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Slavery and Freedom at Washington College

Through a project undertaken by Professor of History Carol Wilson with a team of student researchers, Washington College is grappling with its early history as an institution that benefitted from the labor of enslaved persons and free blacks, while perpetuating racial bias and injustice.

Slavery and enslaved people were everywhere in early America. Slavery existed in Chestertown, throughout Kent County and the Eastern Shore, from the College’s founding in 1782 until Maryland’s abolition of slavery in 1864.

Slavery was deeply embedded in American institutions at all levels—government, law, church. Higher education was no exception. We have not found evidence that Washington College—as an institution—owned slaves. However, the College has deep ties to slavery and profited greatly from the labor of enslaved men, women, and children in many ways.

Although a slave state, Maryland had the largest free black population of any state from the time of the American Revolution to the Civil War. Chestertown and Kent County had significant free black communities. By the eve of the Civil War, slightly more than a quarter of Kent County’s population was comprised of free people of color—more than the enslaved population. Free black residents interacted with Washington College in several ways: in business exchanges as entrepreneurs, hiring out their labor as independent contractors, and as renters and purchases of College lots.

Since the Spring of 2018, a rotating team of nearly 20 undergraduate student researchers has been working with Carol Wilson, the Arthur A. and Elizabeth R. Knapp Professor of History, to uncover the hidden history of enslavement at Washington College. The virtual exhibits below use original documents from the College Archives—minutes of the Board of Visitors and Governors meetings, papers of College presidents, letters, and financial records such as bills and receipts—to tell the stories of the enslaved and free black people who made the College’s success possible. 

student researchers on the project:

Class of 2019: Patrick Jackson, Juliet Kaczmarczyk, Katie Reinl, Will Sade, Sara Underwood, Jennifer Walls

Class of 2020: maria Betancur, Cherie Ciaudella, Alex Ramos, Cassy Sottile, Alexis Young

Class of 2021: Emilee Daniel, Caroline Draper, Rose Stevens, Paris Young

Class 0f 2022: Daniel Brown, Julia Fuchs, Salamata Jalloh

Class of 2023: Queen Cornish

With special thanks to Lindsay Sheldon,Director of archives and technical services, and Albin Kowalewski, Class of 2007, for his important early work on this subject.

© THIS WORK IS THE INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY OF CAROL WILSON AND IS PROTECTED BY COPYRIght. to cite this work: Wilson, Carol. "Slavery and Freedom at Washington College." https://www.washcoll.edu/people_departments/offices/president/slavery_and_freedom_at_washington_college.php

 

People Enslaved at WC by Presidents and Board Members

Francis Waters, a Methodist minister who served two terms as president before the Civil War, was one of six presidents who were slaveholders.

SEE THE DIGITAL EXHIBIT

The Steward's Department

The largest number of enslaved people on campus likely worked for the Steward's Department. Of all the stewards identified, all but one were slaveholders. 

SEE THE DIGITAL EXHIBIT

Advertised Sale of Enslaved People at Washington College

Slavery was deeply embedded in American institutions at all levels—government, law, church. Higher education was no exception. Like many schools, Washington  College had deep ties to slavery and profited greatly from the labor of enslaved men, women, and children in many ways.

SEE THE DIGITAL EXHIBIT

 

 

Free Black Workers on Campus

Free blacks worked on campus in a variety of capacities, including bell-ringers and skilled labor. Some receipts from the 1830s and ’40s still exist. 

SEE THE DIGITAL EXHIBIT

Free Black Businessmen

Pere Chambers, a prominent member of the antebellum Black community of Chestertown, had a strong business relationship with Washington College. The 1860 Martenet's map shows his house and the site of his slaughterhouse business on what is now Queen Street. 

SEE THE DIGITAL EXHIBIT