In their book, If These Stones Could Talk, authors Elaine Buck and Beverly Mills reveal uneasy truths about Hopewell Valley.
The writers’ project began with an effort to save a neglected African-American cemetery from destruction, and led to a research project that unearthed the histories of the black families who settled in the Sourland Mountains. The authors also researched their own family histories, and discovered ancestors going back to colonial times. Together with researcher Kate McGuire, Buck, a lifelong Hopewell resident and Mills, a lifelong Pennington resident, used old photographs, public records, newspaper articles, wills, oral history interviews, and even store credit ledgers to write If These Stones Could Talk.
In Episode 2 of Forgotten History, we interview Buck and Mills about how they researched their book, and discuss the interesting people they discovered, including a woman who escaped slavery and lived to more than 100 years old, a landowner who stood up to Charles Lindbergh, and a decorated Revolutionary War hero.
Mills and Buck also discuss what they learned about slavery in New Jersey, which was every bit as harsh as it was on the plantations of the south.
The book brings into focus an often forgotten fact about New Jersey history, which is that slavery was only outlawed there in 1804, long after the other northern states had abolished it. Even then, it was a process of “gradual emancipation” that kept many enslaved for years afterwards.
“New Jersey was built on the backs of slaves,” Buck said to Community News in a previous interview. “These are things you don’t learn in history class.”
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