“Two Youths (Slaves) of Great Promise”
The Education of David and Washington McDonogh at Lafayette College, 1838–1844
On February 1, 1838, a white New Orleans slave owner named John McDonogh wrote to Walter Lowrie, the secretary of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions in New York City, the following: “I beg leave to observe that among my Black family, I have Two Youths, (Slaves) of great promise, of the age of nineteen to twenty years, who are remarkable at that early period of life, for their intelligence, knowledge, and solidity of judgment, their pious, and tractable dispositions, whom I offer to your Society, to be given a Religious Education, preparatory to their becoming missionaries of the Gospel in the Land of their forefathers.”1 These words set in motion one of the most interesting chapters in Lafayette College’s long history: the education of David and Washington McDonogh at Lafayette. It is a chapter that has not been long on our radar. Only since about 1980 has the full story of Lafayette’s role in educating black students in the 1830s and 1840s begun to emerge.2
Lafayette College opened its doors in 1832, a very different institution from the one its founders, prominent citizens of the town of Easton, Pennsylvania, had envisioned. Caught up in the spirit of the marquis de Lafayette’s “farewell tour” of America in 1824, the founders planned a school that would emphasize military science and civil engineering. It named a board of trustees that did not include a single clergyman to avoid sectarianism. Chartered in 1826, it took the trustees another six years to find someone willing to take on the presidency and open the school. The Reverend George Junkin, a staunchly conservative Presbyterian minister, agreed to bring his struggling Pennsylvania Manual Labor Academy from Germantown to Easton, if the trustees would give up military science and accept the manual labor model, which called for students to work in either the agricultural department (gardening, hauling manure, cutting hay, and digging potatoes) or the mechanical department (making boxes, trunks, and agricultural implements) to make money for the college and to offset their tuition.3
In the first class in 1832 was an African American, Aaron O. Hoff, from neighboring Belvidere, New Jersey. Hoff remained enrolled for two years and was noted for blowing the trumpet to summon the students in from the fields to the classroom. Aaron Hoff is duly recorded in the college’s records, but in 1836 a second black student arrived for whom there is no record.4 This was Ephraim Titler, a Liberian colonist who was selected by the Presbyterian Board of Education to return to the United States for special studies to enable him to assist with the mission efforts in Liberia. The church sent him to Lafayette College early in January 1836 to study under President Junkin. In a testimonial he wrote for Titler, Junkin touted the success of the endeavor: “He [Titler] has spent part of the winter in this institution & produced a very favorable impression toward his object. We are desirous of aiding the enterprise by gratuitously instructing a few such young men & providing frames for houses & farming utensils for them to take out with them.”5 Junkin’s willingness to provide such an opportunity marked his growing support of colonization and positioned Lafayette College as a hospitable site for candidates to be trained for missionary work in Liberia for the Presbyterian Church. Between 1832 and 1844 ten students of color were enrolled at Lafayette, and four of them went on to Liberia. Although a request was received from Elliott Cresson, the Quaker philanthropist and colonizationist, to enroll another black student to be prepared for Liberia in 1847, the student did not matriculate. Lafayette College did not admit another black student for the next one hundred years, until after World War II, when it admitted two students who had been Tuskegee airmen. The college did award an honorary degree in 1869 to Edward Wilmot Blyden, the noted Liberian diplomat and scholar.6
No records survive that reveal exactly what the arrangement was that brought David and Washington McDonogh to Lafayette. As Lafayette College archivist, I have long been intrigued by their story, and recently, with the help of a student research assistant, I have attempted to gather all known sources and documents for the Lafayette College Archives. To date, we have amassed nearly three hundred documents. By far the most valuable materials are the numerous letters preserved in various manuscript collections, particularly those in the archives, the Presbyterian Historical Society in Philadelphia, and the Tulane University Library in New Orleans. The latter institution houses the papers of John McDonogh, who was the owner of David and Washington McDonogh.
