FREE LABOR STORES
Free labor store were those that offered for sale only items that were produced by free labor, and not with slaves......they shunned products from the southern states where slavery had a large part in the production of most items, from the cotton that clothes were made from, to indigo, sugar and rice, all exported north. Chester County had at least one Free Labor Store, located on the corner of Rt. 52 and 1 ( is now a resale shop.) Apparently the free produce movement had little following among those that were not Quakers. (For sources, see the Non-Slaveholder and the Requited Labor Convention in Philadelphia. Ruth Neuremberger's study of the Free Produce movement remains the best source.)
Free labor stores were found in many northern states, and many individuals went to great lengths to avoid the use of products grown or made with slave labor..one example was the use of maple syrup, substituted for sugar. However, cotton was the most difficult thing to come up with. Thus, agencies in the south were established to buy small quantities from poor, free people, which were then sold through wholesale and retail free labor stores, .managed by such men as Levi Coffin of Cincinnati. Unfortunately, these stores were often unable to make a go of it, due to the scarcity and difficulty in getting sufficient goods to sell.
The following was shared by Christopher Densmore, Curator of the Friends Historical Library, Swarthmore College, and is an interesting look at the lengths some were willing to go to, in the name of "free" goods.
the following story is posted on the Friends Historical
Library website on Quaker Accounts of the Underground Railroad:
Free Produce in London Grove, Chester County, ca. 1831
The following account by Joseph Preston concerning the growing of "free
cotton" by his father, Amos Preston and Ezra Mitchner, ca. 1831, in London
Grove township, was written by Joseph for a Lancaster County newspaper in
1881, and later incorporated into a sketch about Joseph published in The
Journal: A Paper Devoted to the Interests of the Society of Friends, 4 Mo.
18, 1883, following Joseph's death. Joseph's sister was Anna Preston, a
pioneer woman physician and Dean of the Women's Medical College of
Philadelphia. The Free Produce Movement was an almost exclusively Quaker
"More than fifty years since [ca. 1831], when a boy of some twelve or
thirteen years, I wore a shirt made from cotton raised in Londongrove
township, Chester county, and a very good and substantial garment it was,
though the muslin was not smoothly finished. It was spun and woven by Jacob
Pusey, at Hockessin, Delaware.
"Dr. Ezra Mitchner then owned a small farm adjoining my father's. They were
abolitionists and wished to clothe their children without slave-labor, and
procured some cotton seed from North Carolina. My father planted a small
plot in his garden; the cotton came up, grew luxuriously, and made a
beautiful appearance. In due season, the balls opened, displaying the
natural white cotton, new balls appeared each morning, until, as I
remember, a frost after the middle of September wilted down the plants. Dr.
Mitchner had a large plot. He was a man of ingenuity and enterprise, and
made a small gin to clean the seed out of the cotton. Both crops made a
small bale, which was sent to the factory, and my father's share was about
five and a half yards. After bleaching this on the sod, my mother made one
for my father and one for me, and I doubt whether either of us ever wore
shirts that would stand as much wear as these."
This is another example of folks who believed in using only free produce , ca 1825;
"Mary's father [Abraham Pennock] believed in wearing Free Produce cotton
and in eating Free
Produce sugar, so at this fashionable school [inPhiladelphia] his daughter wore Bengals and
seersuckers, a circumstance which marked her distinctly among the other children."
a Free Labor Store, in Mt. Pleasant, Jefferson County, Ohio, circa 1850. The Free Labor Store operated from 1848 to 1857. Quakers established the store "for the sale of goods, wares and merchandise in general which shall be exclusively the product of free labor". This was one of 3 stores in town. The building was later torn down.
This is the home of Benj. Lundy and his Free labor Store, ca 1850s. A double house, the side that was home to Abolitionist Benj. was built in 1807. The other half was erected in 1813. The front was used as an office and apothecary shop. Later the Free Labor Store operated here. Now listed as a Natl. Landmark it is believed to be the last Free Labor Store standing in the US