Well, this essay was supposed to be about something completely different, about someone completely different. And then a simple check of the 1860 Census brought me up short: nowhere in my growing knowledge bank of New Jersey history was there a mention that slavery was legal in 1860. No that’s not a typo: slavery ended in New Jersey with the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
It began as a straight forward “fill in the missing ancestor” exercise. As I was verifying something in RootsMagic, I noticed that I had never filled in the parents of my great grandmother. In typical Squirrel fashion, I diverted for a moment to do a bit of research on the parents of Catherine Fisher (wife of Thomas Hiram Mount). I had a family notation that it was John Fisher but nothing further. Since this family was firmly settled in Mercer County, NJ by the middle of the 18th century, I started there and quickly found many references to John Fisher, born circa 1792, resident of West Windsor township. In bringing up the 1860 Census I was STUNNED to see the names and occupations of the people living in that household:
Diana Updike, 76 year old female, black, Slave servant, born New Jersey. Wait, what?!? Well, a deep dive into state history and I unearthed the fascinating fact (sarcasm much?) that although New Jersey had abolished slavery in 1804, that pertained to incoming or new slaves. Resident slaves in 1804 remained slaves and their children served lengthy periods of indentured servitude and were freed at the will of their owners. Slavery was abolished in 1865 in New Jersey the same way it was abolished in Kentucky, by the ratification of the 13th Amendment.
And that is where Diana/Dina fits in. She is enslaved in 1804, she is enslaved and named in the 1860 Census and she is inherited by John Fisher’s wife Susan by deed of his will, probated after his death in 1863.
I discovered that in 1865, upon the ratification of the 13th Amendment, New Jersey freed 16 slaves. I have yet to find their names. Diana/Dina, if you were one of those slaves, I would like to do you the honor of telling your story. I will continue to research this topic as I am able.
For now let me simply end the story with a bit of advice for anyone who thinks they have all the answers: you don’t know what you don’t know.