Born in Baltimore in 1779, John McDonogh was apprenticed as a young man to a mercantile firm, which sent him to New Orleans in 1800. After several years of representing the firm, he established his own mercantile business and built up a fortune, most of which he invested in real estate. He bought swampland, paying attention to the periodic flooding of the Mississippi River and purchasing tracts that would benefit from silting. He bought and sold slaves and set up plantations. He was a hard businessman, not afraid to litigate for what he felt was his due. He was pious, a Presbyterian by birth, and with age he became more concerned with things of the spirit. In 1817, as a cost-saving measure, he gave up his lavish lifestyle in New Orleans and moved from his elegant townhouse to a plainer plantation dwelling across the Mississippi River. Education for poor children and emancipation of slaves became two of his causes.7
McDonogh became a member of the American Colonization Society soon after its founding in 1816, and in 1825 he initiated a scheme to enable his slaves to buy their freedom on the installment plan and go to Liberia. McDonogh was already allowing his slaves to earn money by paying them for their regular work on Saturday afternoons, and under the new plan he would bank their earnings until they had enough (it took approximately seven years) to purchase their freedom on Saturday mornings. Then with the money earned on their free Saturdays, they could purchase Fridays, and little by little, in approximately fifteen years, they could purchase the entire five-and-a-half-day work week and full freedom for themselves and their children.8
McDonogh was very clear with his slaves that manumission was contingent on going to Africa. “It is your freedom in Liberia that I contract for,” he told them. “I would never consent to give freedom to a single individual among you to remain on the same soil as the white man.”9 McDonogh ultimately believed that if he could convince other slaveholders that he did not lose money with his scheme, it would be widely adopted. Indeed, in writing about it publicly for the first time in 1842 in the New Orleans Commercial Bulletin, he attested to making money—enough money to “enable me to go to Virginia or Carolina and purchase double the number of those I sent away.”10
McDonogh felt it was important to prepare his slaves for freedom in Africa, so during this period of gradual emancipation he trained slaves in various trades and provided education to many. In teaching his slaves to read and write, McDonogh was in direct violation of a Louisiana law passed in 1830 that made the crime of educating slaves punishable by up to a year in prison.11 But McDonogh was determined, even petitioning the Louisiana legislature to allow him to educate slaves who were bound for Liberia. Even though he was unsuccessful, he continued to flout the law.12 In fact, in his first letter to Walter Lowrie, McDonogh disingenuously denied knowledge of how his slaves had learned to read and write: “You are aware Sir, that, by our laws no owner of a slave is permitted to educate him within the State, under heavy penalties.—(By what means these two youths have learned to read—for they read well, and one of them, I am told, writes well—I do not know.)”13
In a subsequent letter to Lowrie, McDonogh explained his choice of David and Washington as the young men to be sent north for further education in preparation for immigration to Liberia:
David is a Boy of bright parts—and if a high, proud, brave, and aspiring disposition (tempered at the same time with much piety), can be kept down, tempered, and made to walk humbly in the footsteps of his Lord and master, will become great among his people—he is capable of acquiring every science—in short, he may become a Madison … among his people.—Washington not so bright and imaginative, has greater solidity of character; is of mild disposition, meek, humble, full of piety, can be moulded to any form, and may be called the Monroe of his people.14
Both slaves used the surname McDonogh. John McDonogh told Lowrie that he had asked David and Washington what they wanted to be called in the North, and they had asked to continue to use the McDonogh surname as they had heretofore.15 In this case, both David and Washington called John McDonogh father, as did many of his other slaves. In his letters John spoke of knowing David from his infancy, and Washington, in one of his letters, reported that John took him from his parents when he was small and brought him up in his own house “as a son instead of a servant.”16
Little is known about the parents of David and Washington McDonogh. Washington’s mother and siblings were also among John McDonogh’s enslaved people in New Orleans. His parents’ names, James and Fillis Watts, are noted in Lafayette College records.17 Washington used the name Washington Watts McDonogh in his letters, and David used David Kinney McDonogh. The birthplace of David McDonogh’s mother is listed as Virginia in the 1880 census, while the birthplace of his father has been left blank. David is listed as mulatto in the 1850 census and as black in the 1860, 1870, and 1880 censuses. He is identified as mulatto by Edward Byron Reuter in his Mulatto in the United States.18
The choice of Lafayette College as the institution to educate David and Washington McDonogh hinged on Presbyterian and American Colonization Society connections and the fact that the Presbyterian Church officially supported the work of the Acs. Lafayette was probably selected by Walter Lowrie, whom John McDonogh had made the legal guardian of David and Washington. Lowrie would have known of Lafayette president George Junkin’s interest in colonization through his previous service to the Presbyterian Church in tutoring Ephraim Titler for mission work in Liberia. And Junkin, with his manual labor program failing about this time, would have been interested in the financial support that educating these young men would bring from the Presbyterian Church, which was funding the McDonoghs’ educational expenses.19
