Slavery In Verona? Yes, Here Too

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In 2020, Goline “Dory” Vanderhoof, a native of Plainfield, took up genealogical research as a hobby while pandemic quarantine kept him from his regular job. Vanderhoof, a descendant of some of the earliest Dutch settlers of northern New Jersey, compiled detailed research on the history of both his family and the region. In the process, he came across something startling: Vanderhoof’s ancestors, the Doremus family that had settled and farmed much of the land that makes up modern Cedar Grove, were slave owners. They lent some of their enslaved people to relatives in what is now Verona, where Vanderhoof’s research found more slave owners.

To date, Vanderhoof’s research has identified seven individuals as slave owners in our area, including a man often recognized as a founder of Verona’s pre-Civil War economy, Dr. Christian Bone. Vanderhoof has also identified 14 individuals who were enslaved. However, there would almost certainly have been more because only enslaved males over 25 were taxed and because of the ease and frequency of tax evasion. (His research points to more than 50 enslaved Africans living in Cedar Grove in 1800, which then had a population of about 200.)

The popular view is that slavery was a uniquely Southern sin. But records like Vanderhoof’s and others show that New Jersey’s early history is littered with evidence of racially based chattel slavery, which did not end in the state until 1866. An 1804 law mandated that enslaved people be freed 21 to 25 years later–but only if they had been born after the law’s passage. Those born before would remain in servitude for their entire lives.

The Middle Colonies like New Jersey did not share the plantation economy that defined the South. Rather, the Anglo-Dutch settlers of the area of modern Verona used enslaved African-Americans as supplementary labor for various tasks. Small-scale farmsteads and other ventures were worked by both slavers and slaves. On Vanderhoof’s family’s property, enslaved people were almost certainly used to cut down old growth forests to make way for farmland. They also may have been buried there.

The boundaries of present-day Verona overlaid on a map of Colonial-era farms. Slaves and slave owners often worked side-by-side on these farms. (Map credit: George Musser)

“The Cedar Grove and Verona colonial settlements relied on enslaved Africans for labor in the clearing of the land and the operation of the farms and mills,” says Vanderhoof, now a resident of Canada. Dr. Bone, a Hessian immigrant, owned slaves and almost certainly used their forced labor to dam the Peckman River near the current waterfall in Verona Park. Bone operated a milling business at the site using enslaved people. A millstone once used in the production of flour at Bone’s mill is prominently displayed in the center of town near H.B. Whitehorne Middle School, although there is no sign that identifies its historical significance or its relation to slavery.

Verona’s enslaved people do not seem to have stayed in Verona after their manumission. Many former slaves were unable to find work in the towns where they had been forced to labor for years. Instead, they went to more urban communities in places like Newark, Elizabeth, and Rahway, where they had to work as servants to the wealthy in spite of a great number of them being highly skilled in trades such as blacksmithing, masonry, and carpentry.

Vanderhoof’s research began with his ancestors’ farm records, which had been carefully preserved over the centuries. He worked with professors at Montclair State University and Rutgers University to corroborate those records and put them in greater historical context. The specific resources used included tax ratables, which were records of properties and their value; the Black Loyalist Directory, which recorded people who fled their enslavers and those who joined British regiments during the Revolutionary War; the Essex County records of black births; and transfers of enslaved people in wills.

Speaking about the research, Dr. Christopher Tamburro, a Verona High School history teacher, expressed his belief that “it helps to give us a better understanding of our modern environment, how we got to where we are and it’s important to note that these violent, inhumane practices were happening all around.”

Tamburro, who also serves on the Town Council as mayor of Verona, hopes that Vandehoof’s revelations “help to shed light on some of this legacy that exists in town to potentially allow us to recognize that as a municipality and to include things like historical markers so we can continue education on this topic since we don’t want this to be an object of interest and concern for a few days. We want to be talking about it for as long as Verona is around so we can continue to address it.”

George Donnelly graduated Verona High School with the Class of 2023. This story was part of his senior Capstone project.

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16 COMMENTS

  1. This is fascinating. Lived in Verona for 28 years. Attended public schools from kindergarten through VHS. Knew absolutely nothing about this history. Thanks so much for having educated me.

  2. Thank you for sharing this information. I lived in Verona
    from 1983-2017 and I too never knew the history you
    have carefully researched and shared. I now live in
    South Florida and couldn’t be more disillusioned by
    the Governors teaching mandate regarding enslaved people. Your research could not be more appropriate ..and appreciated. I can only reiterate that my children
    are not of the age to be learning his views.

  3. Although never discussed in history classes in NJ, nor my time in public schools, it wasn’t until I majored in History in college did much of the real slave history come out. An interesting tidbit, NJ was the last State to finally remove the slave statues from the books after the civil war. Jan 1866. Unfortunately, there is no modern day civilization existing today that wasn’t built by slaves, going back to pre-egyptian times.

