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LHT Historic Site – Slavery in Maidenhead

Slavery in Maidenhead

The Story

Along the LHT, tucked into nearby neighborhoods, are many older farmhouses, reminders of a once thriving agricultural economy. Beginning in the late 17th century, some of the more prosperous farming households in Maidenhead, as Lawrence Township was then known, included enslaved persons laboring in unpaid bondage in the home and in the fields. By the 1780s, the population of enslaved persons in Maidenhead is estimated to have been between 75 and 100 men, women and children.
Slavery in Maidenhead Meadows Map image
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Freedom came slowly in New Jersey. It was not until 1866 that slavery was legally ended. Along the way, countless paths to freedom were trodden by New Jersey’s enslaved, some more tortuous than others. The farm that used to be right here highlights two very different paths.

Above: Connecting Prime and the Berryens, and Absalom Bainbridge and Daniel Agnew, is the 1760s-vintage farmhouse that still stands at 11 Buckingham Drive. The former Bainbridge/Agnew house, where Prime and the Berryens once toiled, is a private residence. Please enjoy viewing the exterior and respect the owners’ privacy.

During the Revolutionary War in central New Jersey, Prime, a mulatto slave, about 22 years
old, was the property of Absalom Bainbridge, a local doctor and prominent Loyalist.
Bainbridge lived and practiced medicine on Nassau Street in Princeton, but also farmed
the land where this sign now stands.

An Act of the New Jersey Legislature freeing Prime, 1786 (New Jersey State Archives).

When his Loyalist master fled to the safety of British-held New York, Prime followed him, but he soon ran away to seek shelter among the Patriots in Princeton. He was told that military service would secure his freedom, so Prime joined the Continental Army as a wagoner.

But freedom did not come easily. After the war Prime was enslaved again by men claiming they had bought him from Mary Bainbridge, Absalom’s wife. Fortunately, New Jersey’s courts ruled that the Bainbridges had forfeited their ownership of Prime when they fled to New York, and that Prime had been state-owned property ever since. The only path to freedom was for the State Legislature to grant his manumission, which it did on November 21, 1786 as thanks for his military service.

An allegorical figure representing Liberty stands in the center of the scene. In front of her and to the left, a Black man has broken free from his shackles. Next to him, a Black woman prays, and a mother holds her infant child. At the right, a white girl teaches a group of Black children to read the alphabet. An American flag flies in the background.

The Truth Shall Make You Free,” engraved frontispiece to The Liberty Bell. By the Friends of Freedom (Boston, 1839). Image Credit: Library Company of Philadelphia.

LHT Maidenhead History Project

The Truth

After the Bainbridges fled to New York, New Jersey’s Patriot government seized their farm, which eventually became the property of Daniel Agnew, a Princeton storekeeper. He owned two slaves, Francis and Betty Berryen, husband and wife (who probably knew Prime).

“Being convinced of the injustice of slavery,” Daniel Agnew set Francis and Betty Berryen free on April 22, 1788, in Trenton. Image credit: New Jersey State Archives.Image credit: New Jersey State Archives.

Little is known about the Berryens, which was not unusual for persons of color held in servitude. Before Agnew, they may have been enslaved by a family named Berryen (or Berrien) of Dutch background, taking on that surname. Much more is known of Daniel Agnew, who emigrated from Ireland to New Jersey in 1764, settling in Princeton. Keeping a store in Princeton and a farm in Maidenhead, he served as steward of the College of New Jersey (today’s Princeton University), supplying provisions to students and faculty.

Continuing the Story

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This project: Funded by the FHWA Recreational Trails Program, through the NJDEP.
This sign: Content development by Hunter Research, Inc. Graphic design by Douglas Scott.

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