Junkin’s stance on slavery was a complicated one. Apparently some who favored immediate abolition considered Junkin a proslavery supporter because of an eight-hour speech he made before the Cincinnati Synod in 1843 presenting his conclusion that the Bible tolerates slavery, but he actually supported the idea of gradual emancipation.20 At the time of the speech, Junkin was president of Miami University (in between his two terms at Lafayette), where, according to antislavery advocates, his repressive attitudes toward abolition had resulted in declining enrollments.21 But Junkin was also pro-Union and had to leave his final post as president of Washington College (now Washington and Lee) when Virginia left the Union because he could not support secession. In his biography of his brother, David X. Junkin observes that the McDonogh “servants” were “sent to Dr. Junkin’s care at Lafayette College, to be educated.… It is a suggestive fact, that when black men were excluded from most, if not all, of the Colleges in the land, Dr. Junkin, whom his opponents tried to brand as a pro-slavery man, received them.”22
Still enslaved when they left New Orleans, David and Washington McDonogh were listed on the slave manifest of the packet Orleans, bound for New York on May 2, 1838. John McDonogh had been clear on this point when writing to Lowrie: “As our Laws do not permit owners to Emancipate Slaves, before they have attained the age of thirty years, and even then, only in particular cases … I will pray you to inform me Sir, whether there will be any difficulty under your Laws in sending them into your State, as they can only go from here to you as slaves.”23 When they boarded the ship, David and Washington carried documents that would give them their freedom—a power of attorney from John McDonogh to Walter Lowrie transferring guardianship of David and Washington to Lowrie and empowering him to emancipate them whenever he saw fit to do so, although McDonogh hoped it would be deferred until their education was finished and they had departed for Africa.24
Lowrie’s decision to do otherwise tells us something about Lowrie’s attitudes toward slavery, as well as conditions in Pennsylvania, where David and Washington were to be educated. As a United States senator from Pennsylvania from 1819 to 1825, Lowrie had opposed the extension of slavery into the western territories, and he had argued eloquently against it in the debates leading up to the Missouri Compromise.25 Three weeks after the arrival of the McDonoghs at Lafayette College, Lowrie drafted a document that is still preserved among his papers at the Presbyterian Historical Society “emancipating and setting free from the bonds of slavery, David McDonogh and Washington McDonogh.”26 It is clear that Lowrie felt strongly about taking this action, as it was done so promptly, in spite of the wishes of John McDonogh. It was also important for him to do so before the McDonoghs had been long at Lafayette College. Slavery in Pennsylvania was virtually extinguished by 1830, although a few slaves continued to reside in the state as late as the 1840s, and it was illegal for slaves to be brought into Pennsylvania by their owners from other states for more than six months.27
Still, at Lafayette College, the McDonoghs’ race and their recent servitude were the overriding factors influencing the way they were treated during their years on campus. At the time they were in residence, the Lafayette campus was dominated by a large four-story building, the College Edifice, which served as both classroom building and residence for the president and his family, the faculty, and all the students. But the McDonoghs were housed in a low adjacent building, the former shop of the manual labor program. Though they were required to attend all recitations of their classmates (oral presentations demonstrating mastery of a lesson), they had to sit separately. They ate their meals separately. They even received their instruction separately.28
The segregation endured by David and Washington McDonogh was later remarked upon by President Junkin’s daughter Margaret Junkin Preston, who was a teenager during the McDonoghs’ residency at Lafayette and who later became a well-known poet of the Confederacy and the sister-in-law of Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general. In the 1886 biography of John McDonogh written by her stepdaughter’s husband, the first principal of McDonogh School in Baltimore, Preston remembered: “The Presbyterian Mission Board had asked my father to have these boys educated. They were accordingly sent to Lafayette College, where they were for several years under his care. They were a great care and trouble to him, as they were kept and taught wholly apart from the students, who would never have consented to their presence among them. For the sake of the cause the professors took them over the regular courses by themselves. David took a full diploma. I think Washington did not take the whole course.”29 Austin Craig, a member of the class of 1846, also wrote years later about the time “when college classes, Model school, and the Coloured Theological class (of one person), all came together, either to sup in the middle basement, or to attend prayers before daybreak, in the old chapel under the Society Halls.”30
Margaret Junkin Preston’s vivid description offered further details about the McDonoghs and their life at Lafayette:
