Votes sought to save abolitionists’ treasure

Chester County Historical Society artifact  on Pa. ‘endangered’ list

700000_1In 1855, forced to make a decision most people never face, Passmore Williamson chose going to prison over going against his principles.

Williamson was jailed for not cooperating in recovering Jane Johnson, an enslaved woman who sought and gained freedom in Pennsylvania with his assistance. Williamson spent 100 days in Philadelphia’s Moyamensing Prison before he was released, according to the Chester County Historical Society (CCHS).

While imprisoned, Williamson took the unusual step of keeping a visitors’ book that names the over 500 men, women and children who visited him in jail to show their support. The log is a CCHS holding  that has been deemed one of Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts. It is also part of an innovative six-week online campaign that opens today.

Williamson’s book contains the signatures of Frederick Douglass and hundreds of other notable supporters, including Underground Railroad conductor Harriet Tubman; William Still, who later published a history of the Underground Railroad; and Mary Ann Shadd, the first African American woman to publish a newspaper in North America. Tucked in the back of the book is a letter conveying gratitude from Jane Johnson, who was then living safely in Massachusetts.

Rob Lukens, president of the Chester County Historical Society, said he was thrilled that the book was selected as part of the campaign. “It’s such an inspiring object from a turbulent and significant time in our country’s history,” he said. “The Top 10 campaign will not only make people aware of the book and Passmore Williamson’s courage, it will raise the funds needed to make sure his book is preserved for many years to come.”

Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts, a statewide initiative created by the Conservation Center for Art & Historic Artifacts (CCAHA) – the largest nonprofit conservation center in the country – began in January with a statewide call to nonprofit institutions in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to submit artifacts demonstrably in need of conservation. An independent review panel of collections care professionals chose the top 10 artifacts from 60 submissions, based on their historical and cultural significance and need for conservation.

 “Our goal with this campaign is to showcase the state’s historic treasures and the need to preserve and protect our heritage for future generations,” said Ingrid Bogel, executive director of CCAHA. “We’ve created this program to give institutions a new platform through which to share their stories and to give people a chance to show their support by voting as many times as they’d like, sharing their favorite artifacts with friends through social media and supporting the conservation of these artifacts with online donations.”

Voting begins on Sept. 19 and ends on Friday, November 1 at midnight. Participants are encouraged to vote for their favorite artifact, click to share their vote on Facebook and Twitter, and send a tax-deductible donation to help conserve the artifact. At the conclusion of the campaign, institutions that meet their fund-raising goals will begin the conservation process, and the artifact garnering the most votes will be named the winner of The People’s Choice Award. To vote, visit

Pennsylvania’s Top 10 Endangered Artifacts is supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage and by The Beneficial Foundation. The project is part of CCAHA’s Save Pennsylvania’s Past initiative, a multi-year, statewide effort to protect and preserve the millions of objects and historic artifacts that shape the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania’s history and define our nation.



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  1. sherry winstine says:

    I want to share this on facebook, but there is no option.

    • Mike McGann says:

      Facebook doesn’t let us do it in a simple, elegant way. However, there is a “Recommend” button at the top of each of our stories which will put it into your newsfeed.

  2. sherry winstine says:

    Thank you for this inspiring article.

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