When Jim Davy resigned from Pennington Borough’s Council, Beverly Mills was asked to fill his post for the past two months. On Tuesday, she was elected for a three-year term, becoming its first African American female.
Mills’s ancestors were slaves in Hopewell Valley and she is the fourth generation of her family to live in her Pennington South Main Street home, built in 1856. Her home, and several others, as well as the land that is the location to the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (A.M.E.) Church, were part of 1,000 feet of property purchased in 1847 by three A.M.E. trustees. Samuel Blackwell (born into slavery) was one of the trustees and is an ancestor on her father’s side. Samuel’s father, Frost Blackwell, was owned by Andrew Blackwell, a farmer, and worked his Hopewell Township farm. Frost was manumitted (freed) in 1819 upon Andrew’s death. In 1827, Frost purchased his wife and his son, Samuel.
On her mother’s side, Mills has traced her family to Friday Trueheart, brought here as a thirteen-year-old slave by Rev. Oliver Hart (no relation to the Declaration of Independence signer, John Hart) in 1783. Originally from Pennsylvania, Rev. Hart was living in Charleston, S.C. and regarded as a prominent Baptist minister, when the Revolutionary War started. He was a staunch supporter of the colonists and was urged to flee the area to escape the British. He came to Hopewell Borough, bringing Friday with him, where he became the minister of the Old School Baptist Church on West Broad Street. He left behind Friday’s mother and little sister. Upon Rev. Hart’s death, Friday was willed to the Reverend’s wife for a period of time and then was manumitted in his 30’s. Friday married a woman named Judah (origin unknown) and had four children. Mills is a descendant of Friday’s son, Moses. Upon Friday’s death, he was buried in an unmarked grave near the outhouse area of Hopewell Borough’s Old School Baptist Church, with other African Americans who were members of the church.
Mills and Hopewell Borough resident, Elaine Buck, have co-authored and will soon have a book published by Wild River Books about African American contributions to the region and is also busy working on the Stoutsburg Sourland African American Museum that will be opening soon in historic Mount Zion A.M.E. church on Hollow Road, in Skillman.
“My family has been homeowners and landowners in the town prior to the Civil War. As the first African American female to be elected to any position in Pennington, I hope my ancestors are smiling down!” said Mills.