"The Diamond" is in front of the Centre County Courthouse and Soldiers and Sailors Memorial
A testament to the role that Bellefonte played in helping freedom seekers achieve and maintain their freedom is the story of Henry Thomas. Having escaped slavery in either Maryland or Virginia, Thomas gained employment at The Pennsylvania Hotel, now the Brockerhoff House at 105 S. Allegheny Street. That’s where he was working in 1856 when two disguised Southern agents came into the hotel and asked Thomas for help with directions. Thomas agreed and went along to aid them on their ride through the Halfmoon Valley. But unbeknownst to Thomas, the pair were really sent to hunt and capture "runaway slaves," which was legal under the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, and return them to the South. Thomas was bound with cords and put in the carriage as the pair headed off in the direction of Huntingdon. This is where Andrew Curtin, whose statue stands in front of the courthouse in the middle of Bellefonte, comes into play.
Curtin, who became governor of Pennsylvania during the Civil War, was at the time a lawyer and had just returned to Bellefonte from a case. When Curtin was alerted by locals about what had happened to Thomas, he gathered a posse of men “of his own sentiments” (Mills 1909) and dashed off from the Pennsylvania Hotel in pursuit of Henry and the kidnappers. While they were unsuccessful in retrieving Thomas, this story speaks to the dangerous reach of slavery, even in a town with support for the Underground Railroad. This story also reveals the character of Curtin, who, as Pennsylvania governor from 1861-67, raised troops to defend the Union and was a key ally to President Lincoln. We know about this story, thanks, in part, to the writings of William H. Mills, who owned a barber shop on West High Street in the 1870s. Scroll down to learn more about the Mills family.
The Pennsylvania Hotel where Henry Thomas was employed in 1856.
Mills was a child at that time, but his father, Lewis Mills, and uncle, Edward Mills, were among the roughly 180,000 to 200,000 Black soldiers – including more than 8,600 from Pennsylvania – who fought in the Civil War, thanks to President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which opened the door for them to enlist in the Union Army. Lewis and Edward Mills were members of the 6th United States Colored Infantry (USCT), which saw action in places like Richmond and New Market Heights, Virginia. Black soldiers, however, didn’t always get the recognition they deserved.
The Black soldiers were denied participation in the two-day-long grand parade in May 1865 in Washington, D.C. to celebrate the war’s end. In response to being left out, the Equal Rights League helped organize more than 7,000 veterans to march in the Grand Review of U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) in Harrisburg on Nov. 14, 1865. In 2010 — 145 years later, residents of Bellefonte and in towns across Pennsylvania held reviews in honor of Black soldiers who represented Pennsylvania in the Civil War. Black soldiers who fought from Centre County are honored alongside all of the approximately 3,800 Centre County veterans whose names are etched upon the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial.
See Video below, too!
This video will guide you to the locations of the 6th U.S. Colored Troops (USCT) on the Soldiers and Sailors Memorial (erected in 1906). Among the soldiers are Lewis and Edward Mills.
Boyer, Lauren. “Forgotten no longer: Black Civil War troops recognized in Bellefonte Grand Review ceremony.” Centre Daily Times (State College, PA), Nov. 15, 2010.
"Centre County and the Civil War." Centre County Historical Society. Aug. 12, 2021. https://centrehistory.org/centre-county-and-the-civil-war/
"Civil War." Centre County Historical Society. March 22, 2022.
Gov. Andrew Curtin, PA. , None. [Between 1855 and 1865] Photograph. https://www.loc.gov/item/2017895737/.
Henderson, Steward. "The Role of the USCT in the Civil War." American Battlefield Trust. Updated March 25, 2021. https://www.battlefields.org/learn/articles/role-usct-civil-war
Linn, John B. History of Centre and Clinton Counties, Pennsylvania. Philadelphia: Louis H. Everts, 1883.
Mills, William H. “A Brief History of the Origin and Organization of the A.M.E. Church, Bellefonte, Pa.” 1909.