Towers of Intellect
The Struggle for African American Higher Education in Antebellum New England
James Easton embodied “mechanical genius and mental ability,” recalled abolitionist and historian William Cooper Nell.1 Born to free black parents in eastern Massachusetts in 1754, Easton served in the Revolutionary War and then moved to North Bridgewater, where he operated an iron factory. In conjunction with his factory, he established a manual labor school in the early 1820s to equip African American male youth with a mechanical trade as well as literary skills. Approximately twenty youth attended yearly, including Easton’s own son, Hosea, until the school closed in the late 1820s due to racial threats.2 Recalling this incident years later, Hosea, an abolitionist in his own right, declared that “prejudice is destructive to life,” particularly black life.3 Like his father, the younger Easton espoused black intellectual vitality and improvement through education. In his writings, he affirmed black civil rights and citizenship in the United States and pushed for the emancipation of slaves; for him, education was crucial, a “sign of life” for African Americans in the face of racial animus.4
The story of antislavery leaders who championed black education dates back to at least the eighteenth century, but the radical abolition movement in antebellum New England ushered in a revolutionary platform that called for the immediate, uncompensated emancipation of slaves. African American and white abolitionists articulated a politics of elevation that linked black self-improvement, primarily through education, with racial advancement and equality.5 Given these twin goals, African American abolitionists sought to establish institutions of higher education, from seminaries to colleges, to serve black communities. They believed that higher education charted a path to empowerment. And white abolitionists concurred and joined forces with them. Over a ten-year period, from 1830 to 1840, these radical abolitionists tried three times to establish educational institutions in New England: first, a manual labor college for African American men in New Haven, Connecticut; second, a seminary for young African American women in Canterbury, Connecticut; and third, a coeducational and interracial academy in Canaan, New Hampshire. Though each institution held a different function and served a diverse group of students, together they represented what I call “towers of intellect,” a distinct abolitionist vision of higher education that celebrated the black desire, pursuit, and embodiment of knowledge as well as the fight for a multiracial democracy. These institutions, however, were short-lived. They all shared the same fate: destruction.
Historians have debated why a black college, an all-girls black seminary, and an interracial and coeducational academy became targets of white antagonism and violence: was it the fear of labor competition; racial prejudice; abolitionist agitation; resentment of black elevation; or some combination thereof ?6 This essay reorients the debate to focus on the initiative of and cooperation between African American and white abolitionists who fought for black educational opportunity in the New England region. In doing so, this essay reveals how radical abolitionists turned a local issue, higher education, into a significant regional issue centered on combating racial prejudice and slavery in the United States.
New England was not immune to the institution of slavery; on the contrary, slavery actually shaped the region economically. Historian Joanne Pope Melish explains that the enslaved population “remained quite small” in the seventeenth century before growing slowly but steadily in the eighteenth century.7 Melish estimates that at the start of the American Revolution, the population of African-descended people in New England hovered at around sixteen thousand, making it the smallest black population by region in North America. Though early census records fail to differentiate between enslaved and free persons of color, it is likely that the majority of African-descended people in New England were slaves who lived near coastal areas or commercial port towns like Boston.8 States such as Rhode Island and Connecticut depended heavily on the labor of slaves, who were put to work in skilled trades and as domestic servants. Black labor enabled the region to expand commercially.9 Though New England was a society with slaves, to borrow historian Ira Berlin’s term, and hence did not depend economically on slave labor, slavery itself fueled the ideology of white supremacy.10
The Age of Revolution witnessed enslaved and free black people arguing for their equality and liberty.11 In New Hampshire, for instance, nineteen enslaved blacks petitioned for their God-given right to “life and freedom, upon the terms of the most perfect equality with other men.”12 In addition to petitioning, many enslaved blacks fought on the side of the Patriots in the American Revolution, while others defended the Loyalists, who promised enslaved blacks manumission in exchange for military service. The radical activism of African Americans and the emergence of antislavery discourse, coupled with the disruptions brought on by the war, led New England states to enact gradual emancipation laws, which eroded the institution of slavery in the region. The free black population stood at 137,506 in 1830, with approximately 21,310 free blacks residing in the New England area. Free blacks had established autonomous institutions, from mutual aid societies to schools, and thus shaped an ideology of racial uplift. This ideology was partly ameliorative, in the sense that African Americans could gain respect through education, and partly practical, as African Americans could acquire knowledge and realize upward social mobility, wealth, and citizenship.