These boys were very black, of the purest African color; David lithe, graceful and handsome, with features that had scarcely a negro trace about them; and both were exceedingly well mannered. Mr. McDonogh treated them as his children. They dressed like gentlemen, both carried watches when not many students did, and had their supply of pocket-money. He wrote to them very frequently, always in French; and many a long letter of moral and religious advice they used to bring to me to read to them. I was then a schoolgirl studying French, and used to wonder at their inability to read French when their easy chatter of it made me envy them. They were always good boys, and used to come a good deal to our large, airy kitchen to talk with our servants, who were always black. All the while they were under my father’s care, Mr. McDonogh kept up a correspondence with him about them. I remember well the long foolscap sheets he used to write, and he always seemed more intent upon their spiritual condition than anything else.31
The story of the watches is borne out in the correspondence. David had apparently lobbied for a watch, telling John that students had only three minutes between classes, and they must be on time. Suspecting that David was simply eager for a watch as a status symbol, John asked Lowrie in frustration: “Is there not a clock belonging to the College, which strikes the hour?” But admitting he had intended to get watches for David and Washington before they went to Africa, he authorized Lowrie to purchase them each an “old fashioned silver watch, with good works.”32
Lafayette’s second president, John Yeomans, writing to Presbyterian officials in 1843, also confirmed the segregated treatment of the McDonoghs: “We have had two colored youth several years, one of whom [David] is here now in junior standing. He attends the recitations of the class, but rooms and eats by himself and has a separate seat in all assemblings of the students.” Yeomans paradoxically went on to say: “No student in the College mingles more freely with the other students than he. He is intelligent and popular, although not in all respects the most amiable.”33 The latter comment reflected the tensions between David and Yeomans. Yeomans had earlier commented to John McDonogh about David’s temperament: “We have much more trial with David’s temper & disposition than with Washington’s. He is quite high minded & needs occasional checks which we endeavor in the best way we can to impose upon him.”34 David, for his part, protested to Lowrie that Yeomans “wants me to submit to all the rules and regulations of college, whereas I enjoy none of the privileges.” Yeomans had put a stop to David’s role as a Sunday school teacher in a local black church after David’s popularity had aroused the jealousy of the pastor. David further complained to Lowrie, “All the students … and also our tutor, say that he has no right to stop me and that I should not obey him in that respect. Nay, even his own Brother says that he is wrong.”35
In addition to church activities, David and Washington McDonogh had other contact with African Americans in Easton. When they arrived in 1838, they stayed for a time in the home of Aaron Hoff, Lafayette College’s first black student. And in 1840 they ceased to be the only black students at Lafayette when another New Orleans African American with McDonogh connections matriculated at Lafayette. This was Thomas McDonogh Durnford, the son of Andrew Durnford, a free black planter and close compatriot of John McDonogh. In fact, John McDonogh was Thomas Durnford’s godfather. Thomas McDonogh Durnford graduated from Lafayette in 1846, the second black graduate after David McDonogh. Unlike David and Washington, as a free black, Thomas Durnford was allowed to live with the other students and was even a speaker at his commencement. Two other students studied briefly at the college in the early 1840s under the auspices of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions. During the 1840–41 year, Abraham Miller, a young African prince, was in residence before returning to Liberia as a teacher. In 1841 Thomas Wilson of Trenton, New Jersey, spent a year at the college preparing for service in Liberia and eventually emigrated in 1843 with his wife and six children. Three black students (Jonathan C. Gibbs, Bazel N. Goines, and John F. Wilson) entered the college in 1843 and stayed for about a year.36 David McDonogh wrote Lowrie that they were leaving in November 1844: “Those colored young men, who have been in this college one year, are now leaving us; they contend for Equal Rights, but they cannot get it; therefore they will not stay here.”37
Washington McDonogh was enrolled in the Preparatory Department of the college for three years, from 1838 to June 1842, when he was notified by Walter Lowrie to prepare for his immediate departure for Africa. Apparently, the shortness of the notice left little time for good-byes, but a hasty service was held in the college chapel. President Yeomans called it “a solemn and impressive scene” and went on to say that “Washington had commended himself to the generous & warm attachments of the faculty & students, by his amiable temper, honesty & steady habits… . His departure was the occasion of awakening in the students of the institution a lively interest in the condition & prospects of the African race.”38 Yeomans had his own parting words for Washington in a farewell letter, counseling him to “love all men & do to every one all the good you can; especially pity the ignorant & wicked natives of Africa & when you arrive among them try to instruct and convert them. The Lord be with you, Washington… . Your sincere friend, J. W. Yeomans.”39
Washington McDonogh left Lafayette on June 10, 1842, and embarked for Liberia on June 16, reaching Monrovia in late August. Arriving just a few days earlier was the Mariposa, the ship engaged by the American Colonization Society to take the first group of John McDonogh’s slaves, as well as other émigrés, to Liberia. On board from New Orleans were approximately eighty emancipated McDonogh slaves, including Washington’s mother and several of his siblings. In fact, they had expected Washington to meet the Mariposa in Norfolk, Virginia, not realizing that he had sailed from Philadelphia several days before.40
