African American Settlement
Nestled in a valley just north of Millerstown, Greenwood Township at the western end of Michael’s Ridge or Iron Mountain (or Slaughterback Hill?), Little Washington began when a black couple, John and Martha Washington, purchased land there in 1842. This became a community of African American families where they created homes, gardens, and small farms for over 60 years. Some were farmers, but many worked in the local mines, forges, small businesses and for neighboring farmers. Due to the changing economy, the community had ceased to exist by the early 1900s.
Local historian H. H. Hain writes of a small pox epidemic that engulfed the black community around 1850. While being quarantined, they were aided courageously by local physician Braham C. Stees and a number of unidentified townsfolk who provided food.
Local lore suggests that Little Washington residents and white abolitionists assisted slave runaways to continue their journeys northward to freedom via the Underground Railroad.
Today, the only marks of the settlement are fallen stone walls and a few small, flat areas where houses once stood. Nearby are the remains of the African Methodist Episcopal church and cemetery. The area today is the source of Millerstown’s water supply, not accessible to the public.
Brother Joshua Thomas – A Profile in Service
Joshua Thomas, an illiterate preacher, arrived in the early 1860s, secured land, built a home and a church to serve 30 to 40 families. Thomas appears in the Greenwood Township censuses from 1850-1890.
He was born free on April 1, 1806 at Frederickstown, Maryland and (but?) bound out until he was twenty-seven years old. While young, he married a slave woman with whom he fathered fifteen children. At the death of his wife and the sale of his children, he came north to Pennsylvania and worked on a farm for a man named Meredith in Tuscarora Township, Perry County. He remarried twice and had several more children. While working at local farms, he became a traveling preacher and collected funds to build the church in Little Washington. He died July 20, 1894 and was buried in his cemetery.
A warrant map showing the location of the African-American community and Joshua Thomas’ church and cemetery.
A portrait of The Rev. Joshua Thomas hangs in the Millerstown United Methodist Church in recognition of his service.