The Dark History of Enslavement
And the New Jersey Leaders Who Owned Enslaved People
Towns and parks have been named after former slaveholders; judges, war heroes, ordained ministers, surgeons and businessmen all owned slaves and a former, modern-day congressman’s great-great-great-great grandfather owned slaves.
These were not the owners of the southern cotton plantations that were powered by the blood and sweat of free labor of enslaved people but rather were the members of Congress from New Jersey. Slavery remains considered by many as a southern evil, but the capture and enslavement of African Americans was very much a part of life throughout much of the north as well as the south and New Jersey had the dubious distinction of being the last northern state to abolish slavery.
In the south, the enslaved African Americans toiled at the plantations where they lived under brutal, inhumane conditions but in the north, where there were no sprawling plantations and the enslaved worked in the homes of the rich while many also were forced to work at the burgeoning New York waterfronts. Bergen County developed as the largest slaveholding county in the state, in part because many enslaved Africans were used as laborers in the ports and cities. At its peak Bergen County enslaved 3,000 Africans in 1800, constituting nearly 20 percent of the county’s total population.
The owners of enslaved people reaped huge benefits by not having to pay the workers, and owners of large northern factories made huge profits by buying the cotton that was harvested by the enslaved. But whether they were shackled in Mississippi or were the property of congressmen from New Jersey, they were all part of the horrendous tradition that was at the root of the worst tragedy in the nation;s history. All were either brutally seized from their homelands in Africa or were descendants of those who were put in chains and brought to America where they were bought and sold and treated like any commodity.
Many Northerners did not let geographical boundaries stand in their way as they moved south to buy plantations and the enslaved workers. In her landmark, anti-slavery novel, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin,” author Harriet Beecher Stow blamed the north and the south for the system of slavery and tellingly, the cruelest figure in the book, Simon Legree, was born in the north.
After the Revolutionary War, many northern states rapidly passed laws to abolish slavery, but New Jersey did not abolish it until 1804 but the law of indentured servants, some Africans were enslaved as late as 1865. The law made these Africans free at birth, but it required children born to enslaved mothers to serve long apprenticeships that amounted to indentured servitude, until early adulthood for the masters. New Jersey was the last of the Northern states to abolish slavery completely. The last 16 enslaved Africans in New Jersey were freed in 1865 by the Thirteenth Amendment.
The Washington Post has compiled the first database of slaveholding members of Congress by examining thousands of pages of census records and historical documents. It shows that enslavers in Congress represented 37 states, including not just the South but every state in New England, much of the Midwest, and many Western states.
The database shows that 1,715 members of Congress, including 19 from New Jersey, owned human beings at some point in their adult lives, including at least one lawmaker who held Native Americans in bondage. Tellingly, the fiction that the north was a haven for the abolition movement is furthered as a Wikipedia search of the 19 from New Jersey mentions only three as slave owners.
For the first 18 years of the nation’s history, from 1789 to 1807, more than half the men elected to Congress each session were slaveholders. Of the first 18 U.S. presidents, 12 were enslavers, including eight during their presidencies.
The New Jersey lawmakers who owned slaves included:
* Rep. Benjamin Bennet was born in Bucks County, Pa., and later was ordained as a Baptist minister in Middletown, Monmouth County. He served in Congress from March 4, 1815 to March 3, 1819.
* Rep. Lambert Cadwalader was born in Trenton and served in Congress from March 5, 1793 to March 4, 1795. He was a lieutenant colonel in the Revolutionary Army, serving in the Third Pennsylvania Battalion.
* Rep. Adam Boyd was born in Mendham and served in Congress from March 8, 1808, to March 3, 1813. Boyd also was sheriff of Bergen County, was a member of the Board of Freeholders, the State Assembly and was a county judge.
* Rep. Abraham Clark, born in Elizabethtown, now Elizabeth, was a signer of the Declaration of Independence and served in Congress from March 4, 1791 to Sept. 15, 1794. As a lawyer, he was known as “the poor man’s councilor” offering to defend poor men who could not afford a lawyer. With no mention of his ownership of enslaved people, Wikipedia noted that Clark, more than many of his contemporaries “was a proponent of democracy and the common man, supporting especially the societal roles of farmers and mechanics.” Clark Township in Union County, is named for him, as is Abraham Clark High School in Roselle.
* Representative and Senator John Condit, father of Rep. Silas Condit, was born in Orange and served as a surgeon during the Revolutionary War and later a state assemblyman and a congressman from Sept. 1, 1803 to March 3, 1809. He was one of the founders of the Orange Academy. Silas Condict County Park in Kinnelon named after John Condict’s son.
* Rep. Ezra Darby, born in Scotch Plains, was a member of Congress from March 4, 1805 to Jan. 27, 1808. he also was a freeholder, assessor, justice of the peace and state assemblyman.
* Rep. Isaac Gray Farlee, born in in White House in Hunterdon County, served in the state Assembly and Senate and later in Congress from March 4, 1843 to March 3, 1845. He also was a judge.
* Rep. Frederick Frelinghuysen was born in Somerville and served in the Revolutionary War and was promoted by President George Washington as brigadier general in 1790 in the campaign against the western Indians. He was elected to the Senate and served from March 4, 1793, to Nov. 12, 1796, when he resigned. He later was named U.S. Secretary of State. Frelinghuysen is the father of Theodore Frelinghuysen, grandfather of Frederick Theodore Frelinghuysen, great-grandfather of Joseph Sherman Felinghuysen, great-great-great-grandfather of Peter Hood Ballantine Frelinghuysen, Jr.; great-great-great-great-grandfather of Rodney P. Frelinghuysen, who was a congressman from the 11th District in New Jersey from 1995 to 2019.
