Historic Places in South Jersey

Historic Places in South Jersey - Places to Go and Things to Do

A discussion of things to do and paces to go, with the purpose of sharing, and encouraging exploration of South Jersey.

Monday, March 7, 2011

Elizabeth Fenwick Adams - Did she or didn't she? A family history mystery.

Twice this past week on gloriously sunny days that smelled of spring, friends and I headed down the highway on the trail of the mystery of Elizabeth Fenwick Adams and her alleged connection with the family that founded Gouldtown, a unique and remarkable tri-racial community in South Jersey.

Elizabeth FEnwick Adams and Gouldtown were not my only reasons for heading as far south as Greenwich, however. This year is the sesqui-centennial of the Civil War and I was also still on the hunt for the Underground Railroad and South Jersey's fascinating AfroAmerican history including the Ambury Hill Cemetery.

The first of the two days, a friend and I researched Othello and Springtown.
Once we'd arrived at Greenwich, the only town in New Jersey that I could actually imagine myself moving to, we stopped in at the Cumberland County Historical Society Library. The people there are kind, generous and friendly. Armed with their directions, maps, and knowledge, we drove to the "head of Greenwich" on Ye Greate Street, and up on a lonesome bluff, we found Ambury Hill, home of some veterans of the Civil War and the "Colored" Regiment from Cumberland County.

All month, I'd been reading Parallel Communities, the Underground Railroad in South Jersey, by Dennis Rizzo which is a fabulous read - conversational, full of fascinating facts and interesting observations. Although I make regular pilgrimages to my favorite SJ town, Greenwich, this time I was using Rizzo's book as my inspiration. His comments about the origins of the AfroAmerican towns of Othello, Springtown, and Gouldtown had whetted my history appetite and I wanted to see these places for myself.

A year or two ago, I'd happened onto the Othello cemetery on the side of the road on one of my drives to Greenwich and I had always wondered about it. An interesting side note for those of my fellow history buffs who are also interested in the history of the Still family: Levi and Charity Still had escaped from slavery and hid out for a time in Springtown. Charity and her sons were kidnapped there by slave catchers and taken back down South. Different stories tell this differently, some say only the boys were taken. Anyhow, Levi Still moved further north to the Medford area. James Still, his son, became the famous "Black Doctor of the Pines." Eventually Charity made her way back to her husband and, her son, William found his way to Philadelphia where he became one of the most famous Station Masters of the Underground Railroad. I've visited his house there, the Johnson House, and it has an interesting Underground Railroad Museum. William went on to write the first and most comprehensive account of the stories of the self-emancipators helped by him and the other brave Abolitionists in that dangerous time.

Well, for Elizabeth's story, we have to go back much further, to the arrival of the Fenwick family on the ship Griffin. This story stirs up a lot of debate over oral history and documentary history. The document that exists and gives the oral history some credibility is the will of John Fenwick, the original proprietor of the area. Written just before his death, in 1683. Variations on the quotation of the paragraph in the will exist in different web sites and books, but the gist of it as written in Rizzo's book is:
"Item: I do except against Elizabeth Adams of having any ye least part of my estate, unless the Lord open her eyes to see her abominable transgression against him, me and her good father, by giving her true repentance, and forsaking yt Black yt hath been ye ruin of her, and becoming penitent for her sins; upon yt condition only I do will and require my executors to settle five hundred acres of land upon her"

Genealogical accounts have Elizabeth Fenwick Adams marrying an other colonist, Anthony Windsor, several days after grandfather's will. Oral tradition of the Gouldtown residents has it that she and the original Gould had five children. No information remains on what happened to the three daughters, and one son died, which left Benjamin Gould, who married a Finnish woman and founded Gouldtown. It is said that their graves, Benjamin and his Finnish wife, are in the cemetery at Gouldtown. Information on the succeeding generations plus a really fine large group photo of the Goulds is available on-line in The Southern Workman, Vol 37, by the Hampton Institute via a google search.

At the time of the Fenwick's arrival and colonization, there were a number of Lenni Lenape still in the area. Gouldtown history has it that the Murray families are descendants of Lenni Lenape. Also, the Pierces are descendants of two African American brothers who came from the West Indies, John and Peter Pierce, paid the passage for two Dutch sisters whose last names were Von Aka, and married them. Benjamin Gould, said to be the son of Elizabeth Fenwick Adams and the original Gould, whose first name is lost to history, married a Finnish woman and founded Gouldtown. The names of Pierce, Gould, and Murray represent Lenni Lenapi, African American, Dutch, Finnish and, possibly, English ancestry.

