Jersey City, The Last “Station” on New Jersey’s Underground Railroad

February 16, 2012 | Arts & Entertainment
Before the Civil War, Jersey City was the last stop on the New Jersey Underground Railroad route for many runaway slaves seeking freedom.

By Desiree Taylor

The quest for freedom prompted an estimated 100,000 19th century black slaves to make the dangerous journey along the Underground Railroad. That term refers to the secret routes and safe houses that aided slaves heading north. Among the key stops in New Jersey were Salem, Camden, Burlington, and Jersey City. From Jersey City’s waterfront, abolitionists hired ferry and coal boats to take slaves across the Hudson River where some continued their journey to Canada.

Harriet Tubman and William Still were the prominent leaders of the abolitionist movement in New Jersey. But there were others. David Holden was the best known abolitionist in Jersey City, says Cynthia Harris, from the Jersey City Free Public Library. His home at 79 Clifton Place was known as the “safe house.” It still stands today.

But not all fugitive slaves were welcomed in Jersey City. Harris says there were factions of the public that were against the abolitionist movement. One sympathizer was stoned in what is known today as Van Vorst Park. And prominent families with familiar names like Newkirk and Van Vorst were slave owners. The Jersey City Free Public Library has a document that shows the sale price for slaves; a Negro male cost $200 and $100 for a Negro female.

New Jersey was the last northern state to eliminate slavery. The state statute was passed in 1846. But that didn’t mean total emancipation because slaves were relegated to apprentices for life.

Jersey City Free Public Library has a vast array of books and documents that help tell this compelling dark chapter in American history. There are events scheduled throughout Black History Month to help bring this history to life.



Touring the Underground Railroad: Take a self-guided tour of the documented stops throughout the state that can still be visited today.