The Lawnside Historical Society presented its second summer Underground Railroad Camp June 26 to 30 at the Peter Mott House, with the theme “Pathways to Freedom.”
Campers shared what they already knew then learned more, including Lawnside’s connection to UGRR through the Rev. Peter Mott. They toured the historic Peter Mott House. These lessons helped them appreciate the intelligence, creativity and resilience of the escaped Africans and their desire to escape from bondage.
Campers visited historic Jacob’s Chapel AME Church and Cemetery on Elbo Lane in Mount Laurel. The church was a part of an antebellum African American settlement established in 1828. The lesson emphasized the resilience of people to resist, survive and thrive. Dr. James Still, brother of abolitionist William Still, who is known as the Black Doctor of the Pines, is buried there.
After an enlightening visit to the African American Museum in Philadelphia, the campers contrasted U.S. practices with ideals of the Constitution and considered examples of democracy rising and falling.
Students learned the hidden meanings of hymns and spirituals loaded with code words enslaved Africans used to communicate plans to escape. They read about Henry “Box” Brown, creating small paper models of the box he used to ship himself out of Virginia to freedom in Philadelphia.
At the end of the week, the young people showed up and showed out. Using varied styles from kinesthetic to tactile to present to parents and visitors what they learned. One wore a disguise in his determination to elude capture, another drew a colorful replica of Jacob’s Chapel, yet another created a set of UGRR games and puzzles. There were also poems, stories of heroism, and foam maps plotting New Jersey safe havens.
The Society is supported by a grant from the Camden County Cultural and Heritage Commission at Camden County College, the official local history agency of the New Jersey Historical Commission.
–Muneerah Higgs, Camp co-director