Many white New Englanders tackled this rapidly changing environment by reconstructing a distinct New England regional identity that depended on the removal and erasure of African Americans. White writers, travelers, and inhabitants spoke of the fine churches and stately buildings that dotted the picturesque New England landscape.13 Rarely did these inhabitants mention the riches that had been gained from slave labor and the African slave trade, nor did they recognize African Americans as free.14 Rather, they boasted about the region’s industrious white citizens, even the poor farmer, as well as the republican and Protestant ideals as represented in its institutions, particularly colleges like Harvard and Yale. Stephanie Kermes argues that these colleges “signified the region’s high level of education, which New Englanders saw as an essential precondition for a good republican people and, therefore, in the New England mind, justified the region’s feeling of superiority.”15 At the same time that Harvard and Yale welcomed young elite white men and stood as exemplars of New England virtue and hard work, higher education in the region expanded and, with it, ideas about self-improvement.
Dubbed the Age of Improvement, the early decades of the nineteenth century witnessed the steady growth of colleges that primarily served white male youth from various class backgrounds.16 Even though less than 2 percent of the total population received a collegiate education in the antebellum era, these institutions were, according to Kenneth Nivison, the “largest and most important institutional prize of the new republic.”17 For some families, sending their twenty-year-old son to college made sense for professional opportunity, self-improvement, and economic and social advancement.18 The influx of older, poorer students in search of upward social mobility, however, transformed student life in New England, leading to an increase in student revolts and bureaucratic control.19 This transformation also coincided with the increase in the number of colleges: there were twenty-five degree-granting institutions in 1800 and fifty-two by 1820.20 Amherst College is one such example. Founded in 1821, it aimed to provide a “classical education for indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry.”21 The student population at Amherst College grew quickly: the inaugural class of 1821 included 47 students, and enrollment rose to 211 by 1828. Many students at this and New England’s other hilltop colleges received financial assistance through charity or self-help, which enabled them to matriculate and eventually graduate, having acquired significant cultural and social capital.22 According to historian John Thelin, these hilltop colleges allowed white male youth of varying means “entrée into a new, educated elite.”23
Notably, the earliest African Americans to earn baccalaureate degrees were men who graduated from New England’s hilltop colleges, but they did not share the same opportunities as white male students. These early African American pioneers included Alexander Twilight, who graduated from Middlebury College in 1823; Edward Jones from Amherst College in 1826; John Russwurm from Bowdoin College in 1826; and Edward Mitchell from Dartmouth College in 1828. Born in Jamaica in 1799 to a white English father and a black mother, John Russwurm, for instance, had been educated at New England academies and entered Bowdoin College in Brunswick, Maine, at the junior class level in 1824. Chartered in 1794, Bowdoin College promoted “virtue and piety, and the knowledge of … languages and … the useful and liberal arts and sciences” among its student body. Russwurm was one of thirty-two graduates in 1826.24 Winston James, a biographer of Russwurm, notes that while Russwurm may well have experienced racism in college, Bowdoin College itself boasted some of “America’s most distinguished progressive, anti-racist, and abolitionist intellectuals.”25 Other colleges were not as progressive. In fact, some faculty and students at hilltop colleges openly opposed the antislavery movement; and some, like John Hough, a white professor of languages at Middlebury College, concluded that African Americans were a “despised and hopeless race.”26 While New England’s hilltop colleges occasionally enrolled African American men, these institutions neither catered to them nor served their needs. By 1860 only twenty-eight African Americans had earned degrees from recognized colleges.27
Publications such as The American Anti-Slavery Almanac often criticized the exclusion of children of African descent from educational institutions. Image courtesy of Kabria Baumgartner.
Despite the formidable achievement of a few African Americans who earned a collegiate education, myths about the degraded, debased, and inferior free black population seemed to prevail. From broadsides and pamphlets to sermons, propaganda circulated that portrayed the supposed degraded condition and innate inferiority of African Americans. The aforementioned John Hough delivered such a sermon in October 1826 at a meeting of the Vermont Colonization Society, an auxiliary society of the American Colonization Society, an organization founded in 1816 that aimed to send African Americans to Africa. In his condemnation of African Americans, he asserted that “the state of the free colored population of the United States, is one of extreme and remediless degradation,” implying that no amount of education could change their status—it was uniform, undeniable, and fixed. Moreover, Hough surmised that African Americans had no desire for education anyway, since they “evince no solicitude to acquire knowledge or, by diligence and economy, to accumulate wealth.”28 The Eastons, of course, begged to differ. In any case, Hough’s position was not atypical; racism and procolonization factions pervaded institutions of higher education in New England.
