Friends sometimes share pieces they write about their lives and their meetings. These two came from Dr. Susanna J. Dodgson, of the Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia. One section features an upcoming October 24th Medford and Haddonfield Quarterly meeting program on Quakers and the South Jersey underground railroad. The event features Linda Shockley, an expert from the Lawnside Historical Society. It will document the significance of Peter Mott and Lawnside itself—which grew into a large and thriving African American community. The other is about Susanna’s love of books and the gifts of the artisans who recently created bookshelves at her meeting.
Thinking about history leads to Susanna’s thoughts on how Quakers helped an escaped enslaved person, Joshua Saddler, resettle in New Jersey, and how Joshua not only anchored Lawnside, but left a legacy: Saddler’s woods. This old growth forest was willed to Joshua’s heirs with the instruction that “none of the timber shall be cut thereon.” In 2004, after years of community advocacy, Haddon Township conserved the woods and formally named the spot Sadler’s Woods.
It is a fact that Quaker history contains stories of racism and enslavement. The book, Fit for Freedom not for Friendship (Quakers, African Americans, and the Myth of Racial Justice) by Vanessa Julye and Donna McDaniel, documents Friends who owned and traded in enslaved persons. It also covers the ways Friends and their meetings behaved with emancipated and enslaved Blacks, as well as Friends’ activities and relationships with African Americans throughout abolition, reconstruction, and the civil rights movement. As the academic Cornell West writes on the book jacket; “The legendary status of Quakers in the struggle for Black freedom undergoes serious scrutiny in this courageous and visionary book. This timely examination is a challenge to us all…”
The South Jersey Quakers note that Peter Mott’s home and church (Mt. Pisgah A.M.E. Church) in Lawnside were essential stops on the undergrown railroad. After reaching Mott’s place, freedom seekers continued onward to Evesham, Haddonfield, and Pennsauken. The home has been restored and is now a museum of both the Underground Railroad and the Lawnside community—which is nationally significant as the sole historic African-American incorporated municipality in the northern USA.
Susanna Dodgson writes –
The only one? I had not known that. I knew that Lawnside was the first community incorporated by African-Americans in the north; which happened in 1926.
I like to ride through Lawnside on my way back from delivering vegan lunch to my 3rd son. Allister works in a building that was once a supermarket, and after that, was divided into a liquor store and an Indian food market. The liquor shop remains. Around it are an abandoned Roman Catholic school and buildings attached to what was a Roman Catholic Church, but is now a Hindu temple.
Lawnside itself has been abandoned by supermarkets and politicians, and (is) slashed through with the New Jersey turnpike, and NJ 295. When I ride through Lawnside, I have to follow the main road to cross from one side to the other. The town has been thoroughly divided in three. And yet they are still here, and proud of Lawnside.
I live near Saddler’s Woods, and have watched with interest it being slated for development into houses, townhouses, high rises, and lastly, soccer fields. Arguments flew back and forth, finally the land was bought by Haddon Township. It remained woods because an arborist from the north walked through it and identified trees that are older than the United States. Spectacular public relations and a critical mass of activists coupled with the Knights of Columbus handing over land for township soccer fields, and Saddler’s Woods was saved.
Saddler’s Woods is named after Joshua Saddler whose status as a free man was contested; two Quakers—wanting to help—handed over money to ensure his freedom. I am trying to find out more about these Quakers and their involvement in the Underground Railroad.
Meanwhile (I) am learning more about Joshua Saddler and his family. I … know he is buried in the graveyard in Lawnside, and his son was a private in the US Army who died from cholera in 1867 in Louisiana.
I am looking forward to also hearing about the struggles and triumph in preserving a small part of the woods that Joshua Saddler owned. It has been cut back over the last 150 years by the Roman Catholic Church, who built a rambling church, school and sports grounds on a large chunk; by Haddon Township which built an elementary school and sports grounds; by shopping centers on either side of the remaining 25 acres, and by a tennis club.
The slow and complete carving up of South Jersey woodlands was halted at Saddler’s Woods due largely to the efforts of Janet Goehner-Jacobs, who is the president of the Saddler’s Woods Conservation Association. Saddler’s Woods is always open during the day; just walk in as I do.
I love books. Every bit of them. The covers, the weight, the paper, the universe and time inside I can enter by reading.
We have the idea that by printing our facts and ideas in books we preserve them for generations. I know that is not so, perhaps they last only for this generation. We do what we can to pass on the concepts of empathy and decency and rejection of cruelty and violence. Can books do this? I hope so.
Monthly Meeting of Friends of Philadelphia included for decades a married couple who ran a lending library of the books. Every book was loved, and any not returned was searched for. When Carol died, her books were donated to the meetinghouse’s collection, added to open shelves, and a lot have vanished.
I am hoping we can rebuild the collection so that it can be available as a reading room. I have learned from my experience with Philadelphia Yearly Meeting’s library that an enormous effort must be made to maintain a lending library.
I am … thrilled with the efforts of the Monthly Meeting of the Friends of Philadelphia. We are extremely fortunate to have amongst our members Roger, a grandson of a librarian, son of academics, and a world-class sculptor.
We are also fortunate that a bequest by Amanda was set aside to pay for bookcases. This combination had Roger leading the push for gorgeous lockable bookcases, which were installed on Monday at Arch Street Meeting House.
Others were involved too, most notably Heath who has an innate understanding of attention to detail and is amongst the most grounded of our members. Heath found and secured the services of a master carpenter who built the shelves. Nancy and Roger were there to welcome and encourage the master carpenter; Heath and I watched the entire process of installation which took 180 minutes and involved measuring, leveling, (and) drilling. Eventually, the master carpenter Jeff was on his hands and knees, vacuuming up every speck of wood and other dust.
Ah yes. Jesus was a carpenter. Or a builder. Apparently, the Greek word could mean a laborer, or a craftsperson. Someone who built. As the reports of Jesus show was the case.
The four bookcases, with the top one third glass: they look like they have always been in the Arch Street reception room. So gorgeous. I would do cartwheels if I could. – Susanna J. Dodgson
Image Source: Lawnside Historical Society Facebook