Van Wickle Slave Trading Ring

Removal Records Index:
explore certificates by name, date, and destination.

 

What is a Removal Certificate?

Historians have documented abuses of New Jersey's removal registration system by legal officials and slave traders who participated in the interstate slave traffic in the early 19th century. In some cases, Black people were coerced or told lies about their destination so that they would say “yes” when the judges asked about their consent to leave New Jersey. In other cases, the enslaved individuals were not examined by the judges at all, and removal certificates were falsified after the person was already on their way to a slave ship bound for some southern state. Some people were kidnapped by slave traders, and then fraudulent removal certificates were issued by unscrupulous officials.

One of the most notorious cases of abuse took place in Middlesex County where a corrupt judge named Jacob Van Wickle took advantage of his position to establish a slave trading ring. Jacob Van Wickle's son Nicholas Van Wickle and brother-in-law Charles Morgan (owner of the Morganza Plantation in Pointe Coupee, Louisiana) were involved in a scheme to buy scores of Black people in New Jersey at cheap prices and send them to the Deep South to make huge profits. Judges John Outcalt and John Smith colluded with Van Wickle to sign removal certificates under shady circumstances. You can browse the profiles of Van Wickle and 15 associates who are mentioned in the removal certificates and related sources.

Another person involved was County Clerk William P. Deare, who recorded all of the fraudulent removal certificates in his Middlesex County Book of Manumissions and Removals. Deare not only recorded the certificates, but also provided legal advice to Charles Morgan about the documentation that was necessary to transport Black people out of the state.

Judge Van Wickle signature
Detail from page 243 of the Middlesex County Book of Manumissions and Removals. Judges Jacob Van Wickle and John Outcalt signed removal certificates, and County Clerk William P. Deare recorded the certificates in his book in 1818.

In 1818, Jacob Van Wickle signed removal certificates for 77 people, authorizing his own son Nicholas, brother-in-law Charles Morgan, and other associates who were part of the scheme to remove Black men, women, and children from New Jersey to Louisiana and Mississippi. But these Black people did not actually give their consent and were instead coerced to leave New Jersey with the slave traders.

At least 12 Black mothers were forced to leave New Jersey with their young children as part of Van Wickle’s operation. Additionally, 17 children were sold down south without parental consent, with the removal certificates simply stating that the minor had no mother or father who could provide consent. At least 15 of the children taken from New Jersey had the status of a “slave for a term,” meaning that they were eligible for eventual emancipation under the gradual abolition law, and moving to the Deep South through Van Wickle’s machinations deprived these children of the promise of freedom. The Middlesex County removal certificates also show that 2 free Black people were taken to Louisiana to labor in bondage. These special cases can be identified in our Removal Records Index by clicking the relevant checkbox in the Group by keyword section at the top of the page.

New Jersey State Archives

The New Jersey State Archives recently created the Van Wickle Slave Ring Digital Collection. This collection includes legal case documents (such as indictments, arrest warrants, and depositions) related to Charles Morgan, Nicholas Van Wickle, and other associates (Judge Van Wickle himself managed to avoid an indictment). It also includes the petitions of outraged Middlesex County residents to the state legislature advocating for more stringent protections against slave trafficking.

Video lectures about these documents and other State Archives research tools were recorded for the 2023 Juneteenth celebration.

Lost Souls Public Memorial Project

Founded in 2017, the Lost Souls Memorial Project in East Brunswick is a grassroots, community-based effort to remember 137 African Americans whose freedom was stolen by Judge Jacob Van Wickle's slave trading ring in 1818. The project provides a timeline of events, a list of 137 victims (including some whose names were not recorded in Middlesex County removal certificates) and educational resources for teachers.

Visit the Lost Souls Memorial Project website to learn more about this story and the efforts to memorialize the victims of the interstate slave trade in New Jersey.

Slave Auction illustration

Further readings

Drake, Jarrett. “Off the Record: The Production of Evidence in 19th Century New Jersey.” New Jersey Studies: An Interdisciplinary Journal 1, no. 1 (2015): 104–25. https://doi.org/10.14713/njs.v1i1.16.

Gigantino, James J., II. “Trading in Jersey Souls: New Jersey and the Interstate Slave Trade.” Pennsylvania History: A Journal of Mid-Atlantic Studies 77, no. 3 (2010): 281–302. https://doi.org/10.5325/pennhistory.77.3.0281.

Lost Souls Memorial Project website: https://lostsoulsmemorialnj.org/

Pingeon, Frances D. “An Abominable Business: The New Jersey Slave Trade, 1818.” New Jersey History 109, no. 3 (1991): 15–35.