New Walk to Freedom Journey Retracing Southern New Jersey’s Underground Railroad
Willingboro, NJ – Deborah Price, a volunteer at the Underground Railroad (UGRR) Museum in Mount Holly, NJ. was busy with her regular chores at the museum earlier this winter, when Philadelphia resident Ken Johnston visited. Johnston was researching Harriet Tubman’s activities on the ‘eastside’ of the Delaware River back in the 1850s and possible routes she may have travelled across Southern New Jersey.
Fascinated by Johnston’s walking plan to retrace known Underground Railroad routes across the southern counties of New Jersey from Cape May, Price asked if she could join his Walk to Freedom project to learn and experience what it must have felt like physically and spiritually walking some of the paths her ancestors travelled escaping slavery during the years leading up to the start of the Civil War.
Beginning on Saturday April 2, Price and Johnston, plan to walk from the shores of Cape May to Burlington City. The goal of the walk is to resurrect the voices and memory of the people who history has forgotten, while simultaneously recognizing the families that were separated and reunited again by their love for each other and their quest for freedom.
The network to freedom across the lower counties of the state can be traced to communities and hamlets with free African Americans from Cape May up along the creeks and rivers flowing south to the Delaware Bay and northward up the Delaware River. Some of the communities providing sanctuary and assistance to Freedom Seekers were Cape May, Whitesboro, Middletown, Delmont, Port Elizabeth, Port Norris, Gouldtown, Bridgeton, Springtown, Greenwich, Othello, Salem, Mannington, Woolrich, Swedesboro, Deptford, Mt. Laurel, Snow Hill (Lawnside), Mt. Laurel, Timbuctoo, Willingboro and Burlington.
In addition, the walk will seek to understand Harriet Tubman’s role with some of the operators of the Underground Railroad’s tri-county connection of Cape May, Cumberland and Salem Counties. On the 200thAnniversary of Tubman’s birthday, we hope to unravel some of the mystery of her clandestine work along the shores of the Delaware Bay in Southern New Jersey which was easily accessible by boat from various townships across the river in Delaware.
‘It’s no coincidence Tubman chose this alternative route to freedom given its proximity to station masters and conductors like Jon Hunn (Middletown), Thomas Garrett (Wilmington), Abigail Goodwin (Salem) and William Still in Philadelphia” said Johnston. “Less known are the Black Underground Railroad Operators like Ezekiel Cooper, Levin Bond, Julia Stanford, and Phillip Trusty, whose families secretly participated in the operation of the Greenwich and Salem Station lines.” These stations were closely associated with local African Methodist Episcopal Churches that were strategically located within a few miles of Delaware Bay.
Price and Johnston’s Walk to Freedom journey is a segmented walk that will take place each Saturday and Sunday throughout April and May. They hope to walk about 25-30 miles each weekend until they reach Burlington. Along the way, they plan to share pictures and stories they collect about their walk on the Walk to Freedom website at http://ourwalktofreedom.com.
The first day of the walk will be a night walk simulating how many Freedom Seekers travelled to avoid from being spotted by kidnappers who would attempt to return to them to slavery. The walk will begin at Second and Beach Ave, in Cape May, about 4:30 p.m., and continue to the Harriet Tubman Museum on Lafayette St. before turning north toward Cold Spring, Whitesboro and continuing up Route 9 ending at the Cape May Court House.
Day two of the walk, Sunday April 3, will begin at 8:00 a.m. at the Cape May Court House and follow Route 47 to the Delmont Post Office, about 15-miles.
“The desire to retrace, walk, and experience Harriet’s journey came easy for me, if only for a moment,” Price said, adding “I do realize the difficulty with this feat; however, the opportunity to feel the ‘sole of the souls’ is simply speechless.”
Updates on the starting and end point of each week’s walk will be posted on the Walk to Freedom website for members of the public interested in participating.