Locally known as Wildcat Manor, the property that is Kent County’s Hunn Nature Park had an earlier name, Forest Landing. Located as far along the St. Jones River as sizable ships could go, Forest Landing was in use as early as the 1740s. It was purchased in 1761 by Quaker brothers, Jonathan and Nathaniel Hunn, abolitionist ancestors of John Hunn, the self-named Chief Engineer of the Delaware Underground Railroad in the mid 19th century. The property remained in the Hunn family through the early 20th century, when entertaining Hunn owners created a mythology around the property that has endured.
The property was a much larger parcel than remains today as the park. It extended from the park land along what is now Route 10 to the outskirts of the town of Camden. Nathaniel Hunn died soon after the purchase, leaving Jonathan Hunn to raise his family there and develop the port into an industrial center. He lived in the brick house called Great Geneva, located on Route 10. Jonathan Hunn used enslaved labor there until 1779 when he joined his religious community’s manumission of all enslaved people under their ownership. Ten individuals were directly mentioned in the manumission document and most were immediately set free Children were to be freed when they reached adulthood, age 18 for girls and 21 for boys.
Enslavement and the threats of kidnapping plagued the free Black people of the central Kent County area and beyond. The Quaker community strongly opposed these threats. Jonathan Hunn’s sons, Jonathan Jr. and Ezekiel, were both actively involved in assisting and supporting the African American community. Jonathan Jr. married the half-sister of Warner Mifflin, a persuasive and persistent anti-slavery advocate of Delaware and Pennsylvania who helped end enslavement among Quakers and who provided direct assistance to freedom seekers in the last quarter of the 19th century. Jonathan Jr. and Ezekiel Hunn ran the port at Forest Landing from 1793 until their deaths in the early 1820s. Documentation survives of a freedom seeker named Peter Mathiais (aka Matthews) who worked at the port in 1807-08. Family tradition also supports that these Hunn brothers gave assistance to freedom seekers at Forest Landing. A transcribed oral history dating to 1895 says that they hired an African American ship captain to ferry freedom seekers across the Delaware River to ports in New Jersey, the closest point of freedom during that early 19th century period.
Jonathan Jr. and Ezekiel Hunn also assisted the victims of kidnapping. In 1811, the Quaker community lept into action when Aaron Cooper was kidnapped near Smyrna, DE. Aaron was one of the youngest children of Richard and Nannie Cooper, who were manumitted by their Quaker enslaver in the 1770s. When word arrived that Aaron had been taken and sold to a Maryland slave buyer, Ezekiel joined the posse of men on horseback that tried to free him. They were unsuccessful and Aaron Cooper spent four years enslaved in Mississippi Territory. During those four years, Cooper pursued a freedom suit in the courts of the Territory. Jonathan Hunn corresponded with the slave buyer and that letter survives in the court records of the case. Jonathan, Jr. was deposed by attorneys to document Cooper’s status as a free man. Jonathan Jr. continued to assist other kidnapping victims until his death in 1820. In his will he left a stipend to support a school for African American children in Camden.
The house that survives on the land of the Hunn Nature Park was built on land owned by Jonathan Hunn Jr. in about 1795. He inherited it after the death of his father in 1792. Ezekiel Hunn inherited Great Geneva and raised his family there. His son with second wife, Hannah Alston, also called John, was born there and inherited his family’s strong desire to assist freedom seekers. He grew up to be a well known Underground Railroad operative, providing assistance to many freedom seekers. He marked his first involvement in this business when he took in freedom seekers Emeline and Samuel Hawkins and family in 1845, for which he was later prosecuted along with Thomas Garrett. In 1847, Hunn pledged bail money for the famous Black Underground Railroad agent, Samuel D. Burris, as he awaited trial on charges of assisting enslaved fugitives.
Research continues into the history of Forrest Landing and the African American community of Hunntown.