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Many people know the story of Harriet Tubman, a fugitive slave who was a conductor of the Underground Railroad and made dozens of trips from South to North, leading hundreds of slaves to freedom.
Tubman used South Jersey sites on some of her passages and worked in a Cape May hotels over several summers to earn money for her journeys. Cape May opened a museum in her honor in recent years.
New Jersey — and South Jersey in particular — played a critical role in the success of the Underground Railroad, a network of safe houses, safe spaces and secret routes.
Abolitionists often provided shelter, food and supplies to assist runaway slaves in their pursuit of freedom.
South Jersey had dozens of documented stops on the Underground Railroad, some more famous than others.
Here are some Underground Railroad sites/towns in South Jersey:
Bethel Othello African Methodist Episcopal Church, Springtown
This historic church dates from between 1838 and 1841, and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1999. It has been documented as a stop on the Underground Railroad that was used by Tubman.
Springtown is one of the oldest Black settlements in Cumberland County and is located about a mile from the colonial village of Greenwich.
“Springtown and its Bethel A.M.E. Church were involved in the Underground Railroad and included several members who led the Abolitionist movement in the 19th century,” according to the Cumberland County Cultural & Heritage Commission website.
“The community was an important destination for fugitive slaves leaving Delaware and the eastern shore of Maryland. Greenwich and Springtown were perfectly located geographically for this purpose as they are were settled on a peninsula between the Cohansey River and the Delaware Bay, providing numerous routes by water for incoming runaway slaves.”
At that time, the area was swamp and was a well-known landing point for fugitive slaves from Maryland and Delaware that had crossed the Delaware Bay.
The church is located at 1092 Sheppards Mill Road.
Burlington Pharmacy, Burlington City
By 1790, Burlington County had the largest free Black population of any county in the state, according to the Library of Congress, The American Folklore Center
“This can be attributed to its location in the Delaware Valley, known as the ‘cradle of emancipation,’ where slaves were freed on a large scale,” it said. “The sizeable presence and influence in the valley of Quakers, America's first organized group to speak out against the evils of bondage, enabled this region to be the pacesetter regarding black emancipation.”
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Once called Wheatley’s Burlington Pharmacy, this building was built in 1731 and established as a pharmacy in 1841. The Quaker-owned building was used to harbor runaway slaves and held anti-slavery rallies.
Located at 301 High St. in Burlington City, it is also the oldest pharmacy in continuous operation in the state.
Burlington City seemingly played a very active role in helping escaped slaves.
The Old Carpenter Street School, Woodbury
The Old Carpenter Street School was a key place where the runaway slaves found shelter and were housed and fed before moving onto the next safe stop.
A rug on the floor was lifted and provided access to a basement.
Built in 1840, the building became a public school in 1881. It later became a parish house after a larger schoolhouse was built a block away.
According to the State of New Jersey Historic Trust, the school may be New Jersey’s oldest existing schoolhouse built for African-Americans and also is the oldest surviving structure associated with the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Woodbury, a congregation founded in 1817.
The school is located at 53-55 Carpenter St. and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1997.
Elisha Barcklow House, Moorestown
Elisha Barcklow, an English Quaker, built this home in 1765, and according to the oral tradition of the community, it is regarded as an Underground Railroad station.
The home — purchased in 1799 by William Roberts, who built the adjacent brick house — is located on Main Street, which becomes Kings Highway, “an early major transportation artery that connected South Jersey to the northern part of the state and is also identified with the Underground Railroad,” according to New Jersey’s Underground Railroad Heritage.
A tunnel built from the house to the barn during the Civil War gave fugitive slaves access to food and shelter.
The home at 274 W. Main St. is a private residence.
Dr. George Haines House, Medford
Medford’s first resident physician, Dr. George Haines, built the house in 1826. According to local oral tradition, Haines, who also was a Quaker and an abolitionist, used his home as a safe haven for runaway slaves.
The succeeding owner of the house, Dr. Andrew E. Budd, continued its role in the Underground Railroad, according to the New Jersey Historical Commission.
Haines, who helped organize the county agricultural society and a local bank, built the house at 33 North Main St. for his bride.
The Quaker and abolitionist was a member of the Haines family which settled in the Medford area in the 1680s, according to town history.
A 1970s historic survey uncovered evidence that indicated the house was used as a stop on the Underground Railroad.
The home is a private residence.
The Goodwin Sisters House, Salem
Abolitionists and sisters Abigail and Elizabeth Goodwin provided funds and supplies to runaway slaves on their journey to freedom. From 1836 through the Civil War, the house was a place of refuge to enslaved African-Americans escaping North.
The Goodwin Sisters House, located at 47 Market St., was constructed in 1821 and prior to extensive research on New Jersey’s Underground Railroad was the “state’s best-documented Underground Railroad station.”
