” The New York Public Library Digital Collections. 1899 [c1898].

In the present climate of national discord and self-interest, it’s especially important to remember those individuals who risked everything to help others, despite the contempt of the majority.

German Quakers in Germantown were the first to protest the holding of slaves in 1688. What became known as the Underground Railroad existed in Washington’s time—as early as 1786. This movement was run mostly by Quaker and Amish families. The roots of the Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania started near Columbia and Bird-in-Hand, Lancaster County. Daniel and Hannah Weirman Gibbon, Quaker leaders of the time, organized a route in Lancaster and Chester Counties beginning in the early 1800s. The Underground Railroad then extended into Berks County across the Chester County line. Thousands of slaves escaped from the South, aided by Berks Countians. Locations included Bethel A.M.E Church, Reading; Pine Forge, Douglass Township; the Parvin House; Ontelaunee Township; and the Kirbyville Hotel, near Fleetwood.

Northeastern Corridor Map.JPG
Map of the Northeastern Corridor of the Underground Railroad, Eastern Pennsylvania 1790-1860, BHC Vertical File F10 BE-3

As a forty year resident of Robeson Township, I am especially proud of the Township’s important role in the Underground Railroad. Scarlet’s Mill, Joanna Furnace, Mount Frisby A.M.E. Church and The White Bear Inn served as “stations”, with stops spaced ten miles apart. The fleeing slaves moved from one station to another at night until reaching a safe haven, for many Canada.

Robeson 1854 Berks Atlas.JPG
From 1854 Atlas of Berks County, BHC Research Library

According to reports, around 1832 large numbers of fleeing slaves were sent to the home of Elizabeth Pownall Scarlet and her son, who lived in Robeson Township (about five miles west of Birdsboro). Elizabeth was said to be close friends with the Gibbons Family. The dense woods of that area and huts used by charcoal burners (who were employed the nearby forges and furnaces) provided plenty of hiding places. Scarlet’s home, Bon Ridge, is said to have housed more runaway slaves than any other stop in the region. The home still exists on the road leading from White Bear to Gibraltar. This area of the county, called “The Forest”, extended from Flying Hills, south beyond Hopewell Hills.

After Elizabeth’s death, her youngest son, John Pownall Scarlet continued as a “conductor”. Thomas Lewis, married to Ellen B. Scarlet (Elizabeth’s daughter) bought the old Scarlet homestead in 1841 and continued to provide refuge. One of Elizabeth’s other sons was involved in the Underground Railroad near Christiana, PA. In 1857, Joseph Scarlett was involved in The Christiana Tragedy, when the Gap Gang tried to seize escaped slaves in the area. Two people were killed. Thomas Jackson, a Quaker who also lived in “The Forest”, near Joanna Furnace, operated a station prior to 1827. Joanna Furnace was owned and operated by Levi B. Smith, who although not a Quaker, was sympathetic to the Abolitionist cause. He hid fleeing slaves in the wooded furnace areas and in the charcoal huts. Henry Segner, a Joanna Furnace employee, used his knowledge of these woodlands to guide fleeing slaves. His home still stands along Route 10, one mile south of Plow Church.

Scarlet Home.jpg
Elizabeth and James Scarlet’s Home from History Of Robeson Township: Bicentennial Edition, 1976

Another stop, deep in the woodlands of Fingal’s Castle (now an unrecognizable pile of rocks) were the pond fields of Chestnut Hill. It was in this area that fleeing slaves stayed with the Cole Family before moving on to the “Welsh Mountains,” which then led to the Honey Brook area. In White Bear, Thomas Lewis, a Quaker, received many runaways—The White Bear Inn opened in 1815. A number of Hopewell Furnace’s African-American workers lived in “the Forest” nearby. Beginning in 1835, this area served as a safe haven for runaway slaves on The Underground Railroad along Six Penny Creek. By 1856, the black community established the Mount Frisby A.M.E. Church, yet another station on the Underground Railroad in Berks County.

Reading Eagle Map.JPG
Map of Southeastern Berks County Underground Railroad Location, published in the Reading Eagle on April 11, 2008, BHC Vertical File F10 BE-3

The Fugitive Slave Law passed in 1850 made conditions worse, but ultimately turned people against slavery. The Underground Railroad ended with the Emancipation Proclamation in 1862. By then as many as 75,000 slaves had made it to freedom and thousands of people were involved.

The power of brave people to effect change is boundless.


