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Sepviva: A slave plantation in Philadelphia owned by a Quaker

Aug 15, 2022 03:00PM ● By Karen Warrington

The City and Port of Philadelphia, on the River Delaware from Kensington, Source: Wikimedia Commons

I most certainly knew that Europeans had established sugar and tobacco plantations in the Caribbean and Central America, manned and “womanned” by enslaved Blacks and indigenous people. And, of course from an early age I was painfully aware of the tobacco and cotton plantations in the new America in the south where enslaved Blacks, kidnapped from Africa, toiled under brutally inhumane conditions.

But a plantation in Philadelphia, a northern city? A 165-acre owned by Quakers?

As I picked my history-seeking self off the floor, I was shocked by the revelation of a plantation in Philadelphia. This startling piece was written by reporter Spencer Homan, in the Spirit News, a community newspaper based in North Philadelphia’s Northern Liberties neighborhood.

Read 'The Origin of African Slavery and the Emergence of TransAtlantic Slave Trade':

Credit Wikimedia Commons

The Origin of African Slavery and the Emergence of TransAtlantic Slave Trade

The trans-Atlantic slave trade was the most significant long-distance forced movement of people in recorded history. Read More » 


Homan says initially he was simply attempting to find out the genesis of a street in east Philadelphia, curiously named, Sepviva. His sleuthing led him to the disturbing
discovery of the Sepviva Plantation, owned by the family of Issac Norris Jr., a Quaker.

Issac Norris’ father, Issac Norris Sr., was born in London in 1671, to a family of
Quakers.  But the Norris’ subsequently relocated to Port Royal, Jamaica where they “traded” in rum, molasses and sugar. Carrying on the family business, 21-year-old Norris Jr., acting as his father’s agent, moved to Philadelphia in 1693 and a little more than a decade later purchased 7,000 acres of land located from “Frankford to Germantown” from his friend William Penn. Ultimately 165 acres were carved out to create the Sepviva Plantation that utilized the blood, sweat and tears of enslaved Black people. It was located just miles from where the Liberty Bell would be installed. The operation of the plantation continued until the 1740s.

Philadelphia is well recognized as an historic American city. History seeps from its every pore, and slavery and continued racism is also a major part of this northern city’s history. Founded in 1682 by William Penn, an English Quaker, Philadelphia was the capital of the Pennsylvania Colony during the British colonial era. 

According to the Encyclopedia of Greater Philadelphia the forced labor of enslaved
Black people was integral to Philadelphia even before its founding by Penn. Swedish colonists first brought enslaved Africans to the region and the Isabella, a ship from Bristol, England, was the first ship to arrive at the Philadelphia port with a cargo of enslaved Africans in 1698.

Read 'Transatlantic Slavery: The Story of the Survivors of 'Clotilda', America's Last Black Slave Ship':
pWreckage of slave ship Clotilda from Historic sketches of the South by Emma Langdon Roche publisher New York The Knickerbocker Press 1914 Source Wikimedia Commonsbrp

Transatlantic Slavery: The Story of the Survivors of ‘Clotilda’, America’s Last Black Slave Ship.

In 1860, Cudjo Lewis Kossola (Oluale Kossola), Sally Smith (Rodeshi), and Matilda McCrear (Abake) were kidnapped from Dahomey (present-day Benin Republic) and taken via a ship named 'Clot... Read More » 


The Philadelphia port was an active participant in the Trans-Atlantic trading of Africans. The sailors and the sellers helped to grow and expand the merchandising and ownership of Black people. By 1710, Blacks were almost 20 percent of Philadelphia’s population.

The London Coffee House, 1845 Engraving. Image Source: Wikimedia Commons

Not to be overlooked is the London Coffee House, located on Front and High Streets. where auctions of enslaved Africans were held. Additionally, after much subterfuge and public pressure, local historians finally began revealing that George Washington, America’s first president, had slaves working for him.

So much of this debasing and painful Philadelphia history has been deliberately “whited” out and obscured in favor of focusing on the abolitionist movement in the city.  Nonetheless, the time is now and honestly overdue to expose Philadelphia’s full non- redacted history including the little known horrific reality of the Sepviva plantation.

 Karen Warrington has had a decades long career as a broadcast journalist, communications professional, performing artist, and documentary filmmaker. She has traveled extensively throughout Africa, the Caribbean, Europe, and Asia. She is committed to being a voice for the African Diaspora. 

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