Category Archives: African-Americans in 18th-19th Century Newark, NJ

African-Americans in 18th-19th Century Newark, NJ

Rev. John A. King: Abolitionist, Preacher, and Planemaker

This blog is dedicated to the memory of the King Family as they were one of Newark’s Black founding families.

In the book, Prophets of Protest: Reconsidering the History of American Abolitionism, Richard Newman has a chapter entitled “A Chosen Generation”: Black Founders and Early America. He wrote:

“Black founders” is a fancy term to describe the charter generation of free blacks in early national America. Born in the eighteenth century, some free (like James Forten of Philadelphia)) but many enslaved (like Richard Allen, Prince Hall, and Venture Smith, all of whom struggled mightily for their freedom), black founders came of age just as the American nation took shape….For they were of a generation that first battled bondage in an organized fashion, the generation that created vibrant free black institutions throughout the nation, and that innovated protest tactics—from establishing print as a key form of black activism to aiding fugitive slaves and distressed free blacks to forming the first national conventions dedicated to racial justice and independence—which still held sway on the eve of the Civil War.”

Given Newman’s definition of “Black Founders”, I maintain that the King Family was one of Newark’s Black founding families. I have chosen to focus on Rev. John A. King simply because there is more in the public record on him than his brothers. But, make no mistake about it, the lives of the other King brothers, especially Jacob and Abraham, are also noteworthy.

Over the past few years, my cousin Andrea and I have pieced together the King brothers’ early lives. Based on the 1830 census, John was born about 1790 in Morris County, NJ making him the oldest of Lucy King’s sons. Abraham was born around 1795. Their mother was a slave on Abraham Ogden’s estate in Morristown, NJ. We do know that they were mulatto and, based on his mother giving her 2nd son the name Abraham Ogden King, we assume that their father was Abraham Ogden or someone close to him. Both John and Abraham were also tradesmen which tells us that they occupied a more privileged status among other slaves. We don’t know when they became free or how they learned their trade, but Abraham Ogden’s estate was settled in 1802 and we assume John and Abraham were freed thereafter. Their mother remained a slave while some of their younger siblings were freed under the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804 after completing their service terms.

Sometime prior to 1820, the King brothers met Rev. Christopher Rush, another Black founder. Together with Rev. Rush, they founded the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church (now known as the Clinton Memorial A.M.E. Zion Church) in Newark in 1822. This church was the first black church founded in Newark and was also considered to be a sister church to the Mother Zion Church in Lower Manhattan that was founded in 1796. Rev. Rush would go on to become the Bishop of the A.M.E. Zion Church in 1828. As stated in a previous post, before he left to become a bishop, he sold his land to Jacob D. King who built an Underground Railroad House in 1830.

I should add that around 1820, John married Phebe Beard who was from Delaware. They ended up having 6 children: John Jr., Mary Rebecca, Cornelia, Robert, Edward, and Christopher Rush King. That John named one of his children after  Rev. Rush indicates how close a colleague and friend he considered Rev. Rush to be. Abraham married Mary McIntosh in Morristown, NJ in 1824 and they had 2 sons, Abraham Ogden King, Jr. and William.

The A.M.E. Zion Church in Newark was active in both the Underground Railroad and in the education of all Blacks. By 1826, the Church was teaching Blacks, both young and old, how to read and write. According to the Township of Newark records, On April 14, 1828, Abraham and John walked into the town meeting with a petition asking for funding for a colored school. Please note that this school had already been in existence for years. They were only asking for formal funding from the town. They received limited funding initially and were able to have a formal budget for the school from 1836 onward.

In the early years, the Colored School, as it came to be known, was located first  in the A.M.E. Zion Church and then in the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church. It wasn’t until 1864, when James Baxter became the principal, that the Colored School had their own building. The Colored School lasted until 1909. I should also mention that two of Jacob’s daughters, Marcia and Harriet King, were teachers in the Colored School.

Plaque on James Baxter mentioning the King Brothers

At the same time that the King brothers were educating Blacks, building churches, and harboring fugitive slaves, between  the mid-1820’s and early-1830’s, they were also holding down full-time jobs in the carpentry trade. Abraham was a carpenter and Jacob was a cooper. However, John was one of the four Black planemakers in the United States prior to the Civil War. The others were Cesar Chelor of Wrentham, MA, John Teasman, Jr., a fellow Newarker whose father became the principal of the New York African Free School in Manhattan in 1797, and George Ball of New York City.