Article Researched & Written by Gail Corvaia


  • Charles L. Blockson, The Underground Railroad in Pennsylvania, North Carolina: Flame, 1981.
  • Ron Devlin, “On the Path of Fleeing Slaves,” Reading Eagle, April 11, 2008.
  • John E. Eshelman, “Berks County’s Station on the Underground Railroad,” Historical Review of Berks County, July 1941, pages 107-109.
  • Amy L. Geiger, “Underground Railroad in Berks County,” BHC Research Library Vertical File.
  • Wayne E. Homan, “The Underground Railroad,” Historical Review of Berks County, Fall 1958, pages 112-116.
  • Dennis C. Kurjack, “Hopewell Village National Historic Site, Pennsylvania,” National Park Service Historical Handbook, Series No. 8, Washington, DC, 1954.
  • “Robeson Township,” Reading Eagle, July 8, 2002.
  • J. Earl Ruthardt, “Tunnels of City Link to History,” Reading Times, 1991.
  • “Slavery and the Abolitionist Movement,” History of Robeson Township: Bicentennial Edition, 1976.
  • “Underground Railway for Slaves Existed for Years in Berks County,” Reading Eagle, July 8, 1934.
  • Maryalice Yakutchik, “The Underground Railroad Has Tracks Through Berks,’ Reading Eagle, February 1993.
  • “African-Americans at Hopewell Furnace,” Hopewell Furnace National Historic Site,
  • Misty Doane, “The Underground Railroad in the 19th Century – Woven With Words,” Reading Branch NAACP #2289,



WWI: Don’t Be a Slacker!

Reading Times,  October 2, 1918

It was an unseasonably warm, sunny day when Aaron Krick of Reading wandered along the railroad tracks outside of Dauberville on October 8, 1918.  At 65 degrees, it was a perfect day for a walk and Krick had no intention of breaking the law. Suddenly the young man was confronted by uniformed railway police. After being accused of trespassing and arrested, Krick was hauled before the Alderman. He was asked to produce his draft registration card, but acknowledged that he did not possess one. He did not know that the country was at war, he told the Alderman, and he had no intention of joining the army. Aaron Krick was a “slacker.”

When our country entered the Great War in April 1917, the U.S. Army was ill-prepared to wage war against Germany. President Wilson asked for an Army of 1,000,000 men, and at first, relied on volunteers to meet that quota. When the volunteer pool slowed well below the desired number of recruits, the Selective Service Act of 1917 was passed on May 8th that year. The Act required all able-bodied men between the ages of 21 and 30 to register for the draft. Nationally, the draft was a success. 2 million of the 4.8 million men in service came from the draft. However, the number of men who “dodged” the draft nationally was somewhere around 325,000.

WWI Draft Cards, Berks History Center Museum Collection

The term slacker had its beginnings on a national level. One week after the United States entered the war, a column appeared in the New York Evening World, which described the many different slackers and how a slacker is “willing to die of old age for his country.” The article also spoke directly to the reader, stating that before you called someone out for being a slacker, you must first look at yourself and make sure you were not a slacker as well.

In the eyes of a nation at war, draft dodging was taken seriously. The dodgers were constantly sought by the Department of Justice, who were responsible for their prosecution. If, like Aaron Krick, a young man was of age and did not register for the draft, he was detained by the authorities. In the instance that a young man registered for the draft but did not report, they were sought by authorities and held for the actions of the Department of Justice. Such was the case with Pedro Gomenz and Eugene Berlanger, who evaded the call to the Fleetwood board by going to Reading. They were prosecuted and branded as slackers. If a man was rounded up as a slacker, his name was published and he was considered a traitor to the U. S. and a disgrace to the community.

slacker 1
Reading Times,  December 16, 1918

The term slacker also applied to those with actions that were deemed unpatriotic. If a man missed work in a plant that was vital to the war effort, he too was deemed a slacker. If a fundraising drive was held and someone refused to contribute, as an employee of Carpenter Steel did during a Red Cross drive, they were subject to ridicule by coworkers. Slacker Day was proclaimed at Carpenter Steel where anyone who did not subscribe to the Red Cross drive was subjected to the wrath of his fellow coworkers. One man who refused to contribute was met at the door, pinned down, and had a yellow stripe painted on his back. When he made it back to his feet, he was blasted with a fire hose as he left the property. Two other men who did not contribute to the drive discovered a sign mounted at their station in the water department which said, “There are two slackers here.” They claimed they had contributed and ripped up the sign. Their coworkers then posted another sign with an American flag draped over it. The two slackers were forced to contribute twice as much to the Red Cross as they had claimed. Then their coworkers made both men kneel and kiss the flag. One did so willingly while the other man’s actions did not go over well. He was chased from the area while women from another department threw stones at him as he left the facility.

slacker 2.png
Reading Times,  November 15 1918

In Reading, Mayor Edward Filbert worked to break up the “loafing ring” of industrial slackers. He instructed city detectives to round up all industrial slackers and force them to work or hand them a jail sentence. Movie theatres, such as the Lyric, 808-810 Penn St., The Queen, 410 N 11th St., and the Majestic, 108 Oley St., showed moving pictures about slackers. The patriotic fever that was strong in this community during the Great War would not stand for anyone who “slacked” behind in their duties to their country and community. For some branded as slackers, jail might have been preferable than the wrath they faced in the community.

As for Aaron Krick, the man who wasn’t registered for the draft in October 1918 and claimed that he didn’t know the country was at war, he wasn’t completely honest with the Alderman in Dauberville. In September 1917, Krick was arrested in Reading for…being a slacker! Krick’s actual residence was Mohnton but he moved to Reading to avoid the draft and cause confusion as to which precinct he was registered. Krick continued to be investigated by police as late as 1921, when he was arrested at 9th and Penn Sts. on a charge of suspicion. Police believed he was wanted for being a draft dodger.

