Women's Heritage Trail
Esther "Hetty" Saunders
was a remarkable woman of color who began her life in the early 1790s as a slave in Delaware. In 1800, her father saw an opportunity to escape to freedom with his children, crossing the Delaware River into Elsinboro, Salem County. Hetty was left in the care of Joseph and Ann Brick Hall, who were members of the Religious Society of Friends.
Saunders lived virtually her entire life in Elsinboro and Mannington, and would have remained anonymous if not for a collection of her poetry that survived after her death in 1862. Through this collection of poems, Saunders contributed to American literature and provided insights into 19th century African-American life in southern New Jersey. Hers is a voice rarely heard - that of a free woman of color in pre-Civil War America - and her poems provide glimpses of what her life was like and how she perceived and addressed inequities that surrounded her. Her works reveal an independent spirit, largely shielded by the outside, yet quietly prevailing over forces otherwise overwhelming.
The collection of poems written by Esther "Hetty" Saunders and related items are housed within the Salem County Historical Society archives. These materials and the publication I Love to Live Alone: The Poems of Esther "Hetty" Saunders
(Donald L. Pierce, editor) are available to researchers at the Society's library located at 83 Market Street in Salem. Esther "Hetty" Saunders was buried here in the Friends Burial Ground beside her friend Judy Wrying, who she wrote about in her best-known poem, "The Hill of Age."
Come tell me ancient traveler
Whence thou did engage
How long its been since thou began
To climb the "hill of Age."
Thou more than fourscore years hast seen
Yet thou art traveling still
I looked up when a little child,
And saw thee on the hill.
I gazed upon thee carelessly
For little then thought I
That I should ever be as old
Or have to climb as high.
- an excerpt from "The Hill of Age" by Esther "Hetty" Saunders
Hetty Saunders' gravesite at Salem Friends Burial Ground is on the New Jersey Women's Heritage Trail because of the lasting contributions of poet Esther "Hetty" Saunders to the arts and culture in New Jersey.
The New Jersey Women's Heritage Trail highlights a collection of historic sites located around the state that represent the significant contributions women made to the history of our state. The Heritage Trail brings to life the vital role of women in New Jersey's past and present.