Thomas Mundy Peterson
|Thomas Mundy Peterson|
|Born||October 6, 1824
Metuchen, New Jersey
|Died||February 4, 1904 (age 79)
Perth Amboy, New Jersey
|Known for||The first African American to vote in the United States after the passage of the 15th Amendment|
Thomas Mundy Peterson (October 6, 1824 – February 4, 1904) of Perth Amboy, New Jersey was the first African-American to vote in an election under the just-enacted provisions of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution. His vote was cast on March 31, 1870.
He was born in Metuchen, New Jersey. His father, also named Thomas, worked for the Mundy family. It is unclear if he was a slave of the family or not. His mother, Lucy Green, was a slave of Hugh Newell (1744-1816) of Freehold Township, New Jersey. She was manumitted at age 21 by Newell's will.
He was a school custodian and general handyman in Perth Amboy. Active in the Republican Party, he became the city's first African-American to hold elected office, on the Middlesex County Commission. He was also the city's first "colored" person to serve on a jury.
Peterson voted in a local election held in Perth Amboy, NJ over the town's charter. Some citizens wanted to revise the existing charter while others wished to abandon the charter altogether in favor of a township form of government. Peterson cast his ballot in favor of revising the existing charter. This side won 230 to 63. Peterson was afterward appointed to be a member of the committee of seven that made the revisions. Historical records as to his contribution to revisions in the form of minutes, writing, or other records are still wanting.
To honor Thomas Mundy Peterson as the first African-American voter after the passage of the 15th Amendment, the citizens of Perth Amboy raised $70 (over $1,000 in 2010 dollars) to award him with a gold medallion. The full medallion consists of a gold bar from which a two inch diameter medallion was hung. The hanging medallion featured a profile bust of a clean-shaven Abraham Lincoln. It was presented to Thomas Mundy Peterson on Memorial Day, which was then called Decoration Day, May 30, 1884. He is said to have loved the medal and never considered himself properly dressed without it affixed to his left breast. Later in life financial instability forced Peterson to sometimes pawn the medallion. It is currently housed at the historically African-American Xavier University of Louisiana.
While he is known today as "Thomas Mundy Peterson," there are no contemporary records that include the three names together. The one exception is the cover for the program describing the ceremony when he was given the "voting medal," and that calls him "Thomas Peterson-Mundy." Contemporary documents refer to him as either Thomas Peterson or Thomas (or Tom) Mundy. His death certificate, the undertaker's accounts book and a land deed all refer to him as "Thomas H. Peterson." In the obituary appearing in The Perth Amboy Evening News he is called Thomas Henry Peterson.
In October 1989, the school where Peterson had worked was renamed after him.
In New Jersey, March 31 is annually celebrated as Thomas Mundy Peterson Day in recognition of his historic vote.
- "Perth Amboy Church Is 302 And Counting". New York Times. February 15, 1987. Retrieved 2010-11-27. "The first black man to vote in America, Thomas Mundy Peterson, was a member of St. Peter's and is buried in its graveyard. He voted in the Perth Amboy mayoral election of March 31, 1870, one day after adoption of the 15th Amendment to the United States Constitution."
- African-American Firsts Remembered - Newark Public Library at www.npl.org
- Voting Medal at www.history.org
- Bond, Gordon. North Jersey Legacies: Hidden History from the Gateway to the Skylands. The History Press, 2012, p. 134.
- McGinnis, William C. History of Perth Amboy, New Jersey. Higginson Book Co., 1995.
- Bond, Gordon. North Jersey Legacies: Hidden History from the Gateway to the Skylands. The History Press, 2012, p. 139.
- Bond, Gordon. North Jersey Legacies: Hidden History from the Gateway to the Skylands. The History Press, 2012, p. 141.
- None (1935). The Presentation Of A Medal To Thomas Peterson - Mundy. Perth Amboy, New Jersey: H. E. Pickersgill.
- P.L.1998, jr.001 (AJR31) at www.njleg.state.nj.us