Harvard and Slavery
A Short History
When one thinks of Harvard University and its history, the names Alfred, Delia, Renty, Fassena, Drana, Jack, and Jem do not come to mind. Professorial chairs were not named for them; their names do not adorn Harvard institutions or buildings; they were not professors, graduates, or donors. Instead, they were the property of slaveholders in and around Columbia, South Carolina. The lives of these two women and five men—some African born—intersected briefly with Harvard in 1850 when they were brought to the studio of daguerreotypist Joseph Thomas Zealy. There they were individually positioned in front of Zealy’s camera—sitting or standing, stripped to the waist or fully naked—and photographed from the front, from the side, and from the rear. Commissioned by Harvard professor Louis Agassiz, one of the leading natural scientists of the era, the fifteen daguerreotypes of these enslaved people were part of an arsenal of evidence Agassiz assembled in an attempt to support his claim that people of European origin were superior to other so-called races and that peoples of African descent came from a separate species. Alfred, Delia, Renty, Fassena, Drana, Jack, and Jem were photographed as a “Negro type,” dehumanized specimens of a supposedly inferior race, in the advancement of ethnology and “race science”—what Frederick Douglass called “scientific moonshine.”1
For countless years the daguerreotypes of these seven women and men were tucked in a drawer in the cluttered attic of Harvard’s Peabody Museum of Archaeology and Ethnology. They resurfaced in 1976 when museum employees stumbled upon them while looking for something else.2 Appearing since in books and exhibitions, the images have stirred controversy. For some, they are haunting; for others, infuriating.3 While they have secured a place in the history of photography and in the study of race and racism in the United States, they are not mentioned in the standard narrative of Harvard’s history. This is not surprising. Until recently, a deafening silence surrounded Harvard’s historical relationship with slavery. This relationship included its role in manufacturing an intellectual defense for slavery by producing scientific claims of the alleged existence of natural racial hierarchies and black inferiority. These claims played a particular role in undermining the advances of Reconstruction after the Civil War. Confronting this legacy in a meaningful way is a project the university has only begun to undertake.
When the public thinks of Harvard and slavery, it most likely thinks of the university’s contribution to the Civil War and the destruction of slavery in the United States. This association is fostered by the cathedral-like Memorial Hall, the campus’s most prominent edifice, built to commemorate the sacrifice of Harvard’s Union soldiers. The hall features in official publications that mark the war’s anniversaries with effusive praise to Harvard enlistees.4 Two hundred forty-six Harvard men died in the Civil War (including seventy on the Confederate side), while well-known graduates—Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Wendell Phillips, among others—made important contributions to antislavery thought and action.5 Yet even Samuel Eliot Morison, as close to an official historian as Harvard has had, conceded: “The dominant sentiment in the College in the critical winter of 1860–61 was for Union and conciliation… . It is difficult for anyone who knew Harvard [later] … to understand the cool attitude of the College toward the Civil War.” Moreover, in the years leading up to the war, Morison noted, “the abolitionists and the other reformers of the day were in a continual state of irritation because the University did not promote their pet theories.”6 Harvard as an institution was not the pioneer of antislavery it might later have wanted to be. In fact, Harvard was complicit with slavery, benefiting both directly and indirectly from slave labor.
We now know this history because of the research undertaken by a group of dedicated Harvard students. Their historical investigations began in the fall of 2007, when four undergraduates enrolled in a research seminar offered by Sven Beckert entitled Harvard and Slavery. Following Ruth Simmons’s path-breaking work to uncover Brown University’s relationship with slavery, the seminar sought to engender a better understanding of Harvard’s relationship to slavery and to help students understand how deeply slavery was embedded within the fabric of American life—and how that powerful legacy continues to endure today.
The students had no idea what they would find. Quickly, however, their curiosity and rapid mastery of the art of historical detection uncovered a treasure trove of findings, many disconcerting. The thirty-two students who participated in the first seminar and the three subsequent seminars scoured Harvard’s archival records, drew countless volumes from its library, made careful inspections of nearby colonial graveyards, and scrutinized Harvard’s oldest buildings. Much of what they found surprised them: Harvard presidents who brought their slaves to live with them on campus, significant endowments drawn from the exploitation of slave labor, Harvard’s administration and most of its faculty favoring the suppression of public debates on slavery. A quest that began with fears of finding little ended with a new, more troubling question: How was it that the university had failed for so long to engage with so large a part of its history?
In retrospect, the only surprising thing was the students’ surprise. Until its abolition in 1865, slavery was a core institution of colonial North America and the United States. Perfectly legal in Massachusetts until 1783, slavery stood at the center of the United States’ wealthiest and most dynamic regional economy, the plantation belt of the South. And it was not contained below the Mason-Dixon Line: Boston merchants, manufacturers, and others benefited from the trade in slave-grown agricultural commodities and the processing of these commodities in New England’s cities. Supplying the slave economies of the Caribbean was another profitable branch of local enterprise. It was entirely implausible to assume that the oldest and in many ways most influential institution of higher learning in the United States would not have been involved with slavery. And, indeed, the students’ research established that Harvard was maintained in part by slave labor; that it benefited from profits accrued directly or indirectly from slavery; and, more broadly, that Harvard not only accommodated slavery but also helped sustain it.
The students’ surprise becomes more intelligible if we take into account that for too long the history of slavery has been taught as the history of just one region, the South. While schools and universities in recent decades have made great strides in teaching the history of slavery, they too often have discussed the role of the North only as the gathering ground for the political forces that led to the abolition of the “peculiar institution.” The students’ surprise at their findings was fed by the peculiar version of the nation’s history that they, and we, grew up with.
Over its first five years, the Harvard and Slavery Research Project began to rewrite this history. So dedicated were the seminar participants that many continued working on the project even after they fulfilled their academic obligations. In 2011 the group published its findings in a report written by Sven Beckert and Katherine Stevens entitled “Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History,” a narrative of the connections between Harvard and slavery over the three centuries of the university’s existence.7 The group created a website with a map that linked places on and around Harvard’s campus to video interviews in which students explained the significance of those sites to the history of Harvard and slavery. As Harvard celebrated its 375th anniversary in the fall of 2011, students from the seminars came together to form the Harvard and Slavery Research Project and make a sustained effort to publicize their findings. Although Harvard’s official celebrations were silent on the university’s ties to slavery, the group worked hard to make the intersecting history of Harvard and slavery part of the institution’s shared memory. In 2016 President Drew Gilpin Faust convened an advisory committee on Harvard and slavery, unveiling a plaque commemorating four enslaved Harvard workers—Titus, Venus, Bilhah, and Juba—and in 2017 sponsored an international conference at Radcliffe Institute on the question of “universities and slavery.”
Harvard and Slavery: Some Findings
When the students began, they had little to build on. Though the literature on Harvard’s history is voluminous, barely anything had been said about the university’s relationship to slavery. Yet it did not take students long to establish that Harvard’s involvement in slavery was sustained and important to the survival of both the university and slavery. Begun in 1636 as a small Puritan outpost of learning, Harvard was founded to uphold the traditions of English universities and provide ministers for the Massachusetts Bay Colony. As the college for men of the pulpit, Harvard provided the social and political leadership during Massachusetts’s early years as a religious colony. Over time, as the colony’s requirements for governance became more specific and variegated, Harvard began to supplement the training in religious stewardship with instruction for the new caste of political and judicial leaders.
