Freedom papers reveal Berks’ past

Sixty years before Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, John Teysher of Oley Township felt the spirit of independence and freed two slaves.

“From motives of benevolence and humanity, I manumit, set free from slavery, my Negro man Michael,” Teysher wrote in a declaration of freedom filed with the Berks County recorder of deeds on Oct. 15, 1802.

Two months later, around Christmas, Teysher freed a female slave named Betts.

The papers that granted freedom to Teysher’s slaves went unnoticed for more than 200 years in deed books stored in the county archives.

But recently, an alert county clerk stumbled upon them in the process of digitizing the office’s records. The clerk noticed that, for some entries, the deed book index listed only first names and the last name “Negro.”

“This is amazing history,” declared Frederick C. Sheeler, recorder of deeds. “And it’s been buried here for years.” Read More

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