Ben's Iron Collar

Iron Collar

Forged Iron Collar

If it wasn’t for Ben’s spirited persona, this iron collar would not have been made.  The tangibility of the iron collar is rare, but even more rare is Ben’s story, because we know his name.


THE IRON COLLAR, weighing two pounds six ounces, was used to control a young, enslaved African named Ben. The two-piece collar, with two spear-like shapes, which rested on his collar bones, was hammered into three-quarter inch round forged iron. When riveted together, the semi-circles fit around Ben’s neck. The collar is Ben’s legacy because Ben’s story is legion, for it is the story of uncounted thousands of enslaved African Americans whose names are not remembered and will never be known.


The Mason-Dixon Line isn’t just a line on maps that separates two states. From the time Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon began surveying it, the Mason-Dixon Line has played a central role in many historical events – among them the tug of war over the ownership of land between the Penn family, proprietors of the colony of Pennsylvania, and the Calvert family, which controlled Maryland.  Traditionally, it has also divided the Northern states from the Southern states and for thousands of enslaved people of color, the Mason-Dixon Line culturally bisected the United States into the land of freedom and the land of slavery.

Many laws have loopholes and the 1780 Gradual Abolition Act also had one.  It allowed the owners (mostly men) of enslaved peopled, from other states, to bring their chattel into Pennsylvania with them, but they were only allowed a temporary residency of six months.  If the owner stayed longer than that, the enslaved were given their freedom by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania.

Because Philadelphia was the capital of the United States from 1790 – 1800, the “Father of Our Country,” George Washington, was forced to deal with the temporary residency issue. In fact, at least two of his slaves escaped while Washington resided in Philadelphia.  At first, Washington rotated those in his enslaved entourage between Mt. Vernon and Philadelphia, within the six-month limit; and he never brought more than one member of a family to Philadelphia, lest it create a greater temptation to escape to freedom.  Eventually, in deference to the 1780 act, Washington used German indentured servants.  President Adams also had to deal with temporary residency for his enslaved people.  The temporary residency clause in the Gradual Abolition Act was a key factor in the decision to move the national capital from Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., where slavery was law.  In 1847, the Pennsylvania legislature finally removed temporary residency from the 1780 act, thereby making it difficult for anyone to enter Pennsylvania who was accompanied by their enslaved servants.  

Local History

Our local history provided many of the weft threads woven into Pennsylvania’s history.  There were residents scattered throughout Franklin County (including Antrim Township and Greencastle) that owned slaves.  The last sale of an enslaved person in Pennsylvania took place just south of Chambersburg.

Danger was always present for enslaved and free African Americans in Pennsylvania, especially those who lived near the Mason-Dixon Line. Slave catchers, or snatchers as they were also known, kidnapped both the free and enslaved and sold them into slavery in states where slavery was lawful.  Pennsylvania eventually enacted several laws which made the kidnapping of slaves illegal.  But unless the kidnappers were caught, the threat reigned above the heads of African Americans like the ominous clouds of an oncoming tornado.  

In Ringgold, Maryland, just south of the Mason-Dixon Line, the mention of the Logan brothers, John, Hugh, Daniel, and Alexander, must have sent shivers up and down the spines of African Americans in the early 1800s, because the Logans were notorious snatchers of people of color.  Just prior to the Civil War, Daniel Logan moved to Quincy, PA.  Daniel’s name and his brother Hugh’s name are indelibly imprinted in Pennsylvania and American history books because they captured one of John Brown’s men, John E. Cook, while he was making his way north after the raid on Harpers Ferry. Upon capture, Cook was taken to the Chambersburg jail.

Ben’s Story

In March of 2008, a forged-iron collar made for an enslaved man of color was given to Allison-Antrim Museum by Courtland C. Kauffman, descendant of the Franklin County Kauffman family.  The collar was used in the early 1800s to bring into submission a man who had run away three times. The collar had been kept in the Kauffman family for over 175 years until it was gifted to Allison-Antrim Museum.

