In this Quaker-settled area, we should know that Quakers were among the first groups to condemn slavery.
“It is in Quaker records that we have some of the earliest manifestations of anti-slavery sentiment, dating from the 1600s. After the 1750s, Quakers actively engaged in attempting to sway public opinion in Britain and America against the slave trade and slavery in general,” according to a summary based on records at Haverford College.
Susan Kozel has been studying Quaker reaction to slavery for a long time. In a presentation at Mercer County Community College, West Windsor, N.J., in 2010, she spoke of Richard Waln, a Quaker “master merchant” who operated a farm plantation in Upper Freehold, N.J., and made a considerable fortune selling sundries, farm goods and Caribbean-made products to local slave owners. |
Waln, because he was a Quaker, could not support the American Revolution. After being arrested he spent time as a loyalist in New York but returned to New Jersey in 1778, was arrested a second time and received the governor’s permission to stay.
After the war, Kozel said, Waln became an active advocate for the abolition of slavery, “spending much of his time developing legal strategies to free blacks who were being denied their freedom or being sold back into slavery.
“Waln built support for his local Monmouth County investigations that resulted in New Jersey Supreme Court cases that freed African Americans wrongly held as slaves,” Kozel said.
This summer, Kozel retired after 13 years as an adjunct history professor after more than 13 years.
While teaching at MCCC and other institutions, Kozel has become known for her research on New Jersey Quakers, abolition, enslavement, and Thomas Jefferson.
Most recently her work “Why Wench Betty’s Story Matters – the Murder of a New Jersey Slave in 1784” was featured in the Summer 2020 edition of “New Jersey Studies (NJS): An Interdisciplinary Journal,” an electronic academic journal published by Rutgers, Monmouth University and the New Jersey Historical Commission.
Wench Betty’s story was the culmination of many years of research of Monmouth County, N.J., tax records, titles of court cases and other historical documents. Over the years Kozel has shared Betty’s story in many presentations.
The New Jersey Studies Journal noticed the presentations and invited Kozel to write about one of her stories. “I dedicated the published talk to George Floyd and Betty because their lives mattered,” Kozel said.
She came upon the murder of the New Jersey slave about a dozen years ago when she was researching slavery and abolition in Monmouth County. She began thinking about writing on slavery about 25 years ago and that has been a major focus ever since.
Kozel’s looked first at Richard Waln – a Monmouth County park had been named for him. “There was not a lot about his abolitionist activities and I wondered why,” said Kozel, “… and that is how I came to research Wench Betty’s murder. Just by accident I stumbled upon names and stories through archives and tax records.”
Today, Kozel’s research on Wench Betty and slavery in New Jersey is still, if not more, relevant. And she will continue studying about slavery.
Kozel expects to continue her research in the state of Virginia at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS) where she has been awarded a fellowship.
She will be less than a half-mile from Monticello, the former plantation of President Thomas Jefferson. She will research Jefferson and his relation to the Quakers.
Waln’s story, her original inspiration, is significant because, Kozel says, “He reminds us that one person can make an extraordinary difference in the lives of others. His work and leadership in the early republic illustrates the tenacity with which an ordinary person can fight for justice and the freedom of others. His contributions played an important part in American and New Jersey abolitionist history and later struggles over freedom and slavery.”
Among the sources Kozel used in her research were the Library of Congress, the New Jersey State Archives, Haverford College’s Quaker Special Collections, and the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, and the Monmouth County Parks archives.
“I never thought I would speak in Paris and I never thought I’d speak in England, so this is the sort of thing where I am just going where the research is taking me,” Kozel said.
She plans to write a book about Wench Betty in the future.
Kozel’s most notable works in addition to “Why Wench Betty’s Story Matters – the Murder of a New Jersey Slave in 1784” includes a book, co-edited by Maurice Jackson (Georgetown University) titled “Quakers and Their Allies in the Abolitionist Cause, 1754-1808, (Routledge Press) Taylor and Francis, 2015; and a book chapter titled “Thomas Jefferson and His Complicated Friends.”