89 The Slaves of Blawenburg, Part 3
In this third part of the series about slavery, we look at slavery on the Michael Blaw farm in Blawenburg. We tell the story of his slaves, Tom, Judith, and Moses Blew.
When John Blaw brought his family to Montgomery Township in 1738, he likely brought his slaves with him. He had purchased 400 acres from New York real estate speculator Abraham Van Horne and an adjacent tract of 95 acres from Nicholas Lake of New Brunswick to create a plantation south of what would be the village that would bear his name. He and other Dutch farmers needed help to do the work necessary to run their plantations. Farming was not easy, and the tools at the time all required manual labor.
John Blaw’s property was along Bedens Brook, and he divided his land, giving 247.5 acres to each of his sons, Michael and Frederick. Michael’s farm was on the east side of what is now Great Road and Frederick’s land was on the west side. Great Road was created by the Blaws to gain access to their property from what is now Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike/Route 518. Great Road was later extended to Princeton.
Michael provided an important service for area farmers by turning their corn, wheat, and other grains into flour at his mill along Bedens Brook. He also had a farm to sustain his family and feed the cows, horses, and other animals he tended. (See Blog 69, Blaw’s Mill.) Some slaves on the Blaw farm and other farms had important skills, serving as carpenters, blacksmiths, tanners, and millers. Women slaves often served as nannies, cooks, maids, and washerwomen. Others were general laborers.
At the time the Blaws relocated from New York in 1738, there were 46,676 people in all of New Jersey, with 3,981 of them being black. Some of the black slaves supported the emerging Blaw, Nevius, and Covenhoven farms in and near Blawenburg and almost every other farm in Montgomery Township. It is very difficult to identify these slaves by name because they usually were stripped of their original surnames and assumed either no surname or the surname of their master. Many official records of slaves have no names on them.
The Michael Blaw home as it looked in the early 2000s. It was owned and refurbished by others over the years. The George Gallup family owned it from the 1930s to the 1980s.
The Blaw/Blew Family
Michael Blaw was born in 1704 and was 34 years old when he arrived in Montgomery Township. He was married to Helen Van Barkeloo, and they brought their five children —William, John, Cornelius, Mary, and Neltye— with them to the new plantation. In 1742, Michael opened his mill along Bedens Brook near Great Road, and the slaves, many of whose names are unknown, helped start up the farm and mill.
By the1760s, the Blaw children had all grown up and moved on with their lives. In 1768, Helen passed away, leaving Michael and the slaves to run the mill and farm. Despite his age (64), Michael remarried a much younger woman, Nellie Hollinsett, and they had two sons, Michael (b. 1770) and Daniel (b. 1772). The boys were of minimal help on the farm in their formative years, so the slaves were relied upon more and more, especially as Michael aged. He passed away at the age of 82 in 1786.
Michael’s will listed the names of his slaves and their values in British pounds. Adult slaves were considered property, and only adult male slaves were taxed.
The slaves in Michael’s will were:
A negro man named Tom
A negro wench* named “Jonah” and child – Jonah is believed to be named Judith and her child named Moses.
Boys named Charles, Neane, and Joshua
A girl named Patti
*A wench was a derogatory term that set apart black women as a lower class than white women. This “legitimized” sexual exploitation by some white masters.
It is not clear who the listed children belonged to. Since they were property, they may have been privately sold to settle the estate. Moses is believed to be the only child who stayed with Tom and Judith.
Slaves lived in cabins like this one, which is located on the Washington Well Farm, originally the Duryea Farm. It was remodeled and repurposed in recent times.
Nellie Blew as Head Mistress
Inheriting the farm was a big challenge for Nellie. How was she supposed to manage all this farmland and the accompanying slaves? Her young sons, Michael and Daniel, could not assume any rights or responsibilities for the farm until they were 21.
Nellie relied on Tom Blew, a capable and trusted slave, and his partner, Judith to run the farm. Tom and Judith were not legally married, because slaves were not allowed to marry. Nellie decided to free Judith, but she stayed on to work on the farm with Tom. He was freed by the executors of Michael’s estate. Nellie and Tom made an arrangement whereby Tom leased 210 acres of the farm to run until the Blew boys came of age. They split the products and profits between themselves. This was not a typical arrangement at that time, but Nellie likely reasoned that with this plan, the farm could continue to support herself and the boys until they could take over.
Despite it being a lease arrangement, Tom’s name appeared on tax records as the owner of the property for several years until the oldest boy, Michael, turned 21 in 1791. When Tom was freed of his enslavement in 1788, he could own property and vote. Tom and three other freed black men from Montgomery voted in the election of 1801, a rare event for people of color.
It appears that Judith was not able to vote in 1801 because she did not own property. The right to vote was only granted to freed black property owners. Tom was listed on the tax rolls for several years beginning in 1788 and throughout the 1790s as Tom Negro Blew.
In 1802, Tom again appeared on tax records, not for owning a house or acreage, but for owning cows, horses, and a dog. It isn’t clear where he was living at the time, perhaps on the Blew farm or somewhere else in Montgomery Township. After his passing in 1805, Judith’s name appeared on the tax rolls in his place.