Washington McDonogh was to spend the rest of his life in Liberia, working primarily as a teacher in a mission school at Settra Kroo. In 1849 he married a Christian woman who shared his work at the school. Later in life he was elected to the lower house of the Liberian legislature.41 A number of Washington’s letters from Liberia are extant. He continued to write to Walter Lowrie and his successors at the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions until the 1870s. He also wrote to John Yeomans at Lafayette and to John McDonogh until the latter’s death in 1850. In an 1846 letter Washington told his former owner: “I should like very much, dear father, to see you once more before we leave this world, for it would be a source of great delight to me, but I will never consent to leave this country for all the pleasures of America combined together … for this is the only place where a colored person can enjoy his liberty.”42
David McDonogh, after completing the preparatory program, was enrolled in the regular course of study, taking a classical curriculum, in which he did very well. His letters mention some of his courses—Latin, Greek, calculus, mechanics, chemistry, optics. In preparation for Liberia, he also studied theology and medicine. As he put it in a letter to Walter Lowrie, “I will go, with a glad and overflowing heart, to that once enlightened, but now benighted country, with my box of medicine in one hand and my Bible in the other.” It was the study of medicine, though, that ignited a real passion within him. He studied anatomy, surgery, and therapeutics, and he was apprenticed to a local doctor and pharmacist, Hugh Abernathy, who taught him to bleed patients and pull teeth. He told Lowrie that he would sacrifice almost anything rather than give up his medical studies.43 And despite his differences with President Yeomans, he admitted that Lafayette offered certain opportunities that he might not have had elsewhere. He wrote to Lowrie:
Were it not, sir, for the advantages I possess here, I would readily desire you to find some other institution for me. But, here, I have two advantages at least, which I do not [think] I could enjoy at any other College. The first is this: Here I am so situated that I can pursue the regular college studies and also my medical studies without the molestation of any one. This I consider a very great advantage.—The next is.—here, I am acquainted with, and possess the good will of, and am very kindly treated by all the students and professors. This I look upon as an advantage equal, if not greater than, the other.44
David McDonogh’s final year at Lafayette was marked by frustration and altercations with John McDonogh over his future. Increasingly eager to continue his study of medicine, David stalled for time against his former owner’s insistence that he finish up and head to Liberia. Finally, in a letter of April 5, 1844, David took a stand, telling John that he was “decidedly, utterly, and radically” opposed to going to Africa now and enumerating the reasons why. He made the same argument to Lowrie in a letter the next day, concluding, “And therefore sir, nothing that you and my father can say to the contrary, will induce me to leave this country before I complete, at least, my medical studies and receive the degree of M.D.”45 John McDonogh was furious, calling David “that ungrateful and most unprincipled man” and telling Lowrie that “this letter of his is of so extraordinary a character, that I do not know whether I shall ever write to him again.” John advocated cutting off his funding and even suggested that he be allowed to think he could be put back into bondage if he did not cooperate, but John ultimately left the decision up to Lowrie, who continued his support of David, enabling him to graduate from Lafayette in September 1844.46
David McDonogh remained in Easton after graduation, growing increasingly discouraged over his prospects for further medical education. Finally, he got word from Lowrie that none of the New York medical schools would admit him. Lashing out, David wrote to Lowrie:
Permit me to say that the Refusal on the part of the medical faculties, and the worse than slavish treatment which I have suffered here, and from those, too, who are looked upon by their Kind as saints on Earth, have given me the strongest Reasons to distrust the fidelity of the white man. Therefore sir—with due deference to your honor, I have resolved to cover my sable Brow with a cloud of despair and never more to look up to the White man, whatever may be his profession or condition in society, as a true friend.47
David did allow for “honorable exceptions” to this general pronouncement and, remarkably, found one in the person of Dr. John Kearney Rodgers, a professor at the College of Physicians and Surgeons in New York (now the medical school of Columbia University). Rodgers was willing to serve as a preceptor for David McDonogh and arranged for him to attend classes at the college. He was never officially admitted, nor did he receive a degree. However, he completed the full course of study and was afterward treated as a medical colleague by other doctors. Rodgers arranged an appointment for McDonogh at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, where it was said that “he did excellent work and was frequently in demand as a consultant.” In 1875, when he was about fifty-four years old, McDonogh did receive a medical degree from the Eclectic Medical College of New York. For a time, he was also a member of the faculty of the Eclectic Medical College. His offices were in the Hell’s Kitchen area of the city.48
