Hillside Memorial Committee
A Historic Purchase In 1801
This website is created and maintained by Basil Scaperdas, Member, NAACP
In 1775, 11% of New Jersey’s population was slaves.  In general, African-Americans' burials were not permitted in the burying grounds or cemeteries of churches.  Slaves were often buried away from family burying grounds in unmarked graves.  In 1801, Bedminster landowner and slave owner, Aaron Melick, sold a 66' x 66' plot of land to three black men (one freed black man and two slaves) for the purpose of burying their dead with a bit more dignity.  The land cost the three men exactly $3.00.  This may be the first documented purchase of property by black men in New Jersey!

The site was selected because it had a clearing on main road (Hillside Ave.) and was surrounded by an old growth Oak Forest.  This location suggests that the “Black Men of the Neighborhood” who bought the land were held in high esteem.  The burying ground's property was originally part of the Melick homestead that had been in the same Bedminster family for 142 years.

Of the three black men who purchased the property the two slaves were "Rick," who belonged to Aaron Melick, and "Zaff," who belonged to Aaron Van Dorn.  The one purchaser who was freed black man was Robert Aaron.  While not much is known yet about "Rick" or "Zaff," historian, Nancy Piwowar, recently discovered Robert Aaron's will. 

It turns out that Robert Aaron died a short time after the purchase of the African Slave Burying Ground.  His will was proved March 2, 1802, in Somerset County.  The records did not include a date of death.  However, there was an inventory what he left behind which totaled $115.84 in (1802) value.  The first item on the inventory list was one cow, valued at $12.00.  Next there were 7 hives of bees valued at $20.00.  Other items listed included kitchen utensils, farm utensils and furniture.  The working bee hives and other "bee hive items" totaled 19% of Robert Aaron's inventory at the time of his death.  Not much is known about NJ's early 18th century bee industry, but this is evidence that Robert Aaron is the earliest documented beekeeper in New Jersey!

The people named in Robert Aaron's will were:

Robert Aaron also named Bedminster's Dutch Reform Church in his will.  It turns out that this was the same church that kept records about who was buried in the African Slave Burying Ground (click here to read about Dutch Reform Church records).