You may ask yourself what exactly was a planemaker. Well, in the 18th and 19th centuries, woodworking was a specialized activity. Carpenters, cabinetmakers, and joiners used a variety of tools in their trade.  A “plane” was one such tool that shaved down a piece of wood to a particular thickness. The plane held an iron chisel in a fixed position so the wood could evenly be removed from the surface. There were different types of wooden planes used to create different surfaces. For example, you had utilitarian planes and planes that created moldings and edges.  Hence,  planemakers made planes and they were considered to be toolmakers.  Wooden planes were used up until the Industrial Revolution.

John A. King Wooden Plane in NJ Toolmakers:A Heritage of Quality by Alexander Farnham

After researching John’s career as a planemaker, I have come across a couple of inaccuracies in the public record on him. There have been several websites and articles that list John’s years as a planemaker as only being between 1835-1837. One of the most notable is a website on African-American woodworkers in the 18th and 19th centuries. However, the Newark City directory has him clearly listed as being a planemaker from 1836-1846. Since the directory was only published in 1836, he may have even worked earlier than that.  In addition, there was an article written by Ronald Pearson called “Hand Tools: A Significant Find” in The Chronicle of the Early American Industries (Vol.37:49-50) . In the article, Pearson writes about how he acquired an old tool box that had 38 wooden planes, 13 of which were made by John A. King. He hypothesizes that John was only a “jobber” working for two white planemakers, the Andruss brothers. There is no basis in fact for his hypothesis as John was an independent planemaker with his own business. In his later years, he was known to have only worked with James Searing, another Newark planemaker. By not doing the  primary research that would have indicated John’s long career as a planemaker and insinuating that John couldn’t possibly work for himself, these researchers have done a disservice to his memory. Today, they stand corrected.

In the early 1830’s, John become very active in the abolitionist movement and he also became an ordained minister in the A.M.E. Zion Church in Newark at this time. He participated in local, state, and national anti-slavery societies as well as national Negro conventions. Through these activities, he met some of the most well-known white abolitionists of the day like the Tappan brothers and William Lloyd GarrisonIn addition, he also started writing for The Liberator.

He also met more often and socialized with other well-known early Black abolitionists like Rev. Amos N. Freeman, David Ruggles, Rev.Theodore S. Wright, and Rev. Samuel Cornish, who later became a minister at the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church in Newark. In fact, by the late 1830’s, John was also writing for Cornish’s Colored American newspaper.

In his newspaper articles, John addressed the concerns of the day. These included the issue of colonization. In 1816, the American Colonization Society was founded. The Presbyterian Church was a main proponent of the colonization of free Blacks to Africa and later to the Caribbean after 1834. Many free Blacks in Newark, including John, were  vocal anti-colonizationists. Having grown up in the shadow of the Revolutionary War, these people believed that they, too, sang America. It was the US that they called home and they saw all attempts to remove them from the US as nothing more than an extension of slavery’s hand.

The colonization movement hit close to home. In 1839, One of the first ministers of the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Church, Rev. T. P. Hunt emigrated to Trinidad with his family and some members of the congregation. In 1841, Rev. Hunt returned to Newark and met with his old congregation and told them what he encountered. Very little was positive for they had been deceived into emigrating in the first place. John then wrote the article below in the Colored American. Please note the resolutions made.

Anti-Colonization article by John A. King

Another topic John was concerned about was the restoration of Black citizen’s voting rights. From 1790-1807,  free Blacks and women had the right to vote in New Jersey. In 1807, the state of NJ, disenfranchised over 3,000 free Blacks and untold number of women. John took note of this Black disenfranchisement  in an article for the Colored American.

 

John A. King advocating for Black voting rights

From the mid-1830’s to the mid-1840’s, John, in addition to continuing to preach at the Newark A.M.E. Zion Church,  was also a minister at the Mother Zion Church in NYC as well as the Mount Zion A.M.E. Church in Eatontown, NJ which was part of Shewsbury Township back then.  In Carter G. Woodson’s book, The History of the Negro Church, he mentions John A. King as being one of the leaders in A.M.E. Zion Church between 1830 and 1840.

 

John A. King mentioned in Woodson’s History of Negro Churchpapers.

