Untold Black History: Preserving the history of enslaved 'Sourland Mountain' New Jerseyans
New Jersey may be known as the Garden State for what's grown in our farms, but we know very little about the enslaved people who worked those farms, dating back as early as the 1700s.
News 12 New Jersey's Naomi Yané sat down with the founders of the “Stoutsburg” Sourland African American Museum as they continue to preserve the history of enslaved New Jerseyans from the “Sourland Mountain” region.
New Jersey's overlooked Black history dates back centuries. For nearly 20 years, Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills have set out to unearth local stories of the enslaved members of the founding families of Central New Jersey who lived in the Sourland Mountain region
“We were here all along, and we are left out of history books all the way till today,” said Buck.
“Unfortunately, the story of the African American, especially those that were enslaved is not kept, it was not important, we weren't given names. We were given a name perhaps in the inventory of the white owner it could say something like Negro wench or Negro girl and an age, it was just property,” said Mills.
New Jersey is the southernmost northern state, it was also the last northern state to abolish slavery. The state has strong ties to slavery and many enslaved Africans ended up in the Sourland Mountains after having been auctioned off in places like Perth Amboy and Camden by European slave owners.
“These people were given enslaved people to clear the land…they built the barns they kept the farms going…they made the candles they made everything you would need to have a household going,” Buck said.
The chat with Buck and Mills was set at the historic Mount Zion AME church in Skillman, another contribution of enslaved Blacks, it was founded by members of some of the Black founding families. Names like Hughes who offered the first mortuary services to Black families in this community or William Stives who was a revolutionary war vet and the first Black inhabitant in the Sourland Mountains are just some of the names you'll find on grave markers at Stoutsburg Cemetery.
“Not only did we survive in this community, we thrived in this community. So you have the Huges family, the Harrison, you have the Nevius family who we're still trying to trace where did they come from,” Buck said.
Today, the two friends hope to continue this labor of love to expand the museum so that future generations can learn about the contributions of enslaved Blacks in Central Jersey.
For more information on the Stoutsburg Sourland African Museum and how to donate, visit www.ssaamuseum.org/.