Watch CBS News

Timbuctoo's story: decades before Juneteenth, free Black Americans thrived in this village in South Jersey

Timbuctoo: 60 years before Juneteenth, free Black Americans thrived in this South Jersey town
Timbuctoo: 60 years before Juneteenth, free Black Americans thrived in this South Jersey town 04:02

WESTAMPTON, N.J. (CBS) -- Next week the nation will celebrate Juneteenth, the national holiday marking June 19, 1865 when Union troops arrived in Texas to carry out the Emancipation Proclamation, finally freeing hundreds of thousands of enslaved people more than two years after the proclamation was made.

But for decades before that historic day, a population of Black Americans lived freely in a small village nestled along the Rancocas Creek in the heart of South Jersey.

This is Timbuctoo. Fewer than 60 people live here and its size is only 52 acres.

"Until about 15 years ago, this was just the Black section of town. People didn't realize it was historic," Guy Weston said.

Guy Weston (right) shows Wakisha Bailey his family's historical records of Timbuctoo, a village home that was home several free Black Americans in New Jersey well before Juneteenth and the end of the Civil War. CBS News Philadelphia

Guy Weston is the seventh-generation owner of his family's Timbuctoo land. He showed us the deed from his great-great-grandfather.

His mother, Mary Giles Weston, shared other precious family documents dating back almost 200 years.

"People say, 'if you want to know your history before 1870 and you're Black, forget it.' That is absolutely false," Guy Weston said.

Guy Weston (left) and his mother Mary Giles Weston walk on the land that was once the village of Timbuctoo in South Jersey. CBS News Philadelphia

Enslaved Black people at Timbuctoo were free 60 years before Juneteenth.

"The first emancipation, which was 1780 to 1804, long before Juneteenth, which was 1865," Guy Weston said.  

Seeking a connection to his ancestors, he began doing research on his family's past, and learned his family members were some of the first residents to settle here. The Quakers sold the original parcels of land to the Parker family in 1826.

The patriarch, David Parker, was considered the mayor.

The Parker family's graves are less than a block away from Weston's family home.

Today this cemetery and the Wesley African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, founded in 1845, are the only above-ground evidence of this historic community.

Most of the remaining gravestones are of colored soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War.

Gravestones of Black soldiers who fought for the Union in the Civil War can be seen at Timbuctoo in New Jersey. CBS News Philadelphia

In 2008 archaeologist Chris Barton says his advisors met with the Westampton mayor to keep Timbuctoo's rich history alive.

"It's the American story," Barton said. "It's about struggle, it's about perseverance, but it's also about hope," Barton said.

Work then began to excavate parts of the site for evidence of the town that came before, including the home of a veteran who served in the U.S. Colored Troops.

During excavation, they discovered more than 14,000 artifacts.

Left: historical artifacts on display at Timbuctoo in New Jersey. Right: an archaeological dig at the Timbuctoo site. CBS News Philadelphia/Chris Barton

In 2019, Weston created the Timbuctoo Historical Society. Barton helped secure funding and they obtained ownership of the cemetery.

The historical discoveries were a revelation for other families in the area.

Joyce Couch's family moved here in the early 1900s and she grew up here.

"It's a cemetery that we used to play hide-and-go-seek," Couch said. "I never knew they were soldiers from the Civil War."

Lou Rogers also was raised here and says "Bucktoe" was the nickname given to the area where poor Black people lived.

Now the land is hailed as one of New Jersey's historic sites.

Weston says he will continue learning the history of Timbuctoo. More information is available on the historical society's website,

View CBS News In
CBS News App Open
Chrome Safari Continue
Be the first to know
Get browser notifications for breaking news, live events, and exclusive reporting.