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Princeton & Slavery: The Scientist’s Assistant

Joseph Henry spent 14 years at the College of New Jersey — now Princeton — where he served as chair of the natural history department between 1832 and 1846. During his tenure at Princeton, Henry taught courses on subjects ranging from natural history and chemistry to architecture, while assembling an impressive physical laboratory in Philosophical Hall. Henry set about the task of improving Princeton’s research facilities, and in 1840 the College provided the assistance of Sam Parker. As Henry explained in an 1841 letter to mathematician Elias Loomis: “The Trustees have however furnished me with an article which I now find indispensible, namely with a coloured servant whom I have taught to manage my batteries and who now relieves me from all the dirty work of the laboratory.” Paid an annual salary of $48, Parker would work in Henry’s laboratory and household for the next six years. His assistance became so critical to Henry’s research that when Parker fell ill for a brief period in June 1842, Henry’s experiments halted entirely.

Read more at Princeton Alumni Weekly.

Did You Know...?The University’s first nine presidents all owned slaves. Read More