As the colony managed to secure a toehold in the unforgiving New England setting—at the expense of the Native population—it looked toward the prosperous slave colonies of the Caribbean for its livelihood. Massachusetts Bay was one of the key points in the “triangle trade,” importing sugar, molasses, and other slave-produced goods from the Caribbean islands in exchange for fish, lumber, ships, and rum—and trading directly in slaves. New England merchants and Puritan rulers prospered from the labor of enslaved workers.
The presence of slavery in the Massachusetts Bay Colony brought slavery to Harvard’s doorstep. We know, for example, that Harvard presidents Increase Mather (1685–1701) and Benjamin Wadsworth (1725–37) owned slaves, as did William Brattle, the minister who addressed the Harvard community every Sunday at the First Church of Cambridge. It is, moreover, likely that slaves did some of the cooking and cleaning for students, toiling for the Boardman family, the college stewards. And a number of former students, from Cotton Mather to John Hancock, became slave owners after graduation, particularly as the eighteenth century matured. Using gravestone markers, diaries, and personal papers, among other forms of evidence, student researchers traced the presence of enslaved Africans at Harvard who performed vital services to sustain the college community.8
The absence of a plantation regime in New England did not necessarily make slavery benign. Slaves were still chattel and assigned the lowest status in society. As early as 1639, when schoolmaster Nathanial Eaton was accused of mismanagement of the college, one of the offenses acknowledged by his wife was that he had allowed “the Moor” (presumably an African slave) to sleep and eat along with students, who objected to sharing the table with him.9 Such a reaction would only grow more extreme, and at times more brutal, as African slavery became increasingly common in eighteenth-century Massachusetts and racial lines more rigid.10
Here too, Harvard played a role. As a key institution of the colonial elite, Harvard was central in constituting the colonial regime, which included sustaining and enforcing slavery. One incident provides a telling example of Harvard’s role in sustaining slavery. In 1755 two slaves, Mark and Phillis, were accused of murdering their master, John Codman of Charlestown. Beyond the murder itself, which struck at the intimate nature of householders’ slavery, the slaveholding elite was alarmed to learn that the slaves had a network of friends and acquaintances who helped them move about, gain information, and acquire resources, including—possibly—even the poison that killed Codman. The white community feared that the slaves, and the incident itself, were not as isolated as they first appeared.
For their crime of “petit treason,” or social insubordination, Mark and Phillis were tried in the highest colonial court, the Supreme Court of Judicature, and executed at the Gallows Lot, now on Avon Hill in North Cambridge. Prosecuted by Harvard graduate Edmund Trowbridge, Mark was hanged and Phillis was burned at the stake. This immolation stands out for its brutality in the annals of Massachusetts; not even the Salem witches were put to the torch.11 Three of the four judges, including presiding chief justice Stephen Sewall, were Harvard graduates, and two of them were slave owners. As the slave population grew—as much as 8 percent of Boston’s population at that time was enslaved—any threat of instability or insubordination was met with the brutality endemic to slaveholding societies.12 The Harvard-educated elite helped to uphold this regime.
Further evidence of the tenor of racial thinking in the mid-eighteenth century appeared in a brief but unsettling Harvard record. Among the items listed in the inventory of the university’s collection of artifacts lost in the Harvard Hall fire of 1764 was “a piece of tanned negro’s hide.”13 Even without any knowledge save that it existed, this artifact evokes the less than human status accorded to peoples of African descent at a time when racial ideology was in the process of formation.14
Slavery affected Harvard in more subtle ways as well. Historian Samuel Eliot Morison noted the increase in Harvard’s class size after the War of Spanish Succession ended in 1713: “The increase came largely from the seaports, which reaped the first harvests from land speculation and West India commerce, and the rum business; and where the influence of court manners was most quickly felt. The new crop of young men came to be made gentlemen, not to study.”15 Harvard’s growth, even at this early stage, was intimately connected to the slave trade, slave-grown agricultural commodities, and the provision of supplies for the plantations of the American South and the Caribbean.
Slaveholding was common in the upper echelons of society, and it was not controversial. U.S. president and Harvard graduate John Adams made note of having “lived for many years in times when the practice [of slavery] was not disgraceful, when the best men in my vicinity thought it was not inconsistent with their character.”16
Nowhere is the connection of Harvard and colonial slavery more palpable than at the site of Elmwood, now the official residence of the president of Harvard. Bequeathed to the university in 1933, the estate was built in 1767 by Harvard graduate Thomas Oliver, the heir of a prominent Antiguan sugar planter and slave owner. A Tory lieutenant governor of the Massachusetts Bay Colony, Oliver fled the country during the Revolution. But in his brief tenure at Elmwood, he lived with slaves whom he had purchased. It is not clear what slave labor went into Elmwood’s construction, and research still needs to be done concerning the living situation of Elmwood’s slaves. Student researcher Kaitlin Terry, however, did establish that Oliver, part of a larger movement of the colonial elite, transplanted Antiguan practices and slaves to Cambridge.17 Also part of this migration was the Royall family, who amassed their fortune at a “classic Caribbean sugar estate” on the island of Antigua.18 They soon established themselves as one of the city’s leading names; their bequest established the teaching of law at Harvard, and their coat of arms was incorporated in the Harvard Law School emblem, where it remained in use until 2016.19
Large slaveholding families such as the Olivers, Royalls, and Vassalls, a closely connected elite, were a living link to the West Indian slaveholders whose exploitation of enslaved workers was crucial to the expansion of the British imperial realm.20 Their resources contributed to Harvard’s capital. More directly, Harvard invested in enterprises connected to slavery by providing interest-bearing loans to merchants. Until the emergence of a formal banking system in the late eighteenth century, Harvard was one of the colony’s few institutional sources of capital.21 Its borrowers included merchants who invested in slave plantations or were involved in shipping slave-produced commodities.22
Some of this changed at the end of the eighteenth century. In the wake of the Revolution, slavery was effectively eliminated in Massachusetts by court judgments in the Elizabeth Freeman and Quock Walker cases. Walker’s case was presided over by a Harvard graduate, Chief Justice William Cushing.23 The revolutionary winds also blew through Harvard. In 1773, for example, the college commencement included the “Forensic Debate on the Legality of Enslaving the Africans.” One student, Theodore Parsons, upheld the morality of slavery because of the alleged inferiority of Africans, while another, Eliphalet Pearson, later Harvard’s acting president (1804–6), rebuked slavery as contrary to the “natural rights of mankind.”24 Pearson’s arguments pointed the way toward the expanded vision of rights that was later evident in the Walker case. According to Werner Sollors and his coeditors, the debate “elicited so much comment” that it was “immediately printed and published.”25
Harvard students like Pearson and alumni like Cushing helped eliminate slavery in Massachusetts, but slavery remained important in the lives of New England’s elite.26 This fact, however, like the slaves themselves, was kept at a distance in the collective memory of most of the members of the institution and its recorded histories. As New England moved away from enslaving laborers, it also erased the presence of slaves from its historical narrative.27
In the early nineteenth century, the governance of Harvard changed hands from Calvinists to Unitarians, reflecting the split in the Congregational Church and the shift from a doctrine focusing on original sin to a more liberal one. This coincided with the maturing of merchant capitalism in New England and the eventual emergence of a new Boston elite tied to overseas trade, domestic commerce, industry, and finance. With this changing of the guard, Harvard branched out beyond its theological roots and began to emerge as a modern university. It became a place where the new elite sent its dollars and sons in a conscious effort to create an institution in its image—“reflecting the banker’s mentality and the rhythms of modern industry”—and where succeeding generations could be nurtured.28 The wealthiest among this elite were merchants, financiers, and lawyers involved in all manner of trade and commerce.
