Elizabeth Fenwick Adams – Did she or didn’t she? A family history mystery.

Elizabeth Fenwick Adams – Did she or didn’t she? A family history mystery.

Historic Places in South Jersey

J. Wright

Twice this past week on gloriously sunny days that smelled of spring, friends and I headed down the highway on the trail of the mystery of Elizabeth Fenwick Adams and her alleged connection with the family that founded Gouldtown, a unique and remarkable tri-racial community in South Jersey.

Elizabeth Fenwick Adams and Gouldtown were not my only reasons for heading as far south as Greenwich, however. This year is the sesqui-centennial of the Civil War and I was also still on the hunt for the Underground Railroad and South Jersey’s fascinating AfroAmerican history including the Ambury Hill Cemetery.

The first of the two days, a friend and I researched Othello and Springtown. Once we’d arrived at Greenwich, the only town in New Jersey that I could actually imagine myself moving to, we stopped in at the Cumberland County Historical Society Library. The people there are kind, generous and friendly. Armed with their directions, maps, and knowledge, we drove to the “head of Greenwich” on Ye Greate Street, and up on a lonesome bluff, we found Ambury Hill, home of some veterans of the Civil War and the “Colored” Regiment from Cumberland County…

…Well, for Elizabeth’s story, we have to go back much further, to the arrival of the Fenwick family on the ship Griffin. This story stirs up a lot of debate over oral history and documentary history. The document that exists and gives the oral history some credibility is the will of John Fenwick, the original proprietor of the area. Written just before his death, in 1683. Variations on the quotation of the paragraph in the will exist in different web sites and books, but the gist of it as written in Rizzo’s book is:

“Item: I do except against Elizabeth Adams of having any ye least part of my estate, unless the Lord open her eyes to see her abominable transgression against him, me and her good father, by giving her true repentance, and forsaking yt Black yt hath been ye ruin of her, and becoming penitent for her sins; upon yt condition only I do will and require my executors to settle five hundred acres of land upon her”

Genealogical accounts have Elizabeth Fenwick Adams marrying an other colonist, Anthony Windsor, several days after grandfather’s will. Oral tradition of the Gouldtown residents has it that she and the original Gould had five children. No information remains on what happened to the three daughters, and one son died, which left Benjamin Gould, who married a Finnish woman and founded Gouldtown. It is said that their graves, Benjamin and his Finnish wife, are in the cemetery at Gouldtown. Information on the succeeding generations plus a really fine large group photo of the Goulds is available on-line in The Southern Workman, Vol 37, by the Hampton Institute via a google search…

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