Place  /  Retrieval

Slavery and Rebellion in Eighteenth-Century New Jersey

While documented revolts of enslaved persons in New Jersey aren’t abundant, some examples speak to the spirit of resistance among African people held captive.

In 1734 a slave revolt was foiled in Somerset County when a slave told an Englishmen that his countrymen were “generally a pack of Villains and Kept the Negroes as Slaves, Contrary to a Positive Order from King George.” Further investigation discovered that as many as thirty slaves were part of the conspiracy vowed to each:

“rise at midnight, cut the throat of their Masters and Sons, but not to meddle with the women who they intended to ravish and plunder the next day, and then set all the houses and barns on fire, kill all the draught horses and secure the best Saddle Horses for their flight towards the Indians in the French interest.”

A second revolt in Somerset County occurred five years later in 1739, where an enslaved person in Rocky Hill was ordered by the overseer’s wife to fetch wood and make a fire. He replied in a surly tone that he would make fire enough and pursued her with an axe. After killing the overseer’s son and then setting fire to the barn, burning more than a thousand bushels of grain, the enslaved individual was captured and burned at the stake.

In December of 1752, an enslaved African that remains unnamed to this day took matters into his own hands when offended by his captor, Jacob Van Neste, who stole some of the enslaved man’s tobacco. Van Neste was met with an ax at the hands of the enslaved man, who nearly decapitated him from the blow. After Van Neste died, he was dragged a distance and buried in the brush. Local whites believed the enslaved captive was at fault, but were fearful of arresting him because he was “large and athletic,” and considered dangerous. Yet they hatched a plan and jumped him when he was returning from fetching wood. His involvement was confirmed when he was forced to touch the slain man’s head, causing, according to eyewitness reports, blood to run from the corpse’s nose and ears. At the enslaved person’s execution, newspaper accounts related that as the flames covered his body, the man shouted to the assembled Black people, “they have taken the root but left the branches.” In West African societies from which many enslaved Africans came, adults were taught to have a profound disdain for pain—to shed a single tear would be dishonorable.