Untold Stories: The Early History of African-Americans in Bergen County

Betty, one of the last eye-witnesses of the Revolutionary War. She lived in the vicinity of New Bridge, Bergen County. Born 1773 into slavery, emancipated 1840, she died 1871.

Did you know that African-Americans comprised a fifth of the population of Bergen County at the time of American Revolution? This includes Africans and their descendants who were pioneer settlers.

The Bergen County Historical Society preserves important, if troubling evidence, of the history of enslaved peoples in Bergen County centuries ago.

We have a daguerreotype of Betty, reported to be one of the last eye-witnesses of the Revolutionary War. Born 1773 into slavery, emancipated 1840, she died 1871.

An undated newspaper article in poor condition is attached to the daguerreotype cover (see photos - above). Kevin Wright was able to find the article in The Bergen Democrat on microfilm at the Johnson Library and I repeat it here:

Another Revolutionary Relic Gone. On the 21st last, a colored woman living in the family of James Paulison, at New Bridge, died at the advanced age of ninety-eight years. She was born a slave in the Paulison family, at the old homestead below the village of Hackensack, where she lived until emancipated in 1840, after which she resided in the family of James Paulison. She retained a vigorous mind until near her death, and her recollections of Revolutionary times were very vivid.
The Bergen Democrat, March 24, 1871 (newpaper clipping appears on left side of daguerreotype). From collections of BCHS.

Strangely the article does not give her name. I was not able to find Betty in any census, so more research is needed before we can fully appreciate her story.

I was surprised to come across three people of advanced age, listed as enslaved persons in the 1860 census for Hackensack Township (see photos). Hackensack Township is not the same as the present City of Hackensack, which was a village in New Barbadoes Township, but originally covered the territory lying between the Hackensack and Hudson Rivers as far north as old Harrington Township. New Jersey passed legislation to gradually emancipate enslaved persons, beginning in 1804. Even a bloody Civil War---fought 150 years ago---did not remedy the great injustice of social and economic inequality, prompting the courageous Civil Rights movement of our own time.

Consider joining us for the BCHS lecture this week.

Thursday, March 15, 2012 • 7:30 pm

The Institution of Slavery as It Existed in Bergen County From the 17th Century to the 19th Century

Lecture by Arnold Brown

It may come as a surprise to some modern-day residents and others that slavery had a significant presence in the area.
In the 1730s, excluding Native Americans, about one out every five people was a black slave. Records reveal that, in those days, punishment could and did include burning at the stake if a slave was accused of arson.

The Garden State, as a whole, did not seem progressive on the issue. In 1865, New Jersey voted against passage of the 13th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution to free the slaves, although it did pass it the following year.

One of the fascinating aspects of Brown’s research includes the unearthing of a story of his own family roots in Bergen County, going back many generations to the days of slavery. Facts about African-Americans and the Revolutionary War will also be discussed. Brown is the founder and president of the Du Bois Book Center, a retail e-commerce bookstore specializing in used, rare, out-of-print and new books about and by African Americans.

He is a member of the Afro-American Historical Society Museum in Jersey City, member of the BC Historic Preservation Advisory Board and a member of the New Jersey Chapter of Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society. Brown was the first African-American Assemblyman from Bergen County.


LECTURE PROGRAM LOCATION MAP: Unless otherwise noted, all lecture programs are held at the Second Reformed Church, corner of Anderson and Union Streets, Hackensack, NJ on the third Thursday of the month at 7:30 pm. The public is invited to attend. No fee. Second Reformed Church, 436 Union St, Hackensack, NJ. THE ENTRANCE DOOR IS AT THE BACK OF PARKING LOT (Enter from Anderson St). Up one flight of stairs, right - down long hallway and another right into meeting room. Please join us for refreshments afterwards.

Unfortunately much of the BCHS collection and all of the library is in storage.  Our goal is to provide a proper museum environment for thousands of irreplaceable artifacts and documents of our Past. To better understand Bergen County's past we would like to provide researchers and visitors access to the collections. Can you contribute to our museum and library building fundraising campaign?

We are not a government agency and do not receive any public operating grants or funds, we rely on private donations and membership.

Links and research:



BCHS message board - 1860 census:

James Jay - Claus document, in BCHS collections:

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