Betsey Stockton’s life followed a remarkable trajectory from slavery to freedom, from Princeton to the Pacific, and back again. It illustrates how a single woman of color achieved a position of influence and impact in the complex racial climate of the antebellum North, where post-Revolutionary policies of gradual abolition had complicated and compromised the meaning of freedom. Betsey Stockton’s experiences draw us deeper into a more thorough exploration of her immediate social context, particularly the world of Princeton’s Black community, who accounted for up to twenty percent of the town’s population in the years before the Civil War.

In this college town known for its genteel-seeming conservatism, divisions of race sometimes quietly, sometimes dramatically, pervaded social relations in both the campus and the community as a whole. Stockton’s story makes a compelling case for the ways a woman of talent, character, and commitment could make a critical contribution to the strength of the African American community. Betsey Stockton continues to hold a respected place in the collective memory of that community, but she has never received much notice in the larger national narrative of slavery and freedom. Too long hidden from history, Betsey Stockton deserves a more prominent place in our understanding of the African American struggle for freedom and equality.

Portrait Of Betsey Stockton

Photograph of Betsey Stockton, a former slave who served as a missionary and teacher in the Sandwich Islands (present-day Hawaii).

View Primary Sources

In the Household of Ashbel Green (1804-1822)

Betsey Stockton apparently never knew the exact details of her birth, and they remain vague to this day. The 1860 Federal Census listed her as a “Mulatto,” aged sixty, born in New Jersey.[1] More recent secondary sources have put her birth a bit earlier than 1800, most commonly 1798, the date carved into her tombstone, but almost always accompanied by a question mark. These sources also suggest that her father was a white man, whose identity is as yet unknown. Her mother was most likely an enslaved woman in the Princeton household of Robert Stockton, a member of New Jersey’s most politically prominent family of the Revolutionary era.[2] At least two white women in the Stockton family had the nickname “Betsey” before her, and it could well be that the baby Betsey received her given name not from her own birth mother, but from someone on the white side of the Stockton clan, using the diminutive form of the family name for the mixed-race newborn child.[3] In any event, she went by “Betsey” throughout her entire life and, at least by 1816, also used the surname “Stockton.”

While still a young child, Betsey Stockton was taken from her birth mother and placed in the Philadelphia household of Robert Stockton’s daughter Elizabeth and her husband, the Reverend Ashbel Green—perhaps as a gift, perhaps as part of a legal settlement.[4] The first record of her presence there comes from a brief September 1804 entry in Ashbel Green’s diary, when he noted that he “corrected Bet” for some form of mischief, asserting his slaveholder's role over the enslaved six-year-old. Three years later, when Elizabeth Stockton Green died, Betsey Stockton remained under Green’s authority, first as an enslaved child in Philadelphia, where Green served as pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church; and then as a slave or, more likely, indentured servant in Princeton, when he assumed the presidency of the College of New Jersey in 1812.

Throughout the hundreds of pages of his meticulously kept diary, Green made occasional references to Betsey (or Betty or Bet, as he variously called her), and Green’s terse but often revealing notes remain the primary written record of Stockton’s early years.[5] Green would be the dominant authority figure in her life for at least two decades, and his relationship with her lasted well after she had become an adult woman.

Some previous treatments of Stockton’s early life have portrayed Ashbel Green generously in his role as Stockton’s mentor and teacher. Betsey Stockton’s entry in the American National Biography, for instance, refers to her youthful life in the “affectionate, indulgent Green household,” describing the Greens as “reform-minded people who supported the abolition of slavery.” In addition to crediting him as a progressive thinker on the issue of slavery, the entry also portrays Ashbel Green as a master who supported Betsey Stockton’s education through “tutoring and the use of [his] enormous private library.” Most accounts of Stockton’s early years (including the one at hand) rely on an 1821 letter of recommendation for her to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM), describing her fitness for missionary work and, in the process, giving a brief (albeit often erroneous) overview of her life. Taking Green’s writings too credulously and uncritically, however, casts the Green-Stockton relationship in a perhaps too comfortably benign glow.[6]

