"An Abominable Business" - EBPL Hosts Event about Slavery in East Brunswick

Judge Van Wickle threatened mothers with the removal of their children to Louisiana for a life of slavery.  The women chose to follow their babes.

On Feb. 21st, East Brunswick Library will be hosting a very special program about the Van Wickle Slave Ring which operated out of Old Bridge Village in what is now present-day East Brunswick.

Four organizations are sponsoring the event:

  • Afro-American Historical & Genealogical Society, NJ Chapter
  • New Brunswick Area Branch of the NAACP
  • Purehistory
  • Old Bridge Village Heritage Center

The program, which begins at 2:00 pm,  is free and open to the public.  Appropriate for ages 12 and above.  

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East Brunswick is usually viewed as an affluent suburb, with its very own exit on the New Jersey Turnpike. But, if you dig a little deeper, there is a rich history of this community dating back to the time of the Lenape.   One piece of this history is the tale of the Van Wickle Slave Ring, which operated out of the Old Bridge Village section of East Brunswick back in 1818.  At that time, a local judge used his office to generate bogus documents necessary for the forced removal of African American adults, young children and infants, into permanent slavery in Louisiana. 

Human bondage in the form of African Slavery is the great stain on American history; it's impact still rippling across the generations down to the present day.  Take for example, the tale of the Van Wickle Slave Ring of New Jersey in 1818, a story that combines the tragic elements of both Twelve Years a Slave and Sophie's Choice.

New Jersey, like other northern states, moved to abolish slavery in the first years of the 19th century.  At the same time, new lands were opening up for plantation development in places like Louisiana and Mississippi.  As the axis of American Slavery shifted to the Deep South, many northerners saw financial gain in sending African Americans, free people and bonded people alike, into permanent and cruel slavery in these newly opened lands.   Although both federal and state law prohibited this practice, greed triumphed over the law meant to protect society's weakest members.   Judge Jacob  Van Wickle of Old Bridge Village, now present-day East Brunswick, provided the necessary legal documents stating that the men and women, teenagers and babies sold south, had given their free assent to this abominable business (a quote taken from a contemporary newspaper article).  Mothers, when told that their babes and toddlers would be shipped to Louisiana, chose to go with their children, rather than abandon them to an unknown fate.  

Nearly one hundred adults and children were sent to New Orleans, where slave traders looked for "the mark of Judge Van Wickle."  Efforts are now underway to find descendants of these victims, so that a fitting epilogue may be added to their story.


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