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Shrewsbury Committee and Militia Move Against Black Neighbors

Shrewsbury Committee and Militia Move Against Black Neighbors

Approximately 10 percent of Monmouth County’s Revolutionary-era population was African-American, split roughly evenly between slave and free. Free Blacks faced substantial discrimination—they could not vote or serve in the militia (though they would be permitted to serve in the Continental Army). According to Monmouth County’s tax lists, no African-American owned a large farm—the primary path to acquiring wealth. The large majority of free Blacks were “householders” or “single men” according to the tax lists—meaning they labored for others in order to make a living. Free black men often lived segregated, in clusters of cabins outside of the county’s villages. Some slaves lived with the free Blacks in these segregated communities, others lived on the family farms of the men who owned them.

Revolutionary War-era cabins

Monmouth’s wealthy men frequently owned slaves, but not always. Tax lists show that no Monmouth Countian owned more than ten. Colonial newspapers printed runaway slave advertisements from Monmouth County a handful of times each year, including one for “Titus” in 1775. It probable that Titus is the man who become a famous Loyalist partisan known as “Colonel Tye”. Anti-Black sentiment bubbled up periodically during the Colonial period—and court records document sporadic assaults and other crimes against African Americans.


The immorality of slavery was frequently discussed during the Revolutionary period; colonists often referred to British policies “enslaving” the colonies. Quakers, particularly numerous in Shrewsbury Township, campaigned for the end of slavery and, as early as 1774, started pressuring their own members to free their slaves. Predictably, all of this activity emboldened the Black community. In February 1774, residents of Shrewsbury and Middletown authored petitions to the New Jersey Assembly claiming that:


There is a great number of Negro men, women and children being slaves, and are daily increasing in numbers & impudence, that we find them very troublesome by running about all times of night, stealing, taking & riding other people's horses & other mischief, in a great degree owing to having a correspondence and recourse to the Houses of them already freed.


The 108 petitioners further worried over the “great number of petitions for the freeing of slaves” which were being sent to the Assembly. They called talk of freeing slaves “pernicious to the public” and urged the Assembly assert that slavery would remain the law of New Jersey. Interestingly, the petitioners included several men would become leading Loyalists—Rev. Samuel Cooke, Dr. James Boggs, Commissioner John Taylor, Col. George Taylor—and several others who would hold senior positions in the new Revolutionary government—Col. Daniel Hendrickson, Maj. Hendrick Van Brunt, Assemblyman James Mott, and Committee Chair John Burrowes.


The militance of the county’s African Americans, particularly in Shrewsbury where Quakers were forcing manumissions, prompted a backlash. On October 6, 1775, Shrewsbury’s Committee of Observation noted that “numerous and riotous meetings of Negroes at unlicensed houses is pernicious of itself and may be of pernicious consequences.” It ordered the militia Colonel (Samuel Breese), to report on such events and “to use his militia... to secure the Negroes, and give the names of the delinquents" to the Committee. Ten days later, the Committee went further, instructing Breese to “order parties of the militia to attend such suspected places to search for and apprehend all transgressors of the law." It is noteworthy that the first campaign of the Shrewsbury militia was not against the British, but against a segment of its own population agitating for greater freedom.


The Shrewsbury Committee of Observation done with cracking down on the local Black community. On February 16, 1776, it resolved to disarm all African Americans: “all arms in the hands of or at the disposal of Negroes, either slave or free, shall be taken and secured by the militia officers... until the present troubles are settled, and that such arms shall be lodged in the hands of the Colonel." Two weeks later, the Committee went even further:


Resolved, that all slaves, either Negroes, mulattoes or others that shall be found off their master's premises any time of night, may be taken up by any person whatsoever and secured until a fine of ten schillings be paid... and in failure of payment of such fine, the slave shall be delivered to the Minute-men to be kept under guard until he shall receive lashes on the bare back.


The actions of Shrewsbury Committee occurred as events outside the county were causing waves within it. In November 1775, the Royal Governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, declared that “all indentured servants, negroes or others” owned by rebels would be freed from their bonds if they sought British protection and supported the British war effort. Meanwhile, many New Jersey slaveholders were indeed freeing their slaves. Historian James Gigantino estimated that 17% of Newy Jersey’s slaveholders freed at least one slave in his/her will and others did not wait for their death to free one or more slaves. 


New Jersey was the last northern state to outlaw slavery. An 1804 law created a gradual emancipation process.  


Sources: New Jersey State Archives, Bureau of Archives and History, Manuscript Collection, Manuscripts, box 14, #17; Proceedings of the Committees of Freehold and Shrewsbury, Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, First Series, 1846, pp. 191-2; Proclamation of Lord Dunmore, Nov 11, 1775, Africans in America, 2; Jim Gigantino: Slavery, Abolition, and African Americans in New Jersey’s American Revolution in James Gigantino, ed., The American Revolution in New Jersey: Where the Battlefront Meets the Homefront (New Brunsiwick: Rutgers UP, 2015), pp 52-5; Proceedings of the Committees of Freehold and Shrewsbury, Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, First Series, 1846, pp. 191-3; Proceedings of the Committees of Freehold and Shrewsbury, Proceedings of the New Jersey Historical Society, First Series, 1846, pp. 192-3 .

Related Historical Sites: none


Related Articles: #3, #5, #30, #31, #235  

More on People in this Article: “Colonel” Tye 184, 196; Samuel Cooke 3,5,249; Dr. James Boggs 17, 249; John Taylor 42; George Taylor 11, 23, 36, 48, 60, 194; Daniel Hendrickson 125, 158; Hendrick Van Brunt 158; James Mott 184, 198; John Burrowes 95; Samuel Breese 11.

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