* James Linn, born in Bedminster, was a captain in the Revolutionary War and later a member of the state Assembly and was the N.J. Secretary of State before he was elected to Congress and served from March 4, 1799 to March 3, 1801. Linn was one of only two members of congress who was cited in Wikipedia for having inherited his father’s 664-acre estate, which included 20 slaves, in Mine Brook Valley.
* Rep. James Matlack, from Woodbury, was a township committeeman, judge, freeholder and state senator and was elected as to Congress, serving from March 4, 1821 to March 3, 1825. Matlack had various business enterprises where he utilized enslaved people.
* Rep. Aaron Ogden, born in Elizabeth, was a Revolutionary War officer and served in Congress from Feb. 28, 1801 to March, 1803. He also was New Jersey’s fifth governor and was a trustee of the College of New Jersey, later named Princeton University. His nephew, Daniel Haines, also served as Governor of New Jersey on two separate occasions.
* Rep. James Parker, born in Bethlehem Township, was a member of the state Assembly, mayor of Perth Amboy and served in Congress from March 4, 1833 to March 3, 1837.
* Rep. Isaac Pierson, born in Orange, was a surgeon and Essex County sheriff before elected to Congress where he served from March 4, 1827 to March 3, 1831. He was president of the Medical Society of New Jersey in 1827.
* Sen. John Rutherfurd was born in Jersey City and was raised on a farm in Allamuchy. He was a member of the state Assembly and Senate and served in U.S. Senate from March 4, 1791, to December 5, 1798. In 1808, Rutherfurd moved with his family to a farm on the banks of the Passaic River near what is now Rutherford. The town of Rutherford was named in part after John Rutherfurd, who had owned much of the land during his life. The spelling was changed due to the fame of President Rutherford B. Hayes who was President of the United States during the 1870s when the town was created.
* Rep. James Schureman of New Brunswick, served in the Revolutionary War and was a mayor and member of the state Assembly and as a member of the House of from March 4, 1797 to March 4, 1799 and later served in the Senate March 4, 1799 to Feb. 16, 1801. Schureman graduated from Queen’s College, now Rutgers University and is listed in the university’s Hall of Distinguished Alumni. He owned a farm and was a founder of the New Jersey Agricultural Society.
* Rep. Bernard Smith, was born in Morristown and was in Congress from March 4, 1819 to March 3, 1821, and later resettled in Arkansas where he was appointed as a subagent real estate broker for the Quapaw Indians.
* Rep. Henry Southard, was born in Hempstead, L.I. and raised in Basking Ridge where he worked on a farm. He served in the Revolutionary War, was a state Assembly member and served in Congress from March 4, 1801 to March 3, 1811 and again from March 4, 1815 to March 3, 1821. After leaving Congress for good, Southard returned to farming. .
* Rep. Isaac Southard, born in Basking Ridge, he was a major of the Second Battalion, Second Regiment,Somerset Brigade, was a director the State Bank in Morristown and was a judge. He was in Congress from March 4, 1831 to March 3, 1833 and was later the N.J. State Treasurer.
* Sen. Samuel Lewis Southard of Basking Ridge was the son of Henry Southard and brother of Isaac Southard. He was a state Supreme Court Associate Justice and member of the state Assembly before serving in the Senate from March 4, 1833 to June 26, 1842. He was later named Secretary of the Navy, Secretary of the Treasury and Secretar of War. Southard was the 10th governor of New Jersey. The destroyer USS Southard was named in his honor and a park in Basking Ridge also is named after him.
* Sen. and Rep. Richard Stockton, born in Princeton was the son of Richard Stockton, father of Robert Field Stockton, grandfather of John Potter Stockton and uncle of Richard Stockton Field, the founder of the New Jersey Historical Society, and the State Normal School, now known as The College of New Jersey. Richard Stockton was one of the original signers of the Declaration of Independence and served in the Senate from Nov. 12, 1796 to March 3, 1799 and ran for governor three times, losing each bid before getting elected to congress and serving from March 4, 1813 to March 3, 1815. On March 7, 1781, The New Jersey Gazette acknowledged Stockton’s worth to his country, noting “The ability, dignity, and integrity, with which this gentleman discharged the duties of the several important offices to which he was called by the voice of this country are well known.”
In 1969, the New Jersey Legislature passed legislation establishing a state college which was named after Stockton. Previously known as “Stockton State College”, “Richard Stockton State College”, and “Richard Stockton College of New Jersey”, it is now known as Stockton University. A rest area on the southbound New Jersey Turnpike, south of Interstate 195, is named after Stockton
* Sen. Robert Field Stockton, born in Princeton, served from March 4, 1851, until his resignation on Jan. 10, 1853. Stockton was a member of the peace convention of 1861 held in Washington, D.C., in an effort to devise means to prevent the impending war. Fort Stockton, Texas; Stockton, Mo.; Stockton, Calif.; and Stockton, N.J., are all named after him. Stockton owned and operated the Tellurium gold mine in Goochland County, Va., and Fluvanna County, Va.