History of Timbuctoo
Nestled in the heart of the Township of Westampton is a hidden gem, the community of Timbuctoo. Timbuctoo was settled in 1826 by former slaves and freed African Americans who sought to establish a community in which they could own land, build homes of their choosing and establish churches, schools and businesses.
Located along the north bank of the North Branch of Rancocas Creek in Burlington County, Timbuctoo was easily accessible from the Delaware River. This made Timbuctoo a strategic location for the Underground Railroad. Timbuctoo offered its settlers access to tidal waters and wetlands as well as woodlands and fields for farming. Additionally, there was opportunity for employment in two major brickyards located just north of the settlement.
Timbuctoo, also known as Buctoe, encompassed Church Street, Blue Jay Hill Road and the adjacent area on Rancocas Road. It was prosperous as a community and boasted one of the first public schools in the township, as well as the AME Zion Church. At its peak in the mid-1800s, this community had more than 125 residents. Some of these lots are still occupied today by descendants of early settlers.
Today, there are a handful of families in the town of Westampton and throughout the surrounding region that are true descendants of the early Timbuctoo settlers. A cemetery containing the graves of African American Civil War veterans is the only visible above ground remnant of Timbuctoo’s presence.
In 2009, archeologists from Temple University began a series of archeological excavations, focusing on a compact three-acre village within Timbuctoo that was settled beginning in the 1830s. The village site has become a remarkably well preserved archeological site. Artifacts of the settlers’ china and pottery were excavated and catalogued as part of the Timbuctoo Discovery Project, a joint effort between Westampton Township, Temple University and a coalition of community members and specialist in related fields of African American history and genealogy.
Westampton celebrates Timbuctoo Day each May. During this town wide celebration, guests are invited to explore the original Timbuctoo village site; a Civil War reenactment by the Sixth Regiment U.S. Colored Troops; walking tours of the 19th century village; visits to the church’s burial grounds with graves of Civil War soldiers; an archeological exhibit and music by local church groups.