Abigail and Elizabeth's father was a Quaker farmer, who had freed his slaves during the American Revolution. Abigail and Elizabeth became founding members of the Female Benevolent Society of Salem, an organization which was committed to aiding the poor, elderly or sick, according to the Salem County Historical Society.
Grubb Estate, Burlington City
A documented station on the Underground Railroad, this estate included a mansion, two large brick Victorian cottages, a tannery, a brewery and a brickyard, according to Burlington City history.
The Grubbs were abolitionists, and tunnels between the houses and the riverbank were used to hide escaped slaves.
The riverfront home, built in 1872 by Philadelphia architect Frank Furness, is located within a federal designated Historic district.
The estate is located at 46 Riverbank.
Jacob’s Chapel, Mount Laurel
The little chapel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and, according to its website, was used as a safe place for slaves on the Underground Railroad.
Built in 1867 as an African Methodist Episcopal church, it is one of three significant resources on the property. The others are the meeting house and the cemetery, where Dr. James Still, known as “The Black Doctor of the Pines,” is buried.
There once was a thriving Black community called Colemantown where the church (318 Elbow Lane), Colemantown meeting house and cemetery are located.
Still’s brother, William Still, was a major conductor of the Underground Railroad in Philadelphia and was the author of the classic book “The Underground Railroad,” published in 1872.
Kay-Evans House at Croft Farm, Cherry Hill
Listed on the New Jersey and National Registers of Historic Places in 1999, the Kay-Evans House at Croft Farm dates to the mid-18th century “when Isaac Kay, a prominent New Jersey settler, built a two-story brick dwelling to accompany his burgeoning milling establishment on the banks of the Cooper River,” its historic plaque states.
Thomas Evans, the subsequent owner, was an active Quaker abolitionist “who used the property as a station along the Underground Railroad, assisting runaway slaves traveling north to freedom,” the marker says.
The Kay-Evans House and Croft Farm property is owned and operated by Cherry Hill Township.
Macedonia African Methodist Episcopal Church, Camden
Rev. Thomas Clement Oliver, one of the state's foremost Underground Railroad operatives, served as the pastor of the church during the mid-1840s. It’s thought the church assisted fugitive slaves.
Camden’s oldest Black institution (established in 1832) is located at 261 Spruce St. in what was Fettersville, Camden’s earliest Black settlement.
Fettersville was a large, free Black community named after Richard Fetters, a Quaker and political leader, who divided his property and sold it at reasonable rates.
Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal Church, Woolwich Township (Swedesboro)
Members of Mount Zion supposedly left the church doors unlocked in case escaping slaves were passing through and in need of shelter. If they were being pursued by slavecatchers or their owners, the fugitives were hidden in a secure hiding place beneath the church’s vestibule.
The church, located at 172 Garwin Road, is believed to have been built in 1834.
Preachers often played an important role in the protection of runaway slaves and churches like this one were safe havens and often provided supplies, shelter and protection for escaped slaves.
And many who participated put themselves at risk. A Fugitive Slave Law was enacted after 1850 which meant assisting escaped slaves was a federal crime.
The historic church and its cemetery were featured in season three, episode two of the show “Roots Less Traveled”, which aired on NBC10 in October of 2021. The show was entitled “Finding Freedom in South Jersey.” The Truitt family finds out that their African American ancestors were landowners pre-emancipation.
Damon Truitt, a Camden firefighter, was featured on the show with another cousin, Patti McGee Colston, who grew up in California. At the start of the show, they meet up at the Cropwell Friends Meeting house in Marlton, where their ancestors once gathered.
In the last segment of the show, they visit Mount Zion AME Church. Truitt is awed when he views the trap door inside of the church. Their distant cousins, well-respected men at that time in the community, had ties to the church and the area.
“When we talked about the Underground Railroad, we talked about churches like this one helping to harbor and bring some of the enslaved people through and help get them to freedom,” host Faruq Tauheed says. “I want to show you guys something. This is one of those places. This is where they would go. This is the kind of trapped door that would’ve been beneath a lot of the churches, a lot of the houses, for them to hide.” He lifts the door.
Said Truitt: “Wow. I can’t imagine that. This is history right here. I’m speechless.”
“… I’ve learned that the men in my family have a lot of character. They’re very honorable, very respected.
The Peter Mott House, Lawnside
Built circa 1845, the Peter Mott House at 26 Kings Court was residence to Peter Mott, a preacher who was the first Sunday school superintendent at Mount Pisgah African Methodist Episcopal Church in Lawnside, and his wife, Eliza.
It is one of the only known Underground Railroad stations in the state that was owned and operated by an African American and was located in the Black community called Snow Hill, which is now Lawnside.
Peter Mott was born in Delaware, and evidence suggests he was a free man, though he may have been born a slave, the Lawnside Historical Society says.
In 1992, the historical society acquired and restored the Mott house, then opened it as a museum in 2001.
The home was added to both state and National Registers of Historic places in 1994. It’s the oldest known house in Lawnside, a historically African-American town.
