Numerous oral accounts of Joshua Saddler’s arrival in New Jersey are documented over the past 172 years. The former runaway slave gained his freedom when a Haddonfield farmer paid off a bounty hunter in the 1800s.
The accounts are validated through census, vital records and the accounting ledgers from Evans Farm and the Wood farm.
Saddler's work ethic allowed him to earn enough money to purchase land. According to a deed dated May 3, 1842, Saddler bought five acres of land from the estate of John Rowand, providing a place for Joshua and his wife Hannah to raise 10 children and build a community for black people.
That land is still known as Saddlertown, a community in what is now Haddon Township, located along MacArthur Boulevard and Rhoads Avenue.
Saddler’s words, written in his will, continue to resonate as evidenced by the large turnout of volunteers at the annual fall stewardship and cleanup day hosted by the Saddler’s Woods Conservation Association last month. More than 125 volunteers, including two direct Saddler descendants, recently helped preserve the woods as it was when Saddler first bought the land in 1842.
The will of Joshua Saddler provides specific details for the use and upkeep of his property by his wife and the division of his land between his 10 children. One can determine the beauty and preservation of the wooded community was important to Saddler for future generations to enjoy. His will included specific instructions about the wooded land by stating: "... but in no instance to commit waste by cutting the timber growing thereon or otherwise..."
Charles and Beulah Rhoads, a Quaker couple from Haddonfield, took it upon themselves to reach out to the Colored Methodist Congregation at Mt. Zion, near Snow Hill, which is now Lawnside. Charles noticed that the children of Saddlertown had to walk almost two miles from Saddlertown to the Grove Street Schoolhouse in Haddonfield. In addition, Saddlertown residents did not have a place to worship within their community.
Working with the Colored Congregation, Rhoads build a two-story house, described in detail in the presentation written by Andrea McDonald and Sandra White-Grear for the Haddon Township Historical Society on May 16, 2009, titled Joshua Saddler and the Saddlertown Community. According to the presentation, “the building would be 25 feet by 40 feet … of which the upper room has been fitted up as a meeting-house, and a First Day Bible School room; and the lower room, for a day school for the colored people of that vicinity.”
Thirteen years after Joshua Saddler's death, the Saddlertown community enjoyed its first community school and house of worship, which continues to operate today as the Rhoads Temple United Methodist Church.
Tomorrow, read about Saddler descendants returning to help preserve Saddler's Woods.