My Contribution: Along with my husband, I contributed to the abolitionist cause through connections to The Liberator and the Underground Railroad. I catered numerous weddings, funerals, socials, and other events for all of Harrisburg, white and black. I owned my own home, where I raised children with great success, took on boarders, hosted events, and made my own taffy.
My Legacy: I escaped enslavement in Baltimore and made a treacherous journey north to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where I met the man I married, George Chester, and collaborated with him in the work of operating a restaurant and combatting slavery. After George’s death in 1859, I developed a formidable reputation of my own in Harrisburg. The home I owned on Chestnut Street served as a gathering place for the city’s organizations, churches, and changemakers, and my catering business served white and black, young and old, and policymaker and commoner. The Capital Presbyterian Church is still in existence, thanks to my support of the Elder Street Presbyterian Mite Society shortly after an 1890 fire destroyed the church building. My husband and I passed our passion for abolitionism on to our son, Thomas Morris Chester, who had a significant impact on African American history in our nation.
About Me: “No colored woman a resident of Harrisburg was better known or more highly respected than Mrs. Chester…. Her life was useful and creditable and she devoted herself to her children for whose good she made many sacrifices. Always pious, charitable and neighbourly, Mrs. Chester was never without devoted friends, and by those who survive her, death will be sincerely mourned.” The Harrisburg Daily Independent, March 19, 1894.
Full Name: Jane Maria (Morris) Chester
Birth Date: 1800-1805 (approximate, most likely 1801)
Death Date: April 20, 1894
Place of Birth: Baltimore, Maryland
Race: “Colored” (1840, 1850, and 1860 Federal Censuses); Black (1870 and 1880 Federal Censuses)
Places of Residence: Gay Street, Baltimore, Maryland (while enslaved); 305 Chestnut Street, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.
Connection to the Old Eighth Ward: Resident on Chestnut street two blocks southeast of the Eighth Ward. Operated restaurant, the State Capitol Hotel, in Eighth Ward; belonged to Wesley Union A.M.E. Zion Church, connected with Elder Street Presbyterian Church.
Family Members: Husband: George Chester. Children: Charlotte Chester, Thomas Morris Chester, David Chester, Harriet Chester, Maria(h) Chester, Amelia Chester, Eliza Chester Zendricks (Note: the Chesters had several other children who did not live to adulthood).
Education: No education listed on federal census records.
Occupations: Restaurateur. Caterer. Homemaker. Boarding House Operator.
Church Membership: Wesley Union A.M.E. Zion Church (member) and Elder Street Presbyterian Church (supporter)
Activism: Involved with the distribution of the Liberator and likely the operation of the Underground Railroad; hosted the Mite Society for Elder Street Presbyterian Church.
Connections: T. Morris Chester (son), David Chester (son), Amelia Chester (daughter-in-law), Eliza Chester Zendricks, Anne E. Amos (Mite Society), and James Auter.