Slaves' remains put to rest by descendent of owner

| 22 Feb 2012 | 08:34

NEWTON — Two-hundred-year-old bones of three males who were once slaves were re-interned in a moving ceremony on a windy, rainy afternoon in the heart of Newton. “It seemed fitting to inter these slave remains of Tom, Dan and John in this 170-year-old Newton African-American Cemetery. It declares a closure on an inhumane part of the past which in the same moment writes a new chapter in American History, with the election of the first Afro-American President who with his family lives in a home, The White House, which was built by slave labor so many years ago,” said Reverend Robert Drew Simpson, a descendant of the family who once owned the slaves, The story of the bones unravels like a detective story. The bones were found outside Vernon 30 years ago when a bulldozer was moving some topsoil, and taken to the Space Farms for safekeeping. Said Fred Space, also attending the re-internment, “After extensive examinations by the Museum of National History in New York City, and the New Jersey State Police, the bones turned out to be those of three African American males.” Space is an area expert on bones and history. Simpson extended his thanks to Space for safeguarding the ancient bones. “They could determine they belonged to African Americans due to the length of the bones, they were all about six foot,” said Simpson. “At the time white males did not grow that tall, apart from Washington.” “I found the documents about the slaves in the Sussex County Historical Society archives a few years ago. I’m the eighth generation descendant of the Simpson family who owned the slaves, which was a common practice at the time. My ancestor Henry Simpson moved to McAfee area in 1753. He died 1775 and the inventory of his estate listed seven African slaves. Their names and how much each was worth in pounds was listed and one or two were listed as none. The document lists the three Negro slaves whose bones were found as Tom, Dan and John, without family names, in keeping with the tradition of the times. Female slaves were often referred to as ‘wenches’ and were left unnamed.” A mutual friend and a prominent Sussex County Historian, Jennie Sweetman, brought Simpson and Space together. She also attended the service. According to her, there were 415 slaves in Sussex County in 1800, which is when the bones date from. The numbers started to decline after that. The thought of the remains being left unburied started to trouble Simpson, and in the end, the re-internment was arranged with the help and support of the Iliff-Ruggiero Funeral Home. They took care of the ceremony and expenses, and provided the headstone. “We are grateful for the ways you lead us toward reconciliation with each honor the remains of these our three brothers...we honor their living,” said Reverend John Callanan of Bristol Glen in the Committal Prayer. The box containing the bones of the men, built by Simpson’s son David, was lowered to its final resting place in silence as onlookers reflected on history. Rev. Simpson read aloud the inscription on the head stone, “A Slave Family, Tom- Dan-John, 1790 - 1800. We are all brothers”.