Yet amid these changes, Harvard’s connection to slavery remained. The university’s growth in stature and resources came in part from donations from merchant families who had made their fortunes trading slave-produced commodities like sugar, coffee, and cotton; they sometimes also traded in slaves. The Perkinses were one such merchant family. Harvard president Josiah Quincy (1829–45) compared the character of James Perkins to the merchant house of which Perkins was the elder partner. Both were, Quincy wrote, “formed on the noblest and purest model of professional uprightness; without guile and without reproach.”29
Perkins, however, began his career as a commodities broker in Saint-Domingue—present-day Haiti—where hundreds of thousands of enslaved men and women produced sugar, cotton, and coffee for European and North American markets. Quincy’s homage also failed to mention that among the commodities in Perkins’s consignments were African slaves brought to cultivate sugar and other agricultural commodities. Student researcher Robert Mann found that as the Perkins firm accumulated capital, it invested in ships and slaves and established commercial relationships in the slave markets of Charleston, New Orleans, and Havana. In the wake of the Haitian Revolution in 1791, the Perkinses fled the island but later returned. The firm finally closed its West Indian business in 1804 when it began garnering higher profits from its trade in Asia. Even then the Perkinses occasionally looked to the slave trade to generate quick cash, which they used to fund that Asia trade. One such instance appears in papers dating from 1810 when the firm sought insurance for slave cargoes and the two ships that would carry them.30 The Perkins family’s involvement in the slave trade provided the foundation for its business activities in the eighteenth century, including for the firm’s involvement in quarries, textile mills, and railroads in the nineteenth century.31 Other major Harvard benefactors who profited from West Indian trade included Israel Thorndike, Benjamin Bussey, and Peter Chardon Brooks.
Starting in the 1840s, New England textile mill owners were another source of donations for Harvard. These mills depended on cotton produced by slaves in the U.S. South, and in turn cotton plantation owners used credit from northern and English banks to purchase slaves and supplies. Harvard donor Abbot Lawrence, for example, gained much of his wealth from the textile industry. He owned and operated cotton factories in Massachusetts, along with a trading firm that sold the products of his mills. In 1847 and 1849 he donated $100,000 (the equivalent of $2,816,266 in 2016) to the university.32 Northern bankers and textile mill owners were an essential part of the cotton-plantation economy, and their donations and services helped transform Harvard from a colonial academy to a leading university with national and, eventually, international influence. Of course, it is also an example of the many ways that slavery was profitable to northerners who may never have personally bought or sold a slave.
Perkins, Thorndike, Brooks, Bussey, and Lawrence were a minority among the twenty-five individuals who made major personal donations to Harvard between 1800 and 1850. Their combined contribution of $497,400, however, accounted for 50 percent of all major individual donations in this period. Harvard honored them by naming buildings, professorships, and schools after them, and their legacies are still visible in some of Harvard’s most well known institutions.33 Lawrence’s gift created the Lawrence Scientific School (now the John A. Paulson School of Engineering and Applied Sciences). While Bussey’s envisioned agricultural school struggled to find a place at the university, eventually merging with other schools in the biological sciences, his estate in Jamaica Plain became part of Harvard’s research resources as the Arnold Arboretum. James Perkins left Harvard $22,000 to endow the Perkins Professorship in Mathematics, still extant today. Perkins’s brother and business partner Thomas Handasyd Perkins provided most of the funds to build the Harvard College Observatory, and the Perkinses contributed to the establishment of Massachusetts General Hospital, where scores of Harvard medical students were trained. In fact, the hospital’s first board of trustees meeting was held in the home of Thomas Handasyd Perkins. While members of wealthy merchant families sought social standing by affiliating themselves with institutions like Harvard, they were also active participants in transforming the institutions to which they donated time and money—the latter the product of slave labor.34
It was not just money: Harvard could not avoid entanglement in the politics of slavery, which were particularly contentious in the 1830s. As radical abolitionists demanded the immediate emancipation of slaves, William Lloyd Garrison emerged as one of their Boston-area leaders. The university’s donors, comprised of conservative businessmen, considered the Garrisonians a fringe movement, assuring their southern slaveholding business partners that abolitionists carried no weight in the political and social affairs of the North. Various Harvard professors and students, however, joined antislavery organizations, prompting the administration to try to undermine the movement’s influence at the university.
Three incidents reveal how the backlash against abolitionists affected Harvard policy in the 1830s. The first two involved Professors Charles Follen and Henry Ware Jr., activists in the abolitionist movement who were attacked by Boston newspapers. “It is to be regretted,” wrote the Boston Gazette, “that any portion of the Professors at Harvard College should countenance the wild and mischievous schemes of the antislavery agitators, who are imprudently meddling with property of the planters and others of the southern states.” The Gazette singled out “foreigners” like Follen, who had fled political persecution in Germany. Members of the clergy like Ware, the paper suggested, “should be severely rebuked for their impertinence and folly.”35 In 1835 Follen left Harvard when the endowment for his chair expired and the Harvard Corporation did not renew his professorship. He remained a staunch abolitionist until his untimely death in 1840. After much pressure from friends and colleagues, Ware resigned as the president of the Cambridge Anti-Slavery Society and continued teaching at Harvard. While the corporation may not have issued an ultimatum to either, it is hard to imagine that Follen’s and Ware’s decisions were unaffected by the public backlash against them.
In the third incident, in 1838, President Josiah Quincy intervened directly to quell discussion on abolition. When Quincy learned that the Philanthropic Society at the Divinity School was holding a debate on slavery that would be open to members of the community beyond Harvard, he wrote to the dean of the Divinity School, John Gorham Palfrey, suggesting that the discussion not take place. “Whatever may be your or my private opinion on the main question [of slavery],” he wrote, “I think there can be but one in the minds of prudent men, that, in the state of excessive excitability of the public mind on this topic abroad, it is desirable not to introduce it obtrusively into a seminary of learning, composed of young men from every quarter of the country; among whom are many whose prejudices, passions, and interests are deeply implicated and affected by these discussions and who feel very naturally and strongly on the subject.”36 Within a few months, the corporation passed a resolution barring anyone who was not a member of the Harvard community from appearing on campus without a faculty vote, a rule that blocked well-known abolitionists from speaking. Harvard would not allow itself to be seen as a staging ground for abolitionist agitation, especially not by the press or potential or current donors. The university continued working to mitigate the influence and presence of antislavery organizing on campus until the late 1850s, when northern views on slavery and abolition began to shift dramatically.37
Boston was a stronghold of abolitionism, and a number of Harvard graduates joined and became leaders of the movement. These men, however, became abolitionists well outside the confines of the university. Among the best known were Samuel J. May, Edmund Quincy, Wendell Phillips, Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Henry and William Ingersoll Bowditch, and Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr.—all from wealthy Boston families.38 Antislavery alumni from humbler origins included Charles Sumner and Transcendentalists Theodore Parker, Henry David Thoreau, and Ralph Waldo Emerson.
