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Unearthing Marshalltown Paper CNEHA 2014

Paper read at the 2014 Council for Northeast Historical Archaeology, Long Branch, NJ

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Unearthing Marshalltown Paper CNEHA 2014

  1. 1. Unearthing Marshalltown: Documentary Archaeology of a Southern New Jersey Landscape of Emancipation Janet L. Sheridan CNEHA 2014 Conference, Long Branch, NJ Abstract: With documentary archaeology, this study spatially interrogated the buildings and sites surviving from the rise and fall of an isolated rural town where free people of color pursued land ownership and institution-building over the course of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. As told by 250 land transactions over 100 years organized with GIS, this study reveals the pattern of settlement by a marginalized laboring population within a rural Quaker-settled township as the gradual abolition law of 1804 manifested in a large free African population thirty years before the Civil War. Quaker patrimony, black and white actors, shifting hegemony, First Emancipation, African Methodism, Southern migration, and local labor demand contributed to the location and growth of this concentrated community. [1] Marshalltown is a fragment of a once-vibrant African American settlement that rose and fell between 1834 and 1951. [2] Situated amidst an agrarian landscape in Mannington Township, Salem County, New Jersey, its name honors Thomas Marshall, a remarkably successful black farmer, churchman, and storekeeper. Its story was one of marginalization and isolation, yet autonomy and agency, and helps us to understand how African-descended people freed during the First Emancipation in the American North responded to a sympathetic yet separatist socio-economic environment. [3] Today, as a result of a cultural resource survey and a NR nomination, Marshalltown is a 166-acre historic district significant under all four criteria, including D, for its rich archaeological potential. This study predicates excavations, and collected data through architectural recording, cemetery survey, documentary research, and utilized GIS to discover the spatial pattern of land development over time and by whom.
  2. 2. 2 First known as Marshallville, then Marlboro, and after 1880, Marshalltown, it was also known from its beginnings by the derisive name of Frogtown. Without corporate boundaries or platted streets, it occupies a triangle of marginal upland lying along the Salem River’s vast tidal flat called Mannington Meadow. [4] The land is low, wet, and now mostly vacated and forested. In its heyday, there was more dry land, and it was cultivated and inhabited with nearly one hundred fifty souls who built small, wood frame houses, two African Methodist churches, a schoolhouse, and a fraternal lodge. [5] Today there are five extant buildings [going on four], two graveyards, and thirty former building sites. [6] Mt. Zion AUMP church, in the shade of a giant buttonwood tree, makes a compelling presence, unnaturally alone in an otherwise mostly vacant landscape surrounding a half-mile road that dead-ends in a foxtail-choked wetland. Across the road a profuse growth of dandelion celebrates every Spring, and a short walk into the woods presents a clutter of material culture laying on the surface—signs of past human habitation. Its scant surviving above-ground resources beg the questions, what was here, who was here, and when and why did so much disappear? [7] Historical maps were useful as a starting point, but were often incomplete or incorrect. For example, 1833 and 1849 maps bracket the appearance of Marshallville with an African church and a cluster of buildings. [8] But, oddly, the property of John Wesley [who is identified as a “mulatto” from Delaware in the 1850 census] is shown, but not of Thomas Marshall, who, by this time, owned some 78 acres and was a farmer in his own right. Despite his growing influence, the map elided his growing landholding presence and local influence.
  3. 3. 3 The county historians of 1886 gave Marshalltown the most extensive write-up of any black settlement in Salem County. Known then as Marlboro for the nearby marl pits, it was “a hamlet largely populated by colored people…scattered over considerable territory” with two churches, two stores, a post office, and “several dwellings, most of them small and all of them unpretentious.” But the narrative then clearly delineated the white and black actors who vied for control over the store that Thomas Marshall opened in 1839, and how the place was “formerly known as Marshallville.” The assignment of a post office named Marshalltown in 1880 was lost on these historians, who seemed bent on claiming a victory for white hegemony and relegating Thomas Marshall and black shopkeepers to the past for the approval of their audience. [9] To fill in the many gaps, I reconstructed the missing landscape by mapping the parcels purchased by African Americans in some 250 land transactions spanning over 100 years, unearthing the pattern of land ownership and sites of habitation. [10] Born in 1803, Thomas Marshall’s origins are not clear, but he acquired a large farm, operated a store, founded a church, and sponsored a school on his land. It is likely he, or at least his parents, were from the Delmarva Peninsula. In the dangerous years before the Civil War when slave catchers stalked runaways in New Jersey, Thomas and his wife Mary claimed birth in New Jersey. But later reports by Mary and their son Jacob claimed Maryland and Delaware origins. The intriguing presence three doors from Thomas in 1850 of an elderly couple from Delaware named Levin and Rachel Marshall suggests a Delmarva origin, since there were two generations of slaveholding Levin Marshalls on the eastern shore of Maryland who trended
  4. 4. 4 toward fewer slaves, more free blacks, and finally, none at all between 1790 and 1830. Like many southern slaveowners, the Marshalls may have freed their slaves by selling an indenture to a northern farmer. Or perhaps the black Marshalls were freed in Maryland and had to leave the state for good as a condition of their freedom, moving to Delaware, then crossing the Delaware Bay to southern New Jersey. [11] Whatever his origins, in 1834 at the age of31, Thomas Marshall had cash and white landowners and money lenders willing to deal with him. Though illiterate, he apparently had trusted white allies to help him navigate land transactions, such as Quaker Thomas Hinchman, who in his will he called “his friend” and named as his executor. With this social capital, he began a series of land acquisitions on an edge of Mannington Meadow where the Kates Creek Meadow Company was taking shape. [12] Meadow banking was practiced along the tidal creeks along the Delaware River and Bay, and farmers formed cooperative companies to build banks and dams to “stop the tide,” and ditches for drainage, creating highly fertile fields for growing hay, grain, seed, and livestock. [13] Mannington Township contained approximately 4500 acres of such meadows and the most companies in the county over time at eighteen. [14] The Kates Creek Meadow Company was possibly expanding from an earlier system just west of Marshallville, and was operational in the 1850s. Josiah Ale, the white company manager who lived on a 12-acre parcel in Marshallville, recorded numerous hirings of Marshallville laborers for repairing breaches in his “Cates Creek or Frogtown Bank Company” account book.