John is also listed in all history books pertaining to the founding of the A.M.E. Zion Church. Moreover, John, Abraham, and Jacob are also listed in the Black Abolitionist Papers which is a testament itself to their abolitionist activities during their lifetimes. I consider this to be an honor.

In 1848, the Newark Daily Advertiser reported a fire at John’s house on 20 Academy Street in Newark.

Newark Daily Advertiser, 3/16/1848

Most of the inside of the house was destroyed. We don’t really know if he was ever able to rebuild his house.

Over a year ago, I also found two articles written in 1849 in the Newark Daily Advertiser that broke my heart. The tears flowed uncontrollably. In January 1849, John’s wife Phebe died which, together with the fire, quite possible made him depressed. It was on April 6th and 7th, 1849, that the Newark Daily Advertiser announced his suicide below.

Newark Daily Advertiser, 4/7/1849

 

Newark Daily Advertiser, 4/6/1849

After his death on 04/05/1849, John’s brother William was left to settle his affairs. It wasn’t until 1852 that his estate was settled.

Estate sale of John A. King’s properties

 

Estate sale of John A. King

In the 1850 census, John’s 2 youngest children, Edward and Christopher, are living with William.

After reading that article, I wondered how often do we consider the needs of those who lead our flock. Do we really know how well are shepards are doing? John was a preacher who comforted and led others. Was he being comforted?  I shed tears for a man who did so much for others, but couldn’t do enough for himself. Tears, tears, and more tears.

I would be remiss if I ended my blog post on this note. Those who know me also know I just won’t do that. I truly believe it is up to those of us alive to give voice to our ancestors, to allow them to speak in a voice that is their own, and to correct the inaccuracies about them. Likewise, I believe it is up to us descendants to remember our role model ancestor, our radiant roots, in a positive light. If we don’t, then who will? So, 165 years after the death of my ancestor, Rev. John A. King, I offer a prayer of remembrance to him.

Dear Uncle John,

I want to THANK YOU for the wonderful life you left behind. It has truly been an honor to retrace your footsteps. You have made us proud to call you an esteemed ancestor. We claim all aspects of your life and the lives of your brothers, as our own now. We exalt you for making Newark, NJ a better place for all African-Americans at a time when we were not considered to be full citizens. That you never gave up the call for equal rights is laudable. Your quest for equality showed us just how much a true American you were and how much you believed in the ideals of the American Revolution—freedom, liberty, and equal rights for all.

I want you to know that you were loved, not only by your immediate family and by us, your descendants, but also, by God. God never failed you–not even in your greatest moment of despair. I pray that you have continued to find comfort in His arms. You served an awesome God — a God that we continue to serve.

God bless you, John, and the legacy you left behind. Continue to rest in peace as we continue to spread your good name and the good deeds you did during your lifetime. You are still loved and remembered.

We call your name, John, we… call… your… name…

Amen!

PostScript:

If I could speak to John, I would tell him that his extended family is still hanging strong in Newark—-right across from where he used to live at 20 Academy St. Our family has never left Newark.

 

My cousin Raymond Armour, Esq.

 

The Underground Railroad House that Jacob D. King Built in Newark

This post is in honor of all my King ancestors. Jacob D. King and his family, including my 3rd aunt Mary Thompson King, stood up against the evil that was slavery in 19th century Newark, NJ and triumphed.

 

Shortly after finding out that Jacob D. King, my 3rd great-uncle by marriage, built his Underground Railroad house at 70 Warren Street in Newark in 1830, Andrea and I set out to find out more about him and his family. After looking through probate records, census records, church records, and newspaper articles, we were able to piece together parts of his life.

One of the first things we found out, via his daughter Harriet Brown’s obituary in a New York Age newspaper article on 9/12/1912, was that the King family had been in Newark since the mid-1700s.

NY Age Newspaper 9/12/1912

However, my 5th cousin Eleanor Mire, who descends from Jacob’s daughter Martha, told me that King oral history has indicated that they were in New Jersey during King Philip’s War (1675-76). From our research, we have learned that King family was in Essex and Morris counties prior to the mid-1700s.

