“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.
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.