The Underground Railroad in NJ
A map of Underground Railroad Stations in New Jersey, from
Opportunities for travel by self-emancipators were numerous in New Jersey. There were major waterways such as the Delaware River and Bay, the Atlantic Ocean, and the Hudson River. The state also had plentiful rivers and streams that could lead to inland Underground Railroad Stations. People moving to freedom could travel by commercial steamboat, sailing vessel, and other boats.
New Jersey had a well-developed road system. In the mid-1800s, roads in New Jersey generally ran east to west, from New York to Pennsylvania. However, south of Trenton roads were less developed or missing altogether. The roads that were there ran along the coast from Cape May to Newark, or from Cape May west to Fairfield, Greenwich, and Salem, and north to Trenton. Travel was by foot or wagon, or sometimes even by stagecoach.
Travel by rail was available to runaways, too. The largest railroad was the Camden and Amboy, the main line between Philadelphia and New York city. However, escaping slaves also made use of the West Jersey, New Jersey Central, and the Woodbury and Camden Railroads.
The goal of using any of these methods of travel on the Underground Railroad was to reach New York City and other points north and head toward Canada.
As mentioned in Friday’s post, UGRR routes and lines were determined by several, although not all, of these variables: the number of free blacks living in an area, the presence of an abolition society, an African Methodist Episcopal congregation, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion congregation, a Colored Presbyterian Church, a Quaker meeting, a Methodist congregation, and/or a Presbyterian congregation.
There were three Underground Railroad networks in New Jersey. The Southern Network was located in the southern New Jersey counties of Cape May, Cumberland, Salem, and Atlantic, and parts of Gloucester, Burlington, Camden, and Ocean counties. It was the entry-point for self-emancipators arriving from Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, and other Southern states. Most of the runaways though entered New Jersey by crossing the Delaware River or the Delaware Bay. Once in the Southern Network, escapees would be channeled north to towns of Camden and Mt. Holly.
The Central Network’s southern most part ran from Swedesboro to Barnegat at the Atlantic Ocean and its northern part ran from Bordentown to the Atlantic shoreline. The network included most of Burlington, Camden, and Ocean Counties, as well as bits of Gloucester County.
The image below combines the routes in the Southern and the Central Networks
Finally, the Northern Network’s southern most reach ran from Bordentown to the Atlantic coast and to the north it covered the entire the state up to its borders. It had three main lines. Most of the activity, though, was located in Mercer, Middlesex, Monmouth and Somerset Counties, and parts of Warren and Hudson Counties. Little of the activity seems to have occurred in Warren County, home to the town of Blaineton in the Saint Maggie series. That does not mean that Underground Railroad activity did not occur there, though. By locating my fictional characters in Warren County, I simply put a little “fiction” in the “historical fiction.”
Below is an image of how all the networks and routes looked when put together. Just remember, though, it’s likely that the image does not represent all of the lines and routes, major and minor, that existed.
Image from http://www.state.nj.us/nj/about/history/underground_railroad.html
I live in Somerset County, so the Northern Network line of the most interest to me is a minor one running from Easton, Pennsylvania to New Brunswick. There were three possibilities once runaways crossed the Delaware River to Phillipsburg, New Jersey. One of them was was a stage line running through Phillipsburg that had two different routes: 1) to Trenton or 2) to Somerville and on to New Brunswick.
Somerville is the county seat of Somerset County. Upon reaching Somerville, self-emancipators would travel south to Hillsborough Township and approach New Brunswick from the southeast. There are mountains in Hillsborough (well, mountains for New Jersey) called the Sourlands. These mountains are rocky and wooded, which makes for an excellent hiding place. (See the photo below.) There also was a community of free blacks living there, as well as an African Methodist Episcopal Church. No surprise there was an Underground Railroad station there - and it's within shouting distance of where I live. Okay, maybe not shouting distance. A short car drive.
For those of you who think New Jersey is all roads and dying industries and cities, here's a photo of what the Sourlands still look like.
Image from https://www.njhiking.com/sourland-mountain/
On Wednesday, I'll have a couple of stories about people who traveled the Underground Railroad in New Jersey, because stories are so much more interesting that all the details I just laid on you!
See you then.
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Janet Stafford, Squeaking Pips Founder