One of the things Andrea and I are doing now is researching the Essex and Morris county’ slave owners who are affiliated with our family — the Ogdens, Riggs, Thompsons, Camfileds/Canfields, Morris families among others. DNA is also confirming the links to these slave owners families. For example, Andrea’s uncle Robert  matches almost 20 centimorgans  with a descendant of Edward Riggs, an original settler of Newark. Newark was founded in 1666 by Puritans from Connecticut which means that our ancestors were probably there close to its founding which makes us one of the oldest African-American families to continuously reside in Newark, NJ from the start.

Jacob was born in Newark on April 6, 1806 to Lucy King. His father was the late sexton of Trinity Church in Newark and he died before Jacob was born. Unfortunately, church records did not record his name.

Jacob’s 1806 Trinity Church Baptism Record

He was one of 5 sons born to Lucy. The others being Abraham, John, Henry, and Charles. She also had a daughter named Venus. We believe that some of  Lucy’s older children were fathered by her slave owner, Abraham Ogden, as she named one of her her sons, Abraham Ogden King. 

Abraham Ogden’s Inventory featuring Lucy King

It should be mentioned that Trinity Church in Newark was founded by Josiah Ogden and was the Ogden family’s home church as well as Hercules Daniel Bize’s church.

Mary Thompson married Jacob King in 1829 in the First Presbyterian Church in Newark, NJ. At the time, my Thompson ancestors were members of the First Presbyterian Church and her marriage to Jacob reflects her family’s membership in his church. However, the King family were founding members of the first African Methodist Zion Church, later known as the Clinton Avenue A.M.E. Zion Church. This church was founded in 1822 by Rev. Christopher Rush, who was one of the first missionaries of the black Methodist movement.

NYPL Digital Collection, Schomburg Center

Bishop Christopher Rush was born in Craven County, NC in 1777. He escaped to New York City in 1798 and became a member of the A.M.E. Zion Church which gave him a license to preach in 1815. He was ordained as a deacon in the church in 1822 was also charged with founding an A.M.E. Zion church in Newark, NJ. In 1828, he became the Bishop of the A.M.E. Zion (aka Mother Zion Church) in NYC. I should also mention that my 3rd great-grandfather’s 2nd wife Rosetta Thompson’s father, Rev. John A. Dungey, was also a founding member of this church as well.

The A.M.E. Zion church, it should be noted, was known for it’s Underground Railroad activity. In addition to Jacob D. King and his family, later Black abolitionists of this church included Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Sojourner Truth. Bishop Christopher Rush advocated helping fugitive slaves escape slavery and he charged the early A.M.E. churches with helping with this task. And they did.

In 1830, Jacob King bought land from Rev. Christopher Rush in the amount of $100. According to the deed, Rev. Christopher Rush was already a resident of NYC. I should mention that Jacob’s brother, John A. King, was a minster in the Newark A.M.E. Zion church.

Jacob D. King’s 1830 Land Deed

It is on this land that Jacob built an Underground Railroad house at 70 Warren Street in Newark. Jacob was a cooper by trade and two of his brothers were also involved in the carpentry field. Abraham was a carpenter and John was a planemaker, one of three African-American planemakers in the United States prior to the Civil War. Their brother-in-law Cato Thompson, was also a carpenter and we assume he learned the trade from his in-laws and also helped to build this house.

After I found the photo of Jacob’s house in Charles F. Cumming’s article, I went to the NJ Historical Society to see I could locate the actual article since Cummings didn’t give the date the article was published. I am so thankful for the staff at the NJ Historical Society, especially James Amemasor.  James has gone above and beyond in helping me find the documents needed for my research. He helped me go through a year’s worth of the Newark Sunday Call  newspaper. Thank God it was just a weekly paper!  On the first day of looking, I didn’t find anything after 5 hours of looking. But, when I arrived back home an hour later, James had left me a message saying that he thought the article on Jacob’s house was in the magazine section. So, I went back a couple of days later. It took a while, but we found the article and James was right. It was in the magazine section and it included 4 more photos! I am so glad I went to look for the source of the photo. I believe my ancestors were guiding me.

Here are the photos of the inside of Jacob’s Underground Railroad house in 1937, a year after Jacob’s daughter Ellen passed away. It should be noted again that this house stayed in the family for 106 years. I wish this house could talk because I would love to hear all the stories that could be told.

Full Sunday Newark Call Magazine Article, 10/3/1937

 

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

Newark Sunday Call Magazine, 10/3/1937

 

My 3rd great-aunt Mary Thompson King’s Dutch oven

Words cannot express how excited I was to see these photos. I ran home and had to tell everybody about this find.

