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.
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.
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!
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.
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.