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Princeton and Slavery: Holding the Center

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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.

Princeton's Slaveholding Presidents

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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.

Slavery at the President's House

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At least five Princeton presidents who served between 1756 and 1822 owned enslaved people who lived, worked—and on one occasion were auctioned off—at the President’s House on campus. During this period, the President’s House was the center of slavery at Princeton.

African Americans on Campus, 1746-1876

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African Americans were a constant presence at the College of New Jersey as servants, support staff, research and teaching assistants, and students. They labored under harsh conditions on a campus dominated by racism and white supremacy.

James Collins Johnson: The Princeton Fugitive Slave

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James Collins Johnson, a fugitive slave freed after an 1843 trial in Princeton, became a prominent figure in town and on campus over the course of his many decades working at the College of New Jersey.

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Did You Know...?Dozens of runaways resisted slavery in Princeton and beyond. Read More