The nation’s first training camp for soldiers of African descent in the Civil War, Camp William Penn, was established in 1863 at the La Mott area of Cheltenham Township. Joseph P. Blake looked back at this local milestone for The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Before the war, the area was a major stop on the Underground Railroad. Many eminent abolitionists, including Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, often met there.
“They (abolitionists) planned a lot of their activities right in this area,” said Perry Triplett, executive director of Citizens for the Restoration of Historic La Mott.
Later, the area became an integrated enclave named after Quaker Lucretia Mott, an outspoken opponent of slavery.
Before Camp William Penn was established, African Americans who wanted to join the Union Army had to practice at night in Philadelphia to avoid the scorn of whites.
In 1863, the governor ordered them to disband. But instead, they joined the 54th Colored Regiment of Massachusetts.
Later that year, the War Department opened Camp William Penn as a training center for Black soldiers, making them officially part of the U.S. Army for the first time.
Read more about Camp William Penn in The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Montgomery County residents who have never heard of, or visited, La Mott, can preview it here before embarking on their own.