In the span of five generations, the Macculloch/Miller/Post family members went from being slave owners to donating land for one of Morristown’s first Black churches, to speaking out on the national stage against the expansion of slavery, to commanding Civil War African American soldiers, and to raising money to support an African American industrial school in Georgia—all while the family lived at Macculloch Hall.
The Macculloch/Miller/Post family left a rich documentary history. It allows us to trace one prominent Morristown family’s changing attitudes, generation to generation, toward the enslavement of African Americans. Because the family participated in civic life at both the local and national levels, their letters, speeches, and documented acts of philanthropy enable us to also see how the acceptance of slavery changed in the eyes of society over the course of the nineteenth century.
As this family’s story continues to come into focus, so too do the lives of Cato, Susan, Elizabeth, Emma, William, Henry and Helen, the men and women enslaved and the children born into slavery at Macculloch Hall in Morristown, New Jersey.
Slavery existed in New Jersey for over 200 years. In fact, it was the last Northern state to abolish slavery. In 1804, the legislature enacted a law establishing a path for gradual emancipation. In 1846, a law was passed to "abolish" slavery, but qualified it by redefining former slaves as "apprentices for life." Slavery did not truly end in the state until the passage of the 13th Amendment in 1865.
1810 through the 1830s: George and Louisa Macculloch
George and Louisa Macculloch moved into Macculloch Hall in 1810. George Perrot Macculloch (1775–1858) owned enslaved people, which was not uncommon for a New Jersey landowner at the time. In 1810, records show that 10,860 people were enslaved in New Jersey, 856 of them in Morris County, where George and Louisa moved that very year.* The Macculllochs held three enslaved adults: Cato, Susan, and Elizabeth. From 1809 to 1817, four children were born into slavery at Macculloch Hall. Their names were recorded in the family Bible: Emma, William, Henry, and Helen. Neither family nor official manumission records for Morris County exist to tell us when or how the people enslaved at Macculloch Hall were freed, or what happened to them when they were.
In a letter from George to his son Francis, dated December 25, 1832, George notes that Henry, one of the four children born into slavery at Macculloch Hall, is no longer in the house. “Our own boy Henry, after receiving our ample provision of winter clothes, a set of new shirts, hat and coat, went off 3 weeks ago and is supposed to be now in New York. Peace and prosperity be with him – we are well rid of him, and did not move a single step to recover him.” George’s use of the word “recover” indicates that regardless of Henry’s manumission status in 1832, George continued to think of Henry as property. "Runaway ads," public advertisements slave owners had published in order to find enslaved people who had fled, used the word recover.
*Wright, Giles, "Afro-Americans in New Jersey: A Short History," Trenton, NJ: New Jersey Historical Commission: 1988: https://nj.gov/state/historical/assets/pdf/topical/afro-americans-in-nj-short-history.pdf
1840 through the 1850s: Mary Louisa Macculloch and Jacob Miller
Mary Louisa Macculloch Miller (1804-1888), George and Louisa’s daughter, spent her entire life at Macculloch Hall. She and her husband Senator Jacob Miller raised their 9 children there. The fact that her family had owned enslaved people and that Mary Louisa grew up in a house with enslaved servants, did not preclude her from supporting the African Methodist Episcopal Church, one of the first independent Black churches in Morristown.
Incorporated in 1843, the African Methodist Episcopal Church purchased land on Spring Street in Morristown where it built a small church. The building was dedicated in 1849 and a pastor was chosen. The congregation was in need of a new building on the site to serve as a parsonage. Mary Louisa donated a building on the Macculloch property for this purpose. It was hauled to Spring Street by numerous teams of oxen. The church is still located on Spring Street and is now known as the Bethel A.M.E. Church of Morristown.
Jacob W. Miller (1800-1862), a lawyer from Long Valley, N.J., married Mary Louisa Macculloch in 1825. In 1838 he was sent to the New Jersey Legislature and was elected to the U.S Senate in 1840 where he served two terms as a member of the Whig party. After his defeat in 1852, he joined the newly formed Republican party. Although never a full-fledged abolitionist, he remained a staunch supporter of the Union and was opposed to the extension of slavery into the territories, views he shared in common with Abraham Lincoln in the 1850s. His feelings on these burning issues of the day were expressed in speeches he delivered on the annexation of Texas, the Mexican War, the Wilmont Proviso, and the Compromise of 1850.
On May 23, 1844, Miller delivered a speech in the Senate opposing the annexation of Texas because it would give an advantage to the slave states. He also saw a danger in the Mexican War arguing that President Polk’s…”conquered peace in Mexico will become the fierce spirit of discord at home.” Following the end of the war in 1846 he supported the Wilmont Proviso that would have prohibited slavery in the territory acquired from Mexico. This proposal never passed into law.