One of my favorite photos is of my 3rd great-aunt Mary’s old Dutch oven. For too long, the role of  everyday, drylongso African-American women has been absent from the historical record as it pertains to the Underground Railroad. Yes, we know about the role of Black men and the role of white male and female abolitionists on the UGRR. But, what about the wives, daughters, and sisters of Black abolitionists?  Weren’t their roles just as important?

I am reminded of a post on my cousin Dawn Terrell’s  Answering The Ancestor’s Call blog, where she writes about an ancestor calling her out to be remembered. When I saw Mary’s Dutch oven, I know she was calling me out and reminding me that she, too, had helped fugitive slaves. We now know that it was Mary and her daughters, and maybe even her sisters, who cooked for the slaves hidden in the basement at 70 Warren Street. They probably also washed and repaired fugitive slaves’ clothes, helped out with childcare, comforted frightened fugitive slaves, and did other things that were typically defined as “women’s work.” I am so thankful for this photo. I may not have a photo of Mary, but praise God I have this remembrance of her and the important work that she was doing along with Jacob and the rest of my ancestors. Praise God indeed.

On a whim, I then went to the Schomburg Center for Research and Black Culture to see if I could find even more info on Jacob’s Underground Railroad activities. I came across The Black Abolitionist Papers, an account of Black abolitionists from the 1830s until the Civil War. In this multi-volume set, I found the names of both my Thompson and King ancestors. Regarding Jacob D. King, I found the following:

 

From The Black Abolitionist Papers

According to the Weekly Anglo-African newspaper, Jacob was a treasurer in a Relief Association which was a local organization, that assisted fugitive slaves on the Underground Railroad.

Weekly Anglo-American Newspaper, 10/15/1859

 

From the time Jacob built his UGRR house in 1830 until the 1860s, Jacob was non-stop in his abolitionist activities. I should also add that, in the article above, Thomas Washington was Jacob’s son-in-law, the husband of his daughter Martha. Hence, King black abolitionism was a family affair

Jacob passed away at 74 years old on 5/3/1880 and is buried in Woodland Cemetery  in Newark. He devoted more than half his life to fighting against the evils of slavery. He is a man who should definitely be remembered. 

Charles F. Cummings Was a Friend of Mine

This article is in memory of Charles F. Cummings, the noted Newark, NJ historian who left behind a trail for me to follow in seeking my ancestors.

I became familiar with Charles F. Cummings a few years ago. We never met in person because he passed away in 2005. But from the start, he was a friend, as Wendy Williams would say, in my head. I remember how we were introduced. I had recently located the names of my two 3rd great-aunts, the sisters of Cato Thompson, and their families. Catherine Hedden was living in 1850 with her 2 daughters and her mother, Ann. Right next door to her was her sister Mary King and her family.

1850 Census Record

I decided to google my 3rd great-aunt Mary’s husband’s name, Jacob D. King, to see if anything popped up on him. I found an article, “The Sounds of the Underground Railroad Resonate Throughout New Jersey” written by Peter Genovese in 2000 that mentioned Jacob.

“The Sounds of the UGRR Resonate Throughout NJ” Article

I can’t tell you how PROUD I was to find this significant piece of my family history. I will be doing the happy dance for the rest of my life. LOL I have to thank Charles for documenting this.

When I first learned that both my 3rd and 4th great-grandfathers were well off in the early 1800s,  I wanted to know about what type of men they were. Finding out that Cato was trained by Jacob and his brothers and that both Thomas and Cato lived right next to Jacob in 1830, meant that they both probably aided Jacob in the building of his house, as well as, the harboring of fugitive slaves on the road to freedom. Thomas Thompson was a well-respected coachman after all.

After reading this quote, I wished that Charles F. Cummings was alive so I could ask him all the questions I wanted to know about Jacob. That could not happen obviously. I reckoned that the next best thing I could do was to read his books to learn about Newark’s history.