The right to vote was short lived for black men and white women. On November 16, 1807, the State of New Jersey passed an Act that declared that only people who were free, white, and male could vote. This act was passed by legislators who were free, white, and male!
Judith and Moses worked for a widow, Susannah Lane, in Stoutsburg, and in 1808, they were able to buy half an acre of land from Susannah. Their house was near the corner of what is now Route 518 and Province Line Road and still stands today. Moses was 23 in 1811 when he and Judith expanded their farmland by purchasing an additional six acres. By 1814, Moses was eager to try new ventures, so he sold the farm and bought other property in Montgomery. He provided a house for Judith.
By 1829, Moses had land holdings in Hopewell Township where he built a homestead north of Georgetown-Franklin Turnpike (now Route 518) on 144 acres adjacent to Province Line Road and another 29 acres in Amwell. He also owned property in Franklin Township. It is unclear how he earned the money to purchase this land.
In 1849, Moses had an opportunity to buy a tannery in Trenton, so he sold 100 acres of his land holdings to buy the business. A tannery processes animal skins to turn them into leather. Unfortunately, Moses was not successful as a tanner, and he lost the business and the remaining 44 acres he owned in Hopewell.
In 1859, Judith died, and a year later, Moses and his wife, Mary, moved to West Amwell. Unfortunately, Mary died in 1864. After living in the Flemington area for a while, Moses went to Philadelphia, where he passed away in 1874 at the age of 88.
Moses Blew’s tombstone in Stoutsburg Cemetery
Being a slave was a difficult life, and being a freed slave wasn’t easy either. Tom Blew knew how to run a farm both as an enslaved person and as a free person. He was able to rise above the restrictions of slavery and use his talents to provide for the Blaws and his own family. Judith also used her talents to work with Tom and later Moses. Both Tom and Judith must have transferred their skills to Moses, because he was able to make a good life for himself. Moses had an entrepreneurial zeal, despite his financial failure at the tannery.
Not all slave tales are like this one. Many slaves suffered far greater abuse, and very few would end up owning property in the 18th and 19th centuries. What this story shows is that given freedom and the opportunity to use their talents, all people can be constructive members of society. It also should remind us that restricting people’s freedom will waste the talents they could use for the good. It seems that we need to relearn this simple truth again in the 21st century.
1. Blaws, Blews, and Blues
It was common for immigrants to change their names as they settled in America. They wanted to Anglicanize their names to fit in better with the people in their new country. The Blaws had multiple spellings of their names: Blaw, Blau, Blauw, for example. Whatever the spelling, the names all were derived from the German and Dutch words meaning blue. Many of the Blaws chose new surnames such as Blew and Blue. According to the John Blaw genealogy, Michael Blaw kept his given surname as Blaw; however, several of his children changed their surname to Blew. The slaves took the surname Blew, too.
2. The NJ Constitution opened voting to freed blacks and women in 1790. This granted the right to vote to many more people. The Senate had other thoughts and denied women and blacks the right to vote again in 1807. Even during this period (1790 -1807), most women couldn’t vote because they didn’t own property. They were also discriminated against in leadership roles in Congress and churches. Women were not allowed to own property until 1858 and didn’t get the right to vote until 1920. Black men got the right to vote over 60 years before white and black women.
3. The election of 1801 took place in the Rocky Hill Inn. According to the Poll List from 1801, reported in a Museum of the American Revolution exhibit, “The poll list includes the names of 343 total voters (from Montgomery Township and Rocky Hill). At least 46 of these voters are women, accounting for nearly 14 percent of the voters on the list. It also includes the names of at least four free black male voters, one of whom is identified as black on the poll list with the word ‘negro’ in parentheses next to his name.” It is believed that Tom Blew was among the black voters.
4. Michael Blaw’s home still stands today, and much of the property is undeveloped thanks to it being put in farmland preservation by the Gallup family, who owned it for over 40 years.
5. Part of the land owned by Moses Blew on Province Line Road became a burying ground for slaves. Today it is the Stoutsburg Cemetery, a burial location for African Americans. The original land was sold to Moses by Mary Sexton, a member of the original Stout family for whom Stoutsburg was named. She had inherited the land from her father, David Stout.
Buck, Elaine and Mills, Beverly. If These Stones Could Talk. Lambertville, NJ, Wild River Books, 2018.
Davis, Jack. “From Slavery to Freedom, The African American Blew Family of Stoutsburg,” Hopewell Valley Historical Society Newsletter, Late Winter/Spring,2017, p. 835.
Frederick Blaw mortgage deed, 1768
Lineage of Edwin Blew provided by Edwin (Ted) Blew.
Wright, Giles R. Afro-Americans in New Jersey: A Short History. Trenton, NJ, New Jersey Historical Commission, Department of State, 1988.
Michael Blaw house - Edwin Blew
Slave cabin – origin unknown, shared by Tom Skillman many years ago.
Moses Blew tombstone – D. Cochran
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