Timbuctoo is one of a handful of remaining African American settlements that were founded in New Jersey during the first half of the nineteenth century. Settlement in what would later be known as Timbuctoo began in 1826, when four African American men, all believed to be escaped slaves from Maryland, purchased parcels of land from a Quaker businessman. The name Timbuctoo first appeared on a deed in 1830, when just a handful of households had been established. At its peak in the nineteenth century, Timbuctoo had more than 125 residents, a school, as well as Zion Wesleyan Methodist Episcopal African Church and cemetery. A geophysical survey conducted in 2009 identified about 70 gravesites in the cemetery, even though there are only 11 gravestones remaining. Eight of the 11 remaining gravestones are US Colored Troops that fought in the Civil War. The remaining three stones are relatives of David Parker, an original settler, and arguably the most prominent community leader and landowner in Timbuctoo for several decades. The absence of stones on the majority of the graves in the cemetery has been attributed to the fact that stone grave markers were a luxury that only people of means and recipients of Veterans benefits could afford.
Located along the north bank of the North Branch of Rancocas Creek, 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. The brickyards were owned by local Quakers who supported Timbuctoo’s development by selling land, providing employment, and in some cases, providing mortgages.
During the initial settlement period, Timbuctoo was bound by the Rancocas Creek, and what is now known as Rancocas Road, and Church Street. Blue Jay Hill Road was added at some future point. Timbuctoo has been continuously occupied since its founding, and some current residents and landowners are descendants of early settlers.
In 2009, archeologists from Temple University began a series of archeological excavations, focusing on a compact three-acre area within Timbuctoo that was settled beginning in the 1830s. This area has become a remarkably well preserved archeological site. Artifacts of the settlers’ china, pottery and other materials 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.
As a result of this archeological work and subsequent historical research, Timbuctoo was designated with a Certificate of Eligibility (COE) for listing on the New Jersey Register of Historic Places in 2011. The Timbuctoo Advisory Committee, appointed by the Westampton Township governing body, advises the Township on historic preservation issues related to Timbuctoo, and plans educational events for the community at large. The signature event is an annual Timbuctoo Day held in late September. See the Timbuctoo Advisory Committee page and calendar for information.
More information about Timbuctoo, including historic documents, nineteenth century newspaper articles, as well as current newspaper reports and other educational resources, can be found at www.timbuctoonj.com.