In its first publication, Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History added to the narrative of the university's earliest years and revealed that some of our founders and early benefactors were involved in the slave trade or slavery economy. The book also reports that the college benefited from Native American Removal, breaking ground in a land once occupied by the Lenni Lenape. Below are excerpts from the seven chapters that investigated this untold history.
Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History
“I Am Old and Weak...and You Are Young and Strong...”, The Intersecting Histories of Rutgers University and the Lenni Lenape
Camilla Townsend, with Ugonna Amaechi, Jacob Arnay, Shelby Berner, Lynn Biernacki, Vanessa Bodossian, Megan Brink, Joseph Cuzzolino, Melissa Deutsch, Emily Edelman, Esther Esquenazi, Brian Hagerty, Blaise Hode, Dana Jordan, Andrew Kim, Eric Knittel, Brianna Leider, Jessica MacDonald, Kathleen Margeotes, Anjelica Matcho, William Nisley, Elisheva Rosen, Ryan Von Sauers, Ethan Smith, Amanda Stein, and Chad Stewart
In the winter of 1832, Bartholomew Calvin (the younger son of Stephen Calvin and brother of Hezekiah), composed a letter. He was writing to a number of graduates of Queen’s College (Rutgers) and the College of New Jersey (Princeton), the men who now comprised the State Legislature of New Jersey. He himself had attended Princeton for a brief period in the 1770s, alongside the suffering young George White Eyes, and he longed to use his education to make legalistic and rhetorical points. But he also wanted his letter to be effective, to sway the white men whose attitudes he knew so well. So he began the way he knew his audience would want an Indian to begin: “My brethren, I am old, and weak and poor, and therefore a fit representative of my people. You are young, and strong, and rich, and therefore fit representatives of your people.” Then, however, he veered into the erudite language he preferred to use. “But let me the subject of our claims beg you for a moment to lay aside the recollections of your strength and our weakness, that your minds may be prepared to examine with candor the subject of our claims.”
Old Money, Rutgers University and the Political Economy of Slavery in New Jersey
Kendra Boyd, Miya Carey, and Christopher Blakley
Wealth accumulated from participation in slavery created a colonial aristocracy whose members would found Queen’s College, serve as its trustees and officers, and patronize the institution as pupils.
Prominent slaveholding families donated money and land to Queen’s College (Rutgers), which helped the college reopen and remain in operation when it struggled financially. These families had relationships with Queen’s College for generations.
Prominent individuals who descended from the colonial aristocracy passed their wealth and privilege to subsequent generations, and the college continued to benefit from “old money” that was earned through the economic exploitation of enslaved people.
In Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, Craig Steven Wilder traces the development of America’s institutions of higher education from the early colonial period through the nineteenth century. His research demonstrates that the creation and development of American universities “were thoroughly intertwined” with the slave trade and decline of indigenous peoples in the Americas. Queen’s College was among the early institutions to benefit from the profound “economic and social forces” of the slave trade.
This chapter builds on Wilder’s work to provide an overview of the political and economic climate that existed at the time of the founding of Queen’s College, and how the growth of the slave trade facilitated the development of these institutions.
His Name Was Will, Remembering Enslaved Individuals in Rutgers History
Jesse Bayker, Christopher Blakley, and Kendra Boyd
For over 250 years, the black individuals whose labor helped build Queen’s College have remained nameless and invisible. No more. The aim of this essay is simple: to name them, to tell their stories. They were ever present in the slaveholding world of the Dutch Reformed ministers who established Queen’s College (later Rutgers College).
Here the reader will encounter familiar names: Frelinghuysen, Hardenbergh, Neilson, and many more whose histories and contributions to the college are well known and well remembered. We add new names here: Will, Phillis, Dinah, and others, too, who served—and resisted—the men whose names we know so well.
As Rutgers University continues to engage its troubled and entangled history with the institution of chattel slavery and the Atlantic slave trade in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, one man’s life and his relationship to the college’s past offers an especially unique perspective that has been hidden in plain view for some time.
In 1730, a slaveholder in New York sold Ukasaw Gronniosaw, a West African man, to a “Mr. Freelandhouse, a very gracious, good Minister” at Raritan, in Somerset County, New Jersey. Gronniosaw’s new master was in fact the Reverend Theodorus Jacobus Frelinghuysen (1691–1747), the Dutch Reformed minister whose family played a crucial role in the origins of Queen’s College.