From the early 1850s, McDonogh was active in the Colored Conventions movement. He was first elected to the New York State Council of Colored Persons in 1853; attesters to the election were Frederick Douglass and fellow African American physician James McCune Smith. In 1854 McDonogh attended the organization’s meeting in Albany, where he was a vigorous participant. In 1855 he was elected by the Young Republican Colored Citizens of the Eastern District as a delegate to the state convention, and in September he attended the Colored Men’s State Convention in Troy, New York, where he was elected a delegate to the national convention in Philadelphia, although it is not known whether he attended that meeting. Later activity included attending in 1870 the New York Colored Labor Convention in Saratoga, where he served on the vital statistics and labor committee; chairing in 1874 the meeting of the Colored Republicans of the Eighth Congressional District to ratify nominations; and serving in 1890 as delegate to the National Colored Convention in Washington, D.C., where he was elected one of the vice presidents. In 1875 he was one of the organizers, along with Henry Highland Garnet, of a memorial service for the noted abolitionist Gerrit Smith at the Shiloh Presbyterian Church, a black church in Manhattan.49
David McDonogh died in Newark on January 15, 1893, survived by his wife and a daughter. In his will he listed both Lafayette College and Washington McDonogh among his beneficiaries. An imposing granite obelisk was erected over his grave in the Bronx’s Woodlawn Cemetery. The Lafayette student newspaper of November 10, 1893, included a three-page article devoted to the dedication of this marker, a ceremony attended by family and fifty invited guests, including a number of physicians, both white and black, some of whom had studied under McDonogh. A grandchild pulled the cord that unveiled the monument, which read:
DAVID K. MCDONOGH, M.D.
Born New Orleans, La., Aug. 10, 1821;
Died Newark, N.J., Jan. 15, 1893.
By Example and Precept a Leader
in the Elevation of His Race.50
In January 1898, five years after David McDonogh’s death, a new hospital was established at 439 West 41st Street in New York City. It was the first hospital in the city to be interracial in terms of both physicians and patients, and it bore the name McDonough Memorial. According to the first annual report, “The Hospital opens two new fields. The one is a Hospital in which Physicians, regardless of nationality, creed or color, can have clinical practice; the other is a training school in which our colored girls can learn to be professional nurses. The McDonough Memorial Hospital was established to afford medical and surgical aid and nursing to sick and disabled persons of every creed, nationality and color.” Among its distinctions was its selection as the treatment site of black Spanish-American War soldiers, including the famed “buffalo soldiers” who fought at the Battle of San Juan Hill in Cuba. Unfortunately, McDonough Memorial ceased operations in 1904 when funds could not be raised for a suitable building. But for the six years it existed, it was the only place in New York where African American patients could be treated by physicians of their own race.51
The divergent paths taken by David and Washington McDonogh to establish themselves as free men were representative of the national debate about the place of free blacks and emancipated slaves in America. Promoting emigration as a solution to the perceived problem of free blacks and whites living together in America, the colonization movement had perhaps its greatest impact in the opposition it engendered. Although not all blacks were opposed to the idea, the agents of the American Colonization Society encountered a lack of interest, resistance, and outright hostility from many of the free blacks they attempted to enlist. By the early 1830s most American blacks emigrating to Africa were, like Washington McDonogh, emancipated slaves. But among many of those who did emigrate, both free and emancipated blacks, there was the profound sense that only in Liberia could they enjoy full rights of citizenship.52 Washington had attested to this in his 1846 letter to John McDonogh: “There exists no prejudice of color in this country, but every man is free and equal.”53 For most northern blacks by the early 1830s, however, the emergence of the radical abolitionist movement brought the principles of immediate abolition and full equality in America to the forefront. For these blacks, colonization was an anathema; they considered themselves Americans and were fiercely opposed to emigration. David McDonogh’s refusal to go to Liberia and his determination to succeed as a doctor in New York reflected this prevailing attitude that freedom could and should be had in America.54
A century after McDonough Memorial Hospital was shuttered, Lafayette College commissioned another memorial tribute to David McDonogh. It was the result of a mention of his story in the inaugural address of Lafayette president Daniel Weiss in 2005. Lafayette professor of art and printmaker Curlee Raven Holton took note and proposed the creation of a sculpture to honor David McDonogh. In the fall of 2008, a sixteen-foot, five-ton sculpture by artist Melvin Edwards, himself a descendant of slaves from Louisiana and Texas, was erected on campus. The dedication of this powerful work, representing struggle, tension, and achievement and fittingly entitled Transcendence, brought great excitement to campus with the presence of some of the country’s best-known African American artists and the participation of the McDonogh Network, a new organization made up of black alumni.55
Melvin Edwards (b. 1937), Transcendence (2008, stainless steel, 16 ft. high). Lafayette College Art Collection. Courtesy of Lafayette College Communications Department and Lafayette College Art Collection.
