In the United States of America, academia is not only the pursuit of research, education, and scholarship but also a Mecca for social status and the grooming of the world’s elite. Craig Steven Wilder who is a famed author, a historian at MIT, wrote that “The story of the American College is largely the story of the rise of the slave economy in the Atlantic world”. Slavery is a horrendous stain on American history and unless fully confronted, there is no way a country can ever move past it and begin to learn and heal itself from it. The American University is a unique one in today’s world in the year 2019, the American Universities today have changed to where they are considered to be more inclusive, more diverse, more understanding, and wanting to provide safe spaces for those who feel threatened by the outside world or those that do not understand them.
This is your typical American University today, however, this was not the case so long ago it was quite the opposite. Harvard, Princeton, Rutgers, Brown, William and Mary, The University of North Carolina, The University of South Carolina, The University of Alabama, Columbia University, Georgetown University, University of Mississippi, University of Virginia, Washington and Lee, Colby College, Yale, Emory University, Vanderbilt University, Duke, MIT, and Dartmouth College all have ties to slavery, some more so than others but we will take an in-depth look at each institution and its connections to slavery in the United States and some of the proposed solutions these institutions of higher learning are offering. Harvard University is the oldest and very first American University and was established in 1636 to help further training for ministers. Reports show that only three Harvard Presidents owned slaves and that slaves were worked on the institution’s campus as early as 1639.
Harvard’s first schoolmaster Nathaniel Eaton owned a slave that was simply called the Moor. Moors were members of northwestern African Muslims comprised of Berber and Arab descent. Increase Mathers, became president of Harvard in 1685 and was a Boston Congressional Minister who owned a slave that came to be known as the Spaniard (not that Spaniard). He was president of Harvard for twenty years and was very influential during a period in time that became known as the Salem witch trials.
Harvard’s second president known to have owned slaves was Benjamin Wadsworth, he served as president from 1725-1737. Wadsworth owned two slaves a man and a woman named Titus and Venus, little has been recorded about Wadsworth and his two slaves. The next president and Benjamin Woodsworth’s successor, Edward Holyoke was the tenth president of Harvard and ordained minister of the Marblehead Congregational Church. Holyoke owned three slaves named Juba, Cato, and Bilhah, and Juba was permitted to marry another slave named Ciceely who was owned by Judah Monis, Harvard’s professor of Hebrew.
The University of Harvard is the oldest and first institution of higher learning and has been around since 1636 and have only had three presidents who owned slaves a handful of faculty members who owned slaves and students who attended the prestigious university brought with them, slaves. Harvard had its strongest connection to slavery through west Indian plantation owners and traders who owned and operated many ships and also stood to gain some of the largest fortunes in the Atlantic worlds slave economy. On April 7, 2016, Harvard a university that boasts the importance of higher learning in academia and a vast assortment of intellectual alumnus whom some have gone on to become president of these United States of America, directly involved with the transatlantic slave trade, an institution founded to further the training of ministers have made reparations to those descendants and memory of the slaves that labored at the university a plaque to honor those who forcefully served the many needs of the prestigious university.
Princeton University, a college that is well known for its scholarly pursuits of knowledge and selectiveness to become a part of what is known as an elite university, has a well-intertwined connection with slavery. Founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746 and hosted the Continental Congress in 1783, it might be shocking to learn that this institution’s first nine presidents all owned slaves. The schools very first president Jonathan Dickinson was a Presbyterian minister who believed that every man regardless of being poor or racial makeup is equal to God however Dickinson often never practice what he preached and justified owning slaves as framing masters as teachers, this would become the justification and foundation of slave owners and for paternalism that they would use for years to come. Aaron Burr Sr. would serve as Princeton’s president as well and also one of the founding trustees of the university.
At thirty-two years old he was the youngest and still the youngest Princeton president. Like his predecessor Dickinson, Burr was a minister but with more political aspirations and spoke on equality and horrors of slavery but unfortunately did not practice what he preached. His talk of slavery were just empty words and phrases and as like most did he brought with him two slaves, one named Caesar and the other named Harry, according to records Burr purchased a man named Caesar in 1756 for just eighty pounds. The third Princeton president was Jonathan Edwards, who is best known for his fiery sermon “ Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” and is still taught to this day in American literature served briefly as Princeton’s president for only two months before his death in 1758. Edwards also a minister during the Great Awakening preached spiritual equality but not treating people as equals in the physical realm.
He spoke out against the transatlantic slave trade and condemned the barbarism of the slave trade but not of the institution. Edwards owned slaves and owned multiple slaves including a married couple named Joseph and Sue. A man of God and faith who owned slaves and preached the condemnation of the very act he benefited from. The next president for Princeton was Samuel Davies who served as president from 1759 to 1761 and also a Presbyterian minister who became the most successful at converting slaves to Christianity.
