Timbuctoo was first seen on deeds circa 1825 (Turton 1999; Barton and Markert 2012). This date and the subsequent population of Timbuctoo coincide also with a powerful change occurring in New Jersey at the time: the initial “coming of age” of the children of the 1804 New Jersey Emancipation Proclamation. The Proclamation stated that any child born into slavery after July 4, 1804 would be granted their freedom after serving under their mother’s owner for a designated length of time. For females, freedom was granted on their twenty-first birthday, while males were freed at the age of twenty-five (Hodges 1997: 147–149; Barton and Markert 2012). This correlation between the “aging out” of these individuals and the growth of Timbuctoo indicates that many of Timbuctoo’s original inhabitants were likely newly freed men and women from the Mount Holly area.
Mount Holly itself was a nexus of Quaker abolitionist activity, suggesting that the first residents of Timbuctoo may have had the help of the Quaker community in the establishment of the village. Accounts such as that of William Boen, an enslaved man who was granted his freedom and eventually allowed membership into the Mount Holly Society of Friends, suggest that Timbuctoo's origins may have been a collaborative effort between Quakers and the local African American community (Cadbury 1936; Gummere 1922). It seems likely that Boen himself, an African American man who settled somewhere close to Mount Holly, may have been one of the first residents of the community that would, in later decades, come to be known as Timbuctoo.
Timbuctoo was one of over eighty African American communities in New Jersey, many of which were active as stops along the Underground Railroad (Schopp 2012; Wright 1989). It likely functioned as a midway point along the famed Greenwich Line, of which many of the aforementioned communities were a part (Wright 1989; Barton 2009; Barton and Markert 2012). While primary sources of this are scarce, it is not uncommon for such activity to have been kept quiet and off the record at the time to maintain the safety of the community. There is, however, one source does seem to indicate this claim’s truth. In 1860, The New Jersey Mirror printed a story called ‘The Battle of Pine Swamp’, detailing the incident of a notorious slave catcher, aided by a former resident of the community, tracking a runaway slave by the name of Perry Simmons to his home in Timbuctoo. The Timbuctoo community rose to this threat, and together forced the slave catcher and his aid to retreat (The New Jersey Mirror 1860). This story indicates two things: firstly, that Timbuctoo did in fact see runaway slaves traveling through from the South and secondly, that some of its population was likely comprised of individuals who escaped bondage and chose to settle in the community. It is also telling of the strategic seclusion and silence about activity as a stopping point for runaway slaves; it seems that the slave catcher had to be shown its location, and possibly informed of its status as harbor, by a former resident with that exclusive knowledge.
When the Civil War divided the country, Timbuctoo’s seclusion did not prevent its residents from being enlisted in the war effort. One of the only extant features of the 19th century community is its United States Colored Troops cemetery, the headstones displaying the names of men from Timbuctoo who served in the 22nd Regiment of the U.S.C.T. One such headstone belongs to William Davis, whose 19th century, post-war home became the first area excavated by Temple archaeologists in 2010 and 2011 (Barton and Markert in review).
Barton, Christopher P., David G. Orr and Patricia G. Markert
In review Archaeological Investigation of the Davis Site, Timbuctoo, Westampton Township, Burlington County, New Jersey. Prepared For Westampton
Township, New Jersey.
Barton, Christopher P. and Patricia Markert
2012 Collaborative Archaeology, Oral History and Social Memory at Timbuctoo, NJ. Journal of African Diaspora Archaeology and Heritage. 1(1):
1936 Negro Membership in the Society of Friends. In Journal of Negro History. 21(1):151-213.
Gummere, Amelia M (editor)
1922 The Journal and Essays of John Woolman. The Macmillan Company, New York.
Hodge, George R.
1997 Slavery and Freedom in the Rural North: African Americans in Monmouth County, New Jersey, 1665-1865. Madison House Publishers, Madison.
New Jersey Mirror
1860 Excitement at Timbuctoo, the Battle of Pine Swamp-the Invaders Forced to Retreat. December 6.
2012 The Battle of Pine Swamp. Paper presented at the Memorial Day Service at Timbuctoo, Westampton, New Jersey, May 25, 2012.
1999 Timbuctoo: Burlington County, New Jersey. National Park Service, Philadelphia.
Wright, Giles R.
1989 Afro-Americans in New Jersey: A Short Story. New Jersey Historical Commission, Trenton.