The sculpture Transcendence and the remarkable life it commemorates do indeed remind us, as Clement Alexander Price has so perceptively expressed it in writing about the sculptor, that “the torment of race did not come without a countervailing effort by blacks to survive, to weld elements of their pain onto their quest for joy and aspirations and their intense desire to move forward.”56 The story of David and Washington McDonogh, played out on two continents, is a record of such survival, a testament to aspiration, will, defiance, and the transformative power of education.
1. John McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, February 1, 1838, Board of Foreign Missions Correspondence, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia. Hereafter cited as BFMC.
2. Andrew E. Murray, “Bright Delusion: Presbyterians and African Colonization,” Journal of Presbyterian History 58, no. 3 (Fall 1980): 224–37; Bernard R. Carman, “Also David K. McDonogh the Coloured Youth,” Lafayette Alumni Quarterly 58, no. 1 (Fall 1986): 25–31; Russell W. Irvine, “Completing the Story of Lafayette College: The Presence of African Americans before the Civil War” (lecture, Lafayette College, February 15, 2001); Jeffrey A. Mullins, “Standing on Their Own: African American Engagements with Educational Philanthropy in Antebellum America,” in Uplifting a People: African American Philanthropy and Education, ed. Marybeth Gasman and Katherine V. Sedgwick (New York: Peter Lang, 2005), 25–38.
3. David Bishop Skillman, The Biography of a College: Being the History of the First Century of the Life of Lafayette College (Easton, Pa.: Lafayette College, 1932), 22–55.
4. Ibid., 60; Aaron Hoff, Reference Files, Lafayette College Archives, Easton, Pennsylvania, includes Hoff obituary from the Easton Daily Express (January 30, 1902), which indicates that Hoff was most probably associated with the Manual Labor Academy of Pennsylvania as early as 1831.
5. Irvine, “Completing the Story,” 5.
6. Black Students at Lafayette: 1832–1900, Reference Files, Lafayette College Archives, Easton, Pennsylvania.
7. Marc P. Blum, John McDonogh, the Founding of McDonogh School, and the Early Leaders (McDonogh, Md.: McDonogh School, 1998), 7–29; William Allan, Life and Work of John McDonogh (1886; reprint, Metarie, La.: Jefferson Parish Historical Commission, 1983), 33–35.
8. James T. Edwards, ed., Some Interesting Papers of John McDonogh Chiefly Concerning the Louisiana Purchase and the Liberian Colonization (McDonogh, Md.: Boys of McDonogh School, 1898), 43–71.
9. Ibid., 48.
10. Allan, Life and Work, 49.
11. Henry A. Bullard and Thomas Curry, comps., A New Digest of the Statute Laws of the State of Louisiana, from the Change of Government to the Year 1841, Inclusive (New Orleans: E. Johns & Co., 1842), 271–72, http://books.google.com/.
12. Allan, Life and Work, 51.
13. McDonogh to Lowrie, February 1, 1838.
14. John McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, May 2, 1838, BFMC.
16. John McDonogh to John W. Yeomans, December 6, 1841, John William Yeomans Correspondence, Lafayette College Archives, Easton, Pennsylvania; Bell I. Wiley, ed., Slaves No More: Letters from Liberia, 1833–1869 (Lexington: University Press of Kentucky, 1980), 141.
17. Seldin J. Coffin, Record of the Men of Lafayette (Easton, Pa.: Skinner & Finch, 1879), 329.
18. Edward Byron Reuter, The Mulatto in the United States (Boston: G. Badger, 1918), 261.
19. Irvine, “Completing the Story,” 8.
20. Stacey Jean Klein, Margaret Junkin Preston, Poet of the Confederacy: A Literary Life (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 2007), 17–18.
21. Andrew E. Murray, Presbyterians and the Negro: A History (Philadelphia: Presbyterian Historical Society, 1966), 110.
22. David X. Junkin, The Reverend George Junkin, D.D., LL.D., a Historical Biography (Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1871), 442–43.
