Monuments… It’s Complicated

Ongoing protests have again brought to public consciousness that it’s way past time to do something about statues, monuments, buildings and military installations that honor traitors who took up arms against the United States. Demonstrators have defaced and toppled statues of Confederate luminaries and in some places have done the same to Founding-Father icons such as Washington and Jefferson, who were slave holders.

In the meantime, officials at the Stenton House Museum & Gardens in Philadelphia are planning a sculptural memorial for Dinah, who is credited with saving the mansion from destruction by British soldiers during the Revolutionary War. Museum directors are also searching for her burial spot, which they believe is somewhere on the grounds.

Stenton House was built for James Logan, who arrived from Ireland in 1699. He was secretary to William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania, and friend of Benjamin Franklin. He named the house for his father’s birthplace in Scotland. Logan served as mayor of Philadelphia and on the Pennsylvania Supreme Court. He assembled in his home one of the finest libraries in the colonies.

Dinah’s year and place of birth were not recorded, nor was her last name. She came to Stenton as part of the dowry brought by Hannah Emlen when she married William Logan, James’s son. (Yes, there were slaves in Pennsylvania.) The bride’s family kept Dinah’s husband. When the Emlens decided to sell her husband in 1757, Dinah convinced the Logan family to buy him. (James Logan died in 1751.)

After more than two decades of enslaved servitude, the Logans gave Dinah her freedom in 1776, a couple months prior to the Declaration of Independence. The circumstances of this emancipation are lost in the mists of history, probably because… who cared about a slave. Dinah stayed on at Stenton as a paid servant.

The British came through in 1777, burning homes of high-profile Philadelphians. Dinah was alone at the Stenton House when two soldiers/arsonists arrived. While they were in the barn gathering hay to kindle the fire, a British officer came by, searching for deserters. Dinah directed him to the barn where he found and arrested the two soldiers. She was lauded for her deception that saved the Stenton House and its library. She received mention in a Philadelphia-history book published in 1844. In a 1897 history, she was even mentioned by name.

The local Colonial Dames Society memorialized Dinah in 1910, erecting a bronze plaque at what they surmised was her burial place near the house.

“In memory of DINAH the Faithful Colored Caretaker of Stenton who by her quick thought and presence of mind saved the mansion from being burned by British Soldiers in the winter of 1777.”

The plaque was later moved from what had become a public park to the Stenton House Museum to protect it from vandalism. The Stenton House Museum & Gardens is currently considering proposals for a permanent monument on the grounds.

Unanswered is the question, Will Dinah, who saved the home of the family who enslaved her, pass the ideological-purity test of twenty-first-century zealots? Or will it be subject to damage or destruction?

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