Learning about Timbuctoo, NJ in Historic 19007
by Cate Murway
Slavery in Maryland lasted around 200 years, from its beginnings in 1642 when the first Africans were brought as slaves to St. Mary's City, Maryland, to the final elimination of slavery in 1864 during the penultimate year of the American Civil War. [History of slavery in Maryland]
How can you know who you really are if you don't know from whence you came?
The number of slaves imported into Maryland greatly increased during the eighteenth century when the labor-intensive tobacco economy became dominant. The colony developed into a slave society.
Professional historian/ speaker/ author Paul W. Schopp, a Riverton, NJ resident, presented his most informative program brimming with exhaustive research on Timbuctoo, in the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library, Saturday, November 12th. Paul Schopp is one of the most highly regarded authorities on African-American history in South Jersey, the "go to" person for the most accurate, thoroughly researched telling of the stories.
Lifelong Bristol Borough resident Louise Davis, a distant relative of Harriet Tubman, one of American history’s great heroines, [Louise’s great-grandfather and Harriet’s father were brothers], often portrays the former slave and Underground Railroad conductor. She is the member of the African American Historical & Cultural Society of Bucks County who invited the interested audience to fill the room. Louise received a BA in Ed, BFA, and MFA from Tyler School of Art, Temple University and is active in promoting interest in African American history.
Presently she is working with AAHCSBC, directing sights towards establishing a regional library/museum/meeting place in Lower Bucks which could foster a sense of continuity and connection both within and between all ethnicities.
Charter member Deacon Deal Wright is the AAHCSBC’s current president.
Paul Schopp explained that Timbuctoo was the slavery-era village surrounded by Quaker communities in Westampton Township, Burlington County near Mount Holly, NJ [according to the US Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System] where fugitives made their homes.
In the 1820’s, fugitive slaves established the small enclave where no local “people of color” resided. The founders had reserved both the land and the dwellings for those from the South who had slipped their handcuffs and shackles.
Paul discussed the severe deprivations endured by its amazingly tenacious residents in this self-sustaining settlement that grew and thrived, despite slave-catcher incursions, fugitive slave trials and the Jim Crow era. It is a little forgotten corner of local history.
Quakers played a major role in the abolition movement; believing “owning another person as property was contrary to the word of God”. John Woolman [1720-1772], who wore conspicuous white [unbleached] clothes rather than use dyes which had to be produced by slave labor, and Anthony Benezet [born Antoine Bénézet 1713-1784], who was the second of thirteen children born into a wealthy Huguenot [French Protestant ]family in St. Quentin in France, protested against slavery as the gentle conscience of Quakerism. With his friend and fellow Quaker John Woolman, Benezet convinced the Philadelphia [Quaker] Yearly Meeting to take an official position against the practice of buying and selling slaves, and eventually to disown Quakers who would not comply. It was Benezet who issued the call for the first meeting of the Pennsylvania Abolition Society in 1775, and he assisted black Philadelphians in their petitions to defeat an amendment to the 1780 gradual emancipation act that would return unregistered blacks to slavery. They indefatigably demanded that Quaker society cut ties with the slave trade.
The West Jersey Quakers, along with other like minded people, increasingly became associated with antislavery activism and antislavery literature and pressured others to free slaves from servitude. They were also prominently involved with the clandestine routes of the Underground Railroad.
In the Antebellum era, people who lived in Timbuctoo forged an independent progressive community. Researchers are unable to confirm whether the name "Timbuctoo" was chosen by the blacks who founded the village or by the area Quaker abolitionists, who most likely offered assistance to them.
The name Timbuctoo appeared on deeds for the first time in 1830. These deeds bore the names of brothers David, Ezekiel, and Wardell Parker, as well as a Hezekiah Hall, all of whom were formerly enslaved migrants from Maryland.
The New Jersey Mirror [originally the Burlington Mirror, published from 1818 to 1947] was the major regional newspaper of this era.
New Jersey Mirror Obituary Headline: Died Date: February 27, 1851 Page: 3 Column: 2
Summary: “In Timbuctoo, near Mount Holly, on Friday last, February 21, 1851, Hezekiah Hall, (colored) aged about 60 years. The deceased in early life, was a slave, and belonged to Charles Carroll, of Carrollton. He escaped from bondage in the year 1814. He settled in our midst about the year 1824, since which time he has resided here. He was regarded by everyone as a man of unblemished character, and his truly upright walk and Christian deportment commanded the highest respect. His remains were followed to the grave on Sunday last, February 23, 1851, by a very large concourse of friends and neighbors.”