Their relationship can also to be seen in a less appealing light. Even though Green wrote that Betsey Stockton “was never intended to be held as a slave,” he kept her in a condition of unfreedom, either enslaved or indentured, for several years, until she was almost twenty years old. (The historical record remains unclear about the exact year of her manumission from slavery, but it appears to have been before 1810; after that, she still remained subject to Green’s authority.)[7] Green did not have her baptized into the Christian faith, believing that Stockton was “at least till the age of thirteen or fourteen, wild and thoughtless, if not vicious.” Green’s judgment of her teenage temperament helps explain why, in 1813, he sold three years of her service to Nathaniel Todd, a relative and fellow Presbyterian pastor in Woodbury, New Jersey. Green needed someone else to give Stockton guidance and discipline, or at least to create some distance between himself and the teenage girl he considered so unruly. He later argued that he sent Stockton away to “save her from the snares and temptations of the city, which I feared threatened her ruin.”[8] But that was a self-serving explanation stemming, at best, from faulty memory: Green sold her time to Todd almost a year after he and his household (including Stockton) had moved from Philadelphia to Princeton in 1812.[9] Whatever else one might say about Princeton, this comparatively small college town hardly offered “the snares and temptations of the city.”

Immediately after selling Stocktons time, Green noted in the same diary entry that he had also “purchased the time of a black boy and black girl of the estate of the late Mrs. Little,” telling the two youths—twelve-year-old John and seventeen-year-old Phoebe—“that if they served me to my entire satisfaction and that of my wife, I would give to each of them a year of their time,” which would otherwise extend until they turned twenty-five.[10] Ashbel Green thus engaged in an exchange of unfree labor, selling the time of one young person and buying that of two others. He also engaged in a form of coercive negotiation, holding out some modest prospect of time off for good behavior, but still keeping John and Phoebe in his control for at least seven to twelve more years. In the meantime, he did not hesitate to mete out discipline: Green’s diary records several instances when he “Whipped John.” Green may have been uneasy about such physical abuse in his heart and mind, but he nonetheless used it to maintain his authority over young Black people in his household.[11]

In 1816, Betsey Stockton came back to live in that household, apparently still under Green’s authority. Green himself did not give a date but only wrote, with a rather hazy memory, that “at the age of twenty, as near as I can judge, I gave her her freedom; and have since paid her wages as a hired woman.” He became a bit more specific on religious matters, noting that, “as I hope and she believes,” Stockton “met with a saving change of heart while she lived in my family . . . in the summer of 1816.” This apparent religious conversion led to Stockton’s admission to full membership in Princeton’s First Presbyterian Church in September 1816, when the church records identified her as “a coloured woman living in the family of the Revd. Dr. Green.”[12]

Even in Betsey Stockton’s first few years as a free woman, she would always be identified with “the Revd. Dr. Green.” At some point in the late 1810s—the date is unclear, but most likely after she had returned to Princeton from Woodbury—she put a bold “Betsey Stockton” signature on the flyleaf of a book, surely a sign of proud possession on the part of a young woman who had once been considered a possession herself. Just below that signature, another hand added “Betsy Stockton, at Dr. Green’s,” underscoring her place in the Princeton president’s household. An 1820 bank transaction in Philadelphia likewise listed her as living “at Dr. Greens” and noted Green as her reference. Finally, in September 1822, when she visited Green just before departing Princeton and the United States for missionary work in the Sandwich Islands, he wrote in his diary about “a very solemn and affecting meeting with . . . my coloured woman, Betsey Stockton.”[13] The possessive “my” stands out in the sentence, suggesting that Green had perhaps not quite fully accepted her independence. Betsey Stockton may well have felt something of the same: throughout the first twenty-plus years of her life, whether enslaved, indentured, or free, her relationship with Ashbel Green remained an inescapable element of her identity.

That identity soon changed with the next chapter of her life. Stockton’s missionary trip to the Sandwich Islands, beginning in late 1822, became a personal mission as well. She would become a teacher there, but more than that, a woman whose professional skills and personal qualities became increasingly evident and even celebrated. Though her work in the Sandwich Islands lasted less than three years, it served as a critical step in defining her identity as a free woman.