Colonizationists thus focused on a project of black emancipation, if enslaved, or black containment, if free, followed quickly by removal. They believed that repatriation greatly benefited free blacks, who would enjoy new opportunities in West Africa while engaged in missionary work to bring civilization and Christianity there. The real beneficiaries, however, were whites invested in a white republic. Certainly, most colonizationists wished to abolish the institution of slavery, a great stain on the American Republic, but they all rejected any possibility of a multiracial democracy, as radical abolitionists envisioned.29 Calvin Stowe, a white proponent of public education who served on the faculties at Dartmouth College and later Bowdoin College, among other institutions, argued for the separation of the races: “I am in favor of colonization, because I suppose it to be right, and agreeable to God’s design, that the different races of men should continue to be distinct, and each reside in the climate best adapted to their physical and intellectual development.”30 In fact, most families who sent their sons to college believed in colonization. Margaret Sumner asserts that these families “imagin[ed] Liberia as one more educational community for their world, a distant place where ‘black’ genius might be cultivated.”31 White New England families thus constructed free white educational institutions symbolic of a free white republic completely devoid of African Americans.
African American abolitionists rejected claims of innate black degradation and inferiority and instead promoted black self-improvement. In Boston, African American abolitionist David Walker penned a radical treatise, An Appeal to the Coloured Citizens of the World (1829), that accused colonizationists of plotting to perpetuate slavery with free African Americans gone, unable to aid their brethren. Walker asserted that African Americans were natives of the United States, and he encouraged them to gain intellectual and religious knowledge.32 Similarly, African American abolitionist Maria W. Stewart, a neighbor and friend of Walker’s, lectured her audience of African American men and women to “turn their attention to knowledge and improvement.”33 In contrast to colonizationists who connected black removal to the abolition of slavery, radical abolitionists, from Walker to Stewart to Easton, linked the acquisition of knowledge to black emancipation and freedom in the United States. In other words, for abolitionists, higher education promised feasible and immediate solutions to improve black life and unfetter enslaved African Americans.
For abolitionists, higher education held productive and reproductive qualities in regard to both knowledge and activism. In 1827 African American abolitionists John Russwurm and Samuel Cornish touted the importance of education to community uplift in their newspaper, Freedom’s Journal. Similarly, ten years later, the Colored American, a black newspaper run by Charles B. Ray, an educated African American man from Massachusetts, featured editorials on the politics of elevation and the abolition of slavery. One editorialist proclaimed that an African American man could “cultivate a reading habit[,] know his own condition better … [and] become conversant with the world and prepared to lend an influence, to give a right direction and tone, to the habits of all within his reach.”34 Though editorialists in black newspapers tended toward androcentrism in discussions on education, they did acknowledge the particular role of African American women in gaining and imparting knowledge. “Teach one, teach many” seemed to be the motto. This view arguably inspired white abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison, a Massachusetts native who started his own newspaper, The Liberator, in 1831. Supported largely by black subscribers, The Liberator published articles linking knowledge to emancipation. “Knowledge is power. A people generally enlightened cannot be enslaved,” one correspondent opined.35
Peter Osborne and other like-minded abolitionists imagined the development of educated black communities and the cultivation of black intellect not in distant Africa but right in New England. However, the racial violence occurring in northern cities, from New Haven, Connecticut, to Providence, Rhode Island, in the 1820s and 1830s, often perpetrated by white mobs against black and white abolitionists, compelled activists like John Russwurm to advocate for black immigration to Africa.36 Some abolitionists, however, discouraged that. In an address to an audience of African American churchgoers in New Haven in 1832, African American abolitionist Peter Osborne affirmed that the United States was “our native country.” He continued, “It becomes every colored citizen in the United States to step forward boldly, and gallantly defend his rights,” which included the right to an education.37 High schools, academies, and colleges represented the spatial realization of the black pursuit of knowledge as well as intellectual culture. African American and white abolitionists thus articulated a central tenet within the fight for black education: to cultivate black intellect and to work toward black equality and a multiracial democracy.
