Our Organization A grassroots, community-based effort to remember those 137 African Americans kidnapped by a corrupt Middlesex County (New Jersey) judge in 1818 and sold into permanent slavery, the Lost Souls Public Memorial Project was founded in 2017.

History: How We Came To Be

In September 2017, Reverend Karen G. Johnston preached to her congregation, The Unitarian Society, about a horrific aspect of local East Brunswick history that she had learned about only a month prior from East Brunswick resident Maevonia Caldwell. In 1818, a local judge used his powers to deceive and steal what was then believed to be scores of African Americans into permanent slavery by sending them to the Deep South. Inspired and outraged by the history they learned, members of The Unitarian Society petitioned the Township Council to change the name of a street named after that corrupt judge: Van Wickle Road.

The Township Council never brought to a vote whether to change the name of that street or not. Yet, out of that process and in conversation with other community organizations, the idea for a memorial, first articulated by longtime East Brunswick resident, Dr. Peter Kahn, was born. Soon to follow, the Lost Souls Public Memorial Project came into being, a partnership among several dedicated individuals and three community organizations: the New Brunswick Area NAACP; the New Jersey chapter of the Afro-American Historical and Genealogical Society (AAHGS); and The Unitarian Society, which has acted as the Project’s fiscal sponsor.

In fact, this history had been documented on and off, in contemporary newspaper articles, in later academic journals and books, and in historical projects. Yet over and over, the history was forgotten. In February, 2016, the East Brunswick Public Library hosted a presentation about this slave ring that operated out of the judge’s residence in what is now East Brunswick.

During the bicentennial year of this horrific history, the Project held multiple public events to raise community awareness.

  • In February, 2018, we held an informative panel at The Unitarian Society.
  • In December, 2018, we held a Day of Remembrance at the East Brunswick Public Library that had standing room only attendance.
  • In-between those two events, on May 25th, we held the first of what would become an annual offering: Recitation of Names. It took place on the land that once held the Van Wickle residence that was used to hold captive some of the Lost Souls before they were placed on ships that sailed out of Perth Amboy.

 

Since the 2018 bicentennial, the Lost Souls Public Memorial Project has become the steward of this history and the mission to remember these souls lost to the ravages of the slave ring.

  • In February, 2020, the New York Times Magazine highlighted this history as part of the 1619 Project.
  • On December 22, 2020 the Lost Souls grassroots project was certified as a non-profit corporation and subsequently granted tax exemption status.
  • In May of 2021, the New Jersey State Legislature drafted a Resolution in support of our efforts.

We are partnering with the Township of East Brunswick, which has given the Project the site of the future Memorial: near the entrance to the Community Arts Center. It is marked with a temporary bronze sign. Each year we hold an annual Recitation of Names to memorialize The Lost Souls, we hope you will join us.

Our board is comprised of a group of dedicated individuals who give generously to the mission of the Lost Souls project. Our trustees represent diverse cultural backgrounds and professions; all contributing to the success of our programs as well as our operational and fiduciary responsibilities.

Members of the board are volunteers who do not take any compensation for their efforts.

  • Toni D. Hendrix
    President
  • Kristal C. Langford
    Vice President
  • Steven J. Allard
    Treasurer
  • R. Toni Armstead
    Secretary
  • Andrew Ankamah, Jr.
    Trustee
  • Eugene E. Armstead, Jr.
    Trustee
  • Carol A. Austin
    Trustee
  • Lauren Guastella
    Trustee
  • Peter Kahn
    Trustee
  • Elayne Risley
    Trustee
  • Rhonda Stewart
    Trustee
  • In Memoriam
    Maevonia D. Caldwell

Join Our Mailing List