New Jersey's Underground Railroad
The heritage of African Americans in the Delaware River Region is proudly preserved and interpreted for future generations at historic sites and structures throughout South Jersey.
Take a drive into Swedesboro and the 20th century and explore the Richardson Avenue School. Opened in 1931, the school served for 11 years as a "separate but equal" school for African American children. In 1998, it was listed on the State and National Register of Historic Sites. Today it is a museum and open for tours by appointment.
In the years preceding the American Civil War, New Jersey was a major route for slaves escaping their masters in the South. The legendary Underground Railroad (UGRR), which was neither underground nor a railroad, is preserved today at sites throughout the region. A private residence, the Goodwin Sisters House in Salem City, is the best documented UGRR station in New Jersey.
Just outside of Swedesboro is Mount Zion A.M.E. Church, built in 1834, in which there is still a trap door where the congregation would hide runaway slaves. Just down a short path is a cemetery containing the remains of some of those fugitives and African American veterans of the Civil War. Located in the city of Camden, Macedonia A.M.E. (African Methodist Episcopal) is the city's oldest Black institution and a stop on the UGRR. Its minister Thomas Clement Oliver was New Jersey's foremost stationmaster.
Of interest is the town of Lawnside in Camden County, originally named Free Haven and later Snow Hill. This community was made possible by a Quaker from the neighboring settlement of Haddonfield who purchased plots of land and resold them to former slaves. In this quiet community is the home of Peter Mott. Mott was a free African American and his home a safe house on the Underground Railroad. Today the Peter Mott House stands as a memorial and guided tours are available.
In nearby Cherry Hill is Croft Farm, another important stop for escaping slaves. According to local oral tradition the Enoch Middleton House located in Hamilton, Mercer County, was a stop on the UGRR with its owner playing the role of both station master and conductor.
The City of Burlington was the home of Oliver Cromwell, a Free Black farmer who fought for our nation's independence and had his discharge papers personally signed by Gen. George Washington. The Burlington Pharmacy, New Jersey's oldest pharmacy in continuous operation, was a well-known gathering spot for South Jersey's mid-19th-century abolitionists.
Medford was the home of James Still, "The Black Doctor of the Pines" and brother of William Still, noted historian and Underground Railroad operative. In Mount Laurel is Jacobs Chapel A.M.E. Church, a complex containing one of the oldest African American church buildings in the nation and where Dr. Still attended services and is buried.
Don't forget that historic Princeton was the birthplace of Paul Robeson, son of a runaway slave who went on to become one of the most influential African Americans of the twentieth century. He distinguished himself as a singer, actor, athlete, civil rights activist and author.
In memory of Giles R. Wright Jr., a renowned scholar of African American history.