NJ students unearth homes of runaway slaves
WESTAMPTON, N.J. - June 25, 2010 (WPVI) -- On a hill off Church Road in Westampton Township, New Jersey, a group of Temple University archeology students and some volunteers are slowly uncovering the remains of Timbuctoo, a small settlement of free blacks and runaway slaves founded in the 1820s. It was also a stop on the Underground Railroad.
"Timbuctoo is not only important for New Jersey or the region, this site is probably going to be one of the foremost African American sites in the nation," said site manager Christopher Barton.
"It's the story of freedom and community and independence. I think it's just a story people should hear," said student Patricia Markert.
After a high-tech survey of the land, archeologists knew exactly where to dig and have already uncovered the walls to one of 18 buildings underground. Timbuctoo had a church, a school and a number of homes.
It's a slow process - each shovelful of dirt is put into buckets then carefully sifted through for any artifacts like some children's toys that were found--a wagon wheel, a toy gun and an iron buffalo figure.
"To be able to reach back into someone else's life so many years ago, and be a part of what they were experiencing, it's just amazing," said volunteer Marylin Phifer.
The dig has special meaning for 74-year-old Mary Weston, whose ancestors lived in Timbuctoo. She now lives on their land.
"I don't know anyone who can say 'This is where my great-great-great-grandparents lived and harvested," Weston said. "As African-Americans, it's very special to me and to others to help them know more about who they are as a people."
The hope now is that this site will eventually be included in the National Register of Historic Places and preserved, so that people today can see this concrete connection to our past.
new jersey, local/state, nora muchanic
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