Shared Bodies: Social Patterns in Rural East Jersey and the Formation of an African American Community


  • Will M. Williams



This study uses two complementing data types to a). challenge the standard definition of the direct enslaver-enslaved form of bondage in rural Bergen County, New Jersey, and b). hypothesize about the formation of a free Black community around Dunkerhook Road in the same location. The first data type, labeled the “social record,” is the combination of nineteenth-century membership records from the Church of Paramus and personal documents, such as diaries and genealogical data. These data are comparatively analyzed against “official” tax and will data. This study proposes that some of New Jersey’s enslaved Black population were part of a complex social web sharing or renting their bodies and labor to maintain conservative rural Dutch culture. This system benefited white families such as the Zabriskies, Terhunes, and Hoppers during New Jersey’s slow path to emancipation. The surveillance of Black lives by the Dutch family network and limited employment opportunities for the formerly enslaved are possible factors contributing to the rise of the free African American community on Dunkerhook Road, New Jersey.