Saddlertown, Timbuctoo, Guineatown, Othello, Springtown, Snow Hill - what do these names mean to you? Once, they meant security, fellowship, a meal and a warm place to rest on the long journey from slavery to freedom for thousands of freedom seekers taking the Underground Railroad through New Jersey. They were following the North Star.
New Jersey was not only a hotbed of Revolutionary activity, it was also a crossroads of another kind - the trade in human beings on one side, and the efforts of courageous and moral people to end slavery and save those people they could by conducting them from house to house, church to church and school to school on their way to freedom.
Those were perilous times, nearly 200 years in the struggle for freedom for all people who had come to these shores in various states of bondage, whether religious, or economic.
In the forefront of the struggle, whether for freedom for slaves, or civil rights for women, were the Quakers, the Society of Friends. They first came here to escape religious persecution in England, Ireland and other parts of Europe, then that same spirit of "God within" drove them to work for the freedom of all.
The trail led from Delaware and Maryland up through Salem County, stop by stop, parallel to the Old Kings Highway, through swamps and forests, always Northward through safe houses to Haddonfield, Burlington, Bordentown and Perth Amboy and finally, New York, and sometimes, Canada.
More than 50,000 people found freedome through the Underground Railroad.
During February, I do a lot of work for the Camden County Historical Society giving presentations at schools on the Underground Railroad in New Jersey and especially Camden County. This issue divided families as did the question of independence. In the Cooper family, Marmaduke Cooper was "read out of meeting" for refusing to emancipate his slaves, and yest his brother Samuel Cooper, ran a stop on the Underground Railroad in what is now Camden.
A secondary route through New Jersey crossed the Delaware River, often by ferry. The Cooper family were the operators of ferries along the Delaware. Ships came in with human cargo to sell at what is now Wiggins Park, the site of a summer music venue. Ferries came in across the Delaware River with freedom seekers, hidden in many ways, who were making their way north.
In my next post, I'll put some photos of places you can still visit where this stream of freedom seekers found support across our state, and I'll post the names and stories of some of these people.
Did you know that Harriet Tubman, arguably the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad, worked in Cape May as a hotel restaurant cook to earn the money for her dangerous journeys to the fields and slave quarters of plantations in the south?
One of the things I enjoy about holidays dedicated to forgotten history such as African American History Month, February, and Women's History Month, March, is that it gives us a push and opportunity to revisit the stories of the people and places so often forgotten in our state's rich heritage.