The Walk to Freedom journey last weekend took us from Dennisville to just outside of Millville, New Jersey, about 25 miles of walking. We walked 15 miles on Saturday and 10 miles on Sunday. One of the highlights was retracing the footsteps of Freedom Seekers across Route 47, from Dennisville to Port Elizabeth, an original avenue of freedom was once used convey fugitive slaves across this area.
- What I discovered was it is still a very isolated, flat, road consisting primarily of farms spread widely apart from each other with the main house sitting back away from the road. Perfect for moving passengers at night.
- Lots of nearby forests, woodlands, and waterways for secretly transporting passengers arriving from nearby Maryland and Delaware.
- With the assistance of Black watermen and Underground Railroad agents operating small boats on the Delaware River self-emancipators would be conveyed across the river or bay and up the Maurice River to Port Elizabeth where they would be received by Amy and Ezekiel Cooper who aided in hiding Freedom Seekers, a practice handed down to them from the abolitionist parents.
- If conveyed overland Freedom Seekers would be transferred from Middle Township to Port Elizabeth and onward to the Greenwich line, one of the main routes originating from Cumberland County.
- In Port Elizabeth, I used a photocopy of a map from a book showing a 1878 African Church at the end of Church Street. With the assistance of Google Map, I found Church St., after crossing over Quaker St. (of course) to discover it dead ends in a wooded area.
Frequently old Black settlements were located just outside the main town or in a corner of the township away from whites who targeted Black settlements with violence. After walking back in the woods (see video) I noticed what looked like an overgrown clearing with wild daffodils growing around a tree. As started toward the clearing I stumbled upon a one foot high wall running about 40 feet along the perimeter of the property. I believe it is the remains of the church. The ruins are almost exactly as they appear on the map of the area. It was a fantastic discovery!
- While Route 47 may have once been an avenue of freedom for African Americans escaping bondage, today it’s an avenue of modern slave pens.
- The State of New Jersey operates not one but three prisons on this route (Bayside State Prison Farm, Southern State and Southern State Correctional Facility). Cumberland County has 13 Jails and Prisons serving a population of154,952 people in an area of 484 square miles.