Much like the universities presidents before him, Davies preached spiritual equality and that man are equal whether enslaved or not and went as far as to write “ a black skin, African birth or extract, or state of slavery, does not disqualify a man from the blessings of God or the Gospel”. Samuel Davies much like his predecessors owned slaves and made it his mission to teach and promote literacy among the enslaved congregation he preached to, he stressed that conversion to Christianity does not also equate to emancipation and that it is the masters’ job to save his slaves souls which outweighed the need or responsibility to give them freedom. Princeton’s fifth president was a man named Samuel Finley who served from 1761 to 1766. Finley was born in Ireland and came to North America where he was also brought up as a minister during the Great Awakening period.
Finley, just like the men that came before him preached spiritual equality among men and preached patriotism within his sermons fearing that the French would win the war, and much like the men that came before him, Finley owned slaves. While Finley served as president over Princeton, during his tenure he owned up to seven slaves, a girl named Peg, who was passed down to his daughter upon his death, and six other slaves who were auctioned off at the presidents’ house on Princeton’s campus. The slaves that were auctioned off were two negro women, a negro man, and three negro children along with other material possessions owned by Finley. The selling of these slaves took place on Princeton’s campus in August 1766 and remains one of the most prominent examples of the connection of slavery Princeton has.
The next president did not only serve Princeton but was also a founding father of the United States of America, John Witherspoon served as Princeton’s president from 1768 to 1794. He was a member of the Continental Congress and the only Princeton president to sign the Declaration of Independence. During his time at Princeton, Witherspoon led the school through British occupation during the American Revolution in 1777 and also during his time at Princeton much like the ministers who served as president before him Witherspoon owned two slaves but often argued against the abolition of slavery and letting enslaved people free. In 1790 Witherspoon served as chairman on a committee that was to advise state leaders on the notion of the emancipation of enslaved people and in doing so he preached that the economic gains and social stability of the state far outweighed the morality of emancipating slaves and thus voted against the abolition of slavery in the State of New Jersey.
Samuel Stanhope Smith, an alumnus of Princeton served as the school’s seventh president and unlike his predecessors, he valued science over spirituality but like his predecessors, he believed that all men are born equal and owned at least two slaves. Although Smith believed all men are born equal he also believed it would be irresponsible to free enslaved people if they were not taught “good moral and industrious habits”. He also stated that a large class of free blacks living among whites could lead to social upheaval if whites did not abandon their racial prejudices and thus proposed resettling freed African Americans to the western territories and offered lands to white Americans who would marry into the black population, needless to say, his plan did not come to pass. Ashbel Green served as Princeton’s eighth president from 1812 to 1822.
Green was a devout Presbyterian minister who established Princeton’s Theological Seminary and was named to the board of trustees in 1812. While Green harbored deep religious convictions and was a staunch Presbyterian, he also owned slaves. He owned three slaves and while living in the presidential quarters on campus he purchased the time of two young black slaves, a boy and a girl named John and Phoebe, and made a deal with the pair that when they both turn twenty-five he would set them free. Betsey Stockton was another slave that Green owned and was gifted to his first wife.
After the passing of his third wife in 1817 Green emancipated Betsey and in 1822 Betsey Stockton, also a devout Christian became the first female American missionary to travel abroad to what is now present-day Hawaii. Much like the former presidents of Princeton before him, green spoke out against slavery while owning slaves and called it a moral abomination. In the year 1818 Ashbel Green drafted a resolution on slavery for The American Presbyterian Church’s Assembly stating that the practice of slavery “is a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature and utterly inconsistent with the law of God”. However even with Green drafting a resolution and making a scathing statement on slavery he also wrote that “without proper preparation for freedom, free blacks would only destroy themselves or others”.
The ninth Princeton president James Carnahan served as the longest sitting president from 1823 to 1854 and was the last Princeton president to own slaves. He studied theology under the previous president Samuel Stanhope and was designated as an ordained minister. Carnahan also owned slaves, a boy, and a girl and when he moved to Princeton in 1823 it was recorded only one free black person was in his household. The history of Princeton and its ties to slavery through its first nine presidents will forever be a part of the history of the university a stain on the legacy of the university.
You cannot change history but you can at the very least attempt to make up for the wrongs that were done, as of October 21, 2019, the New York Times reported Princeton University and Theological Seminary has pledged 27 million dollars for reparations over its ties to slavery, it will come in the form of scholarships and other initiatives to address its historical ties to slavery. Georgetown University was founded in 1789 by a Jesuit priest of Maryland and was among the biggest slave owners in the colony. Georgetown was created as an educational mission from the catholic church to spread and maintain Catholicism in the United States. The catholic order owned over two hundred slaves and used the money made from the slaves to fund and create the university.