One day, when I was at the New Jersey Historical Society, accompanied by my friend Dee Dee Roberts, President of the New Jersey Chapter of AAHGS, I came across his book, A History of Newark, 1666-2002. In his book, there were two articles that pertained to African-Americans in Newark. One article was titled, “Slavery in New Jersey: A Shame that Spanned 3 Centuries,” and it detailed slavery in New Jersey. On the 2nd page of the article, I came across this photo:

Jacob D. King’s Underground Railroad House in Newark, NJ

Woohoo again!Slaves’ Haven! Now, I had a picture of Jacob’s house in 1937. His house stayed in his family for 106 years. As an FYI, Rutgers University, in downtown Newark, was built over the 70 Warren St. location. Thank you, Charles, for including this photo in your book. I did another happy dance in front of Dee Dee then I immediately let Andrea know of my find.

I then came across another Cummings article in the same book, “Blacks in New Jersey: The Journey Towards Economic Freedom.” This article made reference to my 4th great-grandfather, Thomas Thompson.

“Blacks in NJ:The Journey Towards Economic Freedom”

Cummings mentioned Thomas Thompson (though he referred to him as Thompson Thompson) as being “the wealthiest man of color,” according the 1821 Newark Tax Ratable. I was able to confirm his information by looking at the 1821 Tax Ratable.

1821 Newark Tax Ratable

Cummings also listed a number of other Free Blacks in Newark. Over the past couple of years, Andrea and I have been documenting the links between these families via marriages and community building institutions, like the founding of churches, schools,  anti-slavery societies, Masonic lodges, etc. We have also researched the early Black abolitionist activities of this same Free Black community.

I had told someone once that my ancestors were from Newark. They then asked me, “Did your family come after the 1967 riots?” I said, “No.” The next questions was, “So they came up from the South after World War I?” Again, I answered, “No.” I finally had to tell them that we have been in Newark probably since it’s founding. In fact, we are still there. I have a cousin whose law office is on Academy St. in downtown Newark —- on the same street where our ancestors lived in Newark in the late 1700s.

Charles didn’t know it, but as a friend, he has tipped me off about, not only my family history, but also about early Black Newark. He left clues for me and Andrea to follow up on and we have. In the coming months, I will be writing about my ancestors and this early Free Black community in early 19th century Newark. It is my goal to put early Black Newark back on the map as these African-Americans deserve to be remembered.

My Poor 3rd Great-Grandfather Cato

About three years ago, I tracked down my maternal 3rd great-grandfather on my Grandad’s side, Cato Thompson. I found him listed as a being mulatto in every census from 1830-1880 in Newark, NJ. He was also listed in every Newark City Directory from, 1836-1890, as being a carpenter. What I found out about Cato was that he lived between 1809-1891; he was the son of Thomas and Martha Ann Thompson; he owned his own carpentry business; he invested in real estate; he trained carpenter apprentices; and was a very religious man.  Cato was born in and lived his entire life in Newark, before Newark was a even a city.

On a whim, I googled Cato’s name. (By the way, I have found a lot of info on my family just by googling so I highly recommend it.) Lo and behold, it wasn’t long before I hit pay dirt in the form of several newspaper articles. My poor 3rd great-grandfather was robbed! One of the first articles was from a Black newspaper, The NY Freedmen Newspaper,  on January 30, 1886:

 

Cato’s Robbery

My first thought was, “Whoa, my 3rd great-grandfather was rich!” Before I knew of Thomas Thompson, I figured his white father hooked him up real good.  WRONG! It would be another year, before Andrea and I discovered that the Thompson line consisted of mulattos marrying mulattos for generations. My European ancestors on this line enter the family in the late 1600s and early 1700s. We would later learn that Thomas was the richest Free Person of Color from 1806 until his death in the 1830s. It was Thomas’s connection to a network of rich white people in Newark that Cato piggybacked off. But, more on that later.

Getting back to the article, my 2nd thought was, “Cato had servants?” Hmmmm. I remember thinking, did he own slaves at one point? Upon further research, I ruled that out. NJ had instituted a Gradual Emancipation Act in 1804 which would have precluded that. Cato was 77 years old when he was robbed. He lived alone and needed someone to help him. Annie Dutton (not Sutton as reported) was his live-in housekeeper.

On March 26, 1886, The NY Freedmen Newspaper reported the full story:

 

The Real Story

It looks like Annie Dutton was given several opportunities to repay Cato, but she refused. It also appears that she stole an additional $200 over the course of the 3 years she worked for him.

 

Annie Went to Jail

Her sister, Carrie, did plead guilty though.