The men entered the movement at different moments and for various reasons. Henry Ingersoll Bowditch was troubled by the attempted lynching of William Lloyd Garrison in 1835 by a mob comprised of “fifteen hundred or two thousand highly respectable gentlemen … of property and standing” from various parts of Boston; he joined the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society the following year.39 Wendell Phillips was of a deeply conservative temperament until he married abolitionist Ann Greene. He became increasingly sympathetic to the cause and joined the abolitionist movement after the mob killing of antislavery newspaper publisher Elijah Lovejoy in 1837.40 Like many of his abolitionist comrades, Phillips became a life-long reformer, critiquing the emerging contours of American capitalism and fighting for racial equality and the rights of women, workers, and Native peoples. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was an organizer of the Massachusetts Kansas Aid Committee and an agent of the National Kansas Aid Committee, both parts of the effort to ensure that Kansas and Nebraska entered the Union as free, not slave, states. Higginson, along with Theodore Parker, was part of abolitionist John Brown’s “Secret Six” group of funders. Brown waged battles in Kansas against pro-slavery forces in 1856 and led the raid of a weapons arsenal in Harpers Ferry, Virginia, in 1859 as part of an attempt to initiate a slave insurrection. Oliver Wendell Holmes Jr. edited Harvard Magazine—then a student-run publication. He wrote articles opposing slavery and advocating free will in religious matters. The president of Harvard at that time, Cornelius Felton, admonished young Holmes for what Felton regarded as the magazine’s disrespectful tone.41 On the eve of the Civil War, Holmes also served as the bodyguard for Wendell Phillips at a mass rally. During his senior year at Harvard, he enlisted in the Union army. Charles Sumner, senator from Massachusetts, spoke energetically against slavery and the power of the slave states. As part of the radical wing of the Republican Party, he consistently drew attention to the “unhallowed union” between “the cotton planters and flesh mongers of Louisiana and Mississippi and the cotton spinners and traffickers of New England, between the lords of the lash and the lords of the loom.”42
Acting on their consciences made these activists outcasts in Boston society. Speaking to Harvard alumni in 1842, Supreme Court justice and fellow of the Harvard Corporation Joseph Story said the main danger of the day was “the tendency to ultraism of all sorts, and in all directions.” He lamented the emergence of “a restless spirit of innovation and change—a fretful desire to provoke discussion of all sorts, under the pretext of free inquiry, or of comprehensive liberalism.” He stressed that the “movement is to be found not merely among illiterate and vain pretenders, but among the minds of the highest order, which are capable of giving fearful impulses to public opinion.”43 Former Harvard professor and cynosure of Boston intellectual life George Ticknor described abolitionism as “a virus that was a disease fatal to the republic, and must be quarantined.”44 That some of Boston’s “minds of the highest order” were entangled with abolition alarmed much of the city’s elite, who rebuked and censured the abolitionists.
Present and former members of the Harvard administration and faculty not only worked to thwart antislavery organizing on campus but also diligently isolated the abolitionists in their elite class. Sumner was excluded from literary gatherings in Boston, publicly attacked by his close friend, Cornelius Felton (president of Harvard 1860–62), and passed over twice for a professorship at the Law School, even though he was a protégé of Joseph Story.45 Higginson, who led a congregation in Newburyport and preached against slavery from the pulpit, was forced to resign by his wealthy parishioners.46 Phillips was isolated by his family members, who thought he had gone insane. Emerson was “hissed and hooted” by Harvard law students when he spoke at Cambridge City Hall against Daniel Webster’s defense of the Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.47
Influential Harvard affiliates were also busy bolstering slavery at the national level, with members of the Harvard Corporation and the board of overseers involved in passing the Fugitive Slave Act.48 Congressman Samuel A. Eliot, Harvard’s treasurer, voted for the bill—the only representative from Massachusetts to do so. Overseer and U.S. Senator Daniel Webster was a central figure in the Compromise of 1850, which included the Fugitive Slave Act. Corporation fellow Benjamin Curtis organized a rally at Faneuil Hall to honor Webster after the bill was passed; Harvard president Jared Sparks and future president Cornelius Felton were in the audience. Meanwhile, law school professors Theophilus Parsons and Joel Parker endorsed the Fugitive Slave Act in their classes.49
At the same time, in the 1850s, eight out of around thirty-five Harvard faculty members were involved to varying degrees with the antislavery movement. Among them was Charles Beck, who had fled from Germany to the United States with his friend Charles Follen in 1824.50 He became a member of the Free-Soil Party (a short-lived party of the late 1840s and early 1850s dedicated to stopping the spread of slavery into western territories) upon leaving Harvard. His home, today part of Harvard’s campus, was likely a stop on the Underground Railroad.51 Henry Wadsworth Longfellow not only wrote poetry about the horrors of slavery but also aided fugitive slaves. Before joining Harvard’s faculty, poet James Russell Lowell edited an abolitionist newspaper and later edited the influential magazine the Atlantic Monthly, which featured abolitionist articles. These faculty members were nonetheless “cautious by temperament and opposed to unnecessary controversy,” particularly while they were at Harvard.52
In 1854 the mood shifted dramatically, making previously hushed antislavery sentiments publicly speakable. That year, the nation, and Massachusetts in particular, was shaken by the Anthony Burns case, which was pivotal in pushing northern opinion toward abolition. Burns, an escaped slave from Alexandria, Virginia, was living and working in Boston when he was remanded back to his owner under the terms of the Fugitive Slave Act. The decision was made by Judge Edward G. Loring, a member of Harvard’s law faculty. Burns’s capture became a rallying point for members of the antislavery Boston Vigilance Committee, which immediately distributed handbills opposing his arrest and urging noncompliance with the Fugitive Slave Act. The committee held a rally at a packed Faneuil Hall during which Wendell Phillips challenged Bostonians to show they were “worthy of liberty” by making sure Burns was not sent back to slavery.53 A group including abolitionists Lewis Hayden and Thomas Wentworth Higginson attempted to rescue Burns from the courthouse.54 After two U.S. marshals were killed in skirmishes, President Franklin Pierce sent in federal troops to make certain the act was upheld.
In A Boston Ballad, poet Walt Whitman admonished the gentlemen of Boston for inviting “government cannon” and “Federal foot and dragoons” to their city during the Burns incident. “You have got your revenge, old buster,” he wrote. “The crown is come to its own / and more than its own.” Old buster was King George III, and his revenge, according to Whitman, was that Boston gentlemen had come to embody and commit the kinds of high-handed injustices from which they had declared independence in 1776. By this time, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1852) had filled the northern consciousness with images of the horrors of slavery, and the citizens of Massachusetts could imagine the fate that awaited Burns in Virginia. They were outraged by Loring’s decision.
This outrage spilled over to Harvard: when Loring held class at the Law School, antislavery students hissed him, while southern students cheered him. A student from Georgia, Charles C. Jones, wrote to his father, “I could scarcely refrain from leaving my seat and forcibly ejecting from the room, by a stout application of boot leather, a puny scoundrel who was hissing in one corner of the room. But my respect for the school and myself forbade such a course.”55 In fact, Jones, along with other southern law students, served as bodyguards for Burns’s master, Charles Suttle, during the trial.56
The indignation of Massachusetts’s citizens over Loring’s decision became so pervasive that within a year Harvard’s board of overseers voted not to reappoint him at the Law School, despite the recommendation of the law faculty and the corporation that he be given a permanent lectureship. Unlike the corporation, which was controlled by a conservative Boston elite, the board of overseers had broader representation from across the state, including several antislavery members, a result of the political ground gained by the antislavery Free-Soil Party and the nativist Know-Nothing Party during the 1850s.57 Passions over the board’s decision ran so high that fistfights broke out among Harvard law students who were participating in a model congress.58 The overseers also refused to confer an honorary degree on Samuel A. Eliot, Harvard’s treasurer from 1842 to 1853, because of his vote in favor of the Fugitive Slave Act. Indeed, so quickly did Harvard’s position shift that by 1859 it awarded honorary degrees to abolitionists Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Charles Sumner.59 As the prospect of disunion loomed, Harvard could no longer continue to appease southern slaveholders.
