An Overlooked Part of the Local Story is Being Revealed
Journeys into New Milford
The recent unearthing of a Black burial ground at the Gibbs School brought to the limelight the fact that the long established history of a place is often only a partial history.
Locally, little has been included about the Natives who inhabited this region before the Europeans showed up. Similarly, the story of this place is only now starting to also include African-Americans who made New Milford home over the centuries.
One local history asserts that during the 1700's there was a strong slavery economy. In 1726 there were approximately 2000 whites and 500 blacks in Bergen County.
During the Civil War years, prevailing opinion in Bergen County, as in New Jersey, was unsympathetic to the Union cause. During the Civil War many of Dutch locally were conservative in outlook; trying to maintain their orderly lives by staying neutral. In addition, slavery as an institution was dying out in New Jersey (Only slaves born prior to 1804 were legally owned and at the time of the Civil War the youngest slave had to be fifty-seven years old). The farm owners (and “former Slave owners”) considered themselves “kind masters and worked side by side in the fields with their slaves who, it is written, “enjoyed more freedom than that of slaves in the south”.
Another local history tells us of an African-American colony in the early 1900’s along the banks of the river from Oradell Avenue to the bridge at Old Bridge (River Edge Avenue). It describes how camp meetings held at the site drew folks from beyond the colony, who enjoyed the inspiring speeches and Gospel music.
Hope fully, we will continue to unearth and unveil this buried history and the stories behind it.
Background Info: The Story of New Milford, by Leon Smith, 1964. A Brief History of African Americans in New Milford : https://www.newmilford.org/content/3090/3100/3819.aspx ; Article in NJ.com: https://www.nj.com/bergen/2021/12/nj-school-may-sit-on-top-of-1800s-african-american-burial-ground.html. Also see: https://www.njmls.com/communities/index.cfm?action=frm.townprint&townname=new%20milford&county=BERGEN&a=&areanumber=
Photo credit: North Jersey.com