Liberia, Mercer County

A wooden cross remembers the residents of Liberia, Mercer County

I had spent the morning in Mercer County visiting friends and decided to take a scenic drive homeward, rather than the interstate. Usually I take backroads into Sandy Lake and then Route 62 into Franklin, but on this trip, I turned the opposite direction on Route 62. Driving a short distance, I spotted the familiar blue Pennsylvania Historical Marker on the southern side of the road.

I parked along Route 62 and walked over to read the historical maker entitled “Freedom Road.” The brief history on the marker stated the area was once a village formed around 1825 by escaped slaves. Unfortunately, by 1850 the community had vanished as the residents moved northward and only the cemetery remained of the village.

Leaving the historical marker, I paused at another sign that provided more information about the cemetery. After reading the history typed on weather-worn paper, I made my way carefully up the roadway to the historic cemetery. Known by a number of names including “The Freedom Road Cemetery,” “The Liberia Cemetery,” “The Amasa Stone Slave Cemetery,” “The Amasa Stone Memorial Cemetery,” and simply “The Amasa Stone Cemetery.” The sacred plot of land is what remains of the community of Liberia. Note: Amasa Stone was the president of the Mercer Iron and Coal Company and the Jamestown and Franklin Railroad. The Mercer Iron and Coal Company would eventually purchase the lands and the community of Stoneboro was laid out and named in his honor.

I paused at the spot where the grassy road entered the cleared piece of sacred ground and scanned it. Only a couple stone markers stood in the recently cut grass, but a number of large, wooden crosses stood to mark the unmarked graves lost to time. Respectfully, I walked over to the closest one and read it: “Ex Slaves, Known Only Unto God.”

I left the cross and walked over pay my respects at the marked graves of two US Civil War veterans buried in the sacred plot. The first belonged to Isaah Anderson, a private in Company B of the Forty-Third Regiment of the US Colored Infantry. He was an imposing figure, standing six-foot-four, weighing two hundred pounds and was reported to have worn a size fourteen shoe.

The second of the marked veteran graves belongs to Jacob Roberts, a private in Company H of the Sixth Regiment of the US Colored Infantry. The Greenville Record-Argus notes in a February 28, 1932 article that a Jacob Roberts was Stoneboro’s last surviving Civil War veteran and that he played the fife in the regiment.

According to the informational paper at the cemetery’s entrance, there are two more US Civil War Veterans buried here. Ernest and Samuel Grannison were brothers who also served, but their graves are not marked.

The cemetery had been restored with the handful of crosses placed at known gravesites, giving the sacred plot of land back its dignity and honor to those buried there. While the cemetery has been restored, the majority of those resting there have lost their names to history. It is not known exactly how many slumber in this patch of hallowed ground, but it is believed that there are between eighty and one hundred souls resting in the Liberia Cemetery, most of whom have their names lost due to time.

The community of Liberia had its start in the mid-1810s when Richard Travis Sr., purchased the land. A freed black man, Travis paid $2 for 150 acres along the body of water known as Sandy Lake. By 1821, Travis owned nearly 400 acres and began transferring land to other blacks who wanted to settle there. The community became a part of the route escaped slaves took when heading northward on the Underground Railroad.

Residents of Liberia erected simple homes made of clapboard, which stood a story and a half tall and were eighteen by twenty feet in size. Liberia was known to have had a meeting house, but any other buildings have faded from memory.

Note: Exactly how big Liberia was in its prime is not clear and there is a lot of conflicting information. This comes from the community keeping hidden within the forests of Mercer County. The 1840 census show twenty-four people living there. However, in a number of sources it is mentioned that there were closer to ninety people living there in 1840.

The 1850 revision of The Fugitive Slave Act would cause the abandonment of not only Liberia, but all the small black communities that had grown in the remote valleys of the Northern states. The revised Act 1) required local citizens and officials to cooperate with Southern agents trailing runaway slaves 2) allowed slave owners to use Federal Marshals to track down escaped slaves and 3) increased the fine of harboring runaway slaves to $1000 and six months in jail. This made it easier to not only recover escaping slaves, but made it easier to force freemen into slavery.

In order to maintain their freedom, the residents of Liberia began moving northward into Canada. The community soon disappeared until only memories and the town cemetery remained.

I finished paying my respects to those resting on the hillside before I carefully made my way back to the vehicle and left the early residents of Mercer County laying in unmarked – but not forgotten – graves overlooking the lands they once called home.

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