The issue of African American higher education became a point of concern at black organizational meetings. At the First Annual Convention of the Free People of Colour, held on June 6, 1831, African American abolitionists from New York to Virginia assembled at Wesleyan Church in Philadelphia to discuss a handful of serious issues, from deadly race riots to discriminatory “Black Laws” that suppressed the political, social, and economic elevation of African Americans. In the face of this turmoil, delegates identified three principles for black elevation: education, temperance, and economy.38 This convention was more than just an exchange of declarations, however. Following earlier school-building initiatives by James Easton in the 1820s and African American abolitionist Peter Williams in the 1830s, Simeon Jocelyn, a white pastor and abolitionist from Connecticut, and five other white leaders, including William Lloyd Garrison, proposed to establish a manual labor college for African American men in New Haven. The manual labor system, popular at this time at places like Beriah Green’s Oneida Institute in New York, promised to train African American male youth for skilled labor jobs. For Garrison, the benefits multiplied after that: “When [African American men] once get trades, they will be able to accumulate money; money begets influence, and influence respectability. Influence, wealth, and character will certainly destroy those prejudices which now separate you from society.”39 Unfortunately, this narrative of progress failed to account for racism and its destructive effects on people and communities. Nevertheless, the proposal, which the delegates endorsed, represented the fight for collective black educational opportunity in the Age of Improvement. Delegates closed their convention address by reiterating the maxim, “Knowledge is power.”40
In addition to promoting educational opportunities for African American male youth, the plan for a manual labor college appealed to abolitionists, who viewed it as a much-needed corrective to racism and slavery. “The form of slavery does not exist among us [in the North],” wrote white New England abolitionist Lydia Maria Child, “but the very spirit of the hateful and mischievous thing is here in all its strength.”41 Charles B. Ray felt it firsthand. After completing his studies at Wesleyan Academy in Wilbraham, Massachusetts, Ray applied for and was admitted to Wesleyan University in Middletown, Connecticut, making him the first African American student there. Wilber Fisk, president of Wesleyan University and a colonizationist, likely admitted Ray because he believed in educating African Americans for missionary work.42
After Ray’s arrival, the white student body petitioned to have Ray dismissed from the university, but he left of his own accord. The Wesleyan University board of trustees then passed a resolution that “none but male white patrons shall be admitted as students at this institution.”43 That resolution represented the destructive nature of racism in the North and in New England specifically. The solution was to work toward building high schools, academies, and colleges for African Americans. The cooperation and collaboration between African American and white abolitionists to build a manual labor college became a turning point in interracial activism.44
When white New Haven residents learned of this educational proposal, many of them expressed disapproval. The specific complaints fell along class lines. The white New Haven elite, which included David Daggett, a Yale College professor of law, argued that the manual labor college would promote immediate emancipation, which interfered with the institution of slavery in various states. Daggett also contended that the very presence of African American men threatened Yale’s prosperity. The mayor of New Haven, Dennis Kimberly, a white Yale graduate, called a city meeting, where residents not only voted 700 to 4 to reject the proposal but also vowed to “resist the establishment of the proposed college in this place, by every lawful means.”45 Historian Hilary Moss finds that white middle-class and working-class New Haven residents objected to the proposed college partly because they “feared for their socioeconomic stability,” particularly in the form of labor competition.46 Furthermore, some white New Haven residents, both elite and working class, denounced African American higher education altogether because it undermined the progress that had been made by the local chapter of the American Colonization Society to send African Americans back to Africa. The weight of opposition, at times violent, in New Haven did not push proponents to abandon the project immediately; rather, they continued to explore alternatives.
Though the manual labor college plan collapsed, the larger fight for African American higher education did not. African American and white abolitionists redoubled their efforts by supporting another school. In 1833 Prudence Crandall, a white woman from Rhode Island, attempted to integrate her all-white seminary in Canterbury, Connecticut, when she admitted Sarah Ann Harris, a twenty-year-old free African American woman from the area. Harris aspired to gain a practical education to become a teacher. Some white parents threatened to withdraw their daughters if Crandall did not dismiss Harris. Crandall forestalled their actions by closing her school and reopening it to serve African American women. Compared to the proposed manual labor college, this female seminary served a different population, African American girls and women, with a different objective, teaching. However, this seminary had what the proposed manual labor college did not: infrastructure—a building, curriculum, and instructors. Garrison’s Liberator advertised the seminary as “a seasonable auxiliary to the contemplated Manual Labor School for Colored Youth,” thus annexing Crandall’s school as part of the push for black education.47 Crandall’s school replaced the proposed manual labor college because the central tenet of the struggle for African American higher education remained intact: to cultivate black intellect and work toward black equality and a multiracial democracy.
Abolitionist support for Crandall’s school rolled in from Arthur Tappan, Peter Williams, Samuel Cornish, Simeon Jocelyn, and William Lloyd Garrison, among others. These men advised her on the feasibility of recruiting African American students, acted as informal trustees, and publicized the school. A newcomer to the radical abolition movement, Crandall actually requested Garrison’s help in particular to recruit African American girls and women. Garrison had gone on record at the newly organized American Anti-Slavery Society echoing what African American abolitionists had proclaimed years earlier, namely, that educating African Americans could counter proslavery and antiblack claims about degradation and inferiority while forging learned and moral identities.
