Mt. Laurel – Evesham Underground Railroad Contribution
In 1783, the young itinerant preacher, Richard Allen, visited this region of West Jersey, now known as Mt. Laurel and Evesham. This was Allen’s first preaching mission into New Jersey for the Methodist church. Converts from the area formed the nucleus of what was to become, the African Society of Methodist Churches (formed in 1790). Most of these believers later united with Rev. Richard Allen to become part of the African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) denomination after its formation in 1816. Joseph Morgan’s History of the New Jersey Conference of the A.M.E. Church, 1872-1877, credits James Still and Robert Evans, with the organization of the church in 1831.
When the train to freedom pulled into Burlington County, New Jersey, it stopped at a small village called Colemantown. Colemantown was about one mile south of Mt. Laurel, and it housed the oldest black church in Burlington County, Colemantown Meeting House. This sanctuary, which was erected on Elbo Lane, was named after John Coleman, an early church leader. The present sanctuary, Jacob’s Chapel A.M.E. Church, located right next to Colemantown Meeting House was named in honor of Albert Jacobs, who donated the land site. This building was also a stop on the Underground Railroad (UGRR).
Both buildings served as an integral part of the Underground Railroad. In 1822 Daniel Payne’s History of the A.M.E. Church mentioned Evesham (Mt. Laurel) as a station on the Salem Circuit. This publication indicated that Colemantown Meeting House functioned, in some form, as a fellowship for its community and slaves passing through. In 1833 the Burlington Circuit was created.
John Coleman was identified as a black Underground Railroad Operator (URRO) from Burlington County. Coleman would minister to fugitives on their way to Canada. From Mt. Laurel the conductor would transport the fugitives to Burlington City.
Jacob's Chapel A.M.E. Church
John Coleman -- Colemantown – Underground Railroad Contribution
John Coleman, an early Negro pioneer in Burlington County, settled in an isolated rural area, about one mile south of Mt. Laurel. He became a respected leader who citizens honored by naming their community Colemantown. His love for God and church was reflected in his dedication to the community. In 1813, he helped build a small, one-room, wooden dwelling made from hand sawed lumber put together with iron and wooden pegs, that became Colemantown Meeting House.
Coleman loved liberty so much that he decided to help his fellow brethren gain their freedom. Historian, Wilbur H. Seibert, identified John Coleman as a Negro, Underground Railroad Operator from Burlington County, New Jersey. Coleman labored tirelessly by providing hiding places for fugitives and strengthening the railroad’s network.
In 2013, the meetinghouse was listed on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places. Later, in November 2016, it was also added to the National Register of Historic Places with the U.S. Department of the Interior's National Park Service. And in May 2017, it was listed among the "2017 Ten Most Endangered Historic Sites in New Jersey" by Preservation New Jersey, a group that advocates for and promotes historic preservation to protect and enhance the vitality and heritage of New Jersey’s richly diverse communities.
***For more information, please visit www.colemantownfoundation.org.***