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Slaves at Dartmouth
The New York Times has published a laudatory review of a new book, Ebony and Ivy, on the relationship of America’s first institutions of higher learning to the slave trade. Following on work of other scholars in this area, particularly concerning Brown University, former College history professor Craig Wilder, now a professor at MIT, dug into numerous archives to discover disquieting truths common to the nation’s top schools, including Dartmouth:
… Mr. Wilder, scholars say, seems to be the first to look beyond particular campuses to take a broader look at the role of slavery in the growth of America’s earliest universities, which, he argues, were more than just “innocent or passive beneficiaries” of wealth derived from the slave trade.
“Craig shows that what happened at one institution wasn’t simply incidental or idiosyncratic,” said James Wright, a former president of Dartmouth College, which is discussed in the book. “Slavery was deeply embedded in all our institutions, which found ways to explain and rationalize slavery, even after the formation of the American republic.”
“Ebony and Ivy,” published by Bloomsbury, documents connections between slavery and various universities’ founding moments, whether it is the bringing of eight black slaves to campus by Dartmouth’s first president, Eleazar Wheelock, or the announcement by Columbia University (then named King’s College) of the swearing in of its first trustees on a broadside paid for with a single advertisement: for a slave auction near Beekman’s Slip in Lower Manhattan.
The Washington Post’s review of Wilder’s book adds several pertinent comments:
I was saddened to read that “before they became the presidents of the College of New Jersey [Princeton] and Yale, respectively, the Connecticut evangelist Jonathan Edwards and the Rhode Island minister Ezra Stiles both purchased African children through the captains of slave ships in Newport.”…
…here is an essential truth here that for generations we have tried to ignore or deny: that the influence of slaveholding in American life has been far deeper and more pervasive than we realize. In part this is a consequence of denial, in part of sheer ignorance, but the influence of slaveholding and the slave trade went far beyond the plantations of the cotton and tobacco states of the South. The vast amounts of money thus generated fed the economies of places that in time would claim innocence of it.
Addendum: The presence of slaves in Hanover’s early days has long been noted, as in this account in a 1957 Alumni Magazine article:
Madam Wheelock arrived in late September, coming in an English coach that had been sent from London by John Thornton as a present to her husband two years before. It was a long and arduous journey; some of the roads were little more than bridle paths through the forest. With her came her children, thirty students, three Indians, four Negro slaves, and two or three farm laborers. The students came on foot and one of the Indians drove the cows that would supply the little settlement with milk. They brought with them also an oxcart loaded with their belongings and a barrel of rum — not 500 gallons. A barrel, gentlemen, holds only 32 gallons and a half.
Addendum: Perhaps we can take as a counterbalance to Eleazar’s transgressions, Dartmouth’s noble history in the Civil War, as the Alumni Magazine also noted:
The College’s plaque honoring “the sons of Dartmouth” who died in the war, housed in the Rauner Library lobby, lists 73 alumni, 63 of whom died fighting for the Union and 10 for the Confederacy. The class of 1863 alone sent 56 men into battle—53 for the Union and three for the Confederacy.
In 1944 College President Ernest Martin Hopkins, class of 1901, declared in a speech that during the Civil War “no college had a larger portion of her men enrolled in the armed forces,” according to historian Charles Wood.
Addendum: One of my favorite correspondents notes that Professor Deborah King will be offering a course on slavery at Dartmouth this winter:
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