Mission to the Pacific (1822-1826)

On November 19, 1822, Betsey Stockton loaded a few possessions on board the whaling ship Thames, docked in the harbor of New Haven, Connecticut, and prepared to set off for the Pacific. “Here begins the history of things known only to those who have bid the American shores a long adieu,” she would later write of her departure. Her own history as a free woman likewise began with that “adieu.”[14] Stockton’s five months at sea in the cramped quarters of the foul-smelling Thames was a form of confinement, but the vessel would take her to a place of liberation far beyond the shores of American slavery.

Stockton’s mission group went to the Pacific to reinforce the original ABCFM missionaries, who had arrived in the Sandwich Islands in 1820. All but one of the members of the 1822 “missionary family” on the Thames were in their early to mid-twenties, and given the distance and dangers of travel to the Pacific, most of them anticipated never coming back to the United States. One of the leading members of the group, the Reverend Charles Samuel Stewart, had known Betsey Stockton back in Princeton, where he had received degrees at the College of New Jersey (1815) and the Princeton Theological Seminary (1818) and had developed a close relationship with Ashbel Green. Stewart, his wife Harriet, and eleven of the other missionaries were white, but the group also included three Hawaiian men who had attended the ABCFM’s Foreign Mission School in Cornwall, Connecticut, and another man from the Society Islands.[15] Betsey Stockton was the only single woman and the only woman of color on board. Her ABCFM contract put her in something of a social middle ground, calling for her “to be regarded & treated neither as an equal nor as a servant, but as an humble Christian friend.” Subsequent newspaper reports of her departure gave a bit more clarity to her prospective role, describing her as a “pious coloured woman, qualified to teach a school and take charge of domestic concerns.”[16] That’s exactly what she would do once the Thames reached its destination.

On the ocean voyage to the Sandwich Islands, Stockton and several other members of the “missionary family” kept journals of their trip, documents that now provide the most detailed accounts of the daunting—but also unifying—experience of a long sailing voyage. Betsey Stockton’s Pacific journal invites an especially close reading for its insight into her spiritual and psychological state as a young free woman on a journey of self-discovery. It also requires a cautious reading, however, because the original manuscript has apparently not survived. The only extant version is the one published by Ashbel Green in The Christian Advocate in 1824-25, and it is possible that in the process of polishing and editing Stockton’s work he may have changed some of her words or intended meanings.[17] Still, the journal remains Betsey Stockton’s longest and richest written work, offering the most complete and compelling account of this pivotal period in her life.

From the beginning, the Thames encountered sudden shifts from bright skies to dark tempest, and the same could describe Betsey Stockton’s spirit. On the fourth day at sea “the water rushed into the cabin,” she wrote; “I was so weak that I was almost unable to help myself.” When she went on deck, “the scene that presented itself to me was, to me, the most sublime I ever witnessed,” causing her to wonder how anyone in such a situation could ever “deny the existence of God.” The rest of the day, she added, “was spent in self-examination.” So it went throughout the trip, with times of deep concern about her “heart more deeply corrupted than I had any idea of,” her need “to have some doubts, some temptations, and some sickness to struggle with,” and her regret about “my days of childhood and folly.” On other days, however, she underscored her sense of the ocean’s beauty (“the Phosphorescence of the sea”), enjoyed the experience of eating of strange new foods (the “delicious flavor” of flying fish, “equal to any fresh water fish I ever tasted”), and shared the excitement of the whale chase (“we heard the well known cry—There she blows”).[18]

