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Jan 04, 2021

Rick Geffken Releases ‘Stories of Slavery in New Jersey’

By Lori Draz

New Jersey is typically not the first place that comes to mind when people mention slavery, yet New Jersey has a long history of enslavement. You might be surprised to learn that slavery dates back to the 1600s or that New Jersey was the last northern state to abolish the practice.

Well-known historian and author Rick Geffken reveals many largely unheard stories from New Jersey’s dark history of slavery in his new book, “Stories of Slavery in New Jersey,” being released this month from Arcadia Publishing.

Geffken shared, “This is a book of stories about black people enslaved by white people in New Jersey. If that’s a hard statement to read, it was equally difficult for me to discover this truth so late in my life. Living in the Garden State for over seven decades now, I’m incredulous that I knew nothing about slavery for most of them. I don’t think the good sisters of St. Francis, nor the Jesuits – teachers who bookended my formal education – were hiding any of this awful history. I want to believe they didn’t know about it either.”

That history includes stories of the original Dutch and English settlers who brought the first enslaved people to New Jersey. By the time of the Revolutionary War, slavery was an established practice on labor-intensive farms. Lewis Morris, of the influential Morris family, brought Barbadian slaves to toil on his Monmouth County Tinton Manor estate.

Readers will learn about figures like Colonel Tye, an escaped slave from Shrewsbury who joined the British Ethiopian Regiment during the Revolutionary War and led raids throughout the towns and villages near his former home. Also written about are Charles Reeves and Hannah Van Clief who married soon after their emancipation in 1850 and became prominent citizens of Lincroft, as did their next four generations.

Dr. Walter D. Greason, dean emeritus of The Honors School at Monmouth University, wrote, “Rick Geffken has used all available tools, including newly expanded digital collections and in-person interviews, to synthesize and reconstruct the processes of enslavement in the 17th, 18th and 19th centuries throughout New Jersey. It’s a detailed examination of slavery as it evolved in places that show that tobacco, cotton and sugar were not the only systems that dehumanized African Americans.”

The official virtual launch of the book will be held on Sunday, Jan. 24, sponsored by the T. Thomas Fortune Cultural Center of Red Bank. Details can be found at TThomasFortuneCulturalCenter.org.

Geffken will be hosting at least a dozen Zoom presentations during Black History Month, including those for the Eatontown Historical Museum on Sunday, Feb. 14; the Asbury Park Historical Society on Thursday, Feb. 18; the Parker Homestead-1665 on Sunday, Feb. 21; and the Friends of the Crawford House on Sunday, Feb. 28. His subsequent presentations include those for the Long Branch Library on Tuesday, March 23; the Red Bank Public Library on Wednesday, March 31; and the Monmouth County Genealogy Society on Tuesday, April 20. See these organizations’ websites for details.

“Stories of Slavery in New Jersey” is the fifth book by Geffken, whose other books include “The Story of Shrewsbury Revisited, 1965-2015,” “Lost Amusement Parks of the North Jersey Shore,” “Highland Beach, Gateway to the Jersey Shore, 1888-1962,” “Hidden History of Monmouth County” and “To Preserve & Protect,” profiles of people who recorded the history and heritage of Monmouth County. Geffken has written numerous articles on New Jersey history for local newspapers, magazines, historical societies and newsletters, and he has appeared on the New Jersey Cable TV show, “Family Historian.”

He is a trustee of the Shrewsbury Historical Society, past president and a trustee of the Jersey Coast Heritage Museum at Sandlass House, and a member of the Monmouth County Historical Association.

Geffken is available to speak in person or virtually to interested organizations. Contact him at rickg0817@yahoo.com. You can also email him for details on how to get a personally signed and dedicated copy of “Stories of Slavery in New Jersey.” The book will be featured at Barnes & Noble, Costco, and other national outlets.