The Hopewell Township Committee continued its Black History Month recognitions by discussing the life 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.
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, shared the story during the Feb. 16 committee meeting, according to information provided by the township.
Francis 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 soldiers, according to the statement. 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, according to the statement. 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.
Francis 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, according to the statement.
Kidder presented the story of Francis and his family as an example of how New Jersey Black citizens persisted against the obstacles created by White society at the time, according to the statement. 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 five 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, according to the statement. Nana, as she is known to all, has 10 children, 24 grandchildren, 45 great grandchildren and seven great-great grandchildren. Many still live in the area.