‘Rocks in the Garden’: Juneteenth tour uncovers history of slavery in Morristown

The final resting place of Cato, a slave owned by the Phoenix family. According to Michael Snyder, this is the only known grave of a person who died enslaved in all of Morris County. Photo by Michael Lovito.
By Michael Lovito

Most people who look at The Alliance — a sculpture on the Morristown Green depicting a meeting of George Washington, Alexander Hamilton and the Marquis de Lafayette — probably see three great leaders who helped found the United States.

Michael Snyder, on the other hand, sees three people with a distinct relationship to the most infamous American institution of all: Slavery.

Standing outside the Presbyterian Parish Hall, Michael Snyder describes how a schism within was caused by conflicting views on slavery. Photo by Michael Lovito.

On Saturday afternoon, The Alliance was the first stop of Rocks in the Garden – A Walking Tour of Morristown’s History of Slavery.

Designed and guided by Snyder, the tour, which was part of Freedom Day, The Juneteenth Festival of Morris County, not only gave attendees a look at how slavery enriched famous Morristown residents such as Silas Condict and George Macculloch, but also how disputes about the practice led to the formation of separate churches that stand to this day.

Michael Snyder points in the direction of St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. Its cemetery includes graves of slave owners such as George Macculloch and Rachel Wetmore. Photo by Michael Lovito.

“I’ve been dreaming about this since I started my research,” said Snyder, who published his master’s thesis on slavery in Morris County and has taught history classes at Union College in Cranford.

According to the historian, public acknowledgments of slavery in Morris County are scarce even though, at the time of the American Revolution, there was approximately one enslaved person living in Morristown for every free individual.

“What made this so much fun for me was I finally got to say, ‘That statue, that nameplate on the wall? They were enslavers,’” Snyder said of the tour, which brought a crowd of about 20 people to seven historic sites and monuments over the course of 90 minutes.


Most of what we know about slavery in Morristown comes from two main sources: Morris County slave records, and the combined registers and histories of churches like The Presbyterian Church in Morristown, the third stop on the tour.

In its cemetery, Snyder pointed out the faded headstone of Cato, a slave owned by the Phoenix family. It is the only confirmed burial place of an enslaved person that Snyder could find in the entire county.

“We know that enslaved people died in Morristown. We know that because they registered it, they mentioned their names, how old they were, what they died from,” Snyder said. “What we don’t have, aside from Cato, are actual graves.”

Michael Snyder discusses the lives of seven African Americans whose graves were relocated to the Presbyterian Church’s graveyard during the construction of Headquarters Plaza. Photo by Michael Lovito.

Elsewhere in the cemetery are the graves of Jacob and Jane Sylvester and their unnamed son, who were owned by Morristown resident John Dowdy and freed after his death; as well as Hannah Hopper, who was owned by Dayton Canfield; and Phoebe, an African-American servant murdered by Antoine LeBlanc alongside two members of the Sayre family in 1833.

Snyder hasn’t been able to confirm that Hopper and Phoebe were enslaved at the time of their deaths. Records referring to them as “servants” indicate it was a possibility.

Alongside those graves are headstones of an African American man named Theodore, about whom little is known, and two others whose names are lost to time. These graves aren’t original to the Presbyterian Church – they were moved there after they were disinterred during construction of Headquarters Plaza in the 1970s. They now share the same cemetery as notable Morristown slave owners such as the Condicts, the Fords, and Dr. Jabez Campfield.

Michael Snyder explains to a tour group how the Church of the Redeemer was founded by congregants at St. Peter’s uncomfortable with that church’s views on slavery. Photo by Michael Lovito.

The next three stops on the tour also were church sites, which Snyder used to illustrate how the issue of slavery divided congregations across the country.

The Church of the Redeemer was founded in the mid-19th Century when a group of anti-slavery congregants split from St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. St. Peter’s cemetery includes graves of Morristown slaveholders such as Gabriel Ford, Rachel Wetmore, and George Macculloch.

The Presbyterian Church Parish Hall on South Street was built following a similar schism among Morristown’s Presbyterians; a “New School” anti-slavery faction lead by Albert Barnes founded its own church. (The two congregations eventually reconciled.)

“It goes to show, people were congregating to a church they thought was more in line with how they wanted to think,” Snyder said, noting that people shouldn’t hold the historical associations of these churches against their modern iterations.


Snyder isn’t alone in his crusade to shine a light on African American history in Morris County. Amy Curry, the executive director of the Morris County Historical Society, said the nonprofit is embarking on a countywide survey of African American historical sites, working with partners like Snyder and Bethel A.M.E. Church Pastor Sidney Williams Jr.

Photo of an integrated class at Morristown’s Maple Avenue School, dated 1886.Photo by Michael Lovito.

“Earlier this year, we did a cleanup of the first Bethel church site and parsonage,” Curry said. “We wanted to give it the respect it deserves and bring more awareness to the fact that, when you see an empty lot in Morristown, there’s probably something significant that happened there.”

In addition to cleaning up the first Bethel site, MCHS also is working to expand its knowledge of Pruddentown, an historic district in Morris Township that was the site of an African American community, and the defunct Maple Avenue School, which appears to have held racially integrated classes as earlier as 1886.

Sankofa Drum and Dance perform at Pioneer Plaza as part of the 2024 Freedom Day Juneteenth Festival of Morris. Photo by Michael Lovito.

“There’s obviously a lot of story to tell. But is it out there? No,” Curry said. “So, this is likely going to be a five-, six-, possibly a seven-year endeavor.”

Curry was promoting the MCHS survey on the Green alongside similar organizations such as the Morris County Heritage Commission and the Daughters of the American Revolution, which also hosted tables that detailed the area’s connection to slavery.

At Pioneer Plaza, mere yards from where the graves of African Americans were dislocated to build Headquarters Plaza, Sankofa Drum and Dance hosted performances of traditional African music.


Snyder ended his tour outside the Macculloch Hall Historical Museum, which he called “the only place in Morris County that has a public acknowledgment of slavery within its walls.”

Despite the museum’s best efforts, details about the daily lives of Cato, Elizabeth, Susan, William, and Henry — the enslaved servants at Macculloch Hall — remain thin. Yet Snyder said the mere mention of their names is a step in the right direction towards providing a fuller picture of Morris County’s history.

“When you give these people a face, a name, an identity, you give them agency,” Snyder said. “You give them the ability to say that they existed. You acknowledge that they were there.”

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  1. Enlightening story. Many people today don’t realize that virtually all of the northern states had slaves at the time of the Revolution, and gradually gave up the practice over the next 85 years or so.

    New Jersey was the LAST northern state to officially abolish slavery, and not until January 23, 1866, almost a year after the end of the Civil War, and more than a year after the Emancipation Proclamation took effect.

    Keep in mind that the Emancipation Proclamation only effected the Confederate States, not the states of the Union.

    A lot of prominent Morris County families and business/government leaders were slave owners.