The opposition to Crandall’s seminary reflected white antagonism to the African American presence in New England.48 Many white elites, like Andrew Judson, a Connecticut state attorney, promoted black removal, not building seminaries for African American women to become teachers in the United States. Samuel J. May, a white abolitionist and ardent defender of Prudence Crandall, recalled that Judson uttered the following words: “There shall not be a school set up anywhere in our State. The colored people never can rise from their menial condition in our country; they ought not to be permitted to rise here.”49 Unlike colonizationist John Hough, Judson admitted that there might be potential for black advancement, but he did not wish for that to occur in the United States. Indeed, he made it clear that Crandall and her school threatened the process of removing African Americans from the nation. Echoing prevailing myths about the “menial condition” of African Americans was not a point of clarification; rather, Judson was suggesting that racism was a temporary organizing system for dealing with free blacks in “his country” until colonization could take root and remove African Americans.
The African American pursuit of higher education also unsettled some white New England inhabitants who appreciated the link between education and equality. What troubled opponents was the possibility that educated African Americans could destabilize the racial and social order. One opponent of African American education apparently confessed, “The blacks of the town [Canterbury] … would begin to look up and claim an equality with the whites; and if they were all placed upon an equal footing property and life would no longer be safe!”50 Safety here likely refers less to white male physical well-being and more to the idea of livelihood. Oftentimes an institution of higher education increased property values in the surrounding area; some opponents predicted a decline in property values and hence a decline in their livelihood if black schools remained. Just as African American and white abolitionists recognized the impact of black education, so too did opponents who, for all of their claims about innate black degradation and inferiority, feared a rising class of free, educated African Americans in the United States.
Like the proposed manual labor college, Crandall’s seminary occupied physical space in the Connecticut landscape and hence interfered with the ideal of a free, white New England. Prudence Crandall was put on trial multiple times for violating Connecticut’s Black Law, a hastily enacted law that forbade the “instruction or education of colored persons” who did not reside in Connecticut.51 If there were any doubts about Judson’s belief in white supremacy, his remarks at Crandall’s trials provided clarity: “America is ours—it belongs to a race of white men.”52 Amid the ordeal, Crandall kept her school open until violence erupted on September 9, 1834, when a mob attacked the school building. At that point, she decided to close her seminary. The criminal prosecution and then extralegal violence that Crandall and her students endured represented an attack on abolitionists; on their principles of immediate emancipation, black equality, and a multiracial democracy; and on their strategies, like building institutions of higher education.53
After the closure of Crandall’s seminary, the fight for African American higher education reanimated when abolitionists threw their support behind Noyes Academy, an interracial and coeducational institution in Canaan, New Hampshire. George Kimball, a white Massachusetts native and Dartmouth College graduate, spearheaded the effort to procure funds for the academy and to secure a charter from the New Hampshire state legislature, which was granted on July 4, 1834. Noyes Academy became one of thousands of academies in the United States. Kim Tolley notes that an academy was the “prevailing institution of higher schooling in eighteenth- and nineteenth-century America.”54 It served different functions, from socializing youth to training them for skilled labor positions; however, only a few academies were coeducational, let alone racially integrated. Noyes was to be different. A slight majority of the proprietors, some of whom sympathized with the plight of African Americans, voted to enroll African American students. The board of trustees, elected by the proprietors, issued a circular to the “American republic,” emphatically stating: “We proposed to afford colored youth a fair opportunity to show that they are capable, equally with whites, of improving themselves in every scientific attainment, every social virtue, and every Christian ornament.”55 The principles of educational equity and black equality resembled earlier remarks on education by abolitionists like William Lloyd Garrison and Simeon Jocelyn. Besides, Garrison had converted at least two of the trustees at Noyes to radical abolition and, apparently, black education: David L. Child, husband of Lydia Maria Child, and Samuel Sewall, a Harvard graduate and lawyer and also the cousin of Samuel J. May. Though neither Garrison nor Jocelyn became trustees, their presence was felt.
Many white Canaan residents denounced the decision to admit African Americans for reasons that appear all too familiar: fear of labor competition, the equalizing effect of education, and abolitionist fanaticism, as well as the desire to expel African Americans from New England and the nation. The composition of the student body, however, introduced one latent issue: interracial socializing, or as opponents called it, “amalgamation.”56 Soon after Noyes opened its doors in March 1835, fourteen African American students, including Henry Highland Garnet and Thomas Paul, both of whom would become ardent abolitionists, studied alongside twenty-eight white students. The local press incited anger by publishing an article that detailed the “spectacle … of colored gentlemen walking arm in arm with what ought to be respectable white females.”57 For opponents, the trouble with the abolitionist brand of education was its transformative power: it plunged otherwise respectable white females into disrepute. By the summer of 1835 one anonymous writer had expressed a readiness “to act in any capacity, even at the head of a mob,” to destroy Noyes.58 On the Fourth of July, a year to the day after the approval of the academy’s charter, at least seventy men from Canaan and its environs gathered with their weapons drawn, ready to attack the schoolhouse. Timothy Tilton, a white magistrate, forced the mob to retreat by threatening legal action. And the mob retreated, but only temporarily, because “amalgamation” was too crucial an issue for them to cede ground.
