Richard Sears Walling
Richard Sears Walling is an independent scholar specializing in Native American and African American history and genealogy. A graduate of Rutgers University with a degree in Urban Planning, he has consulted for local and state governments, Native American tribes, organizations and individuals. Mr. Walling’s recent work includes the story of the tragic forced removal of African Americans from the New Jersey/New York region to remote plantations in the Deep South in the early 19th century. His current projects include a documentary about the Van Wickle Slave Ring, and also a film on the famed Harlem Hellfighters.
“Sold down the river” is an expression describing betrayal and exploitation. It is deeply rooted in America’s past, when African Americans were literally sold south into the maw of cruel slavery. In 1818, nearly one hundred local blacks were illegally and forcibly taken from New Jersey through the actions of a local judge and his wealthy relatives. This is the story of that abominable trade.
The Gradual Abolition Act of 1804 was intended as a pragmatic method of ending slavery in New Jersey. Changing conditions in the United States however, led to illegal exploitation of the law intended to protect New Jersey’s black residents. With convergence of several factors, including the end of the transatlantic slave trade, the opening of new lands in Louisiana and Mississippi and the development of the cotton-gin, demand for slave labor in the Deep South exploded. All across the Border States and into the Northeast, kidnappers and slave dealers sought new souls to be sold south.