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Underground Railroad Tour
Slavery was, and is, a crime against humanity. This tour visits historic sites of undeniable interest to African Americans, and all who would show solidarity with the brave resistance. Of moderate length (1 1/4 to 1 3/4 miles, from 1 to 1 1/2 hours), with recognized sites.
Take a walk back in time and engage your mind with Self-Guided Tours of historic sites in the City of Burlington. Available year-round, these are especially fun when taken during one of our special annual events (see Events Calendar). The Site Numbers (in circles: ) below may appear out of order, but the sites are arranged in order of best walking route. Tour offers as an option one Registered site beyond the Historic District, the Allen School. To help you find your way, print out a copy of our Historic District Map. Or, request a FREE Map Brochure– by <E-mail> or call (609) 386-1900. Supplies are limited. Some sites may contain stairs. Wear comfortable walking shoes.
Burlington Island 1624
Visible from Riverfront Promenade
The first recorded settlement in New Jersey places Europeans on this island in 1624. They were Walloons from Belgium who established a trading post to barter with the Indians. New Jerseys first record of an African presence notes slaves of a Dutch colonial official held on Burlington Island as early as 1659-1664. When the English seized the Island for the Crown in 1664, some of these poor slaves were sold to English plantation owners in Maryland. Subsequent to the Dutch, Swedes and Finns occupied this island, finally going to the English in 1664. Since 1682 one of the oldest trustees in the nation, the Board of Island Managers, has administered funds from part of the island for the education of City students.
Bethlehem African Methodist Episcopal Church 1855
213 Pearl Blvd.
Burlingtons oldest African American institution was founded in 1830. It is one of the oldest African American churches in the state. Originally constructed in 1836, the building was replaced in 1855, remodeled in 1873 and again in the 1980s. Beside it are but a few of the 212,000 graves of African American Union Army and Navy Civil War soldiers.
In 1833 Pastor Rev. Jeremiah H. Pierce legally challenged forced segregation of his four children into Burlingtons all-black elementary school and won this landmark case.
Oliver Cromwell House 1798
114 E. Union Street
Final residence of Oliver Cromwell, African American Revolutionary War soldier, one of the approximately 5,000 who served. Oliver crossed the Delaware with Genl. George Washington Dec. 25, 1776, and battled at Trenton in 1776, Princeton in 1776, Brandywine in 1777, Monmouth in 1778 and Yorktown in 1781.
George Washington personally signed Cromwells discharge papers, who was decorated for serving during the entire conflict.
While Henry Grubb (Grubb Estate, 46 Riverbank, 28 on map) and his family were known to be ardent abolitionists, they are also said to have built tunnels from the riverbank under their home for the concealment of runaway slaves. Grubb operated the first tavern in Burlington, growing his business interests into mining and manufacturing. The estate contained a tannery, a brewery, and a brickyard. It is possible that the sluices and water channels necessary to the conduct of his businesses may have given rise to rumors of more humanitarian uses. It is also possible that Grubbs anti-slavery sentiment extended from belief to actions.
Gen. Edward B. Grubb, his grandson, was a Civil War General and Ambassador to Spain and built the two Victorian-style homess. See his marble portrait bust in the Library Company of Burlington.
Burlington Pharmacy 1731
301 High Street
This is New Jerseys oldest pharmacy in continuous operation. Burlington Pharmacy was built in 1731, the numerals spelled out in bricks on the gable end facing Union Street. In 1841 commenced pharmacy operations. It was owned, then, by Quaker William J. Allinson, an active abolitionist who used it as a forum for anti-slavery rallies.
This story describes Allinsons determination... One Colonel Christian came to the City Aug. 13, 1836, and claimed that an industrious farmer near town, Severn Martin, was his slave who had fled Christians Virginia plantation 16 years before. Martin was duped and hauled before the Mayor sitting as County Magistrate. The account given by Christian and two companion slave drivers was flimsy and undocumented, yet resulted in Martin being chained to one of the slave drivers as property. Martin resisted, desperate and despairing, only to be knocked down and dragged to a steamboat to be taken away. To his credit, the boats captain refused passage. Martin was loaded instead on to a wagon, when Allinson, the little man with the great heart, solicited the $800 demanded by Christian and bought Martins freedom.
Poet John Greenleaf Whittier was said to have denounced slavery from the Pharmacy doorstep, and oral tradition has it that tunnels (or arcaded basement?) under this building hid slaves as part of the Underground Railroad.
This common knowledge is cited by many sources, including three recent, brief sources:
New Jersey Commerce & Economic Growth Commission Office of Travel & Tourism page
and in the Burlington County Cultural & Heritage Dept. publication,
Tour Guide African American Historic Sites Burlington County New Jersey by historian Giles Wright, director of the Afro-American History Program at the New Jersey Historical Commission. The Guide takes the form of an Adobe Acrobat PDF file, and the authors preface as well.
