William Whipper

The Whipper children were born to a slave woman and her white master in North Carolina.  When the laws concerning inter-racial relationships became very stringent, the family was forced to move to Pennsylvania where the father established a lumber farm and went about the business of raising his family.

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The Whipper children received good educations and were well known for keen and philosophical minds.  There were four known children, Benjamin, Alfred, Mary and William (some say there was a fifth child, but no records could be found to substantiate this).  After their father died the children received equal shares of his estate.

Mary Ann left Pennsylvania and came to Dresden where she met and married James Hollinsworth, also of Pennsylvania. Both Mary and James were involved with her brother in the secreting of slaves across the border on the Reading and Columbia Railroad.

Alfred operated a clothing store in Philadelphia prior to his departure for Canada West.  He conveyed his Philadelphia assets to his brother William in 1853 and moved to the Chatham area.  In 1861 he married Maryann Brown, the daughter of Solomon and Rachel Brown of Camden. Rachel Brown was the great-aunt of Ethel Brown, the authors mother-in-law.  Alfred became the teacher at the Princess Street school in Chatham in 1856 where he remained until the Board of Education decided the he did not have the proper certification and voted to replace him with Peter Nichol.

Alfred served as a traveling agent for the Provincial Freeman after it moved it’s offices to Chatham.  He was involved in the emigrationist schemes of Martin Delany’s back to Africa movement and attended John Brown’s Chatham convention in May of 1858.

Benjamin Whipper and his wife, Sophia Patterson disposed of their property and left Columbia Pennsylvania for Canada West.  By the year 1869, Benjamin was settled in Chatham and was a traveling Deacon for the B.M.E. church.  At the conference held in Windsor in 1869, Benjamin was ordained and became a minister having been examined and found proficient in church doctrine.  the examining committee consisted of Reverends Walter Hawkins, Benjamin Stewart, and Richard Disney.  He pastored in several places including Drummondville in the same year as his ordination.  Records indicate that he was still a member of the conference in 1884.

The most famous of the Whipper children was William.  William was extremely active in the Underground Railroad operations in Columbia and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.  By his own account he was responsible for passing hundreds of slaves to the land of freedom and contributed $1,000.00 annually to the cause from 1847 to 1860.

He married Harriet Smith of Columbia, Pennsylvania and records indicate that they bore one child, a daughter, on February 15, 1837.  He soon became partners in business with his wife’s brother Stephen Smith, a well-known civil rights activist in the area.  These two men were remarkably successful lumber and coal merchants in Columbia.  By 1860, William had amassed property valued at $23,800.00.(He had also managed to purchase holdings in the Reading and Columbia Railroad and began secreting slaves to the Canada via this legitimate railroad system.

Many of the slaves when he had helped to freedom and also his relatives wanted William to join them in Canada after several attempts had been made to burn his lumber yard by pro-slavery terrorists.  William visited the Dawn Settlement in 1853 and although he did not move to the area, he and his partner decided to build a warehouse and other holdings in the village of Dresden.  His Canadian holdings were supervised by his brother-in-law James Hollinsworth.  William and his partner Stephen Smith sometimes visited the Dresden area via the same railroad cars that were transporting escaping slaves in secret compartments and hideaways.

William Whipper felt that he held family ties on both sides of the American and Canadian borders simply because he felt that all Blacks were brothers and sisters.  He showed a tremendous concern for change in the way humanity treated humanity.  In his own words at one of the many anti-slavery conventions he attended he expressed these thoughts.  “All men are equal under God, but Black men in America have been reduced to degradation by slavery and prejudice.  Fidelity to natural laws and human rights, and to the law of the universal love will bring about the end of all complexional distinctions…My country is the world, my countrymen are all mankind.”

A nephew, James Whipper Purnell, who had been raised by William became a lumber merchant in Chatham and was also secretary to Martin Delany while he was planning his back-to-African expedition.  James W. Purnell was also a member of the John Brown convention held in Chatham and married Julia A. Shadd, daughter of Absalom and Eliza Shadd in 1864.(9)  James and Julia’s son, Dr. WilliamWhipper Purnell, was a practicing physician in Washington, D.C. and was a good friend of Dr. Dan Williams who performed the first open heart surgery in the United States.

William Whipper died in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1876.  Many of the descendants of the Whipper family still live in and around the Dresden and Chatham areas.

Interestingly, many historians have reported that William Whipper fathered a son.  However, in his will he stated that a portion of his estate be left to the son of James Whipper Purnell, William Whipper Purnell with the hope that he would discard his surname and “change his name to William Whipper and thus adopting my name he shall ever keep me in kindly remembrance.

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