While opponents in Canaan plotted to bring ruin upon Noyes Academy, abolitionists convened in Boston in May 1835 and pledged to continue to work diligently in the cause for black education. In attendance were George Kimball and Samuel Sewall, who heard and perhaps voted to pass a host of resolutions, including Samuel J. May’s, which called for “more efficient efforts” to fund a manual labor school as well as “public patronage” for Noyes Academy.59 The Liberator published a committee report by Sewall in which the board of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, an auxiliary of the American Anti-Slavery Society, sent one hundred dollars to Noyes Academy on behalf of British abolitionists. The board of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society also appealed to individual donors for money, since the academy, which explicitly served “the colored people in New-England,” could also provoke other institutions to accept African Americans and thus, over time, achieve an end to racial prejudice.60
The academy’s detractors wished to put an end to any financial or public support. On July 31, 1835, a committee appointed by outraged white citizens of the town voted to get rid of the school.61 Over a week later, three hundred people gathered, according to one account, and “forcibly demolished the yard fences” and, with the aid of nearly a hundred yoke of cattle, removed the building “into the highway.”62 African American students, all of whom appeared to be from out-of-state, fled New Hampshire. Jacob Trussell, a white opponent, fancied himself a patriot; the ruined schoolhouse, in his mind, was a “monument of the folly of those living spirits, who are struggling to destroy what our fathers have gained.”63 A tower of intellect for African Americans represented for Trussell a “monument of folly.” The opposition, then, at Canaan was as much about destroying Noyes Academy as it was about disrupting the New England abolition movement.
Decrying white opposition, African American and white abolitionists concluded that New England was inhospitable to black institutions of higher education. The 1836 annual report from the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society surmised that the “most relentless spirit of hostility to any plan for the improvement and elevation of the people of color” existed in New England despite its tradition of education. A hostile New England found Samuel J. May, among others, supporting Oneida Institute in New York, but this institution did not animate the fight for black education as Noyes Academy did, perhaps because of sheer distance.64 Others like Reuben Ruby, an African American abolitionist from Maine, inquired about establishing a high school, academy, or college in the Midwest.65 Still others floated alternative ideas. Simeon Jocelyn recommended the establishment of educational societies, while Samuel Cornish used the Colored American to publicize black self-improvement efforts, particularly in creating literary societies, reading circles, and libraries. By the late 1830s African American and white abolitionists had differing approaches to strengthen African American higher education. Consequently, the struggle for African American higher education in New England lost cohesion and began to ebb.
Three institutions of higher education expressly for African Americans rose and fell in New England. No distinctly African American college, academy, or seminary would ever come to be in any state in antebellum New England. Still, this fight for African American higher education was influential. First, African American abolitionists linked and denounced both slavery and racial prejudice and in doing so asserted their presence and intellectual vitality. Second, the cooperation between African American and white abolitionists set the stage for future alliances. Third, the educational vision of these abolitionists impacted New England high schools, academies, and colleges, which began to debate radical abolition, desegregation, and racial integration. In fact, the efforts of abolitionists had desegregated, either directly or indirectly, at least four colleges and universities in the New England area, including the University of Vermont, where Andrew Harris became the first African American graduate in 1838.66 Radical abolitionists brought awareness to the cause of black education, which would be fought over for years not just in New England but throughout the United States.
1. William Cooper Nell, The Colored Patriots of the American Revolution with Sketches of Several Distinguished Colored Persons: To Which Is Added a Brief Survey of the Condition and Prospects of Colored Americans (Boston: Robert F. Wallcut, 1855), 33.
2. George R. Price and James Brewer Stewart, “Introduction: Hosea Easton and the Agony of Race,” in To Heal the Scourge of Prejudice: The Life and Writings of Hosea Easton, ed. Hosea Easton, George R. Price, and James Brewer Stewart (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press), 8–9.
3. Hosea Easton, A Treatise on the Intellectual Character and Civil and Political Condition of the Colored People of the United States; and the Prejudice Exercised Towards Them: With a Sermon on the Duty of the Church to Them (Boston: Printed and Published by Isaac Knapp, 1837), 43.
