Local authors Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills tell the untold story of slavery from the perspective of a small cemetery on the Hopewell-Montgomery border in their new book, If These Stones Could Talk.
Who were the 160-plus people buried in Stoutsburg Cemetery off Provinceline Road?
Headstones reveal many were soldiers who proudly fought in the Civil War, and at least one served Gen. George Washington in the Revolutionary War. American flags are posted by these stones.
Buck and Mills begin their book telling the story of the three men who purchased land in 1858 for the exclusive use as a burial ground for people of color, who could not be buried with Whites. It is believed the land was used as a Black cemetery even before the purchase.
Through years of research, the authors bring the buried to life, and give a glimpse of what it was like to walk in their shoes.
“We were shocked and saddened to learn how pervasive slavery had been in our region,” Buck recently told a crowd assembled for a book talk at the Trinity Episcopal Church in Rocky Hill.
In fact, slave ships had come straight from Africa, up the Delaware River, to locations such as Camden and Trenton, where slaves were sold at auction.
The book includes examples of newspaper advertisements from the 1700s. One ad states: “Just imported from the river Gambia, in the Schooner Sally, and to be sold at the Upper Ferry (on the Delaware River by Camden or Trenton), a parcel of likely men and women slaves, with some boys and girls of different ages.”
Buck says: “Our ancestors left their footprints in Stoutsburg, Blawenburg, Pennington, Princeton, Rocky Hill, all through the Hopewell Valley including all of Mercer, Hunterdon, and Somerset counties, and surrounding areas. History books are missing this untold story, which impacts Black lives to the present day.”
The authors also spoke about how their research yielded a New York Times article from 1880 titled “Barbarism in New Jersey,” referring to the “black and white inhabitants of the Sourland Mountain” as a “remarkable colony of barbarians in the midst of civilization.”
The article uses the word “miscegenation,” and interviews residents about their ethnicity and how families came to have varying skin colors. Marriage between blacks and whites was illegal in the U.S. until 1968.
Princeton University professor, historian, and Pulitzer-prize winning author James M. McPherson recommends the book, calling it “extraordinary.”
“The book narrates the history of black communities in the Hopewell Valley and Sourland Mountains over a period of three centuries,” he wrote. “Part genealogy, part history, and part personal memoir, rooted in an amazing amount of research, and written with grace and flair, this book brings to light a rich past that had almost been lost.”
About the authors
Both Buck and Mills trace family linages from colonial times. Mills is a decendant of Friday Truehart (1767-1845), is retired from her longtime job as director of the Mercer County Workforce Development Board. She is also the first African American woman to hold the elected position as Councilwoman, Pennington Borough.
Buck is the church clerk for Second Calvary Baptist Church in Hopewell, and works part time at Stonebridge in Montgomery. Her husband, John, is president of the Stoutsburg Cemetery association. ■
If These Stones Could Talk: African American Presence in the Hopewell Valley, Sourland Mountain, and Surrounding Regions of New Jersey
By Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills
Wild River Consulting & Publishing 345 pages – Paperback
Publication Date: Nov 7, 2018
List Price: $29.95
The authors will give a book talk at the D&R Greenway Land Trust's Johnson Education Center, One Preservation Place (just off Rosedale Road) in Princeton on Tuesday, Dec 11 at 6:30 pm.
For more information: visit the Stoutsburg Cemetery Website.
Information is also available at Wild River Publishing.