In 2015 the President of the university Jack DeGioia decided it was time to uncover the past of Georgetown and tasks the students to finding and uncovering the university slave ties. What was uncovered was that in the 1810’s the tobacco plantations had all failed and Georgetown went into debt. The priest contemplated on whether to free their slaves, make them a part of the church or sell them off to pay their debts, they eventually decided to pay their debts and sell all of the slave community to two planters in Louisiana. They were paid $115,000 which amounts to roughly $3 million in today’s currency. After more digging up of the past, a Georgetown graduate named Richard Cellini uncovered that there was a direct descendant from one of the slaves sold, her name is Patricia Bayonne-Johnson.
Johnson and Cellini found that perhaps thousands of descendants were alive and set out to prove it. Cellini was able to track down and verify over five thousand direct descendants of the slaves sold from Georgetown. What was also found is that a lot of the slaves if not all intermarried and most of the descendants are related. The University of Georgetown has confronted its past and has decided to keep taking it a step further with reparations in the form of renaming two buildings after former slaves and opening up a new building designed to specifically study slavery and its legacy as well as granting legacy status to all of the descendants of the 272 slaves that were sold.
The University of Alabama was founded in 1831 and while today it is more known for its top five football program and multi-million dollar football coach Nick Saban, its past however tells a different story. Two university presidents and a few faculty members owned slaves as well as the university buying slaves and listing them as fees in tuition prices. Former University President Basil Manly and also the second president of the institution served from 1837 to 1855 and was a Baptist minister who preached secession and an advent supporter of slavery who used the Bible and its teachings to justify the institution of slavery. In 1861 Manly was appointed the official chaplain to the confederate government.
While Manly was a staunch defender of slavery he believed that the hardships of slavery should be tempered by the Christian heart and that slaveowners should recognize the humanity of their slaves and thus treat their slaves accordingly and fairly but also believed in corporal punishment. Basil Manly owned more than 40 slaves and oversaw a plantation along the Black Warrior River. The university bought and sold slaves and many of the slaves that were bought were bought for use of labor around the university, they maintained the grounds, cooked, clean, and tended to students and faculty. According to reports from the university, the total amount of slaves that were owned amounted to just four, however it was noted that a lot of records went missing or could not be located.
In an attempt to reconcile the wrongs by the university, there was a ceremony held and a heartfelt apology from the university for its many transgressions. The University of Virginia was founded in 1819 by Thomas Jefferson a founding father of the United States of America. A draftsman of the declaration of independence and later became President of the United States. The University of Virginia was built by slaves and maintained by slaves, pretty much every facet of work.
Slaves leveled the ground, planned the timber, quarrying stone, and fire bricks. Like most that came before him, Jefferson held conflicting and hypocritical views on slavery. He despised slavery but saying that it corrupted man, it corrupted the slave and slave owner however Jefferson himself owned more than 600 slaves and seldom granted emancipation to his slaves, and is also believed to have fathered six children by his slave Sally Hemmings. University records show that more than 100 slaves worked on campus serving over 600 students at any given time.
Thomas Jefferson’s co-founder of the university and right hand John Hartwell Cocke also shared some of the same beliefs that Jefferson did about slavery. Cocke, a devout Christian believed that slavery was deplorable and went against the laws of the land and taught his slaves to read and write and the Christian faith. He believed that one day that slavery would be abolished and wanted his slaves to be prepared and be able to succeed and live a Christian life, a pious life.
In 2013 the president of the University of Virginia established a commission to research and uncover the legacy of slavery at the university, to date it has published a 96-page report on its findings of the university’s ties to slavery. The UVA president Teresa Sullivan dedicated a new building on campus named Skipwith Hall after John Cocke’s slave and stonemason Peyton Skipwith. Among the archives at the University of Virginia were letters from Peyton Skipwith, his niece Lucy Skipwith and their master John Cocke. The university has also attempted to make amends by honoring other slaves such as Isabella and William Gibbons who served faculty members by dedicating a new five-story dormitory to them in 2015.
The Gibbons were owned by different professors such as the physics professor Francis Smith and Moral philosophy professor William Mcguffey. Both Isabella and William became prominent figures in the black community of Charlottesville after being owned by faculty members. After her emancipation, Isabella Gibbons went on to receive her diploma from New England Freedman’s Aid Society’s Charlottesville Normal School and became the school’s first African American teacher. For universities and colleges to move on from its horrendous past of shackled legacy it is paramount that these institutions of higher learning look into the past, look into the ties of slavery that connects the schools to such atrocities, and begin to acknowledge and reconcile with what founding members and faculty have done, only then can these institutions of higher learning grow stronger and truly become a bastion of intellectual ideals for all.