About the Project
Princeton University, founded as the College of New Jersey in 1746, exemplifies the central paradox of American history. From the start, liberty and slavery were intertwined. The Princeton & Slavery Project investigates the University’s involvement with the institution of slavery and ongoing legacies of institutional racism. We invite you to explore the many stories and sources included here and to contact us with research, stories, and ideas of your own.
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News & Events
Princeton University, 3/29/21
In September 2020, the Trustees of Princeton University convened the Ad Hoc Committee on Principles to Govern Renaming and Changes to Campus Iconography.
Journal of American History, December 2020
"Of all the available examples, the Princeton & Slavery web site offers far and away the most well-developed and best organized of these digital treatments."
The New York Times, 11/6/17
Princeton University has a long history connected to slavery, which has remained hidden until now.
Samuel Stanhope Smith
Samuel Stanhope Smith, Princeton’s seventh president (1795-1812), was an early defender of the unity of mankind—arguing that environment, not innate biological differences, determined one’s race. His convictions, however, did not prevent him from owning slaves himself, and his teachings ultimately influenced Princeton alumni to establish the American Colonization Society.
Princeton's Slaveholding Presidents
Princeton’s first nine presidents all owned slaves at some point in their lives. Though widely considered to be forward-thinking religious, intellectual, and political leaders in the 18th and 19th centuries, they failed to align their practices with their ideals—embodying the tensions between liberty and slavery that characterized American life from the colonial period to the Civil War.
Historical Campus Landscape
An interactive map of the Princeton campus, highlighting major buildings and memorials and their relationship to slavery.
"Rev. I. W. L. Roundtree Has Risen From Slavery's Estate"
Newspaper article profiling I. W. L. Roundtree, a late-19th century Princeton graduate who was born a slave.