4. Ibid., 39.
5. For more on antebellum black protest, see especially Patrick Rael, Black Identity and Black Protest in the Antebellum North (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2002).
6. Hilary J. Moss, Schooling Citizens: The Struggle for African American Education in Antebellum America (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009); Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States, 1790–1860 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 123; Benjamin Quarles, Black Abolitionists (New York: Oxford University Press, 1969), 106. For other studies on abolition and education in the United States, see especially Carter G. Woodson, The Education of the Negro Prior to 1861: A History of the Education of the Colored People of the United States from the Beginning of Slavery to the Civil War (New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1915); Carleton Mabee, Black Education in New York State: From Colonial to Modern Times (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1979); and Milton C. Sernett, Abolition’s Axe: Beriah Green, Oneida Institute, and the Black Freedom Struggle (Syracuse, N.Y.: Syracuse University Press, 1986).
7. Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and 1780–1860 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998), 15.
8. Ibid., 51.
9. Lorenzo J. Greene, The Negro in Colonial New England (New York: Columbia University Press, 1942), 123.
10. Ira Berlin, Many Thousands Gone: The First Two Centuries of Slavery in North America (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1998), 10.
11. For an excellent analysis on black radicalism and revolutionary thought, see Manisha Sinha, “To ‘Cast Just Obliquy’ on Oppressors: Black Radicalism in the Age of Revolution,” William and Mary Quarterly 64, no. 1 (January 2007): 149–60.
12. “Petition from Slaves, 1779,” in The State of New Hampshire: Miscellaneous Provincial and State Papers, 1725–1800 (Manchester, N.H.: John B. Clarke, Public Printer, 1890), 18:705.
13. Stephanie Kermes, Creating an American Identity: New England, 1789–1825 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), 33.
14. Melish, Disowning Slavery, 107.
15. Kermes, Creating an American Identity, 36.
16. Daniel Walker Howe, What Hath God Wrought: The Transformation of America, 1815–1848 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2007), 244; John R. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education (Baltimore, Md.: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2011), 69.
17. Kenneth Nivison, “’But a Step from College to the Judicial Bench’: College and Curriculum in New England’s ‘Age of Improvement,’” History of Education Quarterly 50, no. 4 (November 2010): 470.
18. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education, 53.
19. David F. Allmendinger, Paupers and Scholars: The Transformation of Student Life in Nineteenth Century New England (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1975), 107–9.
20. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education, 41.
21. William Seymour Tyler, A History of Amherst College During the Administrations of Its First Five Presidents, from 1821 to 1891 (New York: Frederick H. Hitchcock, 1895), 5. The emphasis on classical education, which followed the curricular model at Yale College, would later be defined in the 1828 Yale Report, which defended the classical curriculum in American colleges and become the standard at many eastern colleges for a while.
22. Roger L. Geiger, “Introduction: New Themes in the History of Nineteenth-Century Colleges,” in The American College in the Nineteenth Century, ed. Roger L. Geiger (Nashville, Tenn.: Vanderbilt University Press, 2000), 3.
23. Thelin, A History of American Higher Education, 69.
24. Charter of Bowdoin College, Together with Various Acts of the Legislature, and the Decision of the Circuit Court, and the By-Laws of the Overseers (Brunswick, Maine: Printed by J. Griffin, 1850), 7; General Catalogue of Bowdoin College and the Medical School of Maine, 1794–1912 (Brunswick, Maine: Published by the College, 1912), 74–76.
25. Winston James, The Struggles of John Brown Russwurm: The Life and Writings of a Pan-Africanist Pioneer, 1799–1851 (New York: New York University Press, 2010), 17.
26. John Hough, Sermon Delivered before the Vermont Colonization Society at Montpeleir [sic], October 18, 1826 (Montpelier, Vt.: E. P. Walton–Watchman Office, 1826), 9.
27. Leon Litwack, North of Slavery: The Negro in the Free States (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1961), 139.
28. Hough, Sermon Delivered, 8–9.
29. Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013), 6. For more on the American colonization movement, see Beverly C. Tomek, Colonization and Its Discontents: Emancipation, Emigration, and Antislavery in Antebellum Pennsylvania (New York: New York University Press, 2011).
30. “Professor Stowe on Colonization,” African Repository and Colonial Journal (Washington, D.C.) 10 (1834): 301–2.
31. Margaret Sumner, Collegiate Republic: Cultivating an Ideal Society in Early America (Charlottesville: University of Virginia Press, 2014), 12.
32. The full title of David Walker’s treatise was Walker’s Appeal, in Four Articles; Together with a Preamble, to the Coloured Citizens of the World, but in Particular, and Very Expressly, to Those of the United States of America. Written in Boston, State of Massachusetts, September 28, 1829. Third and Last Edition, with Additional Notes, Corrections, &c. (Boston: Revised and Published by David Walker, 1830).