In the debate on the Compromise of 1850, New Jersey’s Whig Senators, Jacob Miller and William Dayton both took a strong anti-slavery stance. The Compromise would allow territories to decide for themselves whether slavery would be permitted. Miller believed that Congress had the Constitutional power to prohibit slavery in the territories. However, the Compromise passed into law, and both Senators lost reelection in 1852. This marked the beginning of the demise of the Whig Party.
After Miller retired from the Senate and returned to Macculloch Hall, he attached himself to the Republican Party. All his political life he had acted in opposition to the Democrats and deplored the extension of slavery. He saw the Republican Party as the instrument to preserve the Union. In an oration given in Morristown on July 4, 1851, he spoke of secession as rebellion. “Let us not be moved by the cry of fanatics, nor alarmed at the threat of secessionists…In undisturbed majesty stands the American People in support of the Union.”
The 1860s: Lindley Hoffman Miller
Lindley Hoffman Miller (1834-1864) was the son of Jacob W. and Mary Miller. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he was a practicing lawyer in New York City. His Civil War career, it could be said, started back in 1850 when his grandfather, George Macculloch, sent his grandson, then only a young college student at Burlington College, a letter regarding the importance of the Union. George wrote:
"In theory, our Union may be dissolved, [but] in practice, long may it contain a chain of patriotism and love to which each succeeding year shall add a fresh link".
Lindley became one of the first Jerseymen to join the army when the Civil War broke out, becoming a part of the 7th New York Volunteers in April 1861. In July 1863, Lindley was stationed in New York City when the Draft Riots broke out. The riots soon became aimed towards the Black population of New York. In his letters, Lindley expressed great alarm towards these events as well as fear for the welfare of his African-American servants as well for his wife Annie. In a letter to his mother, he wrote,.. “The only real danger to our home was the servants. Annie wouldn’t leave until she knew they were to be protected I disguised them as far as it is possible to disguise a negro-bearded man into the carriage with all the consideration imaginable. I went down Broadway in style with them. But I wouldn’t have taken Annie in that carriage for half the universe. Now dear, that Annie has gone, and the Africans are in a friendly county, you need have no fear for me.”
Grief stricken after the death of his wife and son in August 1863, Miller sought a commission to lead Black troops, who had only recently been allowed to fight. In November of that year, he was appointed a Captain in the First Regiment of Arkansas Volunteers of African Descent, a unit composed largely of former slaves who had been freed by the Emancipation Proclamation. In a letter detailing his fitness for the job, Miller wrote that “I have entire faith in the capacity of the colored races not only for fighting but also for the duties and responsibilities of civil life, if they have only a fair chance for elevation.”
Shortly after arriving in Goodrich’s Landing, Louisiana, Lindley began writing home to his mother to tell of taking up his duties as Captain of a regiment of newly empowered “colored” troops. In his letter of January 20, 1864, he says, “I wrote a song for them to the tune of “John Brown” the other day, which the whole regiment sings.” Soon it was printed and widely disseminated as the “Song of the First of Arkansas” and was used as a recruiting tool.
In a letter written to his mother on March 1864 from Haines’ Bluff, Mississippi, Lindley wrote regarding the morale of camp which seemed relatively high and happy. He discussed the companionship between the soldiers and the love he felt from his men. He tried to reassure her about the danger from battle injuries when he wrote that… “disease seemed to be ravaging the armies more than battles are”. This would later become a self-fulfilling prophecy as Lindley would contract typhoid before dying in New York City on June 30, 1864.
The 20th Century: Dolly Miller Post
Dorothea Miller Post (1878-1947), granddaughter of George and Louisa Macculloch, followed her family’s tradition of civic service most notably her involvement with the Congressional Union for Women Suffrage, the League for Patriotic Service, and the Woman’s Land Army during World War I as well as organizing charity events to raise money for various causes.
After a fire in 1925 at the Statesboro Industrial High School, one of the first schools in Georgia established for African American students by William James in 1907, she organized a charity musical benefit to raise money to help the school. Mr. James wrote a personal letter to her to thank her for raising $500 for the school’s rebuilding program.
Additional Resources for the Study of Slavery in New Jersey:
Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey 1775-1865 by James Gigantino, University of Pennsylvania, 2015
Slave Records of Morris County, New Jersey, Morris County Heritage Commission, 1991
Setting Up Our Own City: The Black Community in Morristown by Cheryl Turkington, Joint Free Public Library of Morristown & Morris Township, 1992
Black Bondage in the North by Edgar J. McManus, Syracuse University Press, 1973
Stories of Slavery in New Jersey by Rick Geffken, American Heritage, 2021