  5. 5. 5 [15] The labor to construct and maintain the miles of earthen dams, banks, ditches, and sluices in this vast system likely came from Mannington’s large African-descended population which had grown at twice the rate of the county black population between 1820 and 1840, and by 1850 to a number more than double that of the next most populated township. The opportunity of the tidal meadows provided extremely productive farmland and wealth for the Quakers who dominated both landholding in Mannington and the rate of slave manumissions in Salem County. By 1778 the Salem Quarter of the Religious Society of Friends reported being “clear of slaveholding” within their ranks. By 1797, Salem County’s Abolition Society reported Mannington as the only Salem County township with no slaves. The meadow banking endeavor, which proceeded throughout the 18th and 19th centuries, created an unusual labor demand in itself, but this was in addition to the work of farming the meadows and upland fields, and the mining of marl and lime, which served to recover the lost productivity of the soil. These labor opportunities provided by the numerous Quakers drew and retained native-born free blacks, and also created a destination for southern blacks, fugitive, indentured or free. [16] The antebellum Federal censuses show a sizable influx from the South and Pennsylvania. Approximately ¾ of the black population claimed to be native to New Jersey [though some probably weren’t], with most of the rest being from the Delmarva states. [17] Marshall’s purchase of a six-acre farmstead in 1834 seemed to start a trend. [18] Two years later, Perry Sawyer [from NJ], another black, bought a one-acre parcel. In 1839, Marshall opened a store at this corner, which endured long after his death. [19] Samuel and
  6. 6. 6 Rachel Hackett, a Delaware couple, bought Sawyer’s acre in 1840, while Thomas Marshall purchased an eight-acre lot next to his first, [20] and four years later added a contiguous two-acres and a 24-acre piece in Kates Creek Meadow. [21] Three years later, Thomas Marshall further expanded his farm with 38 acres of prime farmland, and sold a lot to a local society of the Wilmington, DE based African Union Church, of which he was an organizer. [22] In 1847 institution-building in Marshallville was in a frenzy, with two different African Methodist churches vying for congregants with shifting alliances, buying lots and building meeting houses the same year. The churches acted as two poles of affinity, with adherents generally settling close to their chosen churches. An African Union school house followed, built on Thomas Marshall’s farm. Samuel Hackett subdivided his corner acre among himself, his church, Little Bethel AME, and three other black settlers. Though only a handful of African Americans had bought land, the appearance of not one, but two African churches speaks for a larger population that was coalescing in and around Marshallville, with most residing on the landholds of white area farmers. Marshall’s store served as a business hub, both serving and profiting from a growing center of African American life. The liberation theology of African Methodism took hold, fueling the growth of a community bound to one another by the belief that they had to take responsibility for their own self-development, and provide and rely on their own religion, education, economy, and support systems. [23] [24] [25] John and Elizabeth Wesley [of DE and PA], black laborers and members of Little Bethel AME, purchased an unimproved lot on today’s Marshalltown Road in 1848 divided from the eastern point of Reuben Freas’ farm. The Wesleys thus may have been transitioning from living with their employer to a house and garden of their own. That year, Samuel and Emily
  7. 7. 7 Mink [of NJ and PA] and John Q. Adams and his wife Augusta [of VA and MD] bought into the Kates Creek Meadow Company, as did John Wesley ten years later. There weren’t many blacks included in the company, but Kates Creek was unusual in having any. Josiah Ale recorded the husking and storing of corn “in pardnership” suggesting the communal, cooperative nature of meadow farming, with blacks working side by side with him and his sons. By 1850, Marshall, Wesley, Mink and Adams were among the select 7% of township households who were landowning people of color. Marshall was one of five black farmers, who represented 3% of the total township farmers, and 4% of the black households, the rest of whom labored for others. The value of his land was $2,000, the highest value owned by a black, compared to the highest township holding of $58,000. A great discrepancy, but Marshall represented the peak of African American success here. [26] Marshall bought John Adams’ house and lot next to the AME Church in 1852, the year he sold two house lots to William Moore and Richard Reason next to their African Union Church. [27] Finally, early in 1856, the year he died, he acquired another meadow parcel, nine-acres on the causeway across the meadow. At his death, Marshall owned nearly 90 acres of prime farmland and meadow surrounding Marshallville and occupied a farmstead with a two-story, six-room house with a farm yard and barn. His inventory of $1,441 was above both the median and average values for the general population. He died relatively wealthy in land, household furnishings, farm equipment, crops, livestock, and dreams achieved—better than middling status, and among his brethren, an elite. Despite Marshall’s due diligence in profiting and paying numerous successive mortgages, his untimely death at age 53 left his estate in debt. Despite the optimism expressed in his will that rents from his lands would pay them off, two years after his death, creditors
