Celebrating the unveiling of the first Semiquincentennial Liberty Bell to be presented in Pennsylvania are (from left) George Stark of Coterra Energy, Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust board member Darryl Gore, America250PA chairman Patrick Burns, America250PA executive director Cassandra Coleman, DFCLT president Denise Dennis, DFCLT board member Lonnie Moore III, PA state treasurer Stacy Garrity, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, and PA auditor general Tim DeFoor.
Coterra Energy has enjoyed a long relationship with Denise Dennis and other board members of the Dennis Farm Charitable Land Trust (DFCLT). Since arriving in the region at the beginning of the Marcellus shale gas boom as Cabot Oil & Gas, managers and employees took interest in the unique story of the Perkins and Dennis families and their triumph over adversity as free African American land owners and farmers.
The DFCLT was formed in 2001 by Denise and Hope Dennis to preserve the 153-acre site and its history, conserve its natural resources, develop the site into an educational and cultural hub, and eventually open the grounds to tourists. Hope passed away in 2006, but Denise and other close family members continued marching forward. When activity associated with the nascent natural gas boom grew closer to the Dennis Farm, Denise reached out to Cabot to express her concerns.
“I had the pleasure of meeting Denise Dennis (above, right) 13 years ago,” Coterra director of external affairs George Stark (left) recalled. “She had questions regarding our operations, and I was the person who was fortunate to be given the task of explaining it to her. She wanted to make sure that we were committed to strong environmental principals. If I didn’t have the answer to her question, I found someone who did.”
Ultimately, a meeting was arranged between Denise and Cabot CEO Dan Dinges, one of many people on whom Denise made a lasting impression. “It became obvious that she had a special story to share, and we wanted to help get that story out to the public,” said Stark. Cabot sponsored a Dennis Farm Symposium at the First Presbyterian Church in Montrose. Like the Dennis Farm itself, the house of worship was an integral stop on the Underground Railroad. Coterra continues to sponsor the symposium, which has since been held at Keystone College, the school becoming a project partner along with other Dennis Farm supporters like the Endless Mountains Heritage Region (EMHR).
When America250PA was formed to oversee Pennsylvania’s role in the upcoming celebration of the nation’s 250th anniversary, the organization presented an opportunity to place a number of bronze replica Liberty Bells at nationally historic sites. Coterra reached out to America250PA executive director Cassandra Coleman to suggest that one of the bells be installed at the Dennis Farm.
Stark introduced Coleman to Denise Dennis, a seventh-generation descendant of original settler and Revolutionary War veteran Prince Perkins, and the two struck up a personal relationship.
“Cassandra was having an America250PA event in Philadelphia. Because Coterra was an investor, we were welcome to bring a guest. And I told Cassandra that she had to meet Denise,” Stark related. “So she attended the event with me. They hit it off quite quickly, and it became obvious that they were going to become good partners and look for ways to collaborate.”
In addition to both having grown up in Wilkes-Barre and sharing an alma mater, Coleman (above, left) was entranced by Denise’s resolve and heartfelt rendering of the family’s history from Prince Perkins’ arrival in the area in 1793 and her memories of spending summers at the farm as a little girl to her vision for the property’s future. Coleman knew that she wanted to be part of that plan.
On June 27 and 28, America250PA and the project partners came together again for a monumental event that cemented the Dennis Farm story as part of Pennsylvania’s and America’s history. On June 27, EMHR executive director Cain Chamberlin was the keynote speaker at a gathering held at Keystone College. The next day, the replica Liberty Bell was unveiled to the delight of nearly 150 guests, including Coleman, Stark, U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, state treasurer Stacy Garrity, America250PA chairman Patrick Burns, and PA auditor general Tim DeFoor, who also spoke at a luncheon that concluded the event.
The idea behind the replica Liberty Bells, Coleman explained, “is to highlight untold stories here in the Commonwealth.” She referred to the Perkins/Dennis saga as the epitome of achieving the American Dream despite such an unlikelihood. Denise pointed out that less than 10 percent of African Americans were considered free in 1793, and less than 10 percent of them owned property.
“Welcome to our ancestral home,” Denise announced to those in attendance. “We are honored, and my ancestors are honored that you are here. I have a feeling that they are celebrating with us today.”
Coterra Energy was the presenting sponsor of the bell, and Stark credited Denise and the DFCLT board for their unwavering commitment to putting the Dennis Farm in the spotlight. “Coterra takes great pride in its contribution to showcasing the historical significance of the Dennis Farm, highlighting America’s remarkable 250th celebration, emphasizing Pennsylvania’s important role, and commemorating the long-lasting legacy we are forging through the installation of this first Semiquincentennial Bell,” Stark stated.
Shortly before the unveiling of the bell Coleman told Denise to brace herself for two surprises. First, Sen. Casey read a proclamation for the Dennis Farm signed by vice president Camilla Harris. Then, Coleman and Patrick Burns presented a check to the Dennis Farm from America250PA in the amount of $25,000.
Stark quickly announced that Coterra would match the sizable contribution. “And, as you know,” he explained, referencing a grant match challenge by the National Endowment for the Humanities, “This now equals $100,000.”
Coterra Energy was the presenting sponsor of the replica Liberty Bell recently installed at the Dennis Farm.