23. McDonogh to Lowrie, February 1, 1838.
24. McDonogh to Lowrie, May 2, 1838.
25. Walter Lowrie, Memoirs of the Hon. Walter Lowrie (New York: Baker & Taylor, 1896), 22–23.
26. Lowrie, document emancipating David and Washington McDonogh, June 13, 1838, BFMC.
27. Christopher Densmore, “Seeking Freedom in the Courts: The Work of the Pennsylvania Society for Promoting the Abolition of Slavery, and for the Relief of Free Negroes Unlawfully Held in Bondage, and for Improving the Condition of the African Race, 1775–1865,” Pennsylvania Legacies, November 2005, 16–18.
28. The Lafayette faculty minutes for November 21, 1842, include the motion: “Resolved that David McDonogh receive private instruction from Professor McCartney in Mathematics and from Professor Nassau in Languages.” Faculty Minute Books, Lafayette College Archives.
29. Allan, Life and Work, 52.
30. W. S. Harwood, Life and Letters of Austin Craig (New York: Fleming H. Revell, 1908), 30.
31. Allan, Life and Work, 52–53.
32. John McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, June 10, 1839, BFMC.
33. John Yeomans to M. B. Hope, August 2, 1843, Yeomans Correspondence.
34. John Yeomans to John McDonogh, November 18, 1841, Yeomans Correspondence.
35. David McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, September 13, 1842, BFMC.
36. Black Students at Lafayette: 1832–1900, Reference Files, Lafayette College Archives.
37. David McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, November 12, 1844, BFMC.
38. Yeomans, “For The Presbyterian: Departure for Africa,” 1842 (letter book copy), Yeomans Correspondence.
39. John Yeomans to Washington McDonogh, June 10, 1842 (letter book copy), Yeomans Correspondence.
40. Arthur G. Nuhrah, “John McDonogh: Man of Many Facets,” Louisiana Historical Quarterly 33, no. 1 (1950): 117; Yeomans, “For The Presbyterian.”
41. Wiley, Slaves No More, 118, 153.
42. Ibid., 142.
43. McDonogh to Lowrie, September 13, 1842.
45. David McDonogh to John McDonogh, April 5, 1844; David McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, April 6, 1844, BFMC.
46. John McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, April 16 and 24, 1844, BFMC.
47. David McDonogh to Walter Lowrie, November 26, 1844, BFMC.
48. Russell W. Irvine, “Pride and Prejudice: The Early History of African-Americans at P&S,” P&S: The College of Physicians and Surgeons of Columbia University, Winter 2000, 13–16; Carman, “Also David K. McDonogh,” 30–31; John A. Kinney, The Negro in Medicine (Tuskegee, Ala.: Tuskegee Institute Press, 1912), 32–33. McDonogh at some point took “Kearney” as his middle name (replacing “Kinney”) in tribute to John Kearney Rodgers.
49. Frederick Douglass Paper, October 28, 1853, December 9, 1853 March 2, 1954; New York Times, August 25, 1870; New York Herald, October 31, 1874; Utica (N.Y.) Daily Observer, January 11, 1875; New York Weekly Press, January 22, 1890).
50. “A Pioneer in His Race,” The Lafayette, November 10, 1893, 51–53. Although this article cites the full middle name Kearney on the marker, it is actually only a “K.”
51. Carman, “Also David K. McDonogh,” 31. The spelling of McDonogh’s name as McDonough by the hospital is unexplained and is possibly attributable to the fact that the name was frequently misspelled in this manner. It appears that there was an attempt to reestablish McDonough Memorial Hospital in 1918 at West 133rd Street, near Fifth Avenue. Photographs available through Corbis Images show crowds attending a ground-breaking ceremony on June 9, 1918. The image caption notes that “the institution is named in honor of Dr. David Kearney McDonough, a pioneer African American Physician.”
52. Marie Tyler-McGraw, An African Republic: Black & White Virginians in the Making of Liberia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2007), 6, 73; Eric Burin, Slavery and the Peculiar Solution: A History of the American Colonization Society (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2005), .
53. Wiley, Slaves No More, 142.
54. Leslie M. Harris, In the Shadow of Slavery: African Americans in New York City, 1626–1863 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 141–42, 170; Claude A. Clegg III, The Price of Liberty: African Americans and the Making of Liberia (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2004), 35.
55. “Remembering David K. McDonogh 1844,” Lafayette College news release, December 11, 2006.
56. Clement Alexander Price, “Mel Edwards’ Way,” in Melvin Edwards: The Prints of a Sculptor (Jersey City, N.J.: Jersey City Museum, 2000), 5–7.