On August 23, 1683, Elizabeth Fenwick Adams married Anthony Windsor under the care of the Salem Meeting. Her brother, Fenwick Adams married Ann Watkins in August of 1687. http://dunhamwilcox.net/nj/newton_nj_marriages.htm
"Marriages solemnized in open court at Salem, New Jersey, as recorded in the Minute Book thereof, No. 2, on file in the office of the Secretary of State at Trenton, N. J."

What does this mean? Did she obey her grandfather and return to the family and marry Anthony Windsor? We have here two documents, one which states that her grandfather is cutting her out of his will if she won't leave the "Black" man who has been her "ruination" and another which has her marrying another English colonist a few months after the will. I'm mystified.

Nonetheless, the story was a great reason to make the trip to my favorite
historic town, Greenwich. On my second trip, it was my great pleasure to introduce another history pal of mine, Loretta Kelly, head preservationist at White Hill, Fieldsboro, NJ, to the numerous beautiful houses starting with the Sheppard's Landing house on the Cohansie River, the two Friends' Meeting Houses, and a stop at the Prehistory Museum where the two museum volunteers treated us to coffee and Danish and a tip on where to hunt for arrowheads. I'll keep that secret to myself and when I get there, if I find anything, I'll write a blog entry about it.
These two kind history buffs also told me that they help to maintain Ambury Hill cemetery. Thank heavens for volunteers - where would history be without them.

Now that African American History month is over, and Women's History Month has begun, I'll be turning my attention to new mysteries, including, of course, historic sites that figure in the Civil War Sesqui-centennial. By the way, there was a great display at the Cumberland County Historical Society featuring Civil War history and a 34 star flag from 1861-1864.

I hope some readers will spend a few hours following the trail of the mystery of Elizabeth Fenwick Adams and her grandfather's will and let me know if you think she ran off and married the first Gould of what later became Gouldtown, or if she had an affair and returned home to marry Anthony Windsor, or if there is some other explanation available to a creative thinker or avid researcher. Also, I'd like to know the name of "Ann, the Finn" who married Benjamin Gould.

Happy Trails! Jo Ann


  1. Love your info on the Greenwich Prehistory Museum I manage it and thank you for the plug
    Next time your in the area Look me up.I'll take you back to Elk Lake show you some of the old foundations from the run away slave cabins.
    Also elk lake was the black elks club w/speek easy and other interesting stuff

  2. Thanks for your information on Elizabeth Fenwick Adams, the Still brothers and Benjamin Gould.

    Have you seen the Woodruff Collection of Native American stone tools and pottery in the basement of the Bridgeton Public Library? Almost 30,000 items found within a 30-mile radius of Bridgeton.

    See also: www.newswedenfarmstead.org

    It's a replica 17th century Swedish-Finnish homestead built by Swedish craftsmen and local volunteers 25 years ago to commemorate the 350th anniversary of the founding of the New Sweden Colony. It was opened by Sweden's King Carl XVI Gustaf and Queen Silvia. It is currently closed for repairs, but you will find photos and more info on our website. For tours call 609-217-4867.

    Alfred Nicolosi
    New Sweden Colonial Farmstead (in Bridgeton City Park)
    31 W. Commerce Street
    Bridgeton, NJ 08302

  3. Hello I see you have John and Peter Pierce who married the VanAca sisters. I thought their names were Richard and Anthony Pierce?

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  4. If you like the underground railroad so much you ought to check out my aunts house at 355 indian ave. she purchased the property from the church across the street about 14 years ago. she was told it was part of the underground railroad. the house is very weird. there are doors that lead to nowhere, secret rooms, and just a creepy feeling. i actually am visiting and spent the night in the antique room. It sitll has the original wallpaper. That place always gives me an eery feeling!

  5. I am a 5th great grandson of Benjamin Gould. In the Stewards' book "Gouldtown, a Very Remarkable History.." and in other sources, the arrival of the Fenwicks and John Adams on the Griffin is unanimously 1675. The age of John & Elizabeth's daughter Elizabeth Adams is 11 putting her date of birth in England at about 1664. Benjamin Gould was born in 1700-1705 which would have made Elizabeth 36 at the time of his birth (makes sense). I believe Benjamin's father may have been Abijah Gould and it was this Gould referenced in Grandfather Fenwick's will. I also find it quite plausible, although I have no proof at all, that upon learning of her grandfather's exception in 1683, Elizabeth arranged a marriage of convenience to Anthony Windsor. Had there been any children of that union, we would certainly have record of them. That we have no such record of Fenwick-Windsors and since the descendants of Benjamin Gould clearly owned considerable lands in the area and do claim her as their own, it is reasoble to assume that the lands were the founder's mother's inheritance. Also note the dates of the will and her marriage to Windsor. The will was dated 7 Aug 1683, and her marriage was only 16 days later, 23 Aug! Apparently her "ruination" was not quite as thorough as her grandfather worried, or her marriage to Windsor was in name only (which I find more likely). Plausible? Probable?