  4. I did not know enslaved men were “taxed”. Perhaps you mean the owners were taxed on the slave’s “worth”?

  5. Yes, slave owners paid a tax on male slaves over the age of 25. It was not uncommon for slave owners to hide their enslaved people when the tax collector came calling.

  6. I was fascinated to read about Verona’s history. I grew up in Verona and never knew anything about this history. I like to learn history especially about the places where I have lived. Thank you.

  7. I know the town of Cedar Grove has been critical of him as he does not produce the proper primary sources when asked. I have asked for and received spreadsheets, not primary sources. Or, family histories written at the turn of the 20th century that would not be used today as a reliable source, but seen for what they are enslavers trying to justify their brutality and, of course, can not be taken as reliable. To claim Bone as a slave owner, you should have primary sources, as he is a founder of Verona. I have found church records of Bone having a slave baptized, but that doesn’t mean he was a slave owner as he was also the founder of the Verona Methodist Church. This was a denomination that has a Northern faction that was against slavery. If he was a slave owner, please show the documents. Those Blacks who did leave go to work in the factories and are treated not much better than slaves in the factories of Paterson and Newark. The owners of some of these factories were the same as the families who owned slaves. Mr Vanderhoof is related to many of these families. One can trace through the census the unnamed slaves whose work allowed these generations of owners like the families of Mr. Vanderhoof to have inherited wealth. More than 90 percent of Americans have nothing to do with this. I love researching this as his family were slave owners who were more in the area of Clifton, Pasaic and Wayne along with other towns in Bergen County. I know exactly the locations they speak about For example, where there was a whipping post on the border of Paterson and Clifton.

  8. MyVeronaNJ reached out to Goline “Dory” Vanderhoof for his response to Ms. Maher’s comment.

    He said his team members are “sticklers for primary source documentation and only publish documented and footnoted material” and that they have extensive government records, wills and inventories documenting Peckman River Valley enslavers. Those records include Dr. Bone’s registration of a slave birth. The document was filed with Essex County and notarized by the County Clerk. It has been shared with MyVeronaNJ.

    Vanderhoof says the team plans to post the entirety of its research work and copies of all primary sources through Dr. Chris Mathews of Montclair University for fellow researchers. “It will ultimately be available on the internet through a service available from the Montclair University Library,” he adds. Vanderhoof says he has had no connection with Mary Anne “that I can recall.” “I would like to know what spreadsheet she is referring to and the source of her acquisition,” he adds. “If it was produced by our research team, we will be pleased to produce the necessary primary source citations.”

    Vanderhoof notes that he is a direct descendent of Thomas Doremus, who together with his brother Cornelis Doremus, in 1730 owned and farmed more than 1,000 acres of the 2,800 acre town of what is today Cedar Grove. “We can produce deeds, mortgages and other primary documentation of the farms and ownership of enslaved Africans,” he says. This farm was one of the largest family farms owned by the Doremus family at the time, which included holdings in Acquackanonk (Paterson) Jacksonville, (Pequannock), Doremustown (Montville), and Preakness (Hawthorne).

    There are two primary source books on Vanderhoof’s ancestors, written by William Nelson just before the end of the 19th century, “The Doremus Family in America” and the “History of Paterson and its Environs.” Vanderhoof says readers can also go to Eastjerseyhistory.org for a primary sourced map of the Peckman River Valley and surrounds from 1800 and 1700. While Essex County lost its original book of deeds for 1700 to 1800, George Musser has recreated the lost records, deeds and landholdings of the 18th century settlers. Vanderhoof says he received no inheritance from either his mother or his father. “They, like so many Americans, spent their entire life savings on health care at the end of their lives,” he adds.

    “Our work does not seek to glorify enslavers but to shed light on the Colonial and early Federal history of New Jersey that has neglected the existence and contribution of enslaved Africans,” Vanderhoof says. “The housing developments of the Peckman River Valley were cleared of the first growth forests, by hand, by early settlers and enslaved Africans. Hopefully, the knowledge of the past will inform the future of our society, keeping us from repeating the mistakes of our ancestors.”

  9. How I received your work was that I was asked to research it to help with Morgan’s Farm battling the historical society. It is what you sent the town of Cedar Grove. I could not go into battle with them without proper documentation. I got into with one individual from that organization related to your family. I had to zip it as I don’t have any substantial primary sources. The record you refer to with Dr.Bone is the same one I believe I found where he is getting the slave woman baptized. The one I am referring to has a Rev Condit signing off. I didn’t see Dr.Bone listed as a slave owner.
    I look forward to seeing your documentation on Dr.Bone as a former history teacher and married to one. This can not be ignored and must be verified in an academic paper, especially with his wheel sitting outside HBW. I researched your family, and I know of your families by living or working in Clifton, Paterson, Glen Rock, Wayne, Franklin Lakes, etc. Bergen County has a lot of history concerning these families: Demerest, Hopper, and Doremus. I have also looked at the works of Nelson, as they are numerous. I can’t get enough of these accounts, as these are family names of people I grew up with in the exact areas he describes. His draw-dropping accounts of how slaves were treated by the Dutch families while disguised in kindness towards the slaves is an important local read. You are also a Van Houten I saw that is a major road in Clifton where an elementary and a middle school now sits which is called Woodrow Wilson. Recently, a subject of debate to rename the school. In the meantime the history of the street and who it is named after needs to be taught to students.