Reverend Frelinghuysen settled his family in the Raritan Valley, New Jersey, in 1720 and was an active evangelical minister during the First Great Awakening. His sons carried on his legacy. By 1750, his son John Frelinghuysen (1727–1754) took over the church at Raritan where he soon set to work instructing new ministers, including Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, who would go on to become the first president of Queen’s College.
Beginning at a church meeting in New York City in 1755, John’s brother Theodore Frelinghuysen (1724–1761), along with other Dutch Reformed clergy, began to petition the Church to install a college and seminary in British America. In 1759, Theodore Frelinghuysen traveled to the Netherlands for two years to seek funds for the new school, but he largely failed to get support in Europe and died on his return voyage to America.
When the college founders secured a royal charter in 1766 and finally opened the school in 1771, Frederick Frelinghuysen (1753–1804), the son of John and grandson of Theodorus Jacobus, became the college’s first tutor. The family continued to play a role in the early history of what would become Rutgers College. Frederick Frelinghuysen’s son, Theodore Frelinghuysen (1787–1862), became the seventh president of the college in 1850. Today, the family name adorns a dormitory on the College Avenue campus in New Brunswick along the Raritan River.
While the Frelinghuysen family’s connections to Queen’s College and Rutgers College are well known, Gronniosaw does not appear in any major history of the university. However, his remarkably itinerant life, which spanned the Atlantic world, his published Narrative, and his ongoing relationship to the Frelinghuysen family after being granted his freedom in 1747 make Gronniosaw a particularly interesting individual who deserves a place in the history of the college. His Narrative, for instance, underscores the diasporic and Atlantic dimensions of the enslaved African people who built Queen’s College, or whose labor grounded the material wealth of the college’s early officers, benefactors, and alumni.
In one sense his life is extraordinary, given his ability to publicize his autobiography in print. However, his life might arguably be representative of the men, women, and children whom European traders bought, sold, and held as legal chattel throughout the Atlantic world. Examining Gronniosaw’s life in detail, including his connection to the Frelinghuysen family, then, offers a starting point for understanding Queen’s College, not only through the various circum-Atlantic networks that connected settlers in New Jersey and New York to their relatives and business contacts across the ocean in Europe but also as an institution founded with ties to West Africa and the Caribbean, and ultimately the Black Atlantic world.
“I Hereby Bequeath...”, Excavating the Enslaved from the Wills of the Early Leaders of Queen’s College
Beatrice Adams and Miya Carey
One of the most voluminous source bases for reconstructing the relationship between the leaders of Queen’s College and the institution of slavery are wills. Legal documents that provide instructions about the management of people’s estates, the wills of the leaders of Queen’s delineate their possessions, including enslaved persons, and provide a general picture of the material wealth of a person or a family. Alongside more traditional ways of making use of wills, these documents are also useful for uncovering details about slaving culture in New Jersey and New York, and the lived experiences of the enslaved.
Often excluded from formal means of creating and saving knowledge, locating and narrating the lives of the enslaved within the historical archive can prove to be a challenging task. To be sure, slavery was ubiquitous in and around Rutgers. The leaders of Queen’s College owned enslaved people and when Rutgers’s founding fathers died, they bequeathed their slaves to their wives, daughters, sons, and grandchildren. Some indicated that their slaves be freed after their spouses had died. Even a person who did not own slaves may have hired slaves from someone else, attended church with enslaved persons, or have been called to be an executor for an estate that included slaves. Thus, the practice of slavery was part of the social reality of Queen’s College’s early leaders and the development of Rutgers was intertwined with the history of slavery in America.
This essay analyzes the wills of five trustees and one contractor, covering the period from 1786 to 1825. The wills illuminate key characteristics about the institution of slavery as practiced by the trustees and the lived experiences of the enslaved persons whom they owned. Somewhat extraordinary because of the thorough descriptions they contain, the wills can be read alongside each other as a way to construct a composite description of the enslaved persons whose lives helped to ensure the growth and development of Queen’s College.
“And I Poor Slave Yet”, The Precarity of Black Life in New Brunswick, 1766–1835
Shaun Armstead, Brenann Sutter, Pamela Walker, and Caitlin Wiesner
Blessed by its prime location at the navigable high-tide limit of the Raritan River and midway on the thoroughfare between Philadelphia and New York, New Brunswick, New Jersey, served traders and travelers advantageously in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries. New Brunswick earned the nickname “Hub City,” which it retains to this day, largely independent of its relationship to the budding Queen’s College, which would later become the flagship campus of Rutgers University.