Even as antislavery sentiment built inside and outside the college, students from slaveholding states continued to be part of the undergraduate intellectual and social scene. Thomas Wentworth Higginson recalled from his undergraduate days at Harvard that “southern students were a noticeable element in the college” and favorites among Cambridge society: “They usually had charming manners, social aptitudes, imperious ways, abundant leisure, and plenty of money.”60 Like the elite families of Boston, many of South Carolina’s first families sent their sons to Harvard. Charleston, South Carolina, a center of the slave trade and home to an elite class of planters, sent more than sixty-nine students between 1797 and 1845.61 Before the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, the majority of enslaved Africans came through the port of Charleston, and even after the trade was outlawed Charleston continued to be one of the main markets for the purchase and sale of American-born slaves.
The families that sent their sons to Harvard were among the upper echelons of Charleston society. One historian notes that these families wanted their sons to be “an ideal of an individual who was classically and liberally educated and who was supported economically by agricultural or liberal pursuits.”62 Harvard enjoyed the reputation of being one of the foremost educational institutions in the country and was considered superior to southern colleges. South Carolinian William H. Barnwell, for example, encouraged his cousin James B. Heyward to join him at Harvard: “They can teach more here in a year than they teach you there all your life.” By 1850, almost twenty years after their graduation, Barnwell owned 671 slaves on four properties, and Heyward owned 378 slaves.63
As student researcher Hilary May discovered, Harvard not only provided the education that slaveholding families expected for their sons but also afforded an opportunity for them to forge relationships with northern elites. If southern students at Harvard were criticized or shunned because their families owned slaves, it was rarely written about. Instead, the records generally show students from slaveholding and nonslaveholding families sharing meals and housing and coalescing into one student body.64 Only briefly in the contentious 1830s did students form a special southern club. Otherwise, southern students were less remarkable for their region than for their success on Harvard’s social scene. Each year two or more of the eight to ten students selected to be part of Harvard’s most exclusive social club, the Porcellian, came from southern families. Between 1797 and 1845 thirty-nine Porcellians called Charleston home.65
Southern students’ successes do not implicate Harvard as an advocate of slavery. Rather, they reveal that for most of Harvard’s history, slaveholding was not taboo. For many students, even those from the North, slaveholding was not a reason to cut off friendships, eat at separate tables, or join separate clubs. Slave owners were part of the nation’s elite, and for members of that elite, the ownership of human property was unexceptional. After all, it had not been so long since members of the highest echelons of northern society had themselves owned slaves.
While Harvard’s administration worked to quell debates on slavery, not least to accommodate the large population of student slave owners on campus, some of its professors worked diligently on an intellectual apparatus that helped justify slavery: the race science that claimed to prove black inferiority. While the American slave population had once been a mixture of Africans and Native Americans, slaves in the United States gradually became almost exclusively African, and blackness came to be seen as the basis for enslavement. In the nineteenth century, race was viewed as a biological category that marked people of African descent as inherently inferior to or fundamentally different from people perceived as white. Slaveholders and nonslaveholders alike believed that black people were inferior. In the 1850s these beliefs were inscribed into the field of natural science by a coterie of scholars. One of the most prominent was Harvard professor Louis Agassiz.
Agassiz wrote as a scientist, not as an advocate for slavery, yet his theories clearly legitimized slavery and were embraced by slaveholders. His 1850 article, “The Diversity of Origin of the Human Races,” addressed a central concern of theorists of black inferiority by solving a vexing religious question. Slaveholders were endlessly conscious of the differences they perceived between themselves and their slaves, but they could not answer a recurring question: “If black people were inferior to, and fundamentally different from, white people,” they were asked, “how could both races be descended from Adam?” Agassiz answered this by arguing that descent from Adam applied only to white people and that God had created other races to fit different climates, regions, and ecosystems.66 Agassiz’s theory was known as polygenesis, the idea that the human race had multiple origins. It derived its strengths not only from its preservation of Christian tenets but also from its association with Agassiz’s renowned work on the origins of animal species. Agassiz used the prestige he had gained from his research on animal taxonomy to classify humans.67
Racial theories, however, were never solely about physical difference. As practiced by Agassiz, his peers, and later his students, race science turned personality traits, aptitudes, and morality into biological characteristics of “race.” Agassiz’s analysis of physical differences included his conclusions about the “negro disposition.” “Human affairs with reference to the colored races,” wrote Agassiz, should be “guided by a full consciousness of the real difference existing between us and them … rather than be treating them with equality.”68 Among these differences were an African “pliability … a proneness to imitate those among who he lives” and a “peculiar apathy, a peculiar indifference to the advantages afforded by civilized society.”69 These “traits” were considered to exist independently and objectively, somehow unrelated to the situation in which Africans and African Americans sold into slavery lived and worked.
Agassiz’s ideas about natural history, particularly his theories about black difference, remained influential for almost a century after his death and set the tone at Harvard for decades after slavery’s abolition. In 1869 Agassiz’s student Nathaniel Shaler became a professor at Harvard and continued his mentor’s study of the differences between “African and European races.”70 Like Agassiz, Shaler popularized his science, writing articles for magazines like the Atlantic Monthly. In one 1890 article Shaler argued against interracial marriage.71 In another piece he cautioned against reformers who considered black people equal to whites. “They are charmed by their admirable and appealing qualities, and so make haste to assume that he [sic] is in all respects like themselves.” This was risky, Shaler warned, because as black children entered adulthood, their “animal nature” emerged.72 Shaler did not advocate a return to slavery, but his writing came during the Jim Crow era, when many of the rights extended to black Americans after the Civil War were being denied or annulled. Shaler was not an isolated or powerless voice; he counted among his associates Theodore Roosevelt, a former student who stayed in close touch after graduating from Harvard.73
Agassiz’s Harvard contemporary, botanist Asa Gray, opposed Agassiz and lent his scientific name to the idea of the unity of all races. An early and insightful defender of evolution, Gray welcomed Charles Darwin’s evidence for the common origins of human populations. His famous controversy with Agassiz over Darwin had a lasting impact on American science. However, as the more captivating and glamorous personality and someone who used the prestige of his Harvard post to great advantage, Agassiz had more impact on popular attitudes.74 Agassiz’s theories of racial distinctions appeared in both general and scientific writing, as well as in popular culture, which ensured and extended their afterlife. Ideas about a “negro disposition” and inherent lack of interest in civilized life lingered, making images like the Zealy daguerreotypes not artifacts of a long-ago past but the long shadows of events that still trouble the present.