“It took almost 11 years to get to the point where we could open it as a museum of the Underground Railroad … It means a tremendous amount to us,” Linda Shockley, a Lawnside native and president of the Lawnside Historical Society.
“It’s such a valuable artifact. It’s a monument of a different sort. It stands tall and it stands proud as an affirmation that these people were strong, proud, principled and brave. And, particularly, Peter Mott showed his strength of character, his bravery and the commitment of the AME church.”
Shockley said many members of The Society of Friends in Haddonfield and Moorestown were principled people who assisted runaway slaves.
“He (Mott) transported people in his wagon to those meetings where those people cooperated with helping either the freedom seekers continue or settle and establish themselves as citizens,” said Shockley, who said some repair work has started on the museum building.
Saddlertown (Saddler’s Woods), Haddon Township
After Joshua Saddler, a runaway slave, settled there, many escaped slaves joined him and they created a community there, which is now a nature preserve with walking trails.
Saddler built a small home on a wooded lot after purchasing a plot of land. When word spread, other African Americans came and built homes there. A town was formed and named “Saddlertown”.
Now called Saddler’s Woods, it is a 25-acre forest visited by thousands each year for tours, recreation or volunteer activities. The location is 250 MacArthur Blvd.
“We do know that in the early 1800s a fugitive slave, Joshua Saddler, escaped from a Maryland plantation,” according to Saddlerswoods.org. “He reached New Jersey and soon found work with Josiah or 'Cy' Evans, a local Quaker farmer.''
“Upon learning of his new employer's negative feelings on slavery, Joshua Saddler told him of his escape. Evans eventually bargained with the plantation owner to sell him the runaway slave for a rather small sum. This act secured Joshua's safety and freedom,” according to the website.
Thomas Budd House, Mount Holly
Thomas Budd was a plantation owner and one of the founders of the Mount Holly Library.
The basement of the home has a tunnel in one of its corners which was used for the Underground Railroad. The house has served as a museum, a private home and a bookstore over the years.
Built circa 1744, it is believed to be the earliest known residence in Mount Holly still located on its original site. It has been documented by the local historical society as having hid wayward slaves in the 19th century.
Located at 20 White St., at the intersection of White Street and Church/Charles Street.
Officially listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 2011, Timbuctoo Village was founded in the 1820s by freed and escaped Blacks, who formed a self-sustaining town “well before the Civil War and emancipation,” according to Westamptonnj.gov.
The community off Rancocas Road was home to one of the first public schools in Westampton and was a stop on the Underground Railroad.
Timbuctoo had more than 125 residents, a school, as well as Zion Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal African Church and cemetery at its peak in the 19th century, according to the website.
A geophysical survey in 2009 identified about 70 gravesites in the cemetery, but only 11 gravestones remain.
“Located along the north bank of the North Branch of Rancocas Creek, Timbuctoo was easily accessible from the Delaware River. This made Timbuctoo a strategic location for the Underground Railroad.”
Also key places to visit:
Harriet Tubman Museum of Cape May
“The Harriet Tubman Museum has been organized to recognize Harriet Tubman's courage, compassion and conviction as well as the history of abolitionist activism in Cape May and its surrounding region,” organizers said. “Harriet Tubman lived in Cape May in the early 1850s, working to fund her expeditions to conduct fugitive slaves to freedom, and leaving Cape May to rescue enslaved people in southern states.”
The location, once the Macedonia Baptist Church’s parsonage facility, is in the Lafayette and Franklin street areas of town, an area anti-slavery activists often called home.
Visitors should always check ahead with the museum regarding hours and availability due to the ongoing pandemic.
The museum, located at 632 Lafayette St., had its grand opening in June of 2021, on Juneteenth.
Underground Railroad Museum, Eastampton
After it closed as a private enterprise in 2013, Burlington County government leaders promised to save the museum and find a dedicated space for it.
The county first supplied a temporary home for the Underground Railroad Museum at Smithville and then found a permanent home, housing the museum in a restored duplex in what was worker homes in the industrial village of Smithville, owned by the county and maintained by the county parks staff.
Curator and founder Louise Calloway initially operated the museum as a private enterprise at a location directly behind Burlington Pharmacy.
The museum, located at 803 Smithville Road, features photos, posters, chains and other artifacts of slavery. There are documents, newspaper articles and artwork. Due to the pandemic, Burlington County Parks offices, galleries, museums, the Smithville Mansion and visitors center are closed.
Visit burlington.nj.us/1415/Underground-Railroad-Museum for more information.
Celeste E. Whittaker is a features reporter for the Courier Post, Daily Journal and Burlington County Times. The South Jersey native started at the CP in 1998 and has covered the Philadelphia 76ers, college and high school sports and has won numerous awards for her work. Reach her at 856.486.2437 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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This article originally appeared on Cherry Hill Courier-Post: Where are Underground Railroad sites in South Jersey?