The runaway’s name was Ben.  He was about 21 years old.  Ben was high spirited and ran away on three occasions seeking his freedom.  He also threatened to kill his owner, Andrew Kauffman, who later owned a farm in the Kauffman’s Station area.  

The ratio of slaves to free African Americans in Pennsylvania during the early 1800s was one to10, so Ben could have easily blended into the African American society in a large city, such as Philadelphia, had he made it that far.

“RAN-AWAY from subscriber. Whoever apprehends the said slave named, and lodges him in any county jail, and gives notice thereof, so that he may be recovered, shall receive a reward of 50 cents, and if brought home shall receive the reward of one gold dollar.”

Did Andrew Kauffman publish such a notice in Franklin County’s periodicals when young Ben ran away? Why did Ben runaway three times? Was he badly mistreated or did he risk everything because he was high-spirited with a great desire for freedom – his God-given right, coursing through his veins? How far did Ben get each time before he was caught. Was Ben turned in by someone who knew him or was he recognized from the description in an ad and the name of his owner? The kind of physical punishment that was inflicted on him after recapture is unknown and can only be imagined. During the return to the Kauffman farm, he was likely shackled with leather straps, not unlike those used to restrain livestock in liveries; and at the very least, he had his hands bound with rope. Despair, disappointment, fear, and apprehension must have flooded his mind and soul.

It is said that Ben threatened to kill Kauffman and perhaps that is the reason that upon being recaptured the third time, it's reasonable to assume that Kauffman most likely took him to the local blacksmith to have an iron collar made – a marker, in case Ben tried to runaway once more. It is not known what time of year Ben made his final flight toward freedom and was caught but if his last escape from the rural way of life was during the humid month of August, Ben was forced to wait in a very steamy blacksmith shop. Before the smith began, he had to measure Ben's neck as well as measure the width of his shoulders. The smith picked two equal-weight bars of iron which could have been produced at one of the iron furnaces in the Franklin County area. What ran through Ben’s mind as he watched the smith pull the rope attached to the big bellows and listened to each whoosh of air that fed the fire in the bed of coals? With each pump of the bellows, Ben watched as the fire and the iron became hotter and hotter until the iron was transfigured from hard black iron to red, orange, yellow, and then a malleable, white-hot color ready to be hammered. In the sweltering heat of the shop, beads of sweat ran down the faces of the men. Did the three men converse with each other throughout the process or was Ben ignored? The part of the collar that encircled Ben's neck is hand-forged iron – ¾ of an inch thick and round. The collar was made of two pieces, each a semi-circle with a flattened, spear-like tip on one side. The tips were made to fit the breadth of his collar bones, on which they rested. Before the iron had cooled, the smith, using the edge of a chisel, placed four diagonal lines on each flattened tip, which could be used to identify Ben if he chose to runaway a fourth time.

The halves were secured with two, hand-forged rivets. The blacksmith hammered the first rivet while it was hot and flattened the underside to secure it. The second rivet was more difficult to fasten because it had to be inserted while the collar was around Ben’s neck. There is no way to escape the fact that the second rivet was made secure by the smith having to swing the hammer alongside Ben’s jaw while his head was tilted to the side. Even if the iron collar might have been buffered, the amount of percussion felt by Ben on his collarbone from cold-hammering an iron rivet into place is unthinkable. The task was finished. 

According to the Kauffman family story, the collar had the desired effect because Ben never tried to run away again. It seems his spirit was broken and he must have resigned himself to the fact that he had to wait about seven more years until his 28th birthday to be legally declared a freedman by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The iron collar was worn by Ben 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, for four years. He worked, ate, bathed, and slept with it on. After about four years, Andrew Kauffman decided, for unknown reasons, to sell Ben to a neighboring farmer. There were only about three or four years left before Ben reached his 28th birthday and his legal freedom. How much was three years of enslaved labor worth? When Ben was sold, one of the rivets was removed, by filing the iron rivet until it slipped through both holes.  That moment, in a sense, must have been a liberating experience for Ben. The two-pound, six-ounce iron collar loosened from around his neck! But what lay ahead of him after being sold to another man. 