Slavery in Memory
In 1880 abolitionist and Harvard alumnus Thomas Wentworth Higginson delivered an oration at the 250th anniversary celebration of the founding of Cambridge in Harvard’s recently built Memorial Hall. In considering the execution of the slaves Mark and Phillis, Higginson remarked, “When we think that this fearful tragedy took place but one hundred and twenty-five years ago, and that it does not seem to have created a protest or a ripple in public opinion, shall we not be charitable to those communities in which the virus of slavery has worked far more profoundly and more recently than with our fathers?”75 While Higginson’s remark reflects the reconciliatory spirit that buried Reconstruction, it makes an important point: the North was complicit with slavery, and casting stones at the South did not address this. Yet the silence around northern slavery and Harvard’s part in it persists to this day. Student researcher Robert Mann, for example, found that Harvard president Josiah Quincy’s fulsome encomium for the business integrity of slave trader James Perkins still graced the benefactor’s biography in the 1991 official History of Named Chairs, with no mention of Perkins’s slave trading and opium trafficking.76
Like the nation, Harvard bore the stamp of slavery long after its abolition. When in October 1903, for example, Harvard botanist Oakes Ames arrived at the former Cuban slave plantation Soledad, fifteen years had passed since that country’s slaves gained their freedom.77 The nine-hundred-acre plantation, a gift to Harvard from Edwin Farnsworth Atkins, would become a biological research station for the university. In future years, scholars and students would test different varieties of sugarcane there as they tried to eradicate plant diseases that destroyed cane fields.78 In 1903 Ames was inspired to reflect on the plantation’s past. While gazing at the sunset, he heard the plantation bell toll “one single, musical but dull note.” Disquiet stole over Ames as he imagined how the bell would have sounded to a plantation slave, calling him to “the awful reality of his existence.” What upset Ames was the incongruity between the beauty of the plantation, its new scientific future, and the raw injustice that had cleared its lands and secured its owner’s fortune. In a letter to his wife, Ames eased his burden by scolding his predecessors who did not protest the “atrocities of holding in bondage one’s fellow man … aided by the stinging lash, which injures one far deeper than bronze or steel.”79
Ames tried to dispel the ghost of slavery by neatly separating Soledad’s past and present, but many of the people who worked on the plantation’s grounds then remembered the days of slavery. Contravening Ames, the student researchers in the Harvard and Slavery seminars proved how futile—at best—and disingenuous—at worst—attempts to consign slavery to the past are. Slavery’s long and deep legacy accumulated in resources and institutions that extended well beyond individual lifetimes. Slavery, the student researchers realized, played a significant role in Harvard’s development, just as it did in American history more generally.80 And perhaps it is exactly slavery’s importance that underlies the many decades of silence around Harvard’s connections to it. Harvard is arguably the flagship university of the United States. If it is entangled with the practices of slavery and benefited financially from slave labor, what long-lived American institution has not? How do we understand this, especially as we begin to consider what steps could redress this terrible inheritance?
The Harvard and Slavery Research Project has uncovered some of the buried truth of the university’s history and begun to examine the silence surrounding it. Student researcher Kaitlin Terry found that Elmwood, the Harvard president’s residence, has been recognized as a historical site, yet its slavery connections are left out of its history. Brandi Waters found that Warren House, the Harvard-owned building that may have been a stop on the Underground Railroad, was unmarked; indeed, until 2016 there was no marker of any kind on Harvard’s campus that acknowledged slavery or the historical presence of slaves. Though the Civil War had everything to do with slavery, only one modest inscription—added to the exterior of Memorial Hall well after its completion in 1891—mentioned slavery.81
Student researchers have struck veins that must be mined further. More archival research could be done, for example, on how the campus was built, where slave labor was employed, and which Harvard affiliates owned slaves.82 A more sustained study on Harvard’s role in enforcing colonial slavery—through the offices and influence of its graduates in trade, in government, or in the pulpit—would contribute much to understanding Harvard’s ongoing role as an elite institution working on behalf of the elites who sustained it. Gary Staudt’s work on the origins of the endowment could be expanded to answer the question of how dependent Harvard was on the slave trade and slavery to amass its capital. While historian Ronald Story has shown how Harvard was supported by merchant profits in the early nineteenth century, further research is needed to tease out the specific weight of slavery and the slave trade in that financial boon. Eric Williams, Joseph Inikori, and other scholars have made the argument that the West’s great advantage in accumulating wealth was partly the result of the profits from slavery. Could this be true of Harvard’s vast endowment as well?
There are also many questions surrounding the Civil War. Eric Andersen engaged Harvard’s contribution to defining the legacy of the war by studying Memorial Hall.83 Post facto, Harvard claimed a part in Unionist and even abolitionist sentiment, but as other students’ work revealed, Harvard was anything but abolitionist before the war.84 And the documented incidents surrounding abolitionist faculty, antislavery debates, and North-South contentions in the period are probably not the only incidents that reveal Harvard’s attitude toward slavery. More could be done, for instance, to trace Harvard’s equivocal stance before the war, the economic and social roots of that stance, and its influence on contemporary opinion.
Hilary May’s paper on Charlestonians at Harvard offers another way to think about Harvard’s influence. The relatively large number of antebellum planter elites who attended Harvard opens the question of Harvard’s influence on southern opinion, as Harvard graduates occupied the strata of South Carolina society in which secession was most thoroughly and purposefully developed. Zoe Weinberg’s important work on Louis Agassiz’s “race science” raises broader questions about Harvard’s mixed record in furthering racism after slavery. These research efforts—and many more—enhance our understanding of Harvard’s role in the complex social, economic, and cultural impact of American slavery and slavery’s role at Harvard.
The Harvard and Slavery Research Project has been more than a scholarly endeavor. From the start, many of the students worked to engage the Harvard community with what they were learning about the university’s history. And they succeeded, engaging broader audiences, audiences that included the leadership of Harvard. They have also raised the question of what happens next. If an acknowledgment can be made that slavery played a role in Harvard’s development, what consequences flow from that acknowledgment? Should Harvard publicly recognize its complicity in slavery in some way? What programs or educational centers might be developed to research and focus attention on these questions? What forms of restitution, if any, might be appropriate? We have formed no easy consensus on these questions.
Harvard has tremendous prestige and resources. We have seen that these advantages were in part accrued from a relationship with the institutions and practices of slavery: slave labor was employed; land and other endowments were derived from slavery’s bounty; the ideas of slaveholders were tolerated, legitimized, and furthered by the university’s intellectual capital. Harvard has at times played a role in sustaining the institutions and legacy of slavery. The Harvard and Slavery Research Project has worked to illuminate the university’s and the country’s troubling past and to find ways to come to grips with this history. Perhaps these efforts, along with those at other universities, will bring us closer to a broad recognition of the central role slavery played in building the United States and thus closer to an understanding of our collective responsibilities and obligation to seek justice.85
1. See Molly Rogers, Delia’s Tears: Race, Science, and Photography in Nineteenth-Century America (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 2010); Frederick Douglass, “The Claims of the Negro Ethnologically Considered, Address Delivered at Western Reserve College, July 12, 1854,” in The Life and Writings of Frederick Douglass, ed. Philip S. Foner (New York: International Publishers, 1950), 2:289–309.
2. Rogers, Delia’s Tears, 5.
3. See Gletscherforscher, Rassist: Louis Agassiz, 1807–2013, exhibit, Museum Grindelwald, Grindelwald, Switzerland, 2012; Mary Carmichael, “Louis Agassiz Exhibit Divides Harvard, Swiss Group,” Boston Globe, June 27, 2012; “Harvard Should Openly Discuss Louis Agassiz and His Racial Attitude,” editorial, Boston Globe, July 5, 2012.
4. For the sesquicentennial observation, see Corydon Ireland, “Blue, Gray and Crimson,” Harvard Gazette, March 21, 2012.
5. Samuel Eliot Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard (1936; Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1964), 303.
6. Ibid., 302–3, 287. As this quotation indicates, Morison himself was contemptuous of radical abolitionists. His mid-twentieth-century U.S. history textbooks have become notorious as well for dismissing and misrepresenting the experiences of enslaved people.
7. Parts of this essay are drawn from the report, which can be downloaded at www.harvardandslavery.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Harvard-Slavery-Book-111110.pdf.
8. See the student paper by Shelley Thomas, “Chains in the Yard: A Discussion of Slave Owners and Slave Life on Harvard’s Campus between 1636 and 1780”; and Sven Beckert, Katherine Stevens, and students of the Harvard and Slavery Research Seminar, “Harvard and Slavery: Seeking a Forgotten History” (Cambridge, Mass., 2011), 37 pp., http://www.harvardandslavery.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/11/Harvard-Slavery-Book-111110.pdf.