The mariners who chased after the whales made up about half of the ship’s population, the missionaries the rest. However strange each group might have thought the other at the outset, they formed an on-board community thrown together (sometimes quite literally in turbulent weather) as shipmates. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the pious missionaries looked upon the crewmen as potential converts, and the journals of the two leading men of the “missionary family” contain numerous accounts of their efforts to save the souls of the whalemen.[19] Stockton herself does not record any such evangelizing efforts of her own—as a young Black woman, she might not have felt herself yet ready for reaching out to young white men about her same age—but she did note the effect the missionaries had on the shipboard community. Early on, when the missionaries held religious services on the ship, she wrote that “the captain and officers attend our meeting, and the sailors appear to treat the missionaries with respect.” Two months later, she wrote that “The Spirit of the Lord has, I trust, been striving with some of the sailors,” but tempered her hope by adding that “many are yet, I fear, in the gall of bitterness.” Toward the end of the trip, she observed at least a partial improvement in the sailors’ behavior as they took to their whale boats in pursuit of sperm whales: “Four months ago, those boats would not have been lowered without having our ears assailed with oaths—Now not a profane word is heard.” A couple of weeks later, however, a missionary prayer meeting still had a light turnout among the common crewmen. “There was not many of the sailors present,” Stockton wrote ruefully; “Satan is very much out of humour; he is either losing, or securing, some of his people on board.”[20]

Sailors aside, the more profound personal impact of the trip came in Betsey Stockton’s emerging friendship with her fellow missionaries, Charles and Harriet Stewart. “I have learned to love them,” she wrote after three months at sea, and soon she had another Stewart to love—a baby boy, Charles Seaforth Stewart, born aboard the ship on April 11, 1823, not long before the Thames reached the Sandwich Islands.[21] Harriet Stewart’s pregnancy left her weakened and unwell, a condition that would continue throughout her time in the islands and would add to the work burden Betsey Stockton would face there.

But first, she faced the islanders themselves. Stockton’s immediate reaction to the people who paddled out to greet the Thames reflected the standard prejudices of Protestants in encountering the Other:

[T]heir appearance was that of half man and half beast—naked—except a narrow strip of tapa around their loins. . . . Are these, thought I, the beings with whom I must spend the remainder of my life?[22]

Soon, though, she had a happier encounter with another island inhabitant: Anthony Allen, a fugitive from slavery in Schenectady, New York, who had made his way to Boston and then across both the Atlantic and Pacific oceans before coming to the Sandwich Islands in 1810 or 1811.[23] Allen had since become a Sandwich Island success story, owning several properties, including farms, a hotel, a hospital, even a bowling alley. For all that, he still “seemed happy to see one of his own country people,” Srockton wrote. “[H]e had resided on the island twenty years, and had never before seen a coloured female.”[24] This “coloured” male might have seemed a welcome sight to Betsey Stockton as well. If one former slave could create a successful life in the islands, perhaps she could too.

For the next two years, Stockton spent her time taking care of the Stewart household, but also developing her role as a teacher. Soon after their arrival, Charles Stewart and some of his fellow missionaries (including Stockton) moved from Honolulu to a new mission station at Lahaina, on Maui. Here, Stockton began teaching—first in the household of a local chief, but later to the children of farmers as well. Although she had no formal training as a teacher, she apparently had considerable aptitude for the job and her school soon began to flourish. She took pride in having emphasized educating the children of ordinary people, a commitment that would take root and grow over the remaining decades of her life.

Betsey Stockton might well have spent the rest of her life on the Sandwich Islands, but her relationship with the Stewarts took her away. When Harriet Stewart’s frail health led her husband to decide to take the household home to the United States, Stockton loyally decided to accompany them. In October 1825, they set sail for England and then, after a few months layover in London, arrived back in New York in August 1826. The Stewarts moved back to Harriet’s hometown of Cooperstown, New York, where Stockton helped care for Mrs. Stewart and the children. Within two years, however, the opportunity to become a teacher again opened up another chapter in her life, leading Stockton to a new city, a new job, and a new level of professional prominence.

