By Susan Wallner
The Springtown Stagecoach Inn in Pohatcong, the Burlington Pharmacy in Burlington City, the Peter Mott House in Lawnside – these are all documented stops on New Jersey’s Underground Railroad, and they can still be visited today. Some counties in the state offer self-guided tours – or, make your own as a meaningful way to bring history to life.
In 2002, there was an historic 180 mile “Walk across New Jersey” that traced a route up the state between Underground Railroad sites. It was led by Giles Wright (1935-2009), the great scholar of the Underground Railroad in New Jersey. This kind of walk is powerful, says historian Spencer Crew, because “it allows [people] to actually think about and understand what it is like to make the choice to run. What that process entails, what are the troubles, the challenges, the personal pain that comes with that – but also the exhilaration and the happiness of finding people with a like mind.”
Historians Spencer Crew and Clement Price discuss “Locating the Routes of the Underground Railroad in New Jersey” This video is part of “7 Steps to Freedom,” a Salem County , NJ website and cellphone tour premiering June 2012.
Giles Wright was the author of “Steal Away, Steal Away: The Underground Railroad in New Jersey” (available as a free downloadable PDF book). “Steal Away” is the go-to guide for the state. It has a map of New Jersey towns with Underground Railroad sites that still exist, and information on how to visit. This and other free web resources provide a rich starting point for anyone creating their own walking or driving tour of the Underground Railroad.
The western coast of South Jersey has some of the most interesting sites. Situated on the lower Delaware River, it was a natural crossing point for people escaping from Maryland and Virginia. Many Quakers lived there, known abolitionists and supporters of the Underground Railroad. There were also free black communities that became havens for their escaped brethren. Lawnside in Camden County was one of these; its original name was Freehaven.
The Peter Mott House in Lawnside is one of the few existing Underground Railroad stations owned and operated by an African American. Saved from a developer, it is now a museum. A new series of podcasts called “Pathways to Freedom” tells the story of Peter Mott and his house, as well as four other important Underground Railroad sites in Camden County. “Pathways to Freedom” was produced by a Lawnside social studies teacher for use by the general public and schools.
Further south, in Salem County, a cell phone tour and website tell stories from that area. “7 Steps to Freedom” is slated to premier in June 2012 as a self-guided tour of sites in Salem City and the surrounding countryside. One stop will be the house of Abigail Goodwin, a Quaker active in the movement who also wrote about the fugitives she helped hide. Other stops on the “7 Steps to Freedom” tour include a river crossing, and the hotel where a slave-catcher’s trial was held. The hotel is now the Salem City Café, a nice spot to stop for refreshments on your journey through history!
Susan Wallner is an award-winning producer with PCK Media. She is a long-time contributor to State of the Arts, now airing on NJTV Sundays at 8 pm. Susan is also the producer of “7 Steps to Freedom,” a production of the Salem County Cultural & Heritage Commission.
Learn more about the Underground Railroad in NJ:
“Steal Away, Steal Away: The Underground Railroad in New Jersey”
“Pathways to Freedom: A Tour of Underground Railroad Sites in Camden County, NJ”
Salem County Cultural & Heritage Commission
The Historic City of Burlington Underground Railroad Tour
State of New Jersey