9. See the references included in Beckert and Stevens, “Harvard and Slavery,” especially reference 7.
10. Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African American Slaves (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 2003).
11. For details of the trial, see Abner Cheney Goodell Jr., The Trial and Execution for Petit Treason of Mark and Phillis, Slaves of Capt. John Codman (Cambridge, Mass.: John Wilson and Son, University Press, 1883). See also the student paper by Jim Henle, “Harvard and the Law of Slavery: The Execution of Mark and Phillis, 1755,” email@example.com.
12. A. Leon Higginbotham, In the Matter of Color: Race and the American Legal Process; The Colonial Period (New York: Oxford University Press, 1978), 81.
13. Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard, 96.
14. See Barbara J. Fields, “Ideology and Race in American History,” in Region, Race, and Reconstruction: Essays in Honor of C. Vann Woodward, ed. Morgan J. Koussar and James McPherson (New York: Oxford University Press, 1982), 143–77; “Slavery, Race and Ideology in the United States of America,” New Left Review 181 (May/June 1990): 95–118.
15. Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard, 60.
16. As quoted in George H. Moore, Notes on the History of Slavery in Massachusetts (New York: D. Appleton & Co., 1866), 110.
17. Student paper by Kaitlin Terry, “Elmwood and Slavery: Confronting Harvard’s Hidden History with Full Authenticity”; see also Beckert and Stevens, “Harvard and Slavery.”
18. C. S. Manegold, Ten Hills Farm: The Forgotten History of Slavery in the North (Princeton, N.J.: Princeton University Press, 2010), 143.
19. See the student paper by Gary Pelissier, “Harvard’s Royall Legacy: Slavery and the Origins of the Harvard Law School”; see also Beckert and Stevens, “Harvard and Slavery.”
20. The fortune of Henry Vassall, whose mansion on Brattle Street’s Tory Row was commandeered by the rebels during the Revolutionary War, came from sugar plantations on Jamaica. He married Penelope Royall in 1742. Manegold, Ten Hills Farm, 175.
21. See the student paper by Gary Staudt, “Slavery and the Early Investment Strategies of Harvard University’s Endowment”; see also Beckert and Stevens, “Harvard and Slavery”; Margery Somers Foster, “Out of Smalle Beginnings …”: An Economic History of Harvard College in the Puritan Period (1636–1712) (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1962), 28–29, 158–59; Gary Staudt, “Slavery and the Early Investment Strategies of Harvard University’s Endowment” (ALM thesis, Harvard University, 2013).
22. Staudt, “Slavery,” 18.
23. See Emily Blanck, “Seventeen Eighty-Three: The Turning Point in the Law of Slavery and Freedom in Massachusetts,” New England Quarterly 75 (2002): 24–51.
24. “A Forensic Debate on the Legality of Enslaving the Africans, Held at the Public Commencement in Cambridge, New England (Boston 1773),” in Blacks at Harvard: A Documentary History of African-American Experience at Harvard and Radcliffe, ed. Werner Sollors, Caldwell Titcomb, and Thomas A. Underwood (New York: New York University Press, 1993), 11–19.
25. Ibid., 11.
26. Not all, of course. In 1771 the Tory governor of Massachusetts Bay Colony, Thomas Hutchinson, vetoed “a bill prohibiting the importation of Negro slaves into Massachusetts” on the grounds that such slaves were not qualitatively different from indentured servants; see Bernard Bailyn, The Ordeal of Thomas Hutchinson (Cambridge, Mass.: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1974), 378.
27. Joanne Pope Melish, Disowning Slavery: Gradual Emancipation and “Race” in New England, 1780–1860 (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1998).
28. Ronald Story, The Forging of an Aristocracy: Harvard and the Boston Upper Class, 1800–1870 (Middleton, Conn.: Wesleyan University Press, 1980), 56.
29. Josiah Quincy, The History of Harvard University (Cambridge, Mass.: John Owen, 1840), 2:429.
30. L. Vernon Briggs, History and Genealogy of the Cabot Family, 1475–1927 (Boston: C. E. Goodspeed & Co., 1927), 410; see also the student paper by Robert G. Mann, “Money and Memory: The Perkins Family Legacy,” 13.
31. Mann, “Money and Memory,” 2.
32. “The Late Abbott Lawrence,” Daily National Intelligencer, August 23, 1855, 257.
33. The value of total major individual donations comes from Samuel A. Eliot, A Sketch of the History of Harvard College and of Its Present State (Boston: C. C. Little and J. Brown, 1848); Harvard University, gifts and bequests, 1638–1870, comp. A. T. Gibbs, 1877, Harvard University Archives, Cambridge, Massachusetts; see also the student paper by Meike Schallert, “The Forging of a University: How Harvard Benefited from the Slave-Economy, 1800–1850,” 7, 32.
34. Mann, “Money and Memory,” 22.
35. Boston Gazette excerpted in Gloucester Telegraph, July 3, 1834.
36. Josiah Quincy to John Gorham Palfrey, May 25, 1838, Josiah Quincy Papers, Harvard University Archives.
37. See the student papers by Balraj Gill, “Harvard and Its Abolitionists: How Debates on Slavery and the Emergence of Radical Abolitionism Shaped Policy at the University in the 1830s,” and Learah Lockhart, “The Apprehensions of the President: President Josiah Quincy’s Interference in a Debate on Abolition in Harvard’s Divinity School,” cited in Beckert and Stevens, “Harvard and Slavery.”
38. Wendell Phillips’s family tree included Samuel Phillips Jr., founder of the elite private school Phillips Academy, and John Phillips, founder of Phillips Exeter Academy; his father was John Phillips, the first mayor of Boston, who served from 1822 to 1823. Thomas Wentworth Higginson was the son of merchant and philanthropist Stephen Higginson, the steward of Harvard from 1818 to 1838. Henry and William Ingersoll Bowditch were the sons of Nathaniel Bowditch, a member of the Harvard Corporation from 1826 to 1838 and one of the highest paid business executives in the country during his tenure as actuary and investment manager at the Massachusetts Hospital Life Insurance Company. Edmund Quincy was the son of Josiah Quincy, the second mayor of Boston (1823–28) and president of Harvard from 1829 to 1845.
39. Boston Commercial Gazette, October 22, 1835, as quoted in Theodore M. Hammett, “Two Mobs of Jacksonian Boston: Ideology and Interest,” Journal of American History 62, no. 4 (March 1976): 846.
40. Elijah Lovejoy (1802–37), originally from Maine, was the editor of the St. Louis Observer, a Presbyterian newsletter, and published his antislavery writings in it. He was killed by a mob in Alton, Illinois, that had gathered to destroy his printing press. No one was convicted of the murder.
41. Louis Menand, The Metaphysical Club: A Story of Ideas in America (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2001), 25–26.
42. Charles Sumner, “Union among Men of All Parties against the Slave Power and the Extension of Slavery, Speech before a Mass Convention at Worcester, June 28, 1848,” in The Works of Charles Sumner (Boston: Lee and Shepard, 1875), 2:81.
43. As quoted in R. Kent Newmyer, Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story: Statesman of the Old Republic (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1986), 356.
44. Menand, The Metaphysical Club, 11, as quoted by Carla Bosco, “Harvard University and the Fugitive Slave Act,” New England Quarterly 79, no. 2 (June 2006): 233.
45. John T. Cumbler, From Abolition to Rights for All: The Making of a Reform Community in the Nineteenth Century (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), 47.
46. Ibid., 38.
47. Morison, Three Centuries of Harvard, 290.
48. Carla Bosco, “When Harvard University Came to Support the Abolitionist Cause,” Journal of Blacks in Higher Education 54 (Winter 2006–7): 76–77.