Conditions at his new master's farm must have been worse than at the Kauffman farm because, according to the Kauffman story, Ben visited Andrew Kauffman every Sunday on his day off and repeatedly asked him to buy him back. Kauffman refused but made Ben a promise. Kauffman said he would hire Ben as a paid farmhand when he turned 28 years old. On March 1, 1780, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, Pennsylvania led the way for the 13 colonies by passing the Gradual Abolition Act. It said that any children born after March 1 to slave parents would be indentured to their parent's owners until they reached the age of 28, at which time Pennsylvania would grant them their freedom.

After the Gradual Abolition Act was passed, Pennsylvania required owners of the enslaved to register them as well as any of their children born  March 1, 1780 or after so that the children could be manumitted at age 28. During the early 1800s, the population of Greene Township was sparse, and Ben was only two to three weeks shy of his 28th birthday. Taking into consideration that there was a public record of each enslaved person and their children and who owned them, it is neither surprising nor out of the realm of possibility that some people like slave snatchers would take great advantage of that information. 

Everyone knew who lived on the neighboring farms, who had enslaved Africans, and who didn't. Two to three weeks before Ben's 28th birthday, snatchers kidnapped Ben and took him south of the Mason-Dixon Line, where slavery was law. The Kauffman family's story of Ben's enslavement ends by saying, "Ben was never heard of again." 

Although no one here in Franklin County ever learned of what happened to Ben, there was more to his story, but what? He was almost 28, young, and strong - just the attributes that the owners of cotton plantations in the Deep South were looking for. To which trader of Africans did Ben's bounty hunter sell him? How much did he bring on the auction block? Perhaps it was an auction block as close as Hagerstown or a larger one in Frederick, Maryland? Was Ben destined to dreadfully hard work in the tobacco fields of Virginia or in the cotton fields of Georgia and Alabama in the deeper south? A wife and children? Harsh beatings? More escapes? Death? Did he live to be freed after the Civil War? There has to be more to Ben's story - his life, but what?

The Rest of the Story

After searching several bookstores, I believe I have found a voice for Ben. They are the voices of formerly enslaved men and women whose life stories were printed in black and white. During the Great Depression in the years of 1936 – 1938, the Works Progress Administration (WPA) hired writers, under the Federal Writers' Project, to interview over 2,000 former slaves from 17 different states. Their autobiographies were assembled in the Slave Narrative Collection in the Library of Congress. Their voices may give an insight to what Ben may have experienced.

From the book When I Was a Slave, W. L. Bost, at the age of 88, recalled. : “I remember when they put 'em on the block to sell 'em. The ones 'tween eighteen and thirty always bring the most money. The auctioneer he stand off at a distance and cry 'em off as they stand on the block. I can hear his voice as long as I live.

“If the one they going to sell was a young Negro man this is what he says: “Now gentlemen and fellow citizens here is a big black buck Negro. He's stout as a mule. Good for any kind o' work and he never gives any trouble. How much am I offered for him?''”

“if'n you wants to know what unhappiness means,” said Uncle John Rudd, “Jess'n you stand on the Slave Block and hear the auctioneers voice selling you away from the folks you love.”

"Reason,..., teaches all mankind, who would but consult it, that being all equal and independent, not one ought to harm another in his Life, Health, Liberty, or Possessions," so wrote John Locke, Englishman and one of time's great philosophers, in October 1689. Locke's Treatises on Government, Discourses Concerning Government, Some Consideration of the Consequences of the Lowering of Interest, and Raising the Value of Money, An Essay Concerning Human Understanding, A Letter Concerning Toleration, and Some Thoughts Concerning Education greatly influenced future scholars, governments, and founders of democracies. 

From the Declaration and Resolves of the First Continental Congress on October 14, 1774: "That the inhabitants of the English colonies in North America, by the immutable laws of nature, the principles of the English constitution, and the several charters or compacts, have the following RIGHTS: Resolved, N.C.D. 1. That they are entitled to life, liberty and property: and they have never ceded to any foreign power whatever, a right to dispose of either without their consent." 

