top of page
New York Times
May 1879

FLEMINGTON, N.J., May 23 - Now that the recent decision of Judge Hughes, of Virginia, in regard to the constitutionality of the marriage of a colored man to a white woman in that State, is attracting so much attention, a short account of a region up here in these Middle States, and in this Democratic New-Jersey, and in one of its strongest Democratic counties, where the two colors marry and intermingle, may not be uninteresting. There lies between the Counties of Mercer and Hunterdon a long range of hills, extending from near Lambertville in one direction down into the edge of of Somerset county in the other. There is a dispute as to the spelling of its name. Some call it the Somerland Mountain, because a man by the name of Somer was the first settler. Others call it the Sourland Mountain, from the peculiar quality of the soil. The former seems more authentic. It is inhabited, at either end, by a number of honest, frugal, industrious farmers.


The central region is composed of dense woods and thick underbrush, and contains a small settlement whose inhabitants, from the commingling of the white and black blood, may be properly styled a mongrel class of people. Just when this unnatural method of life began is hard to ascertain, but the facts seem to indicate that a number of years back many of the colored women from the mountains went over to Princeton to take in washing and to act as servants in various parts of the town. There the promiscuous association seems to have commenced, and as from time to time these women returned to the centre of the Sourland a population of intermingled color sprang up. As the years went by, and the children became the men and women of the next generation, some married into the white race, and some into the colored. There were instances, and it is said a few still remain, where a colored boy would be employed by a white farmer living in the vicinity and when he attained manhood would marry into his employer’s family.


Devoid as they were of educational and religious privileges, their life soon became a wild, reckless one. The accounts of the crimes perpetuated by these mountaineers would fill several columns, as they already occupy many pages of the court records here. Murders are not infrequent, and many of the assassins and instigators have never been discovered. It was only last December that THE TIMES gave daily reports of the trial of Benjamin Peterson, for the murder of Peter Nixon on this very mountain. Whatever these people may have lacked of books and civilization, they had plenty of liquor, and this was the cause of a number of their illegal acts. Scattered all over this portion of the mountain, from the little groggery near Wertsville, on this side, to Aunt Polly Snooks’s on the Princeton side, were erected small dens where liquor was sold. The people had a custom of organizing what they styled “Picnics,” but which were in reality nothing less than a species of horrible orgies. At these times the most lawless and immoral deeds were done, so that soon the whole adjacent country became afraid of the residents of that district.

A large portion of this thoroughly bad life is now done away with. The mountain has been made more and more accessible of late years, and as the people of the woods have met and traded with those outside, they have acquired several of those phases of civilized existence. Some of the changes for the better are due to the earnest efforts of several prominent men, regardless of sect, who obtained subscriptions and employed an able and energetic man to act as a missionary among these people. A chapel was built, and this man is now teaching them and preaching to them. The Methodists at Rock Mill also for a number of years have carried on active work in the same direction. Some very curious sights greet one in a tour among these people. Here, back from the road several hundred feet, enveloped in a complete mass of trees, will be one of these huts; a man as black as the blackness will greet you at the door, while his wife, probably white, will stand at his elbow. About the door and in the cleared patch in front of the house, are a group of children, shading from the very black to the white. All seem happy and contented. Generally they are talkative; will tell you of their rough life and of the crimes committed, or purported to have been committed, in the neighborhood. The intermarriages among many of them seem the only reprehensible feature. They are mostly honest. While in years gone by the farmers below missed chickens and fruit, and sometimes horses, nowadays few such depredations are heard of. Now and then a barn is burned, and the authors of the mischief are traced to the centre of the mountain, but the fastening in jail seems to cure the malady.


Two things still continue, the intermarrying and the rum-huts. A few of these latter nuisances have been closed, but a large proportion still remain. The marrying seems bound to continue until a new sentiment springs up among the population, or the law steps in. There is no statute in this State against such a union, as there is in Virginia. So many are bound by filial ties to the old ways, and are so perfectly contented as they are, that the innovation would be uncomfortable, if not distressing. A large portion of the voters among this people have not very largely availed themselves of the opportunity. An attempt was made some time back by a ring of Democratic politicians to control the vote. The effort was partially successful, and might have assumed more gigantic proportions had not the softening and elevating influences now at work prevented this. In time, undoubtedly they will exercise their right of suffrage with more discretion, and be less subject to bribery.


The New York Times

Published May, 27, 1879

Copyright © The New York Times

Click on PDF icon at left to view the original New York Times article.

bottom of page