Professor Brooke Hunter Discusses Legacy of Slavery in Lawrence Township

This past Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM, Lawrenceville invited Rider University Professor Brooke Hunter to speak on the “History of Slavery & Abolition in Lawrence Township” as part of the school’s Black History Month programming.

This past Wednesday evening at 7:00 PM, Lawrenceville invited Rider University Professor Brooke Hunter to speak on the “History of Slavery & Abolition in Lawrence Township” as part of the school’s Black History Month programming.

Using her ongoing research project as the basis for her webinar, Hunter presented the history, impact, and current implications of slavery in Lawrence through a compilation of primary sources from local archives. Hunter began her presentation by arguing that, contrary to common perception, enslavement occurred frequently in northern states, explaining how “slavery happened here in the Lawrence Township as it did in New Jersey, and abolition took a lot longer than most people understand.”

Next, Hunter analyzed population censuses in New Jersey to show the sudden expansion of slavery during the American Revolution. She said, “One of the ironies of American history is that at the same time that white colonists were fighting for the freedom and independence from Great Britain, you also see an explosion of the number of enslaved peoples being held in servitude.” She continued, “In a place like New Jersey, most people don’t know that the highest number of enslaved people came after the American Revolution.”

Drawing from several record sources, such as a runaway notice of an enslaved woman, Hunter then showed how slave owners grew increasingly dependent on their slaves in order to “grow and form their wealth.” Hunter acknowledged that there were conflicting sentiments around manumission, which legally freed slaves. These manumissions were rare, especially in places like Lawrence Township, and according to Hunter, “most of the slaves that were not manumitted died as slaves.”

Hunter then moved on to discuss New Jersey’s Gradual Abolition Act, which declared that children of enslaved women would be freed after 25 or 21 years of servitude, and how it had little effect on the presence of slavery in Lawrence Township. “The long process of abolition was the painful reality of the gradual abolition act,” she noted. Even as slavery dwindled in the Lawrence Township, Hunter stated that the number of newly freed black people “hid the continued dependency that they had on members of the white community.”

Hunter concluded the webinar with an emphasis on the lasting significance of slavery, saying, “This particular topic is important, and has become increasingly so, given the events of the last year and the calls for racial justice in the United States. The legacy of slavery has extended long after the status of a Black man or woman changed from enslaved to free.” She urged Lawrentians to remember that the United States is “a nation with systemic racism,” and that “the legacy of slavery is systemic racism.”

“Until we understand this broader history, we will not be able to make the progress and fulfill the soaring rhetoric that is so inspiring about the United States and our democracy,” she said.

Reflecting on the webinar, Jess Fernandez ’22 said, “It was one of the most intriguing webinars I have attended. You always view slavery as something far off and disconnected from you in 2021, so realizing the proximity and extent of slavery here at Lawrenceville provoked a lot of deep thoughts and questions.”

Comments

There are 0 comments for this article

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.