"That all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, ... namely the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety." This sentence is taken from the Virginia Declaration of Rights, May 15, 1776, which was authored by George Mason, owner of African women, men, and children. 

"We hold these truths to be sacred & undeniable; that all men are created equal & independent, that from that equal creation they derive rights inherent & inalienable, among which are the preservation of life, & liberty, & the pursuit of happiness;..." These are Thomas Jefferson's thoughts, penned by his own hand in the original rough draft of the Declaration of Independence. Jefferson also was an owner of Africans.

Pennsylvania's first Constitution was adopted on September 28, 1776 and preceded the U.S. Constitution by 13 years. Benjamin Franklin was the first non-proprietary governor of Pennsylvania after the Declaration of War. Franklin, a wise and elderly statesman in 1776, oversaw the Constitutional Convention and helped write the Constitution along with George Bryan and James Cannon. The U.S. Constitution and many other state constitutions were modeled after Pennsylvania's. Under Section 1. of Pennsylvania's first Constitution, the inherent rights of mankind are addressed as follows. "All men are born equally free and independent, and have certain inherent and indefeasible rights, among which are those of enjoying and defending life and liberty, of acquiring, possessing and protecting property and reputation, and of pursuing their own happiness."

The most common thread among all the aforementioned quotes is that there are God-given, natural rights with which every human being is born – equality, life, liberty, safety, possession of property, and pursuit of happiness. We U. S. Americans have directly reaped the benefits of John Locke's truths, as evidenced in the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution of the United States, and the Bill of Rights. 

All men are created equal. What a powerful declaration. Why has that particular God-given natural right been the most difficult for individuals and societies to comprehend outside of their own ethnic ancestry? 

On possession of property, John Locke was very explicit when he wrote, "Every Man has a Property in his own Person. This no Body has any Right to but himself. The Labour of his Body, and Work of his Hands, we may say, are properly his. The great and chief end therefore, of Mens uniting into Commonwealths, and putting themselves under government, is the Preservation of their Property." 

Tolerance of others; greed for the quantity of one's property; and semantics entered into the interpretation of "preservation of their property." During the great era of English colonization of the world, each one of the 50,000,000 Africans and Caribbeans who were kidnapped or sold by warring tribes to traders of human beings became property owned by another human being - most often, white, Anglo-Saxons. The British needed the slave labor in the American colonies to keep their economy going and growing. Without the 50,000,000 enslaved Africans there would never have been enough white people to plant, tend, and harvest the cotton and tobacco crops each and every year on the huge plantations.

In opposition to the institution of slavery, there were men - true Christians, who rallied and fought against slavery. A resolution "..against this traffic of men-body, " was written and signed by four Germantown Mennonites and Quakers on February 18, 1688. This resolution was a direct response and challenge to those Germantown Quakers who decided to traffic in slavery. The resolution was signed by Garret Henderich, Derick op de Graeff, Francis Daniel Pastorius, and Abram op de Graeff, to be delivered at their monthly meeting in the home of Richard Worrell's. These Mennonites and Quakers were actively protesting, across the Atlantic Ocean on a different continent, within the same time period that John Locke was writing An Essay Concerning Human Understanding and A Letter Concerning Toleration. 

Abolitionist Quakers of Philadelphia continued to persevere, well into the 18th century, against slavery until their beliefs and ideals became more widely accepted in the Philadelphia society. The power of peer pressure began to convince those who owned enslaved humans to manumit their "property." In 1775 the Quakers founded the Pennsylvania Abolition Society. Its members lobbied the legislature and also aided in the escape to freedom of hundreds of slaves. 

In 1839 and 1840, the First Congregational Church of Thomaston, Connecticut underwrote the defense of the would-be slaves who mutinied and captured the Spanish slave ship, the Amistad. The Africans were defended in court by former president, John Quincy Adams. They won their case, won their freedom, and returned home. After the trial, the American Missionary Association was founded by the Congregationalists and other denominations which felt the mission to abolish slavery needed to be carried forward.

