December 1, 2020

Stephen Smith

Stephen Smith – Lumber & Real Estate Business Man

Once upon a time in Black Entrepreneur History was an African American man named Stephen Smith, born in Pennsylvania to an enslaved mother, meaning he was born into the institution of slavery, but later became a lucrative lumber merchant, real estate business man and abolitionist in the Northern USA.

Born approximately in the year 1795 on October 13th, decades before emancipation, in Columbia, Pennsylvania, Stephen was sold at about 6 years old, ending up the enslaved by a man named Thomas Boude who was a General in the military.

Important Note: Some texts state that Stephen Smith was an "indentured servant". This is false. He was enslaved. Indentured Servants, by definition, enter into contracts of their own free will. Stephen Smith was purchased outside of his will as a child and was born to an enslaved woman, thus by American law at the time - the womb law. He would be enslaved as well.

While on the Boude property, Stephen became skilled at the business of lumber, a business that Thomas Boude owned, because that was where he would do most of his labor. As a matter of fact, Stephen was so trusted because of his all around skill and intelligence that Boude trusted him to manage the lumber yard.

By the time he was an adult, he purchased his freedom from Boude and started his very own lumber yard business as a lumber merchant. He was in his early twenties.

Quick Fact: During the days of slavery, many enslaved men and women were able to hire themselves out to earn money outside of slave labor. They would have to pay their slave owner a cut but keep the rest. This is how many enslaved were able to save enough to eventually buy their own freedom. In order to do this, many enslaved worked around the clock, but it was worth it to gain freedom.

Some texts say he "borrowed" the $50 dollars, and this is probably false due to the fact above.

His lumber business became a very lucrative one, and he also went into real estate. It was during this time that he also felt a calling on his life toward the ministry. By his early 30s, Stephen Smith had become an ordained minister, under the guide of Richard Allen, founder of the African Methodist Episcopal Church which was the first independent African American denomination in the USA.

Stephen had also gotten married to a woman named Harriet Lee who was a business woman as well, operating an oyster business. They were the most wealthy African Americans in the area, and well into the year 1870, the wealth that Stephen Smith had accumulated remained his own as he was able to afford live in, domestic help in his home, which he built in 1846. Her name was Rose Robinson.

By the time he was approximately 77 years of age and retired, his real estate property was worth $100,000 (about 2 million dollars today) and his personal estate was worth $51,000 (about 1 million dollars today).

As a businessman, he gave back to the Black community through assisting with the escape of Black people from slavery through the Underground Railroad. He also built a home from free and escaped Black people to live.

Stephen Smith passed away at 78 years of age on November 28th 1873 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Today, his home remains as a historic site to be conserved.

Sources

Ancestry.com. Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, Death Certificates Index, 1803-1915 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: Ancestry.com Operations, Inc., 2011.

Year: 1870; Census Place: Philadelphia Ward 7 District 18, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Roll: M593_1392; Page: 274B; Family History Library Film: 552891

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