Cudjo versus Cudjo

Excerpts from the book: Jack Cudjo. Newark’s Revolutionary Soldier & First Black Businessman

“This is a riveting historical account of an early enslaved African in New Jersey on par with the narrative of Olaudah Equiano. Cudjo, or Banquante, is an extraordinary person who enters our history in this book with a much fuller portrait and historical account than has been possible. The author’s work is thorough, literate, and erudite” – Dr. Molefi Kete Asante, author “The History of Africa”

During the Revolutionary War, John Murray, Earl of Dunmore and governor of Virginia established the Ethiopian Regiment for the loyalists. While General George Washington was being pressured by his commanders to recruit slaves for the war, Lord Dunmore, on the other hand would promise liberty to any slaves who would fight for England against the colonists. Slaves captured by the British during the war were mostly resold in the Caribbean.

It must be noted that Washington’s strong opposition to include slaves in the war did not stem from slaves inability to fight. Rather he feared that slaves, once armed, and on mounted warhorses could turn against his army or desert camp and join the enemy. It is interesting to note that both George Washington and Lord Dunmore were slave owners.

Notwithstanding the deplorable conditions at Dunmore’s camps, slaves risked their lives to escape from their masters to fight for the Crown. It was apparently clear that Dunmore wanted to use slaves “by any means possible” to attain his goals, for slaves were summarily returned by Dunmore to their colonists’ masters upon the latter swearing allegiance to the Crown – a tactic employed by colonists who wanted their slaves back from Dunmore’s camp. “Between eleven and twelve hundred runaways responded to Dunmore’s call to help save the King,” says Charles W. Carey (Jr). Carey says about one hundred and twenty (blacks and Tories) fighters of Dunmore arrived in New York on August 14, 1776. Included was a black Major Cudjo.

Jack Cudjo was known to have fought with the Virginia Militia during this period. Fate had brought Cudjo against Cudjo in a Revolutionary War that each was fighting for a common goal – freedom! In a War such as this, only one victor emerges. Major Cudjo in military fatigue of Dunmore’s Ethiopian Regiment with “Liberty to Slaves” emblazoned on it, lost. Whatever became of Major Cudjo is not known, for Lord Dunmore dissolved the regiment after arriving in New York from Virginia and the 300 or so blacks among them, out of about 800 who had answered the call by Dunmore in the summer of 1776, were left at the mercy of their own fate.

Church Records

Paradoxically, the three most prominent churches in Newark during slavery stand on grounds where slave lawbreakers used to be flogged, according to Atkinson. By spring of 1820, there were 139 whites and nine colored members in the First Methodist Church of Newark, according to Church records available at the New Jersey Historical Society.

The establishment of the second oldest church in Newark, NJ and that of England’s Anglican Church had something in common. King Henry VIII of England, who broke the Roman Catholic Church marriage doctrine, was forced out, and established the Anglican Church of England. Similarly, Col. Josiah Ogden, a member of Old First Presbyterian church on Broad Street harvested wheat on a Sunday, breaking church doctrine, and had to leave with other followers to establish a new parish. Trinity Church, “New Jersey’s Church of England” was thence chartered on February 10, 1746. Incidentally, Episcopal African Americans at Trinity Church would leave in 1848 to establish their own Parish, St Philips, only to reunite again as Trinity and St. Philip’s Cathedral.  Cudjo was a member of this church, supposedly in his later life. For some unknown reasons, Jack Cudjo and his wife Mary found new faith in the Trinity Church of Newark, instead of the Church of his slave master, the Old First Presbyterian Church where James, a son of Jack and Mary, was buried.

Ohio Factor

Around 1838, a large number of Newarkers, Essex County migrated to Ottawa County, Ohio and along the Cincinnati regions of Ohio. Later, some New Jerseyans would migrate to the free state of Ohio through parts of Philadelphia, south west of Lancaster County Pennsylvania into Maryland then into the Shenandoah Valley, West Virginia and Kentucky through the Cumberland Gap and finally onto the Ohio River. Morris Cudjo, a grandson of Jack Cudjo ended up in Ohio around this time.  How Morris Cudjo migrated to Ohio is not known but he appears in the 1860 Ohio census as a 50‐year‐old black and laborer, who lived at Stow, Summit County. Morris Cudjo married Mary and had several children, including George Cudjo. The death certificate of George Cudjo lists his father as Morris Cudjo, born in Newark, New Jersey. His mother’s maiden name was given as Mary (Maria?) Hill.

Even though slave records were not properly preserved, Jack Cudjo’s death was captured in Church archives. The entry in the Trinity Church of Newark’s records by the Rev. Henry P. Powers reads: “Buried Jack Cudjo, a black aged probably about 100 years.” Jack Cudjo was buried in Newark on March 5th 1823.

The environs of the New Jersey Performing Arts Center were at one time burial grounds of Trinity Parish Church. On the first floor of 24 Rector Street (part of NJPAC) is a plaque with the inscription:

In the year one thousand nine hundred and forty-one, the remains of the persons hereinafter set forth, were removed from the site of the Cathedral House, number 24 Rector Street, formerly a part of Trinity Cemetery in the City of Newark, County of Essex, and State of New Jersey, and re‐interred in the Cemetery of Fairmount Association, a duly incorporated cemetery with the City of Newark, New Jersey.”

The name of Cudjo Banquante, a.k.a. Jack Cudjo, is not among the 38 inscribed on the plaque. However, on the front lawn of NJPAC is a small memorial. The inscription on the memorial reads:

Commemorating the precious lives and untold contributions to the settlement and early development of Newark and the nation by the men, women and children of African and European descent including 1,386 unnamed souls‐buried between 1809 and 1889 near this site in the former Trinity Church Cemetery.”

Jack Cudjo’s name is included and the only one asterisked. Below the dedication, the asterisk reads

“Former slave who fought bravely in the American Revolutionary War and was awarded land in Newark for his military service.”

According to Jerry Enis, a consultant for NJPAC, forty‐two Africans were buried at the Trinity Cemetery. Bodies exhumed were cremated and reburied by the Church. No one knows for sure whether Jack Cudjo’s remains were amongst the cremated or lies somewhere down under or near the New Jersey Performing Art Center. William Lloyd Garrison quotes a letter by the Rev. Theodore Parker to the author of “The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution:

“Now, after seventy-five years have passed by, the bones of these forgotten victims of the Revolution are shoveled up by Irish laborers, carted off, and shot into the sea, as the rubbish of the town. Had they been white men’s relics, how would they have been honored with sumptuous burial anew, and the purchase prayers and preaching of Christian divines! Now, they are rubbish of the street!”

Jack Cudjo Banquante’s contributions to the City of Newark are well known by local historians. On June 10, 1995, as a tribute to his knowledge in flowers and nature, an Arts and Flowers Festival was held in his honor that featured Guy Davis, son of Ossie Davis, as Cudjo Banquante.

Kofi Ayim has obviously done extensive and superb research in his efforts to capture the history surrounding the life of Cudjo. He presents not just the story of one individual but goes on to link his life with those of his ancestors and his descendents, producing a wonderful exploration of the family, their accomplishments, sufferings, and contributions to the Nation and the world at large. Good Job!’ – Richard Lee Baker, Historian, US Army Military History Institute.

The author, Kofi Ayim, is the editor of Amandla. This article first appeared in Amandla on October 13, 2018. The book is available @

Posted by on Feb 11 2023. Filed under BHM Special: Remembering Our Heroes & Sheroes. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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