Sue Kozel of Upper Freehold Township, a professor of history, has retired from Mercer County Community College, West Windsor. Her last teaching semester was the spring of 2020 and her official retirement date was July 17.
According to a news item posted on the college’s website, while Kozel’s teaching focused largely on American history, she taught a variety of courses over her nearly 14-year tenure, including Western Civilization, New Jersey History, History of American Popular Culture and History of American Women.
In addition to teaching at the college and the university level at other institutions, Kozel is noted for her research on New Jersey Quakers, abolition, enslavement and Thomas Jefferson, according to the news item.
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.
Kozel explained that Wench Betty’s story was the culmination of many years of research of tax records, titles of court cases and other historical documents. Over the years she has shared Betty’s story by doing presentations about her findings.
Kozel explained that she came upon the murder of the New Jersey slave about 12 years ago while on a research grant about slavery and abolition in Monmouth County.
But it was when she moved from Middlesex County to Monmouth County about 25 years prior that she initially began thinking about slavery.
“I heard from local people that there was no slavery here. There was an underground railroad and it was a good thing,” Kozel said. “But, actually, when I started reading other scholars’ works and started digging for myself, I learned we had slaves in Upper Freehold and throughout New Jersey.”
Kozel’s initial focus was on an abolitionist Quaker named Richard Waln, for whom a Monmouth County park (Historic Walnford) in Upper Freehold Township had been named.
“There was not a lot about his abolitionist activities and I wondered why,” Kozel said, “… 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.”
Next summer, Kozel expects to continue her research in Virginia at the Robert H. Smith International Center for Jefferson Studies (ICJS). She will be less than a half-mile from Monticello, the former plantation of President Thomas Jefferson.
At the institute, Kozel will research Jefferson in relation to the Quakers, also known as the Society of Friends, according to the news item.
“I am just one of those free spirits who rides with the wind here. Scholarship and research has taken me to many places. I never thought I would speak in Paris and I never thought I would speak in England, so this is the sort of thing where I am just going where the research is taking me,” she said.
Kozel plans to write a book about Wench Betty in the future. She was recently named a New Jersey Public Scholar by the New Jersey Council for Humanities, an organization that provides opportunities to make history relevant and encourages diverse audiences to reflect on the shared human experience, according to the news item.
Kozel’s other work 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.”