Dutch settlers in the 1600’s established homesteads from Lambertville to Hillsborough, bringing their slaves with them. Then the British usurped the slaves for labor in mills, industry, pottery production and work in quarries. During the 18th and part of the 19th centuries, nearby Princeton planters utilized enslaved Africans. Princeton University’s first nine Presidents owned slaves. New Jersey was a slave state: its 1804 gradual emancipation act left children enslaved until adulthood; and, it was the last Northern state to abolish slavery, in 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment.
The African slave presence in Pennington, Hopewell, Princeton, and the Sourland Mountain region of central New Jersey became evident to two local African American women fifteen years ago, when, as trustees to the Stoutsburg cemetery, they became aware of a property issue at that site. Working to prove that it was a burial ground began years of research and success.
When Beverly Mills and Elaine Buck learned that slavery had existed in New Jersey from the 1600s, they became “sleuths” and uncovered truths that had not been part of their education in the Hopewell public schools. After about a decade of research, in 2018, they published their book, If These Stones Could Talk, and gave lectures at the Hopewell Train Station and elsewhere throughout the community, including at our church. Their second book, Harmony and Hostility: A View from Sourland Mountain, is due out later this year.
Also quite impressive, the two women founded the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum in Skillman. SSAAM’s mission is to help schools, museums, libraries, and historic sites to interpret and discuss topics in African American history, and to access appropriate materials and resources for broader audiences statewide. The museum is in the former Mt. Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, built in 1899. Payment for the refurbished one room church building came by fund-raising and grants from historic preservation groups. It now is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is the only African American museum in central New Jersey. For more information, see www.ssaamuseum.org.