The predominantly black residents worked diligently on their sandy land, unfit for other use. "It was agriculturally marginal." They used their hard earned money [about $38.50 an acre] to buy land parcels, build churches and construct a school. Education led to literacy and a subsequent understanding of important laws. The men labored on farmsteads as field laborers or found employment in two major Quaker owned brickyards located just north of the settlement, while their wives worked as washer women or domestic servants. Timbuctoo was easily accessible from the Delaware River, making it a strategic terminus location for the Underground Railroad.
At its peak in the mid-1800s, this community had more than 125 residents, at least 37 dwellings, most likely log cabins, an African Union “colored” School, known as the ‘Bunker Hill’ or ‘Timbuctoo’ school on Rancocas Road & Church Street [District #33], an African Methodist Episcopal Zion church and a cemetery, where African Americans who fought in the Civil War where buried. When the Civil War divided the country, Timbuctoo’s seclusion did not prevent its residents from enlisting in the war effort as United States Colored Troops [U.S.C.T.].
These segregated neighborhoods in Burlington, Woodbury, Camden and Salem had “little opportunity for contacts between blacks and whites”. The freed and escaped slaves who made it there didn't just pass through; they stayed and they built lives in a world where human rights and equality for black individuals continued to be contested. The 1804 Act for the Gradual Abolition of Slavery stated that any child born into slavery after July 4, 1804 would be granted their freedom after serving under their mother’s owner for a designated length of time. For females, freedom was granted on their twenty-first birthday, while males were freed at the age of twenty-five.
Timbuctoo had become a fugitive ‘safe haven’ for those who wanted to remain in South Jersey rather than continue northward. It is identified in the U.S. Census as the “Village of Timbuctoo”, about a 45-minute drive northeast of Philadelphia.
The community thrived until about 1930 when people began moving away to find jobs during the Great Depression, according to researchers. The houses deteriorated and were razed leaving behind underground foundations. The church was torn down. This buried community has the potential to be a very important find in African American History.
Artifacts have been found by archaeologists from Temple University that tell much about Timbuctoo’s daily life. They include the silver clasp of a woman’s purse, Mason jars, crockery chips, and an empty jar of Dixie Peach Pomade. Medicine bottles, cosmetics jars, and pieces of shoes also show that the people of Timbuctoo lived in a thriving community. Other findings, however, point to the brutality that some residents had suffered while they were still slaves. Forensic analysis of bones from the burial ground reveals evidence of malnutrition, anemia, high infant mortality, injuries, and physical abuse.
The late Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) distinguished Professor/ Author Clement Alexander Price [1945-2014] wrote books on the African-American experience in NJ. Dr. Price was born in Washington, D.C., the son of James Price and Anna Christine Spann Price. He received his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of Bridgeport, and went on to become one of the first black scholars to earn a Ph.D. in history from Rutgers University-New Brunswick.
In his book “Freedom Not Far Distant: A Documentary History of Afro-Americans in New Jersey” , he wrote that as early as 1694, the colony was prohibiting blacks from carrying guns and was setting fines for harboring runaway slaves. He noted that NJ was the last Northern state to ban slavery.
The impoverished slaves received no compensation, just their clothing, rooms and food.
Slavery was not abolished in New Jersey until 1865.
Timbuctoo, the original settlement, no longer exists.
Smart man! Professor Price cautioned against wallowing in memories.
The African American Historical & Cultural Society of Bucks County meets on the second Saturday of every month at 1:00PM in the Margaret R. Grundy Memorial Library located at 680 Radcliffe Street, Bristol, PA 19007. Join today and help preserve Bucks County’s African American history as they educate ALL about their rich heritage.
Take note: February is officially designated as Black History Month.
There is an “All Call for Artists” for an exhibit re: ‘African-American Experience’ at the Centre for the Arts at 308 Mill Street during the month of February. Selected works from the collection of the late William H. Smith, conceptual artist for the 10-foot bronze Harriet Tubman statue in Lions Park, will be featured.
African American Historical and Cultural Society of Bucks County
P.O. Box 1532
Bristol, PA 19007
Recommend a “Spotlight”. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org