33. Maria W. Stewart, “Address Delivered at the African Masonic Hall,” Liberator, March 2, 1833.
34. “Elevation of Our People,” Colored American, November 23, 1839.
35. “Education,” Liberator, January 1, 1831. Hilary Moss argues a similar point in her book Schooling Citizens.
36. For a firsthand account of racial prejudice and violence as experienced by free African Americans in New England, see William J. Brown, The Life of William J. Brown, of Providence, Rhode Island, with Personal Recollections of Incidents in Rhode Island (Providence: Angell and Company, 1883).
37. “Address of Mr. Peter Osborne,” Liberator, December 1, 1832.
38. Minutes and Proceedings of the First Annual Convention of the People of Colour, June 1831 (Philadelphia: Published by Order of the Committee of Arrangements, 1831), 5.
39. William Lloyd Garrison, An Address Delivered Before the Free People of Color (Boston: Printed by Stephen Foster, 1831), 10.
40. Minutes and Proceedings, 18.
41. Lydia Maria Child, Appeal in Favor of That Class of Americans Called Africans (Boston: Allen and Ticknor, 1833), 208.
42. For more on Charles Ray and Wesleyan University, see David E. Swift, Black Prophets of Justice: Activist Clergy before the Civil War (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1989).
43. Minutes, October 10, 1832?, Nineteenth Century Administrative Records, General Records, Joint Board of Trustees and Visitors, 1830–70, Wesleyan University Special Collections and Archives, Olin Library.
44. James Brewer Stewart, Abolitionist Politics and the Coming of the Civil War (Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press, 2008), 178.
45. Simeon S. Jocelyn, College for Colored Youth: An Account of the New-Haven City Meetings and Resolutions (New York: The Committee, 1831), 5.
46. Moss, Schooling Citizens, 46.
47. “High School for Young Colored Ladies and Misses” (advertisement), Liberator, March 2, 1833. I examine this case in more detail in my forthcoming article in the Journal of Social History.
48. Historian Joanne Pope Melish advances this argument in her brilliant study, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780–1860 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998).
49. Samuel J. May, Some Recollections of Our Anti-Slavery Conflict (Boston: Fields, Osgood & Co., 1869), 47.
50. “George Benson to William Lloyd Garrison,” March 5, 1833, Liberator, March 9, 1833.
51. Report of the Arguments of Counsel in the Case of Prudence Crandall Plff. in Error vs. State of Connecticut Before the Supreme Court of Errors at Their Session at Brooklyn, July Term 1834 (Boston: Garrison & Knapp, 1834), iii.
52. Ibid., 22.
53. Wilder, Ebony and Ivy, 266.
54. Nancy Beadie and Kim Tolley, “A School for Every Purpose: An Introduction to the History of Academies in the United States,” in Chartered Schools: Two Hundred Years of Independent Academies in the United States, 1727–1925, ed. Nancy Beadie and Kim Tolley (New York: Routledge, 2002), 4.
55. “To the American Republic,” Liberator, October 25, 1834.
56. For an interesting analysis of interracial socializing and sex, see Leslie Harris, “From Abolitionist Amalgamators to ‘Rulers of the Five Points’: The Discourse of Interracial Sex and Reform in Antebellum New York City,” in Sex, Love, Race: Crossing Boundaries in North American History, ed. Martha Hodes (New York: New York University Press), 191–212.
57. “Colored School at Canaan,” New Hampshire Patriot and State Gazette, August 17, 1835.
58. William Allen Wallace, The History of Canaan, New Hampshire (Concord, N.H.: Rumford Press, 1910), 258.
59. “New England Anti-Slavery Convention,” Liberator, May 30, 1835.
60. S. E. Sewall, “Manual Labor School,” Liberator, July 4, 1835.
61. Wallace, The History of Canaan, New Hampshire, 271.
62. Jacob Trussell, “Colored School at Canaan,” Liberator, September 5, 1835; John H. Harris, “Exposition of Affairs Connected with Noyes Academy,” Liberator, October 3, 1835.
63. Trussell, “Colored School at Canaan.”
64. Fourth Annual Report of the Board of Managers of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society, January 20, 1836 (Boston: Published by Isaac Knapp, 1836), 28.
65. Minutes of the Fifth Annual Convention for the Improvement of the Free People of Colour in the United States, June 1835 (Philadelphia: Printed by William P. Gibbons, 1835), 10.
66. “Verdict of Colored Citizens of Boston,” Liberator, April 3, 1840.