Home > The LeMoyne House is the first site in Pennsylvania to be named a National Historical Landmark of the Underground Railroad, a historic treasure in the state

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The LeMoyne House is the first site in Pennsylvania to be named a National Historical Landmark of the Underground Railroad, a historic treasure in the state


 PUM One on One:  Katie West-Collections Manager and Curator for the Washington County Historical Society

PUM: Tell us more about the LeMoyne House and the significance of having this historic treasure in Pennsylvania
West: The Francis J. LeMoyne House was built in 1812 by John Julius LeMoyne, a French immigrant who worked out of the house as a doctor and apothecary until the time came for his son to take over ownership of the house. Francis was a doctor and apothecary like his father, but he was also a social advocate, especially in the realm of abolitionism. Francis wrote his first anti-slavery essay while he was in school at Washington College. He continued to be involved in Anti-Slavery efforts throughout the country including the Underground Railroad. The house was used as a safe house throughout the mid-1800s, mostly in the 1830s and 1840s. The LeMoyne House is the first place to be named a National Historic Landmark of the Underground Railroad. Southwestern Pennsylvania was a major hub of the Underground Railroad and Francis was instrumental in organizing escape routes as well as maintaining an active network.
PUM:  When visitors come to the LeMoyne House what can they expect to learn more about in terms of slavery and the African American experience in Pennsylvania
West:  Visitors learn first and foremost about Francis’s role in abolitionist efforts. During our tours we also discuss dangers posed to abolitionists and their families, pro-slavery tensions in states that were considered free, legislation concerning slavery such as the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850, and the role of Anti-Slavery and Abolitionist Societies in speaking out against slavery.
PUM: Why is preserving this history so important for the community?
West:  Though he was a major player in pre-Civil War abolitionist work, Francis LeMoyne has been largely forgotten in the national Anti-Slavery narrative. It is important for us to bring to light his contributions which had a national impact. However, it is even more important to recognize his local and regional contributions. These contributions are critical pieces in understanding the history of abolitionism and the Underground Railroad in Southwestern PA.
In addition to the contributions of Francis, this history is important because of the documentation that the Washington County Historical Society preserves in its archives. Many abolitionists did not keep records of their efforts because it was dangerous to do so. Francis, however, did keep a record of his abolitionist efforts. In the collection at the Historical Society we have a number of receipts of payment from prominent Washington County citizens to Francis for various Anti-Slavery societies, petitions for Francis to speak to various groups about the cause of abolitionism, letters from runaway slaves Francis had aided, and letters from fellow abolitionists, including John Brown.
PUM: Any future plans for the LeMoyne House?
West:  Our long range plan is to reinterpret the rooms of the LeMoyne House to create a more accurate and engaging timeline of the family’s 131-year history in the house. This reinterpretation would include greater presence of Underground Railroad and abolitionist efforts made by Francis throughout his lifetime.
PUM: Celebrating Black History Month, do you feel Dr. LeMoyne would appreciate his significant role he played in helping to abolish slavery?
West: Dr. LeMoyne was a very humble man. During his life he donated approximately $30,000 to a school in Memphis, Tennessee, now known as LeMoyne-Owens College, in order for them to continue operations. However, he stipulated that this institution create equal education opportunities for black men and women wishing to attend. Francis’s family didn’t even know he gave this money until his youngest daughter, Madeleine was gifted with a plaque thanking her for the doctor’s generous gift. In the biography of his life, Francis is touted as a Fearless Advocate of the Right. He simply did what he thought was the right by working tirelessly to see that all peoples were equal. While I believe he would be pleased with the fruits of his labor, I doubt that Francis would count his role as significant or as anything other than the right thing to do.
More Information: 
The Washington County Historical Society
49 East Maiden St.
Washington, PA 15301
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