The History of Timbuctoo, NJ: First African American Enclave Program Recap

In honor of Juneteenth, Guy Weston gave us an insightful look into one of New Jersey’s greatest historical treasures: Timbuctoo.  Guy demonstrated how this community emerged in New Jersey in the 1820’s from the lasting influence of the Quaker’s as well as it’s continued existence throughout the years.  A brief summary of the history of slavery in NJ and Timbuctoo follows, but if you wish to view the entire presentation, you can access the PowerPoint at https://njstatelib.org/assets/HistoryofTimbuctoo.pdf.

New Jersey was the last Northern state to pass a gradual manumission law regarding slavery in 1804, thanks in large part to the Quaker community in the southern counties of the state.  At that time, roughly 82% of African Americans in the southern counties were considered free, while only 15% held that designation in the northern counties.  While some of this can be attributed to the need for skilled indentured laborer in the counties surrounding New York City and the coast, the largest contributing factor was the vast influence of the Quakers in the southern counties, who as a group outlawed slavery in 1776.

It is with the help of the Quakers that Timbuctoo was settled by former slaves and free African Americans in 1826.  Timbuctoo was one of several antebellum free black settlements in New Jersey, which were concentrated in the southern half of the state.  The first mention of Timbuctoo as a settlement was on a deed from 1830 and it continues to exist as an unincorporated community in Westampton Township.

Timbuctoo residents appeared in the Census beginning in 1830 and details such as the names of other household members and places of birth began to appear in 1850 when the census form was revised to include additional details.  In 1886,  roughly 600 individuals were living in Timbuctoo.

While there was support for the town and the status of its people, the people of Timbuctoo were not immune from the societal tensions in the mid-19th century.  The Battle of Pine Swamp, as reported by the newspaper The New Jersey Mirror, occurred in 1860 where a well-known slave catcher, George Alberti, sought to capture an escaped slave named Perry Simmons who was residing in Timbuctoo.  The story demonstrates how George Alberti and his posse of several others were run out of town by an uprising of the residents, determined to protect their own and the freedom for all blacks that their town represented.

There is also a cemetery at Timbuctoo where residents are buried.  The oldest is Eliza Parker, wife of church Trustee and one of the original purchasers of the land, David Parker; she died in 1847.  Additionally, there are also 8 members of the U.S. Colored Troops from the Civil War buried in that cemetery as well.

Timbuctoo is a unique piece of NJ history and an example of African American strength and accomplishment during a tumultuous time in our nation’s history.  If you would like to learn more about Timbuctoo, feel free to visit in person, go to their website https://timbuctoonj.com/, or check out the Timbuctoo Fact Sheet.  If you would like to learn more about slavery and New Jersey, please read Guy Weston’s piece from the Journal of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society entitled New Jersey: A State Divided on Freedom.