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Archaeologists dig into African American history in N.J.

timbucto070210_optTimbuctoo is home to a Civil War cemetery and is believed to have been stop on the Underground Railroad

BY ALICIA CRUZ
NEWJERSEYNEWSROOM.COM

Temple University Students and volunteers are slowing excavating the remains of a well-forgotten small settlement founded by freed blacks and non-slaves in 1825 called Timbuctoo, according to a report in the Daily Record.

Situated near Rancocas Creek in Westampton Township outside Mount Holly, lies the entire village of Timbuctoo, which consists of least 18 houses, remains of a church, two roadways, an alley, a number of privies, wells, possibly schools, and large parts of a cemetery, where 13 graves of Black Civil War Veterans are marked by headstones. It is also believed to have been a stop on the Underground Railroad that led slaves to freedom.

Researchers believe the site holds far more unmarked graves — at least six times more — which members of the Westampton Post 509 American Legion set out to make sure those Veterans were never forgotten again.

"We've kept an eye on the cemetery throughout the years," said Samuel Hayes, past commander of Post 509, who places American flags on the graves of the soldiers each Memorial Day and has researched the history of the cemetery.

According to Post 509's web site, there are dozens of soldiers interred in the cemetery including Louis B. Armstrong, Charles Love, Edward Chapman, who served in the Army's 22 Regiment and William W. Sullivan who served in the 29th Regiment.

"Bucto" or "Buck town," as the area is commonly known was recognized in 2007 and received a bronze plaque officially recognizing it as "Timbuctoo Civil War Memorial Cemetery" and honoring "the brave African-American men from the community who joined the Union Army in the fight against slavery during the Civil War. The ceremony was conducted by The Westampton Historical Society to commemorate Black History Month.

The village, which encompasses Church Street, Blue Jay Hill Road and Rancocas Road, was prosperous as a community and boasted one of the first public schools in the township, as well as the AME Zion Church," according to information about the township's history posted on the municipal Web site, and is said to be the site of the "Battle of Pine Swamp" in 1860, which involved armed residents of Timbuctoo preventing the capture of Perry Simmons , a fugitive slave living in the community, by a southern slave catcher aided by sympathetic local whites.

"Timbuctoo is not only important for New Jersey, but it is important for the region," site manager Christopher Barton told ABC News. " This is probably going to be one of the foremost African American sites in the nation."

No African American site of this magnitude has ever been excavated in the region, and very few have been uncovered nationwide, according to archaeologists.

"This is the first time we're seeing such a site being excavated," David Orr, the Temple professor and historical archaeologist overseeing the project told Philly.com.

"The unique quality of this is that it's very large. It has no problems, perfect preservation of its core — that's also impressive. As an archaeological site, in my experience, I have never seen anything like this — only because nobody has excavated one."

The site of the Timbuctoo archeological dig covers four or five acres, with a good portion of it being acquired by Westampton Township from private owners.

 

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