  8. 8. 8 went to court to recover some $2,800. At a public auction, Lott Jaquette, his white neighbor, was the high bidder. With this loss, any dream of passing on his wealth to his sons died. Mary lived out her life in her house on the John Adams lot, reduced to domestic service in the homes of Quaker Mannington farmers, younger son Thomas Jr. apprenticed to another, and older son Jacob hired himself out. [28] Land ownership in Marshallville abruptly shifted. Once a major black franchise, all but a quarter-acre of Thomas Marshall’s estate reverted to white hands. Three white landowners with major interests in the Kates Creek Meadow Company and surrounding farms embarked upon a fifteen-year subdivision and settlement effort. The house lots ranged in size from one-eighth acre to one acre along Church Street. [29] The first was Thomas Jefferson Casper, who owned one of the larger parcels in Kates Creek Meadow bounding on the west side of Church Street. Out of a portion on barely dry land, he sold thirteen house lots between 1860 and 1868. [30] Next, William Barber, whose wife Hannah Bassett had inherited a huge estate including Thomas Marshall’s former farm, sold eleven lots along the east side of Church Street between 1868 and 1870. [31] Thirdly, Joseph Matlack, who acquired Marshall’s 23-acre meadow, sold seven lots on the west side of Church Street between 1872 and 1875. So, in fifteen years, 31 building lots were added to both sides of the northerly end of Church Street. Twenty-five people bought one or more parcels and built houses. In the twenty-year period 1860 to 1880, the population of Marshallville increased from roughly 88 to 127, and the number of houses doubled from approximately 15 to 31. The reorganization of the Kates Creek Meadow Company in 1875 at the end of the subdivision explosion coincided with
  9. 9. 9 the sudden influx of homeowning African Americans. It appears that the meadow owners were rebuilding and expanding, and in order to entice and secure a stable work force, sold house lots to laborers who built and maintained banks, labored in the meadows and upland fields, and mined marl. Afforded a living and house lot, the infusion of wealth rebuilt both churches. [32] After the great subdivision era, brickmaker William H. Thomas and his wife Sarah Jane from Delaware bought Josiah Ale’s twelve acres in 1878 and rebuilt an old, hewn, one-story frame house [33] by doubling the length and adding a second story. Perhaps more durable than most, it alone survives of the nineteenth century houses. [34] The close of the century saw the establishment of a Grand United Order of Odd Fellows lodge and its female counterpart, a House of Ruth. The lodge built a hall across from Mt. Zion Church that was shared for church celebrations and meals. In 1900, the population peaked at about 145 and the number of houses at about 33. The twentieth century brought conflicting changes. [35] In 1926, with white patrimony in the past, Mt. Zion AUMP Church seized an opportunity to expand African American land ownership, buying an 18-acre piece of a bankrupted historically-white farm, creating a subdivision, and selling twenty lots between 1934 and 1946, but few were ever built on. At the same time, economic and environmental changes led to the demise of this inhabited landscape. [36] The Great Depression brought farm and meadow company bankruptcies and hurricanes. The meadow companies could no longer repair breached banks, and the meadows drowned. At the same time, truck farming, which favored uplands, was becoming more lucrative, farming was becoming more mechanized, so demand for farm labor diminished. As the tide encroached
  10. 10. 10 in Marshalltown, the many low-lying house lots became unlivable. The school closed in 1951 after the township built a new consolidated, integrated school and was converted to a dwelling. People left and houses were abandoned, burned or foreclosed, and demolished by the township in subsequent decades. [37] Three households hang on and Mt. Zion church hosts worship as a “special” historical church of the AUMP connection. The school house is shuttered, awaiting a new use. [38] Armed with National Register significance and documented sites of habitation, Marshalltown is primed for such archaeological excavations, systematic oral histories, and virtual interpretations that we’ve seen in the New Philadelphia, Rosewood, and Timbuctoo collaborations.