 

Carrie Pled Guilty

 

I wondered how Cato earned his wealth. Based on several obituaries I found, I was able to put the pieces together. Wealth breeds wealth, for the most part, if the individuals are savvy. And my ancestors were SAVVY! At a young age, Cato learned his trade from his sister’s husband’s family. His sister Mary married into the King family,  another Free Black Newark family made up of carpenters, coopers, and planemakers. In addition, Thomas, his father, was able to refer Cato’s skills, as a carpenter, to the wealthy white families he was affiliated with as a stagecoach owner. Cato then became a wealthy carpenter who was able to invest in real estate at a time when white immigrants, like the Irish and the Germans, were arriving in Newark in numbers starting in the late 1840s onward.

 

Cato’s Obit

To date, Andrea and I have learned that Cato owned a lot of real estate. In addition to inheriting his parents’ home, he owned about 10 other properties. His brother, Thomas Thompson, Jr., also owned two properties which he passed on to Cato’s son, Thomas Thompson III. After Cato died, my 2nd great-grandmother, Laura Thompson Green, inherited some of his property and she, too, lived off the rents as did her son, my Grandpa Green.

Please note that Cato was married twice. Whoever gave the info to the above newspaper had the info wrong. His first  marriage was in 1838 to my 3rd great-grandmother, Susan Pickett. Susan was born around 1809 to a slave named Tun in Morris County, NJ. Since she was born to a slave, unlike Cato, she had to serve her master until age 21, according to the Gradual Emancipation Act.  Susan died in 1854 after an illness. My 2nd great-grandmother Laura was her youngest child. She was around 2 years old at the time of Susan’s death. Cato was left a widower with 6 kids.

In 1856, he married his 2nd wife, Rosetta Dungee, the daughter of Rev. John A. Dungee. Rosetta’s father was a Free Black who was born in Virginia and who moved to NYC in the late 1790s. By 1800, he owned a clothing store in downtown Manhattan and he was a minister who was affiliated with the A.M.E. Zion Church in NYC. At some point, he moved to New Haven, CT to help found the A.M.E. Zion Church there. He met his wife Sarah and Rosetta was born around 1818. Rosetta died of pneumonia in 1880 in Newark, NJ and Cato was once again a widower.

For awhile, there was a debate in my family over which one of Cato’s wives was my 3rd great-grandmother. We confirmed that all his kids were from Susan. In fact, when he married Rosetta, she was overwhelmed with being a new wife to a man who already had 6 children —- so overwhelmed that she initially RAN AWAY, but she did come back. Here is a classified ad that Cato placed in the Newark Daily Advertiser on December 4th, 1856.

 

Rosetta Ran Away

When Cato died, he was once again had housekeeper issues. Poor Cato! He had employed Hannah Vanderveer as a housekeeper after the Annie Dutton fiasco in 1887. When he died in 1891, unbeknown to Cato’s 5 living children, Hannah went to court and filed a “claim for dower.” She claimed that she was married to Cato for three years which, of course, caught his children by surprise. Believe me, both the NY and NJ press had a field day with her claim. Some of the headlines at the time included, “Now She Says She Was His Wife” (NY Herald Tribune, 9/7/1891), “The Queer Proof of Marriage” (NY Herald, 9/7/1891), and “Hannah Vanderveer Shows It to Prove a Marriage with Cato Thompson. (Newark News, 9/7/1891).

 

Hannah Claims a Dower Right

It turns out that Hannah lied to the court. She said they had been married 3 years when Cato died, but she produced a marriage certificate that was 25 years old indicating her marriage to a “Thomas Creignton.” She had the nerve to say that Cato went by “Thompson Cato” and that the old minister who married them wrote down Creighton instead of Cato. Pul-Leeze. I do give her an A for audacity as well as effort. It took some time to think up that hot mess of a lie. LOL

Not wanting to create a stir, however, his children settled with her:

 

Hannah Drops Her Claim

 

From our research we discovered that Cato was first married in the white First Presbyterian Church in Newark in 1838 to Susan. Sometime after their marriage, they joined the Plane Street Colored Presbyterian Street. Cato was a member and benefactor of this church until the day he died. His funeral also took place in this church.

 

Cato’s Funeral Announcement

 

After Cato’s died, his death announcement made several national Black newspapers, like the State Capital newspaper out of Springfield, Illinois (9/26/1891), which simple announced:

 

Cato Thompson, 1809-1891

 

In researching my Grandad’s family, I’ve learned so much about him. Most importantly, why he walked so upright. Given the family background, he had — and I have —generations of Black male ancestors, aided by their wives, were businessmen and property owners. They were the best role models for him and his descendants.

