(PERTH AMBOY, NJ) -- The Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners has named its newest County park in honor of Thomas Mundy Peterson, a resident of the City of Perth Amboy and the first African American to vote in the United States after the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution granted African American men the right to vote.
Located along the waterfront in Perth Amboy, Thomas Mundy Peterson Park is scheduled to open in early summer 2021. The 19th park in Middlesex County’s park system, it will include a synthetic turf multi-use field that can host soccer or football; a synthetic turf field that is adjustable for softball and baseball because it includes a portable mound; a waterfront walkway with views of the Arthur Kill; and park benches. The park will also offer a convenient parking lot and comfort stations for visitors.
“It is with great pleasure that I announce, on behalf of the Board of County Commissioners, the naming of our newest County park in honor of Thomas Mundy Peterson,” said County Commissioner Director Ronald G. Rios. “In doing his civic duty on that day in 1870, Thomas Mundy Peterson personified the right to vote granted to African American men under the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Naming this beautiful waterfront park in his honor is a fitting tribute to a Perth Amboy resident and American citizen whose simple act of casting a ballot marked a turning point in the history of our nation. I am grateful for the generous support of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, and for the dedicated efforts of the leadership of the City of Perth Amboy, in helping to create this new County park.”
“Named in honor of the legacy of a Perth Amboy resident and his significant place in American history, Thomas Mundy Peterson Park is truly an excellent addition to our County park system,” said County Commissioner Charles E. Tomaro, chair of the County’s infrastructure management committee. “Through its location along the Arthur Kill in Perth Amboy, Thomas Mundy Peterson Park will provide wonderful outdoor space for County residents to enjoy. This project was made possible thanks to the substantial financial and logistical support of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection, which helped fund the cleanup of the land and construction of the park’s amenities and helped ensure its successful completion. It is also the result of a collaboration with the City of Perth Amboy, whose support and efforts on behalf of this project cannot be overstated.”
“On behalf of the residents of the City of Perth Amboy, I thank the Middlesex County Board of County Commissioners for selecting this site as the location for the newest County park,” said Perth Amboy Mayor Helmin J. Caba. “The new Thomas Mundy Peterson Park will showcase our city’s beautiful waterfront and serve as a location for our community to gather and enjoy the outdoors. It is especially significant that the park will be named in honor of a Perth Amboy citizen who played such an important role in the history of our city – and of America. I look forward to seeing residents of Perth Amboy, of Middlesex County – and of all of New Jersey – enjoying Thomas Mundy Peterson Park.”
Thomas Mundy Peterson, a Perth Amboy resident whose mother was a former slave, was born on October 6, 1824 in what is now Metuchen, New Jersey. His father, also Thomas, was a freedman who worked and lived on the farm of Ezra Mundy and both father and son would sometimes adopt the Mundy last name. The Peterson family moved to Perth Amboy in 1828. Records indicate that Peterson worked several jobs throughout his lifetime, including as a janitor at Perth Amboy’s School No. 1. That school is now named the Thomas Peterson Elementary School in his honor.
On March 31, 1870, Peterson voted in a local Perth Amboy election which asked if the citizens of Perth Amboy would accept or reject revisions that had been made to their city’s charter. Peterson voted in favor of the revisions, which were accepted by a vote of 230 to 63. When additional minor changes were required in January of 1871, Peterson was among the seven men appointed to the committee to make those changes. By dropping his ballot into the box, Peterson made history as the first African American man in the nation to cast a vote under the 15th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which had been certified as law the previous day.
Peterson’s vote in 1870 was the start of a lifetime of civic engagement. He voted in every election he could for the rest of his life. After serving on the committee to revise the City of Perth Amboy charter, he served as a delegate at the Middlesex County Republican Convention, likely in 1880. Records show that by 1886, Peterson had left the Republican Party to be a delegate in the New Jersey gubernatorial convention of the Prohibition Party. According to historians, Peterson felt that the Republican Party had not adequately addressed the problems of alcoholism that he saw as damaging to his race. Peterson also served as a Middlesex County juror, and evidence suggests that he ran, albeit unsuccessfully, for elected office several times.
In 1884, a bi-partisan committee confirmed that the March 31, 1870 Perth Amboy ballot was the first election held in the nation after the ratification and adoption of the 15th Amendment, making Peterson the first African American man to cast a vote in the country under the new law. Peterson was presented with a gold medal recognizing this achievement on May 30, 1884 – then known as Decoration Day but now officially known as Memorial Day.
Peterson reportedly wore his medal proudly each week to services at Perth Amboy’s St. Peter’s Episcopal Church. He died in Perth Amboy on February 4, 1904 at the age of 79.
On April 3, 1998, the New Jersey Legislature passed a resolution that March 31 be known throughout the state as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day.
Thomas Mundy Peterson Park was created with funding provided via a grant from the Middlesex County Open Space Recreation and Farmland and Historic Preservation Trust Fund, which covered the acquisition of the land and construction of the park, and with substantial support from the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP).
Funding from the NJDEP included $2.5 million from the Green Acres Program toward recreational improvements such as the baseball fields, walkways, and comfort stations, and $1.35 million from the Office of Natural Resource Restoration (ONRR) to improve public access to the Newark Bay/Arthur Kill Complex. Significant funding, support, and coordination were also provided by the NJDEP Office of Brownfield and Community of Revitalization (OBCR) through their Community Collaborative Initiative because Thomas Mundy Peterson Park is located in a designated brownfield area that has been identified as an area in need of development. Funding included grants in the amount of $4.1 million and $2.7 million awarded through the Hazardous Discharge Site Remediation Fund (HDSRF) and administered by the New Jersey Economic Development Authority. An additional $1.3 million is pending. To date, more than $8 million has been invested in the project by the OBCR through the HDSRF.
Thomas Mundy Peterson Park is a collaborative effort between Middlesex County and the City of Perth Amboy. The County will provide management and maintenance of the park, while the City of Perth Amboy will handle matters related to enforcement and public safety.
An official ribbon-cutting ceremony and dedication will be announced at a later date this year.
Middlesex County is home to numerous Fortune 500 companies, three universities, 18 park systems, and world-class healthcare and research facilities making it one of the nation’s most dynamic regions and a leader in technology, transportation, the arts, and food innovation. As one of the most diverse populations in the country, Middlesex County is home to over 832,000 residents living throughout 25 municipalities and employing nearly 40,000 people. Ranked #1 in the state for best schools, the County offers an award-winning vocational school system, a county college, and workforce development creating a unique ecosystem in which opportunities abound. Conveniently located between New York and Philadelphia, Middlesex County is a leading destination for businesses and residents alike to live, work, and play – and has been since the 17th century.