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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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:
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.
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.