It is indisputable that many, if not most, of the trustees of Queen’s College through the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries held slaves. Their names endure emblazoned on the academic buildings and surrounding streets: founding trustee Philip French (1697–1782), Colonel John Neilson (1745–1833), Jacob R. Hardenbergh (1736–1790), and James Schureman (1756–1824). Many of Queen’s College’s most illustrious alumni from this period, such as Jasper Farmer, John Bray, and Alpheus Freeman, underwrote advertisements in the local New Brunswick papers for the disposal of unwanted slaves.
Each day, African Americans in New Brunswick shared space and crossed paths with people attached to Queen’s College. They trod the grounds of the contemporary College Avenue campus en route to their households of employ on resplendent Water Street and on their way to the Samuel Holcomb and Ayres-Freeman general stores at the north end of town.
Yet while the black residents of New Brunswick lived and worked near Old Queens, the vast majority of them lived lives divorced from the daily happenings at the college. Instead, they spent their time as domestic workers within the impressive homes that dotted Albany and Water Streets, gambling and laughing in the tumble-down Halfpenny Town neighborhood or running errands outside the bustling Market-House near the Raritan.
It is a poignant testament to the oppression of slavery that our understanding of humans in bondage most often derives from the documents white observers left behind. Indeed, remarkably few names of black residents—enslaved or free—in New Brunswick have survived in the historical record. The few exceptions are piecemeal: those who earned a notorious spot in the local newspapers as runaways, those who caught a fleeting mention in the ledger books of local elites (like Dr. Jacob Dunham’s slave Will), or those preserved in the baptismal records of the First Presbyterian Church.
Noteworthy free blacks who left more substantive records behind, like Caesar Rappleyea of the African Association of New Brunswick and Silvia Dubois, who dictated her biography to a white physician, can be counted on one hand. And as no one source could ever paint a complete picture of what enslaved persons felt, thought, hoped, or desired, it is crucial that we use all the documents—no matter how fragmentary—we have at our disposal. These limitations in and of themselves bring the precariousness of black life into sharp relief. Lacking a detailed archival record, we can cautiously commence a partial reconstruction of the world that Will, Caesar, Silvia, and thousands of others navigated and survived each day. Marrying the tools of geography with the fragments offered up by runaway slave and slave sale advertisements in New Brunswick newspapers, several annotated maps from the early nineteenth century, church records, the ledgers of prominent New Brunswick citizens, and the minutes of the African Association of New Brunswick, it is possible to produce a rudimentary portrait of African American life in late eighteenth- and early nineteenth-century New Brunswick.
The overarching theme that encompasses this two-part investigation of the diverse experiences of enslaved and free African Americans living in New Brunswick between 1766 and 1835 is the pervasive precariousness of black life. The slippage between the categories of “free” and “unfree” during the “slow death” of New Jersey slavery in the early nineteenth century had a centrifugal effect on enslaved and free black existence in New Brunswick, dispersing both groups throughout the city while keeping them within the orbit of white power structures.
The first section will examine how, despite the city’s reputation as a stop on the New Jersey leg of the northern Underground Railroad, the geographical layout of New Brunswick underscored the conditional nature of black freedom in the city. It will also analyze the advertisements for the private sale of slaves that appeared in New Brunswick’s newspapers between 1785 and 1835. Although deceptively simple in their formulaic constructions, these documents offer important details on the daily existence of enslaved Africans in the city. In particular, they illustrate the extent to which the local character of New Brunswick slavery was heavily gendered.
The second section will more deeply consider the ways in which prominent free blacks in the city contested their precarious position in the larger society of New Brunswick. While the African Association was in many ways still a space circumscribed by white stakeholders, this study reveals how blacks negotiated for greater freedoms and made meaning of exclusively black spaces in a community where racial segregation in public spaces was relatively relaxed. The African Association of New Brunswick provides a compelling case study as to how New Brunswick’s free black population overcame the limitations placed upon them and constructed a coherent black identity through a limited, but potent, public sphere. Furthermore, this section considers how African American women in particular might have utilized familial and kinship networks to navigate early black public institutions.
