According to researchers with the National Park Service, “Free Haven was developed in 1840 by Ralph Smith, a white abolitionist who was the first Secretary of the Philadelphia Vigilance Committee, an antislavery organization founded in 1838.
Smith named his development Free Haven to signify its role as a refuge from slavery and sold lots at low prices to free African Americans for homesites.” It has been suggested that Peter Mott escaped slavery from a neighboring state, Delaware – and his wife Elizabeth from Virginia.
According to deed documentation Elizabeth’s father sold land to Smith who later sold the land to Peter in 1840. If Peter was an escaped slave from Delaware – how did he save enough money to purchase a house in Free Haven? What was his profession prior to purchasing the house and land? Some census documents show Peter Mott as “Illiterate” – yet he was known to have started a Sunday Bible School program and was Superintendent of the local public school? Why was the census taker told that Peter was unable to read? Was this information offered to create subterfuge or was it recorded improperly or incorrectly?
The Lawnside Historical Society has recently partnered with African American Genealogy Group of Philadelphia to help uncover some genealogical information on Peter and Elizabeth Mott and other prominent families of the Lawnside community. So be sure to check back for updates on this collaboration.