Philadelphia (1828-1830)

In late 1828, the First Annual Report of the Infant School Society of Philadelphia—written by Mathew Carey, one of the city’s leading printers, publishers, and philanthropists—noted that the organization had paid fifteen dollars for “Betsey Stockton’s travelling expenses from Cooperstown” to establish a school:

On the first of May, the first coloured Infant School was opened in this city, with forty-six children . . . under the control of Betsey Stockton, (late assistant missionary to the Sandwich islands,) at a salary of $200 annually.[25]

So began Stockton’s brief but significant chapter as a teacher to Philadelphia’s youngest African American students, aged two through five. Her identity as “assistant missionary” preceded her and gave her credibility with the Infant School committee, but a critical part of her identity also stemmed from her own infancy, which had been spent in Philadelphia—and in slavery. The infant school chapter of her life turned out to be no longer than her Sandwich Island experience, about two and a half years. Still, teaching in Philadelphia’s first “coloured Infant School” gave her exposure to the larger role she could play as an educator in a society divided by racial conflict.

The infant school movement had originated in England about a decade earlier. Its founders hoped to combat “the ignorance of the poorer classes; the sad manner in which many families are crowded together in one house; and then the scenes of drunkenness and debauchery that are constantly passing before the eyes of the children.” Combining basic education and moral direction for the children of the urban poor, the infant school curriculum covered a surprisingly wide array of topics: scripture lessons, spelling, grammar, arithmetic, vegetation, natural history, and geography, along with cleanliness and outdoor play, all of which might help mold working-class children into middle-class citizens.[26] As Carey wrote while promoting infant schools in Philadelphia:

[Go] through our streets, lanes, and allies, and view the appearance and manners of . . . children . . . dirty, ragged, quarrelling, often cursing and swearing, and sowing the seeds of vice and crimes, which are likely . . . to consign them, when the fruits of their education have arrived at maturity, to houses of refuge, penitentiaries and jails.

Against this backdrop of undisciplined decay among the children of the lower classes, Carey posited a promising picture of social uplift and, equally important, social control. A visitor to an infant school would find “80, 90, or 100 children . . . cleanly, orderly, docile, happy, acquiring the elements of useful knowledge, imbibing the seeds of good morals, virtue, and religion, and bidding fair to be useful members of society at a future day.”[27]

This system could benefit Black children as well as white, Carey thought, and for that reason he and the Board of Managers of Philadelphia’s Infant School Society decided to raise money “for the establishment of an Infant School for the coloured population” in January 1828. The proposed school would be not only racially segregated, but financially segregated: the Managers’ decision ordered that “the funds so collected be kept wholly apart from those collected or to be hereafter collected for the purpose of educating white children.”[28] Two months later, the Managers reported that contributions had reached only $234, about half of the amount needed to open the school, but added that “nearly 50 of which has been subscribed by colored persons.” The Infant School Society pressed on and secured a site for the new school at 60 Gaskill Street, reporting that “the school room has been fitted up, at a very small expense, almost all the articles required except lumber, having been obtained as donations, and all the work having been done gratuitously by colored persons.”[29] Clearly, some members of Philadelphia’s free Black community saw the positive prospects of having an infant school, even a segregated one, and invested both money and sweat to make it happen.

Betsey Stockton’s talents as a teacher made the infant school an immediate success. From its initial forty-six students on the first day of May 1828, the school quickly added another twenty-nine by the end of the month. A white oversight committee, which visited the school on a regular basis, came away much impressed with the work Stockton and her assistant teacher had done in so little time. “It was not to be expected that in the short space of one month any material change could be effected in the manners and habits of children, ignorant and uneducated,” the visiting committee reported. But Stockton’s students had become “more cleanly in their persons, more regular in their attendance, and more attentive to their exercises.” Stockton herself merited even more commendation: “Active, energetic and intelligent, she appears well calculated for the situation in which she is placed.” Given “her capability and the trying nature of her duties,” the committee recommended an increase in salary to $250 per year, a raise of twenty-five percent after one month on the job.[30]

So it went month after month, with the visiting committee offering repeated positive observations—“the school continues interesting,” “the school continues to flourish,” “a full and orderly school”—and noting a steady increase in attendance. In 1829, when Mathew Carey submitted his second annual report on the infant schools, he wrote with satisfaction that “the coloured school is . . . in a flourishing state,” quite crowded with 115 students, but still “encouraging the hearts of those who feel an interest in the welfare of this long-neglected people.”[31]

How Carey and other Philadelphians defined their “interest in the welfare of this long-neglected people” remains another issue, however. Carey himself provides a case in point. During the time that he became an avid champion of infant schools for poor children, both white and Black, he had also been “converted” (to use his own term) to the cause of African colonization of free Black people—an issue that had roiled Philadelphia for over a decade.