From the Classroom to the American Colonization Society, Making Race at Rutgers
Beatrice Adams, Tracey Johnson, Daniel Manuel, and Meagan Wierda
“Citizens of New-Jersey,” exhorted Theodore Frelinghuysen, a fellow New Jerseyan, at an 1824 meeting of the state’s colonization society, “—we appeal to you—survey your cultivated fields—your comfortable habitations—your children rising around you to bless you. Who, under Providence, caused those hills to rejoice, and those vallies to smile?—who ploughed those fields and cleared those forests?”
His answer may have come as a surprise to some, as he demanded that his audience “remember the toil and the tears of black men, and pay [their] debt to Africa.”
According to Frelinghuysen, the people of New Jersey owed their prosperity, security—indeed, their very happiness—to African American men. Disregarding the often-invisible labor of African American women, New Jersey’s attorney general then invoked the transactional language of debt to convey the urgency of his cause. This language was not neutral. If New Jerseyans—and Americans more broadly—were indebted to Africa, it was because they had plundered its shores, stealing untold numbers of men, women, and children to be monetized first and then later sold.
Indeed, the moral debt to which Frelinghuysen gestured was that incurred by Americans as a result of slavery. Serving as an ambassador for the recently formed American Colonization Society (ACS), Theodore Frelinghuysen went on to condemn the slave trade, the institution of slavery, and the Janus-faced idea of freedom that resulted from the American Revolution. “On the same breeze have been borne to the ear,” he argued, “the grateful shouts of American Freemen and the heart-sickening groans of subjugated Slaves.”
Frelinghuysen recognized, like many of his fellow colonizationists, that freedom in the United States was conditional upon the color of one’s skin. In spite of this, he would not advocate for racial equality, nor would he advocate for a more capacious definition of freedom, one that would extend civil rights to African Americans.
Instead, Frelinghuysen favored the removal of newly freed blacks from the United States. Sustaining the belief that freedom and blackness were antithetical to one another, he argued that the “exigencies of circumstance may properly prevent [slavery’s] prompt abolition—yet the duty of gradually removing so tremendous a curse, presses upon us with all the weight of eternity.”
Gradual abolition—a politics that rejected the immediate and unconditional emancipation of slaves—was the guiding principle of the American Colonization Society. Indeed, it was the guiding principle of many antislavery advocates during the first third of the nineteenth century. This was in large measure owing to the influence of Protestantism on antebellum reform. Calvinist theology, in both its Presbyterian and Dutch Reformed guises, shaped the early intellectual and spiritual outlook of north New Jersey and the areas around Manhattan and the Hudson River Valley. Both denominations, particularly their congregations in New Jersey, generally opposed radical social change, a stand that placed them firmly against the immediate abolition of slavery.
Rutgers, A Land-Grant College in Native American History
When Rutgers became New Jersey’s land-grant college in 1864 under the Morrill Act of 1862, the state legislature had no indigenous community to answer to. It had been decades since the Lenni Lenape left their final footprints in the region they had known for centuries. Pried from their land through years of state-sanctioned violence, coercion, and trickery, the people the European settlers called the “Delaware Indians” met a fate of repeated removal and resettlement through the West.
The Morrill Act granted states the right to proceeds from federal lands to help fund schools for agriculture and the mechanic arts within their borders. As a proprietary state, New Jersey held no land within the public domain. Any lands that would help establish a scientific school for the state’s industrial white classes were merely drawn from a vast faraway lottery. For many of the state’s white inhabitants, the “Indian Question” was safely shelved as a distant memory.
Yet in becoming a land-grant college, Rutgers and the state of New Jersey were forced to revisit the “Indian Question”—even if their collective response was one of shameless silence, uninterest, and erasure. Indeed, the provisions of the Morrill Act demanded and protected this silence, while the Civil War consumed the nation’s attention.
Embroiled in a violent political climate that threatened to rupture New Jersey’s racially stratified society, legislative officials rarely glanced at matters beyond the war effort. If there was a pressing question related to the state’s non-European population, it concerned the movement and freedom of those of African descent. For the faculty, and later the board of trustees at Rutgers College, the time was ripe to take advantage of a federal endowment toward a scientific school. No thought was ever given to where that endowment would be drawn from.
What did it mean to bid for, win, and ultimately uphold the prestigious title of land-grant college within a broad national context of Native American land dispossession and Removal? In what ways could Rutgers be held morally culpable for benefiting from the proceeds of Indian land seized by the federal government?