History of American Towns-Timbucktoo, not African Timbuktu, in NJ new discovery in Timbuctoo
Founded by Blacks
Timbuctoo was founded by freed blacks and escaped slaves with the support of local Quakers in the 1820’s. The name may have been from Timbuktu in Mali.It was also part of the Underground Railroad. Because of that it has been a secretive sort of place. In the middle of the 19th Century the town had 125 residents, a school, an African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and a cemetery. According to the 1860 census there were 150 residents and 37 dwellings.
It is identified in the U.S. Census as the “Village of Timbuctoo” as an entity within Westhampton Township in 1880. It is about a 45-minute drive northeast of Philadelphia.
The primary thing remaining is the cemetery containing the remains of black Civil War Veterans. Some of the residents and landowners have roots as far back as the early 20th Century. At least two families are descendents of the original settlers.
Underground railroad mounument
Map of Underground Railroad
Timbuctoo has been getting some recent attention because of an archeological excavation. A house buried under a hill or what appears to have been a house. Such artifacts as the clasp of a handbag, Mason jars and a Dixie Peach Pomade jar were among the bricks that broke away from the foundation, according to an article in The Washington Post August 3, 2010.
David Orr. A classical archaeologist and professor of Anthropology at Temple University said that the buried community has the potential to be a very important find in African American History, the Post reports. A geophysical survey leads archaeologists to believe the foundations of a whole village are buried under layers of dirt. There may be 18 houses and a church.
It was in June that the Temple University archaeologists began excavating the hill next to the Civil War cemetery where African American troops are buried. The artifacts are fragile ordinary things of everyday living. Things like jars for medicines and cosmetics.
Although this site in Timbuctoo has been known for years but it was when a black mayor of the township of Westampton, Sidney Camp pursued a geophysical survey that the excavation began. There has been much more interest in such projects as some prominent black academics, politicians and museums on African American history has developed in recent years.
“They are, they say, unearthing evidence not only of lives endured in slavery, but also of whole communities of escaped slaves hiding in small, self-sufficient communities.” According to the Post. Some of the items found appeared to be items that would have been bought from catalogs. By buying nationally the residents might have avoided racism at local stores. One resident remarked that he never knew there was anything underground.
In the 1820’s Quaker abolitionists sold land to black men. It was a thriving community until about 1930 when the Great Depression caused people to move out seeking better opportunity. The houses deteriorated and were razed leaving behind underground foundations. The church was torn down about ten years ago.
The true significance of this excavation and others is that it reveals a part of a group of people that we know little about. It helps rounds out the picture of Black history.
Sources: Material for this hub is from The Washington Post and Wikipedia.