Remembering the Enslaved at Christ Church

Christ Church Six at St. Peter-USE2

The six Christ Church members who presented at the Reparations Stations event at St. Peter’s in Freehold on March 25, 2023. From left to right: Jamie Green, Robert Maber, Rev. Victoria Cuff, Bill Cuff, Connie Goddard, Rev. William Balmer.

On March 25, 2023, six members of Christ Church helped lead a diocesan-wide Lenten service that explored the role of slavery in the Anglican church in New Jersey during Colonial times. During the service at St. Peter’s in Freehold, with Bishop Chip Stokes in attendance, the Christ Church Six—Deacons Vicky Cuff and Bill Balmer, Junior Warden Connie Goddard, lectors Bill Cuff and Robert Maber, and parish historian Jamie Green—focused on the enslaved at Christ Church in the 18th century while acknowledging that many prominent church members in that time owned slaves.

We were able to identify those baptized by using the ground-breaking research into our Colonial-era parish registers orchestrated by our late parish historian Bob Kelly from 2014-2018 with insights provided by local historian Rick Geffken, who also attended the March 25 service, and who in 2022 published a book on slavery in colonial New Jersey.

In 2014, two anthropology students at Monmouth University—Amanda Lopes and Caitlin Guenther—created spreadsheets from our Colonial era parish registers, digitized by parishioners Bob Stewart and Michael Badal, that listed those who were baptized, married, and buried at the church between 1733 and 1775. Among the 1,304 baptized during those years were 56 persons who were described in our parish registers as ‘Negroes’ or ‘Mulattos,’ almost all of whom did not have their parents’ names listed, unlike the 1,200-plus others in the registers for those years.

Following are the words spoken by our delegation at the Freehold service.

Introductory statement on slavery at Christ Church by Jamie Green:

As you enter the narthex at Christ Church Shrewsbury, on the left you’ll see a large plaque commemorating Lewis Morris, at whose home in 1702 the first church service was held. On the right, you’ll see a list of rectors, including Samuel Cooke, our sixth rector and our last missionary priest, who was the driving force behind our current 1769 church building.

Both men were slaveholders: Lewis Morris owned scores to work his bog iron factory in Tinton Falls. Reverend Cooke and his family had multiple slaves. As slaveholders in Shrewsbury and Christ Church they were not alone: historian Rick Geffken found that there were 57 Shrewsbury slaveholders in 1771; 25 worshipped at Christ Church.

Rather than focus on the enslavers, though, we’d like to remember some of the 56 ‘Negroes’ and ‘mulattos’ who were baptized at Christ Church between 1733 and 1775, as they were identified using the original language found in our Parish Registers in those years.

Opening Versicle and Response by Rev. Victoria Cuff:

V. Help us, O God our Savior;
R. Deliver us and forgive us our sins.

These are the names of those baptized that were remembered at the service by the Christ Church readers:

Read by Bill Cuff:

August 5, 1746 John Negro servant of Thomas Clayton; residence, under sentence of death

September 18, 1748 Henry Negro servant (of Mr. Leonard) whose name was Fortune

June 13, 1749 Peter A free negro living with Mr. Deuill

September 8, 1749 Zebulon Son of a mulatto woman commonly called Black Robin

September 22, 1749 Anthony A negro child belonging to Mrs. Jane Forman

Read by Connie Goddard:

October 28, 1749 Edith Eight month old mulatto infant daughter of Edith Finemore

August 19, 1750 William A negro servant of Mr. Tunis Dennis, commonly called Forturian

July 24, 1751 Sarah West Father Robin West is a mulatto.

October 4, 1751 Elizabeth A negro woman of Mrs. Morford

March 30, 1752 Oliver A negro child belonging to Samuel Leonard

Read by Robert Maber:

August 23, 1752 Elizabeth A negro woman belonging to the widow Forman

August 23, 1752 Diego A negro belonging to Mr. Joseph Throckmorton

May 6, 1756 Rachel Adult negro servant of Miss Isabella Kearny [sister-in-law of Rev. Samuel Cooke] and the children of Rachel: Mary, Margaret, Robert Johnson, Bella

Robert then concluded Christ Church’s portion of the service by reciting this poem by the Rev. Pauli Murray, who in 1977 became the first African-American woman ordained as a priest in the American Episcopal Church.

Memo in Bronze by Pauli Murray

For this I love you most—
Bent to your cross
You stagger up the unending hill,
Yet turn to lift my load
And bless me with a smile
So crossed with pain,
That were my heart stilled
It would throb and beat again.

Leader of response: Reverend William Balmer

Emmanuel, God-with-us,
give us courage to awaken to and repent for
our history of enslavement in New Jersey.
As we seek to repair and restore our communities,
may we trust that you charge us, O God,
with co-creating a world that is loving,
liberating, and life-giving for all. Amen.

For more on slavery at Christ Church, please see this series of articles based on the research conducted on our parish registers from 1733-1775.

The entire service can be found on YouTube; Christ Church’s portion can be found starting at 26:00 minutes, ending at 32:00 minutes into the video.