The Gloucester County Historical Society Museum in Woodbury is hosting a free exhibit that explores the local history of indentured servitude and slavery.
The two-part presentation, “Breaking Free,” features both the museum’s collections and artifacts from and information on the James and Ann Whitall House Museum in National Park, a former plantation whose 18th-century history is part of the exhibit.
“The exhibit explores each location’s history with runaway indentured servants and enslaved persons during the 18th century and explores the concept of freedom and the limitations both experienced,” museum coordinator Laura Foley said.
The artifacts on display are specific to the region and directly connect the historical society museum and Whitall House with the 1700s.
“Artifacts that would have been personal belongings to indentured servants or enslaved persons were not often preserved,” Foley explained. “Information on the life of runaways is also often limited to their advertisements, so we used artifacts that were related to help tell their story.”
James Whitall’s saucer is an example of an artifact on display; it’s unlikely the owner would have washed his own plate given that he took advantage of indentured servants who could complete the task for him.
Also featured is Andrew Hunter’s family Bible. Hunter, who once owned the Whitall House that is now part of the county historical society, was a Presbyterian minister who took part in the American Revolution.
“Hunter, who fought for freedom, owned enslaved persons,” Foley noted.
Runaway advertisements are key components at both the museum and Whitall: Foley calls them “standout pieces.”
“We wanted to highlight different runaway indentured servants and enslaved people associated with both locations and their surrounding areas,” Foley said. “Knowledge of runaways is often limited to these advertisements, but (they) often describe physical descriptions, aspects of personality and other characteristics.
“They are proof that they had a place in history.”
The “Breaking Free” exhibit is open through June 5 at the museum. Hours are Tuesday, 6 to 9 p.m., and Wednesday through Friday from noon to 4 p.m. The museum is located at 17 Hunter St., Woodbury.
Hours for the Whitall House part of the exhibit are Thursday through Sunday, 1 to 4 p.m. The house is on the Red Bank Battlefield at 100 Hessian Ave., National Park.
Other upcoming events at the society’s museum include historic Woodbury’s Colonial Day on Saturday, May 14, and a Teddy Bear Tea on Saturday, May 21. Visit gchsnj.org for more information.