Carey had come to believe, as had many other white people throughout American society, that a peaceful and successful integrated society would never happen. Free Blacks, he argued, “are cut off from the most remote chance of amalgamation with the white population, by feelings or prejudices, call them what you will, that are inerradicable.” Although “their situation is more unfavourable than that of many slaves,” he continued, “no merit, no services, no talents can ever elevate them to a level with the whites. . . . They will, always, unhappily be regarded as an inferior race.” The only solution, Carey concluded, would be for free blacks to be shipped to Liberia, “where they will be lords of the soil, and have every inducement and every opportunity to cultivate their minds.”[32] If that were indeed to be the case, creating an infant school for the education of young Black children might be little more than early preparation for a time when they could “cultivate their minds” in Africa.

From the outset of the infant school movement in Philadelphia, Carey had taken care to remind supporters that the funds collected to support the black school would be “kept wholly apart from those . . . for white children.” Separate they indeed were, but not equal. After a year of operation, the first two white infant schools had combined contributions of $1,906, or an average of $953 each, while Betsey Stockton’s school had received only $658. The number of donors reflected an even greater imbalance. In his 1828 report, Carey noted that the white schools had forty “life subscribers” at $20 dollars each, and 360 “annual subscribers” at $2 each. By contrast, the “coloured school” had two life subscribers and nineteen annual subscribers, “five of whom are persons of colour,” along with another category of fifty-nine subscribers “at one dollar each, (fifty-two of whom are persons of colour).” But in addition to these small but significant gifts of a dollar or two, Carey also took account of various non-cash “Donations to Coloured School,” including furniture, lumber and other materials, and all the “work (gratuitous,) by coloured persons.”[33]

The motives of the various donors, whether white or Black, do not appear on the records. Some may have shared Mathew Carey’s commitment to colonization, some may have contributed out of a different sort of concern for social control, while others no doubt gave out of a more generous sense of social conscience. The lists provided only names, and not always full ones. The donor lists do indicate quite clearly, however, that the vast majority of the contributions—particularly the two-dollar annual subscriptions—came from white women, both married and single. Of the twenty-seven two-dollar donors to the “fund for the Coloured School” in 1829, twenty-five were women, eleven of them identified as “Miss.”[34] Given women’s limited control over family financial resources, even small contributions must have represented a large commitment of the money they could give to charity. Charity for what, though, is not exactly clear, at least in the case of white women.

The motives among African American donors likewise invite appreciation. With only a few exceptions—most notably James Forten, by far the wealthiest Black man in Philadelphia—the 1829 donor list did not name specific African Americans, but only noted that “a large number of people of colour contribute one dollar annually to this fund.”[35] Those who donated their hard-earned dollars and unpaid labor to Betsey Stockton’s infant school did not do so for the purpose of making their children deferential and docile—much less making them good candidates for colonization to Africa. Philadelphia’s Black community had overwhelmingly and emphatically rejected the notion of African colonization, even though well they knew what they (and their children) could expect in the United States’ hostile racial climate. But they also knew that Stockton’s school could be an important source of support for the youngest members of their community, giving children an education to help them face whatever challenges an unfriendly future might bring.

Betsey Stockton’s reputation as a teacher grew during her tenure at the Gaskill Street school, apparently catching the attention of people outside Philadelphia. In April 1829, William Case, a Methodist missionary, called on Ashbel Green “to converse about Betsey Stockton going with him to teach an infant school among the Indians” in Canada.[36] The following month, she left Philadelphia “to establish schools in the wilds of Canada” on Grape Island, on the Canadian side of Lake Ontario.[37] It remains impossible to know her reasons for doing so. Perhaps the daily demands of teaching more than 100 young children exhausted her, quite understandably. Perhaps the reality of the racism behind the benevolent veneer of Philadelphia’s philanthropy likewise wore her down. Or perhaps the challenge of a starting a new infant school in Canada’s very different social and racial environment seemed a positive opportunity she found difficult to resist. In any event, she went to Canada—and then, once she got the Grape Island school off to a good start, returned to Philadelphia four months later.

