LHT Historic Site – Lewisville Road
Ranged along this stretch of roadway is the small village of Lewisville, Lawrence Township’s earliest African American community, founded by former enslaved persons and their descendants from Lawrence and the surrounding townships. They began acquiring land and small farms along this stretch of road in the 1840s. Despite difficult social and economic conditions, these pioneering families set down roots and prospered. By the 1890s, the village consisted of about a dozen houses and the Mount Pisgah African Methodest Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, a vibrant center for African American culture.
Lewisville is named after Lewis W.R. Phillips, a former slaveholder who freed his slaves and joined the abolitionist movement in the 1820s. Phillips began selling small lots of land to Blacks in the 1840s along what became Lewisville Road.
D.J. Lake and S.N. Beers, Map of Vicinity of Philadelphia and Trenton, 1860.
This detail of a map published in 1860 is one of the earliest to call out the village of Lewisville and name Black property owners. Prominent names include Schenck, Van Horn and Wright.
A U.S. Census taker who passed through Lewisville in 1860 captured a snapshot of everyday life. Most male adults and adolescents worked as laborers, a catchall for seasonal work on nearby farms, while women were “in service,” meaning they worked as housekeepers for their more affluent white neighbors.
U.S. Census Bureau, Population Schedule, Lawrence Township, Mercer County, New Jersey, 1860.
One man, Ezekiel Schenck, stands out as a porter, a relatively high status occupation. Significantly, all of the families owned small plots of land, an important factor in community stability, and most homes were headed by couples under the age of 40 with growing families. The census paints a picture of a proud and solid community.
The 1890s were the height of the Jim Crow era, which is associated with the creation of new segregation laws and denial of equal rights to people of color. While New Jersey may not have been as restrictive as states in the South, strong attitudes about keeping the races physically separate are reflected in this map.
Scarlett & Scarlett’s Fire Map of Mercer County, 1890.
Note that Lewisville appears only as a row of houses labeled “Negroes,” an indication of a dominant racist mindset. During this era, some of the African Americans living in Lewisville worked as maids, waiters, and cooks serving the white children attending the nearby Lawrenceville School.
The Mount Pisgah A.M.E. Church was famous for its fundraisers, camp meetings and harvest home festival. Local newpapers, like the Trenton Evening Times, frequently advertised church events. They were highly anticipated occasions – religious revival, political meeting and carnival all rolled into one. The church used Oliphant’s Grove, an outdoor space off of Lewisville Road. In 1905, the newspaper reported that the church ladies cooked dinner for 3,000 people. The home cooking featured poultry and vegetables donated by local farmers.
Trenton Evening Times, 16 July 1906 (top), 1 April 1908 (center) and 5 April 1911 (bottom).
The Bosley Family
The Bosley family, shown here at a gathering, moved to Lewisville in 1913 when Amos and Charlotte Bosley purchased a house.
Bosley family photograph, circa 1912 (Lawrence Township Archives).
As the Bosley children grew up and married, the family branched out along the road, taking over many of the original Lewisville properties.