By the way, there was never anything poor about Cato. He lived a rich life and left us with an even richer legacy.

From Slave to Stagecoach Owner: Thomas Thompson

While I always knew my Grandad, Richard W. Greene, Jr., was proud to be from Newark, I never knew just how deep his roots were there until I found our ancestors.  I always admired my Grandad. He was the only African-American funeral director in Southeastern MA for over 40 years. He was a pillar in the African-American community in Brockton, MA and was a proud member of both Messiah Baptist Church and the Paul Laurence Dunbar Masonic Lodge. What I always loved about him was that he knew he was a role model to others and acted appropriately. He walked like he was somebody and he commanded respect from all. In finding his ancestors, I learned a lot more about him.

 

My Grandad Richard W. Greene, Jr.

A little over two years ago, while looking through the 1820-1850 Newark, NJ census records, I located my 3rd and 4th great-grandparents. I followed up this research by looking up newspaper articles, tax records, city directories, and probate records. It turns out my ancestors were in Newark going back to the 1700s, if not earlier. At the time, I felt like I hit the jackpot— little did I know what a jackpot that would turn out to be.

My Granddad’s great-grandfather was Thomas Thompson. Thomas, a mulatto, was born born around 1768. He was a slave owned by Hercules Daniel Bize, who was born in Moudon, Switzerland, but who was part of the British merchant class. Bize had an interesting background. Before coming to the United States, he as a burgher on the island of St. Eusatius in the Dutch Caribbean. He was also a Patriot sympathizer during the Revolutionary War having been involved in trading arms to the Patriots. Before coming to Newark, he lived in Charleston, SC and owned a plantation that had over 70 slaves.  He was involved in different international trading businesses. In several Newark directories, Bize is listed as the richest person in Newark at the time of his death.

When Bize died in 1800, he freed Thomas, a woman named Lizzie and her son Benjamin. (I should add here that Bize’s original handwritten will says the three names were Sam, Tise, and Phillip. On examination, someone transcribed Tom as Sam and Lizzie could have been spelled Lise and not Tise. I am not too sure if the name Phillip as it could have been a second name. Always look at primary documents.) He didn’t free his other slaves in SC though. I was lucky enough to come across a 1863 article in the Newark Daily Advertiser titled “Newark As It Was” that mentioned Thomas. The person who gave the account of Thomas had Bize’s death date incorrect, but he did remember Thomas.  After Bize died, Thomas became a successful, stagecoach owner/driver and property owner. Before 1810, he owned three homes, a stagecoach, and horses and was Newark’s richest Free Person of Color.

 

Newark Daily Advertiser Article on Thomas Thompson

You can imagine the joy I felt reading an account by someone who KNEW my 4th great-grandfather. Finding out that the adjectives used to describe him could easily be applied to my Grandad made my heart SING!

Thomas Thompson’s Stagecoach Ad, 1821

In further researching my Newark ancestors, I also found a late 1880s newspaper clipping at the New Jersey Historical Society that mentioned Thomas. Peter O’Fake, another well-known Black Newarker, was interviewed by a reporter and he reminisced about the old stagecoach days. His father, John O’ Fake, was a friend and contemporary of Thomas in the stagecoach business. In his interview, Peter mentions that Bize gave Thomas –whom he calls Thomas Bize– the seed money to start his stagecoach business in the early 1790s and that Thomas drove the first stagecoach from Newark to NYC. After his business was a success, then other slave owners made their slaves coachmen as well. Not only did they these Black coachmen carry passengers to NYC, but they also delivered mail and took care of banking duties for their owners. No wonder Thomas was so respected.

 

Peter O’Fake on Thomas Thompson (aka Bize)

Thomas eventually drove folks not only to New York City, but also to Jersey City, Philadelphia, Albany, NY, Saratoga Springs, NY, and other places. His trips to NYC and Jersey City also corresponded to locations on the Underground Railroad. Thomas had the perfect cover to be a conductor on the Underground Railroad. And it just so happened that his son-in-law Jacob D. King built an Underground Railroad house right next door to Thomas at 70 Warren St. in Newark in 1830.