William Penn owned slaves but made provisions in his 1701 will to free his slaves upon his death. James Logan, born in Ireland and also a Quaker, was Penn’s trusted secretary, agent, and executor of his will. He did not carry out Penn’s directives because Logan considered it a “private matter.” Logan also owned enslaved Africans, and his decision not to execute Penn's wishes to free his enslaved servants leaves little doubt about his feelings toward the institution of slavery.

Isaac Norris Sr. was a contemporary of William Penn and became one of the wealthy merchants in provincial Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Part of his wealth was acquired through the trading of Africans. His son, Isaac Norris Jr., took over the family business in 1735 after his father passed away.

Much has been written about the contradictions in Thomas Jefferson's life - the fact that he owned slaves, an inheritance from his father and his wife's father along with the inheritance of land, and that he professed his disdain for the institution of slavery. On average, he owned about 200 enslaved men, women, and children throughout his lifetime. Jefferson freed two while he was alive and gave five others their freedom in his will. All seven were tradesmen. Two escaped, but Jefferson did not try to recapture them. The living quarters which Jefferson provided were better accommodations than other slave owners. 

Jefferson wrote the following in the first draft of the Declaration of Independence. The paragraph was struck from the Declaration out in deference to the representatives to the Continental Congress from the deep south colonies which relied heavily on slave labor and those in the north who trafficked in slave trade. Jefferson listed the following as one of the grievances against King George of England. His thoughts put into words seemingly contradict his actions in life.

"He has waged cruel war against human nature itself, violating its most sacred rights of life & liberty in the persons of a distant people who never offended him, captivating & carrying them into slavery in another hemisphere, or to incur miserable death in their transportation thither. this piratical warfare, the opprobrium of infidel powers, is the warfare of the CHRISTIAN king of Great Britain. determined to keep open a market where MEN should be bought & sold, he has prostituted his negative for suppressing every legislative attempt to prohibit or to restrain this execrable commerce: and that this assemblage of horrors might want no fact of distinguished die, he is now exciting those very people to rise in arms among us, and to purchase that liberty of which he has deprived them, & murdering the people upon whom he also obtruded them; thus paying off former crimes committed against the liberties of one people, with crimes which he urges them to commit against the lives of another." 

George Bryan, a Presbyterian, was a passionate abolitionist, renowned attorney in Philadelphia, and an influential political figure. Bryan along with Benjamin Franklin and James Cannon authored Pennsylvania’s 1776 Constitution. He served as governor of Pennsylvania for seven months during 1778, after which he was elected to the legislature. In 1780, George Bryan was the chief sponsor of the Pennsylvania Gradual Abolition Act of March 1, 1780, the first anti-slavery law passed by a state. 

The law stated that children born after March 1, 1780 to enslaved parents would be indentured to their parents’ owner until they reached the age of 28. At that time, the young adults would be given their freedom. The law also disallowed any new enslaved people being brought into the state as a resident. About 6,000 enslaved people resided in Pennsylvania in 1780 when the bill was passed.

Slavery goes against the God-given natural rights of life, equality, and freedom for every human being. It goes against God's word in the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ. It was a cancer that could not be excised from America's society for over two centuries until a civil war was fought, and another hundred years of segregation was endured until the Federal government finally rendered it unconstitutional.

Indentured or enslaved? It depended on whether one was of white European descent or from Africa. White Europeans would often contract to work for a landholder in the colonies if he would pay their passage on a ship to the shores of America.  This was an indenture. Ben was enslaved.

Bonnie A. Shockey

President & CEO

Allison-Antrim Museum

365 S Ridge Avenue

Greencastle, PA 17225


The collar is a rare artifact which survived as evidence of America’s reprehensible era of slavery.

The collar is a rare artifact which survived as evidence of America’s reprehensible era of slavery.