AFRICAN BURIAL GROUND
We first heard about the African burial ground in Jersey City from Jerome Choice, who has been a vocal advocate to educate the public about the city's African American history. As you can see in the map below, a large part of Lafayette near Communipaw and Pacific Avenues was owned by the Garrabrant family who enslaved people to work on their estate and farm (as did other prominent local families: Brinkerhoff, Newkirk, Prior, Tuers, Van Horne, Van Reypen, Van Vorst, Van Winkle, and Vreeland). Their land around Pacific Ave and Maple St was set aside to bury the slaves.
Though it has been difficult to find concrete information about the site, we can imagine the parallels from the African burial ground found near Broadway and Chambers Street in NYC in 1991. The NYC ground was believed to be in use from 1712 to 1794. Slavery in Jersey City was widespread during that same period until emancipation.
New Jersey had outlawed slavery in 1804 — but only sort of. Children of slaves born after that would become free once they reached adulthood. This meant slavery would gradually die. However, it also meant slaves who were children in 1804 would remain a kind of indentured servant, or "apprentice," the rest of their lives, with no prospect of freedom. In 1863, 18 "apprentices" were still alive — most in their 60s or 70s.
The 1841 map of Jersey City
(courtesy of NJ Room, JCPL)
*According to Jerome, the marriage between a Garrabrant and a Van Horne led to the Van Hornes inheriting some of the Garrabrants' land.
Six markers were placed on August 4, 2021*Update: the original sign at Johnston & Maple is no longer up. It had been mysteriously removed when we checked on Aug 18, 2021. On Oct 3, a handmade ceramic sign replaced the missing one. You can see the picture in the DYI section of our website.
A talk hosted by the Journal Square Community Association on April 13, 2021
WHY IT IS IMPORTANT NOW
The gentrification of the Lafayette section of Jersey City is rapidly changing many of the landmarks in the area. The partial demolition of a historical church in August 2021 brought the attention of many concerned neighbors. The church, St. John's A.M.E., was known to have a role in the Underground Railroad in the 1800s. With the redevelopment of the area continuing to replace the visible markers of the rich history of African Americans in Jersey City, we struggle to keep their historical presence in the light.
Jerome Choice, Chris Perez, Dana Patton, John Gomez...
In collaboration with Jersey City Landmarks Conservancy