The Hopewell Township Committee met Tuesday night and continued their Black History Month recognitions. The meeting began with a presentation by Larry Kidder, the former president of the Hopewell Valley Historical Society, a 30+ year volunteer at the Howell Living History Farm, and a much sought after speaker on local history. He shared the story of Jacob Francis, a free black man born in Amwell in 1754. Francis had a long history in the area, first as an indentured servant, and then as a soldier in the Continental Army, which was unusual at the time. He served in the siege of Boston, the New York Campaign, crossed the Delaware with George Washington, and fought at the battle of Trenton. Francis was one of the few, and possibly the only, New Jersey born black soldier. After his enlistment he moved back to Amwell, serving in the militia for the rest of the war. He became a farmer, married an enslaved women, Mary, whom he freed, and then raised eight children. He and his family settled permanently in Flemington. Francis’s youngest child became an active abolitionist and fought for equal rights rather than colonization of free Black people to Africa.Jacob died in 1836, a well-respected citizen of Flemington. He and Mary, who died in 1844, are buried in the cemetery of the Flemington Baptist Church of which they were members.
Kidder presented the story of Jacob Francis and his family as an example of how New Jersey Black citizens persisted against the obstacles created by white society at the time. He succeeded, while also fighting for true equality for all people.
The Township Committee meeting continued with a tribute to lifelong Township Resident Evelyn Brooks, who turns 100 later this month. She is the matriarch of 5 generations of Hopewell Township residents, and is also part of the Oral Histories at the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum. Many members of her family attended the meeting and spoke about her impact in the area and the family. Nana, as she is known to all, has 10 children, 24 grandchildren, 45 great grandchildren and 7 great great grandchildren. Many still live in the area.
Mayor Julie Blake and the Committee expressed their appreciation to Larry Kidder for his presentation and wished Nana (Evelyn Brooks) a very Happy Birthday.
Evelyn "Nana" Brooks portrait by Benoit Cortet