Recitation of the Names of the Lost Souls

Rev. Karen G. Johnston
4 min readMay 26, 2018


May 25, 2018

It is the start of Memorial Day weekend and we come here tonight to Recite the Names of the Lost Souls.

We gather today to memorialize souls lost to the diabolical ways of a corrupt Middlesex County judge who lived here, on this piece of earth. Jacob Van Wickle abused his offices and consigned nearly one hundred African Americans into permanent slavery, sending them into the Deep South in three known boatloads.

The first boat sailed on March 10, 1818.

The second on May 25 — two hundred years ago to the day.

I say three known boatloads and I say 91 known names (six of which were found out only in the past 24 hours thanks to the research of Richard Walling), for there is the very real possibility of more — of ships with fraudulent manifests and humans who lost their freedom but their names were not recorded.

Deep are the roots of white supremacy when watered with a lust for profit embodied by a man with power.

We have come to know a history of human trafficking and the enslavement of African Americans in this place. We cannot unknow it.

For a century and a half, this history was forgotten. I’m gonna say it was whitewashed. Lost was the infamy associated with the Van Wickle name. It is true that a public outcry put an end to his trafficking of Black people — some of them already free, some of them set to earn their freedom according to the contemporary New Jersey laws. But he was not indicted. He was not punished. The tarnish his name deserves was polished away.

George Santayana, philosopher, is noted as saying that those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Another truism in this vein, often attributed to Mark Twain, is, “History does not repeat itself, but often it rhymes.”

I don’t know about rhymes.

I do know about echoes.

For instance, the recently media-amplified spate of white people calling the police when they perceive Black people as out of place. This is a loud echo of loitering laws enacted in the post-Reconstruction-era and as part of Jim Crow laws in this country.

We see people — our friends, our neighbors — being rounded up and locked away in for-profit detention centers, shipped away from their homes. This, too, is a horrific echo.

If we are to be liberated from the shadows of our own histories, we must face them, not erase them.

We recite the names of these people who were once members of this community. When we do, when we say their names, we re-member these souls lost to us and lost to our community. It is ours to re-member them — with this recitation and by building a public memorial.

It is ours to re-member them. Let us begin.

First group sent south on March 10, 1818

Peter 15

Simon no age listed, free man

Margaret Coven, no age, free woman

Sarah 21

(her daughter) Dianna 7 months

Rachel 22

(her daughter) Regina 6 weeks

Hager 29

(her daughter) Roda 14

(her daughter) Mary 2

(her son) Augustus 4

Florah 23

(her daughter) Susan 7 months

Harry 14

James 21

Elmirah 14

George 16

Susan Watt 35

Moses 16

Lydia 18

Betty 22

Patty 22

Bass 19

Christeen 27

(her daughter) Diannah 9

(her daughter) Dorcas 1

Claresse 22

(her son) Hercules 2

Lidia 22

(her daughter) Harriett Jane 3





(her son) Rosino


Charles (child)

Elias (child)

Robert (child)

Claus, previously unnamed person on March boat

Second Group, departed May 25, 1818

Leta 21

Dorcus 16

Sam Johnson 32

Margaret 21

Jane 25

(her son) John 4

Mary Davis 23

Phyllis 25

(her son) Charles 1

Jack 16

Harvey 22

Elizer (female) 19

Frank 21

Hester 18

Peter 21

Susan Silvey 30

(her son) Jacob 18 months

Betsey 22

Jonas 16 free person

Sam 16

William 22

Henry 21

Amey 22

Juda (female) 26

(her son) Samuel 2

James 22

Sam 32

George Byran 18

Hannah 16

Nancy 22

(and a child listed as “Son” and now known to be) James 2 days

Peter 17 free person

Hannah 14

Jack Danielly 21

The following names of individuals are newly known to us

Jude, no certificate was ever taken for him.

Caroline, 18

Ann, 18

Jeanette, 12


Third Group departed in mid-October, 1818

George 35

Cain 22

Frank 21

Lewis 22

Elijah 31

Mary 27

Law 21

Phebe 21 free person

Susan 23

Charles 43

Pettes 14

Jane 23

We hold now a minute of silence for those lost souls whose names we have lost but whom we recognize has having lived, even if we do not know what their mothers/mamas called them.

[shared silence]

Let us speak a unison memorial blessing.

It is ours to re-member them.

Now that we know,

we cannot unknow.

Let these names stay on our tongues and in our hearts.

It is now ours to build a memorial

that they be not forgot.

Rest in peace.

Rest in power.

Ase, àse, àse. (pronounced “a/shay”)



Rev. Karen G. Johnston

Unitarian Universalist Minister. Bi. Adoptive mother. Buddhist.