Peterson Home Site Threatened by Development

On March 31, 1870, Thomas Mundy Peterson became the first African American in the nation to vote under the Fifteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when he cast a ballot in a Perth Amboy, NJ city charter election. He had been working in the stables of J. L. Kearny that morning when his employer suggested he exercise his right as a citizen, showing him a newspaper announcing the Amendment. Peterson wasn’t sure about it—there would be a municipal election in a few weeks. On the way home for lunch, he bumped into Marcus Spring, who also encouraged him to vote. Peterson continued home and ate his lunch, mulling the matter over, perhaps discussing it with his wife, Daphne. On his way back to work, he stopped off at City Hall and made history.

The question is raised, where did Peterson call home? Where, exactly, did he make the decision that would make history? While researching his book about Peterson and his legacy, “To Cast a Freedman’s Vote,” historian and author Gordon Bond not only figured out where the family lived, but discovered the fascinating story of how they came by the house, and how there is an opportunity for an archeological investigation where it once stood. The only development on the site was an electrical supply company warehouse between the 1950s and early 2000s that had a slab foundation, meaning that there is a chance foundations, privy pits, or other areas could have artifacts dating to the Peterson family!

The problem is that the current owner, the Kushner Development Company, has refused to giver permission despite community interest and support from Perth Amboy City Hall.

The Site in the News

Gordon Bond has been interviewed about this issue recently!

The Star-Ledger, April 21, 2023

NJ Spotlight News, April 26, 2023

How Do We Know?

What is the evidence to support that this is the site?

U.S. Census Record

The 1900 United States Census records the widowed Thomas Peterson and his family living at "9 Commerce Lane." Deed records show the property being sold to his wife, Daphne, in 1866, four years before Thomas cast is historic vote.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps

 Sanborn Fire Insurance maps show the house on Commerce Lane, which extended south from Commerce Street. The Lane no longer exists, though the retaining wall on the west side survives. It is shown until 1913 and records show only the Peterson family living there.

The Site Today

There appears to have been minimal development on the site, aside from a warehouse with a slab foundation that could have protected any artifacts deeper beneath the surface, such as foundations or in privy pits. The site has been vacant since the early 2000s and is slated for development as part of the Kushner Development Company's proposed developments. They own the property and have refused permission for an investigation despite public and City Hall support.

A Tantalizing Glimpse!

The large house to the right of Commerce Lane in the above Sanborn map was "Tower Cottage," owned by Hugh Ramsay. At some point, a photo was taken on the mansion, and the Peterson house can be seen just peeking out from behind it! The lane was at an lower elevation, so the roof and second story window can be seen. This is the only known photo of the house, but it shows it had board and batten siding. [Photo courtesy John Kerry Dyke]

What You Can Do!

If you support the idea that an archeological investigation should happen before any development can take place...

If you live in Perth Amboy...

This is just one small part of a huge development deal being negotiated by the City of Perth Amboy involving lots of money and tax revenues. While Mayor Caba and others in City Hall have publicly expressed their support for an archeological study, they need to know that this matters to their constituents and voters if they are going to insist this be taken into consideration in those negotiations with so much at stake. Please take a few moments to learn about this issue and use the button below to send an email of support to the Mayor's Office! 

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9 Commerce Lane: Where Thomas Mundy Peterson lived...and why it matters!

This is a 45 minute program exploring how Bond rediscovered the site, the fascinating story of how the Petersons came to live there, its importance to history, and the challenges facing the archeological investigation of the site today. Available in-person or virtual for civic and educational groups!

Email Gordon to book this important program and help spread the word about this threatened civil and voting rights site!