The following statement was adopted by the Board of Trustees on June 26, 2020:
The Board of Trustees of Lawrence Historical Society is issuing this statement in regards to the current discourse regarding historic places, buildings, monuments, etc. and their role reflecting the history of race relations and slavery in the United States. As caretakers to two historic buildings, we are particularly aware of how those two building may be viewed in the current climate.
The Port Mercer Canal House is owned and operated by the State of New Jersey through the State Parks System. It was built in the mid-1800s and has no known history in relation to slavery or the slave trade. Its sole purpose was to serve as the home of the bridge tender on the Delaware and Raritan Canal, a landmark in itself, and one that played a role during the Civil War as a route for troops and supplies going to the front for the Union Army.
The 1761 Brearley House is owned and operated by the Township of Lawrence and does indeed have a history of ownership that includes slave-owners. John Brearley purchased the land in 1695 and built a house on the site. The property was left to his son John, who was still alive when he and his son James constructed the 1761 Brearley House that remains on the site today. The inventory of the property upon John’s death in 1777 lists one slave, a male named James. James Brearley died in 1818 and ownership of the house went to his son John, who lived there until his death in 1845. His widow Matilda took over ownership, which then passed to their children, Joseph, Susan, and Mary. Census records from 1830 to 1860 show free black males living in the house as laborers.
The Society acknowledges the slave-owning history of some members of the Brearley family. We also acknowledge that this is a vital point in the history of the United States and worthy of more in-depth study to help understand the history of race relations in the country and to attempt to heal by moving forward with a greater understanding of the injuries imposed by that history. Our organization, its board, and its membership strongly support efforts to explore our past as a way to make progress into the future as a more unified, educated, compassionate, and understanding citizenry.