49. Bosco, “Harvard University and the Fugitive Slave Act,” 237.
50. As university students, Beck and Follen were involved in the Burschenschaft, a student association and movement that came out of the wars against the Napoleonic occupation of Germany. They agitated for a German republic and liberal freedoms and increasingly came under political persecution. Unable to find work because of his views, Follen went to Paris in 1819 and eventually to Basel, Switzerland, where he met Beck. Beck, also unable to find work, had joined his stepfather, Wilhelm de Wette, at the University of Basel in 1824. When the German Confederation demanded Follen’s extradition because of his revolutionary activity, the two left for the United States in November 1824.
51. See the student paper by Brandi Waters, “Interstitial Memory: Exploring the Underground Railroad in Harvard’s Warren House.”
52. Story, The Forging of an Aristocracy, 78.
53. Gordon S. Baker, The Imperfect Revolution: Anthony Burns and the Landscape of Race in Antebellum America (Kent, Ohio: Kent State University Press, 2010), 11.
54. Lewis Hayden was a fugitive slave and a militant abolitionist in Boston’s black community on Beacon Hill.
55. Charles C. Jones to Rev. and Mrs. C. C. Jones, June 13, 1854, in The Children of Pride: A True Story of Georgia and the Civil War, ed. Robert Manson Myers (New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1972), 45, as quoted in Bosco, “Harvard University and the Fugitive Slave Act,” 244.
57. See Earl M. Maltz, Fugitive Slave on Trial: The Anthony Burns Case and Abolitionist Outrage (Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 2010), 108–33.
58. Bosco, “Harvard University and the Fugitive Slave Act,” 227.
59. Bosco, “When Harvard University Came to Support,” 81.
60. As quoted in ibid., 75, 76.
61. Harvard University, Faculty Records, copies of minutes, vol. 9, 1814–22, Harvard University Archives; Catalogue of the Honorary and Immediate Members of the Porcellian Club, Harvard University, Cambridge: Instituted in 1791 (Cambridge, Mass.: Hilliard, Metcalf & Co., 1828); student paper by Hilary May, “A True Southern Gentleman: Charlestonians at Harvard in the Antebellum Period,” 1.
62. Maurie D. McInnis, The Politics of Taste in Antebellum Charleston (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2005), 10.
63. William Kauffman Scarborough, Masters of the Big House: Elite Slaveholders of the Mid-Nineteenth-Century South (Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 2003), 66, 443, 437.
64. See, for example, James Clark, “An Undergraduate’s Diary,” Harvard Graduates’ Magazine, March and June 1913, 641; see also the student paper by Matthew Chuchul, “Camaraderie and Complicity: The Role of Harvard in Forging Bonds of Friendship between Northern and Southern Harvard Students in the Decade before the Civil War,” 19.
65. Catalogue of the Honorary and Immediate, 18–19; May, “True Southern Gentleman,” 11–12. Southern students typically made up around 10 percent of Harvard students, meaning they were slightly overrepresented at 20 to 30 percent in the Porcellian.
66. Louis Agassiz, “Diversity of Origin of the Human Races,” Christian Examiner and Religious Miscellany 49, no. 2 (1850): 138.
67. Agassiz was a staunch opponent of Darwinian evolution.
68. Agassiz, “Diversity of Origin,” 144.
69. Louis Agassiz to Samuel G. Howe, August 9, 1863, in Louis Agassiz: His Life and Correspondence, by Agassiz and Elizabeth Cabot Cary Agassiz (London: Macmillan, 1885), 597–98; see also the student paper by Zoe Weinberg, “The Incalculable Legacy: Race Science at Harvard in the 19th and 20th Centuries,” 10–11.
70. Harvard Gazette, May 18, 1906.
71. Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, “Science and the African Problem,” Atlantic Monthly, July 1890, 66, 37.
72. Nathaniel Southgate Shaler, “The Negro Problem,” Atlantic Monthly, November 1884, 54, 698; Weinberg, “The Incalculable Legacy,” 16.
73. “Last Tribute Paid,” newspaper unknown, 1906, Nathaniel Southgate Shaler Biographical Folder, Harvard University Archives.
74. For background on Agassiz’s scientific views, see Ernst Mayr, “Agassiz, Darwin, and Evolution,” Harvard Library Bulletin 13 (1959): 165–94. Mayr notes that Agassiz’s scientific upbringing in Romanticism-influenced Germany predisposed him against evolution and encouraged the search for ideal types, not historical links. If this was the case, it is certain that Agassiz’s ideal type of human was “whites.” A summary of the reception of his ideas can be found in Elaine Claire Daughetee Wolfe, “Acceptance of the Theory of Evolution in America: Louis Agassiz vs. Asa Gray,” American Biology Teacher 37 (1975): 244–47. The late Harvard professor Stephen Jay Gould wrote a definitive critique of scientific racism in The Mismeasure of Man (New York: Norton, 1981).
75. Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Oration by Thomas Wentworth Higginson,” in Exercises in Celebrating the Two Hundred and Fiftieth Anniversary of the Settlement of Cambridge, Held December 28, 1880 (Cambridge, Mass.: Charles W. Sever, University Bookstore, 1881), 55.
76. Harvard University, History of Named Chairs: Sketches of Donors and Donations (Cambridge, Mass.: Secretary to the University, 1991).
77. Rebecca Scott, “A Cuban Connection: Edwin F. Atkins, Charles Francis Adams, Jr., and Former Slaves of Soledad Plantation,” Massachusetts Historical Review 9 (2007): 7–34.
78. The gift of the plantation is recorded in “Treasurer’s Statement 1926–1927 Gifts for Immediate Use,” Annual Reports of President/Treasurer of Harvard University (1826–1995), Harvard University Archives online, http://hul.harvard.edu/huarc/refshelf/AnnualReports.htm. On cane disease, see Mrs. Edwin F. Atkins to Tom Barbour, Botanic Garden in Cuba Directors Correspondence (1898–1946), Harvard University Archives; see the student paper by Alexandra Rahman, “‘A Very Plain Business Man’: Edward Farnsworth Atkins and the Birth of the Harvard Botanical Station Soledad,” 16–18.
79. Oakes Ames to Blanche Adams, January 11, 1903, Papers of Oakes Ames, Letters to His Family and Autobiographical Writing (MSS) (1902–49), Harvard University Archives; Rahman, “Harvard Botanical Station,” 1, 18.
80. There is a series of important debates as to the exact nature and extent of the contribution. See Eric Williams, Capitalism and Slavery (1944; Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994); Joseph Inikori, Africans and the Industrial Revolution in England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002).
81. The class of 1844 had a shield added in honor of their classmate Brigadier General Edward A. Wild. The inscription says, “A faithful and gallant soldier in the war that preserved the Union and destroyed slavery.”
82. Student researcher Mona McKinley’s inventory of slave owning in “In Ignorance of Their Own Power: Slave Owners, Slave Merchants, and Abolitionists at Harvard College, 1636–1790” is an important contribution to this history.
83. Eric Andersen, “Harvard’s Memorial Hall and the Committee of Fifty: Conservatism, Abolition and Preserving the Union” (master’s thesis, Harvard Extension School, Harvard University, 2015).
84. See student papers by Balraj Gill, Justin Harbour, John Kennebeck, Learah Lockhart, Robert G. Mann, Meike Schallert, and Liane Speroni, cited in Beckert and Stevens, “Harvard and Slavery.”
85. See also Sven Beckert and Seth Rockman, eds., Slavery’s Capitalism: A New History of American Economic Development (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).