History2022-07-12T14:12:18+00:00

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History of the Dennis Farm

“The Dennis Farm is a gift to the nation. The sweep of American History is written in this land.”

– Cheryl LaRoche, Ph.D.

The history of The Dennis Farm and the Free African American family who settled, expanded, and retained ownership of the farm, unfolds simultaneously with the History of the United States, from colonial New England to the present.

For nearly 250 years, the truths articulated in the Declaration of Independence have touched the hearts and aspirations of all people who believe in their own humanity. Although the Founding Fathers were addressing only their peers, property-owning white men, when they wrote, “…all men are created equal,” their words have resonated with all freedom-loving people—especially African Americans.

The story of The Dennis Farm is the true saga of a Free African American family in the Northeast United States, from the American Revolution to the twenty-first century. At the center of the saga, like a beating heart, is their land: the 200+ year-old, 153-acre Dennis Farm located in the scenic Endless Mountains of Pennsylvania. The men whose stories open this saga, Prince Perkins, his son William Perkins, and James Dennis whose son, Henry, married into the Perkins family were born in colonial New England in the eighteenth century and understood that owning land was the key to independence.

In spite of the obstacles that stood between free black men and access to property, the Perkins and Dennis men were determined to realize their American Dream. Motivated by their desire to be landowners, as their white compatriots were, they left their native New England in order to achieve their goal.

They succeeded.

Not only did they purchase land, they increased and bequeathed it to their heirs, the descendants of Henry W. Dennis and Angeline Perkins Dennis, at a time when the rights of free African Americans were precarious at best. They accomplished this in a remote region in Northeast Pennsylvania between Scranton, PA and Binghamton, New York—before Scranton was founded–where African Americans totaled less than one half of one percent of the population. Yet they managed to achieve what, at the time, was believed to be the exclusive right of white men and lived peacefully among their white neighbors. They accepted their responsibilities as Americans, by serving in the military and paying taxes.

The Perkins-Dennis Cemetery on the Farm’s hilltop is the final resting place of documented African American veterans of the American Revolutionary War, the War of 1812 and the Civil War. The Farm was, also, a clandestine station on the Underground Railroad and African Americans who died en route to freedom are reputed to be buried in the Perkins-Dennis Cemetery, the only African American owned cemetery in the region.

Each generation of the Perkins-Dennis Family has had the farm in their hearts and made whatever sacrifices necessary to be good stewards of their patrimony. Through the story of this family, the saga of free, intelligent, hard-working and forward thinking African Americans who built a farmstead in the Northeast, when slavery was legal in half the United States, The Dennis Farm broadens our perception of American History and forever changes the way we think about “the African American experience.”

At the same time, their story speaks to all those who, like the Perkins-Dennis family, believe in the promise of the United States and have endeavored to make that promise a reality.

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History2022-06-17T13:04:50+00:00

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Established by Hope Dennis and her niece, M. Denise Dennis, in 2001, The Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust a 501(c)(3) non-profit was created to preserve a rare and beautiful historical and cultural resource in the Endless Mountains of Susquehanna County, Pennsylvania.  The family of Prince Perkins, free African Americans who emigrated to northeast Pennsylvania from Connecticut in 1793 with the original wave of settlement into the region following the American Revolution, first settled the Dennis Farm. Their direct descendants, the Dennis family, have retained stewardship of the property to the present day, although it hasn’t been a working farm since the early twentieth century.  The history of the Dennis Farm and the Perkins- Dennis family is fully documented.  This continuous and documented ownership of property by African Americans, in a northeast county largely populated by European Americans represents an overlooked and remarkable story in American history that holds lessons for us today.

 

The Dennis Farm is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

 

The purpose of The Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust is to continue to develop the Dennis Farm as an educational and cultural site for scholars, researchers, cultural heritage tourists, school groups, and others who are interested in this extraordinary history.

The site includes:

 

  • The Perkins-Dennis Cemetery where family members including veterans of the Revolutionary War, War of 1812, the Civil War, and forty other African Americans
  • The Prince Perkins Homestead
  • An elaborate series of stonewalls built during the nineteenth century
  • The Dennis Farmhouse and Barn complex
  • Family books dating back to 1815 and 19th century artifacts

 

According to a study prepared by a team of archeological and historical researchers, “The Dennis Farm represents an exciting opportunity to blend archeological and environmental history at one location… There are presently no other locations in the northeast that combine these ingredients and that are trying to actively interpret them, preserve them, and present them to the public. The property’s African American ownership for over two centuries is unique in northeastern Pennsylvania and is an important story that needs telling…Pennsylvania scholars have also identified the Dennis Farm as a potential location associated with Underground Railroad History.”

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