A more-recent State publication is available, Steal Away, Steal Away... A Guide to the Underground Railroad in New Jersey published by New Jersey Historical Commission, again credited to Giles Wright, and Edward L. Wonkeryor, Coordinator, N.J. Underground Railroad Project N.J. Historical Commission.
Friends Meetinghouse orig. 1785
341 High Street
In 1688 Francis Daniel Pastorius wrote the first anti-slavery message in Colonial America, in Germantown, Pennsylvania. The tract was read at the original hexagonal wooden Friends Meetinghouse used from 1685 to 1785, and catalyzed local efforts to end slavery.
This site (341 High Street) has been the meeting place of the areas Quakers for over 300 years. The original seats and tables constructed during the Revolution are still in use.
In the Friends Burial Ground to the rear rest the remains of African American clock and watchmaker Peter Hill (1767-1820). One of a mere handful of such African American professionals, he learned his craft from his Burlington owner, Joseph Hollingshead, Jr. Freed in 1795, he set up shop on High Street. Three known examples of his skill remain in the form of tall case clocks; one is in the collection of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, DC..
Optional Tour Stop: William R. Allen School built 1870 rebuilt 1900
Wall Street / Mitchell Avenue
(Proceed South on High Street; Turn Left onto E. Federal Street; 3rd block jog right onto St. Mary Street, then quick left onto Wall. School is on your right The building is not open to the public.)
William R. Allen School was named for a Unionist Civil War-era mayor of Burlington. It stands, closed to the public, on Wall St. / Mitchell Ave. For 40 years starting in 1900 this was Burlingtons racially segregated school for students of African American descent. Its location and enrollment practices kept its student population entirely black until it was closed in the 1960s. On this same site once stood an all-African American schoolhouse from 1870, featured in the famed 1884 N.J. State Supreme Court case of Rev. Jeremiah H. Pierce. The Court struck down the School Boards insistence that Pierces four children must attend the segregated school.
More Stories of Courage and Dignity
Cyrus Bustill (1732-1804) was born a slave in Burlington. He was freed by his Quaker second owner in 1769, who endowed him with the knowledge to be a baker. Successfully operating a bakery for many years in Burlington, he later moved to Philadelphia, grew to be a leader and in 1787 founded one of the nations oldest African American organizations, the Free African Society. Not content, he built and then taught in his own free school. You may have heard of his illustrious great-great-grandson: singer and activist Paul Robeson.
When only six, Peter Still and his brother Levin were kidnaped and sold into slavery in Kentucky. Levin died, but Peter married and started a family still in slavery. In the Summer of 1851, Peter purchased his freedom, intent on ransoming his wife and children once free. Peter found his mother, brothers and sisters in Philadelphia, Medford, and near Burlington. While employed by Mrs. Mary A. Buckman and later Judge E. E. Boudinot, a price of $5,000 was negotiated with his former owner for his wife and children. Armed with letters from Mrs. Buckman, Judge Boudinot, Rev. Courtlandt Van Renssalaer (Stone Cottage, Talbot & Riverbank) and Dr. Joseph Parrish (310 Wood Street, 1820) Peter solicited for two years throughout the region, New York and New England. He spoke in churches and door to door to save his family from slavery. His tireless determination paid off: they were reunited in 1854.
Deep History in Southern New Jersey: Lawnside
Peter Mott House, 26 Kings Court, Lawnside, Camden County NJ
The Peter Mott House was built around 1844, and is one of the few Underground Railroad stations that was owned and operated by an African American. What may make it unique in the U.S. is that it operated in an all-black town, the important community formerly known as Snow Hill and Free Haven. The towns incorporation in 1926 as an all-black community adds to its special status. Peter Mott, free black farmer and pastor of historic Mt. Pisgah AME Church, may have been a fugitive slave himself.
We hope our Underground Railroad Tour has brought you closer to this heroic struggle, and welcome your return to our Historic District. Why not bring the family, your church or seniors group?
NOTE: Some of the sites listed in Tours (4-5, 7, 11, 13-23, 25-28, 30-33, 38-44) are private property owned by individuals or organizations, and must be viewed and enjoyed with respect from without.
These contacts are offered only to aid those interested in requesting access to the following private interests:
The Underground Railroad Cafe, 16-18 E. Union Street. For information, call(609) 386-4343
Burlington County Historical Society 453 High Street (properties include Bard-How House, Cooper House, Capt. Lawrence House, Delia Biddle-Pugh Library at the Corson Poley Center and Aline K. Wolcott Museum) For walking tours, tours of the interiors of their buildings, hours and more information call (609) 386-4773
City of Burlington Historical Society Carriage House, Ellis Lane (properties include Hoskins House, Carriage House, Friends School House) For information call (609) 386-7125
Bethlehem African Methodist Episcopal Church 213 Pearl Blvd. Tours by arrangement (609) 386-6664
Burlington Friends Meetinghouse 341 High Street Tours available by arrangement (609) 387-3875
Temple B'nai Israel 212 High Street For more information call (609) 386-0406
See the past for yourself– its our present to you. Welcome to the City of Burlington.
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