Richard Polityka is a longtime volunteer at the Berks History Center and project leader of the Berks History Center’s World War I project that commemorates the 100th Anniversary of the Great War. 


Make Your Mark on Berks History


Make your Mark!_WebBanner

The Berks History Center has joined #GivingTuesday, a global day of giving that harnesses the collective power of individuals, communities and organizations to encourage philanthropy and to celebrate generosity worldwide. Berks County is home to countless individuals who have made an impact on our local history. Make your mark on Berks history this year by supporting the Berks History Center on  November 28, 2017 for #GivingTuesday. 

#GivingTuesday is held annually on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, following the widely recognized shopping events Black Friday and Cyber Monday. #GivingTuesday kicks off the holiday giving season and inspires citizens to collaborate by improving their local communities and giving back in impactful ways.

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

On November 28, 2017, the Berks History Center invites you to “Make Your Mark” on Berks County’s history by supporting the Berks History Center on #GivingTuesday. Generous patrons and friends are encouraged to give to the Berks History Center throughout the day online at and from 2:00-7:00PM at the Berks History Center Museum located at 940 Centre Avenue, Reading, PA 19601, where the Berks History Center will host a free open house.

Visitors are invited to enjoy free tours of the museum, children’s activities, a new museum scavenger hunt and, #UNselfies with the faces of Berks County’s history. The #GivingTuesday open house will run from 2:00-7:00PM and is free of charge as a gesture of appreciation for our friends and supporters.

The Berks History Center’s goal is to raise $10,000 on #GivingTuesday for a number of facilities improvements and operational costs including humidity control improvements, educational materials, preservation supplies and research equipment. All donations will help the Berks History Center continue its mission to preserve and share the historical legacy of Berks County for generations to come through educational programming, museum exhibits and the BHC Research Library. Click here for more information and to “Make Your Mark” on #GivingTuesday.


Daniel Rose: A Reading Clockmaker

Portrait of Daniel Rose  by Jacob Witman (1769-1795) from the BHC Museum Collection

Born in 1749, Daniel Rose of Reading became a talented watch & clock maker capable of building musical mechanisms that few in America could rival. He also sold and repaired clocks, watches, and jewelry in addition to musical instruments. In 1775, Rose instructed the drummers and fifers of the 1st Battalion of the Berks County militia. The following year, he joined the Committee of Safety in Reading, and in 1777, was appointed a captain in the militia. He served in the State Legislature from 1799 -1804, 1806 – 1808 and 1811-1812. Rose even opened his own museum in Reading in his home on Penn Street. He was also a talented musician. At the time of his death in 1827, Rose owned two organs, a piano, clarinet, hautboy (oboe), bassoon, flute and a French horn.

The Berks History Center Museum is home to several Rose tall case clocks and a full length portrait of the famous clockmaker. In the portrait, Daniel Rose is depicted as a dashing figure wearing his double-breasted coat and red silk vest by Jacob Witman. His hair is cut short and brushed forward in a style that became fashionable in the late 1790s. Rose is wearing an extensive amount of jewelry, which was all in the height of male fashion at the time, including oval knee buckles, steel cut shoe buckles, and a gold ring. Four musical instruments are also included in the portrait: a violin, flute, clarinet, and square piano. Look carefully at the piano to see where the artist, Jacob Whitman, cleverly painted his own name instead of that of the instrument maker.


Floyd N. Turner: A Berks County Navy Veteran

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

Floyd N. Turner II

U.S. Navy

Radioman 1st Class, Submarine Qualified

August 1979 – April 1989

Growing up in Shoemakersville, I knew at a relatively young age that I wanted to join the Navy and serve on submarines. With my parent’s consent, I committed to the Navy to be a submarine Radioman while still a senior in Hamburg High School and left for boot camp a couple months after graduation. As a submarine Radioman, I was trained in electronics and teletype repair in order to maintain the communications equipment while underway. After 2 years of schools, I was stationed onboard the USS Ray (SSN 653), a fast-attack submarine based in Charleston, SC. Fast-attack submarines serve many functions but their primary role is as hunter-killers of other submarines and surface ships. Missions also included a variety of special operations and intelligence gathering. While I was onboard, the Ray went to sea many times including extended deployments to the North Atlantic, above the Arctic Circle, and into the Mediterranean.


After nearly 4 years onboard Ray, I re-enlisted and was transferred to serve as an instructor at the Submarine Satellite Information Exchange System School at Naval Submarine School in Groton, CT. While attending instructor training, I was selected to instead serve as an Evaluator in the school’s Curriculum and Instructional Standards Office. In this position, I helped evaluate over 500 instructors and over 100 courses to ensure training methods and standards remained as high as possible. With almost 10 years in the Navy, I chose to return to civilian life in Berks County and pursue other adventures.