    I also look forward to the finished work that you and the professor you reference from Montclair State who
    is a historical archaeologist and not, for example, Professor Wilson, a professor in NJ slave history from MSU. This will be done in a different manner than I am used to but I am sure quit interesting.

    FYI, I found a Little Falls newspaper from the 1950s that discusses bodies in unmarked graves being poor Dutch settlers. They can still be slaves, maybe former slaves/family. If you don’t know what I mean, this can be seen with the Ramapo Indians in Mahwah, the Van Dunk/Mann who would pass for White outside of the area, but locals knew exactly their genic makeup and were treated horribly.

    Looking forward to the finish product as I have enjoyed doing the research into this and will continue.

  10. One more thing to add. Yes, I understand what you stated about your parents not leaving you anything. However, this is not how this is seen in academia regarding those with a traceable lineage as slave owners. When this was first brought up with Cedar Grove, it was right around the time of George Floyd and the racial tensions in this area and country. I don’t take any pleasure out of this as your father I saw was a World War Two vet, as were others in your family veterans of foreign wars who did many great things for this country. This is not how it is to be taught that there are shades of grey when discussing history. If you present it that way, now you are “whitewashing” history.

  11. For documentation regarding Dr. Bone’s ownership of slaves, I refer you to the Essex County Register of Slave Births 1804 – 1843 available from the New Jersey Archives. #73. also available on Family Search. In the document of February 8th, 1807 Dr. Bone claimed that his slave Moly gave birth to a son John. This means that John is now registered as Dr. Bone’s property, and can be sold to other enslavers or passed on to a family members. The registered child must serve his owner until he reaches 25 years of age on February 8, 1832. Slaves that were under registered contract to an owner after 1804 were, ironically, referred to in the US Census as “free coloured” to differentiate them from “slaves” meaning enslaved for life. In the 1830 Census, Benjamin Bone son of Dr. Bone, a tavern owner, in Little Falls reported one male free person of color residing in his residence. This is interesting because John, registered in 1807, would not be free until 1832. Perhaps, John is the enslaved “free coloured” resident of Dr. Bone’s son’s house since he would have to wait till 1832 to be truly free. It is also notable that in his property tax filings from 1810-1814 in Newark Township’s Tax Ratable Books 504-508 (Available from the NJ Archives), that Dr. Bone does not pay tax on enslaved Africans, meaning that he did not own any male slaves over the age of 25. Remember that Moly and young John were not taxable and did not have to be reported.

  12. That is what I have concerning Bone. When you look at what is written, it states, “Caldwell February 8, 1807, a slave named Moly had a son named John belong… &@$” and a word I can’t make out. Does the child belong to someone else besides Bone? I also see different entries on those two pages in comparison to Bone. Almost all say, “my slave” or “my property,” with Bone, it does not. Bone is credited with building the Verona Methodist Church in the 1830s after they were not allowed to practice in the old school house, so he made their church. During those early years of the early 1800’s Methodists passionately hated slavery and would worship together with Blacks. This changed in the second half of the 1800s. Bone was dead by 1844.
    He was also a Hessian. They treated Blacks very differently than other Europeans. Look up Black Hessians and how they were treated. The Hessians also make up the community of exiles in Mahwah, NJ, now called the Ramapo Indians. Your research with Dr.Bone’s son as living with a Freed Blackman supports this viewpoint.

    According to local historian Robert Williams, it is unclear when he moved into Verona. He is not on the Ashfield Tract map of 1786. What is known is that he bought the Riker Homestead in 1829, located where the HBW Middle School is today. That land was cleared by then and he had no use for enslaved people, as Dr.Bone made a living off his herbal remedies. He did build the Peckman damn in 1814, and I wouldn’t assume that the work was done by slave labor as he had several children to help him along with members of the community who would also benefit from its construction and, like the Amish today, helped each other which had a better outcome than forced labor. In end, I just want clear evidence.

  13. One last thing! Dr. Bone’s first wife was a Crane from Montclair, a cousin to Nathaniel Crane. The Crane family was one of Montclair’s founding families. Nathaniel Crane, who died in 1833, left the house on six acres and $400 to James Howe, one of his former slaves freed in 1817. The Crane house was recently saved. Montclair and Verona, especially early in American history, do not have the same story as other locations. Why is it easy for me to spot when it is phoned in the history. Different towns don’t have this but have better public relations teams selling their version of the truth.

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