September 1829 found Betsey Stockton at the Gaskill Street school again, picking up essentially where she had left off. The visiting committee continued to file glowing reports—“The school in good order—children fond of their teachers,” “The intelligence manifested by the children is remarked with surprise by strangers.”[38] For a year, the school continued to flourish and enrollments continued to remain over 100 students. Stockton might have remained at the school indefinitely, but again, as had been the case in the Sandwich Islands, the fate of her friend Harriet Stewart intervened. Mrs. Stewart died on September 6, 1830, and Betsey Stockton resigned within the month, heading back to Cooperstown to care for the three Stewart children.[39]

When Stockton left Philadelphia, Mathew Carey wrote that the “valuable teacher” in the African American infant school “was called to perform other duties, and was obliged to relinquish an employment, in which she had been eminently successful.” He failed to use her name in that farewell passage, but any student, parent, or visitor who had any involvement in her school no doubt knew even better than Carey how “valuable” and “eminently successful” Betsey Stockton had been.[40]

Princeton: A Tale of Two Streets (1833-1865)

Since the middle of the 18th century, two main physical features had defined the town of Princeton: Nassau Street and Nassau Hall. Nassau Street, once an Indian path, had become a much broader thoroughfare by the early years of the nineteenth century, a still-unpaved but more refined roadway that allowed passersby to view both sides of the street—shops and houses on one side, the college campus on the other. On the campus, Nassau Hall looked largely unchanged from the time of its construction in 1756. Warfare and fire had done considerable damage to the building in its first fifty years, but Nassau Hall still stood as the most visible symbol of Princeton’s academic prominence. It also stood behind a symbol of another sort, a low wooden fence at the Nassau Street border of the campus. The fence never kept anyone off the campus, but it did provide an enduring visual reminder of the dividing line between college and community.

Running perpendicular to Nassau Street, another street defined an even greater divide in Princeton. When the path from the front door of Nassau Hall reached the edge of campus and crossed Nassau Street, it became Witherspoon Street, which led into the heart of Princeton’s African American community. It was within that community—and largely on that street—that Betsey Stockton spent the last three decades of her life.

Stockton initially returned to Princeton in 1833 for the benefit of the Stewart children, the eldest of whom, Charles Seaforth Stewart, had been enrolled in the Edgehill School—an exclusive institution that stressed classical education and moral development for boys. Stockton also had a connection to one of Princeton’s prominent lawyers, James Sproat Green, Ashbel Green’s youngest son and the one closest to her in age. But this new chapter of Betsey Stockton’s life in Princeton would be very different from her early years, when she lived under Ashbel Green’s roof and largely under his influence. She was now an adult with a proven record of success, a free woman in her early thirties, well-prepared to take her place as a member of the town’s substantial African American community.

Federal census records for 1840 and 1860 put the town’s Black population at 687 and 621, respectively—around 21% of the total in 1840 and 17% in 1860. (For New Jersey as a whole, the proportion of Black residents in those years amounted to only 5.8% and 3.7%.)[41] Betsey Stockton appears on both census lists as a single woman, living alone but surrounded by a local concentration of African American neighbors. In 1860, the census stated her occupation as “Teacher,” with personal property valued at $400. All of the residents on either side of her were identified as Black or, like Stockton herself, “Mulatto” (on census records, the names of white people carried no racial notation). Their occupations included a host of trades—from laborer to waiter to washerwoman to coachman to soap-maker, and some of them also owned a few hundred dollars’ worth of real or personal property. Aside from Betsey Stockton, however, no other Black person had the title of teacher.[42] That occupation was hers alone, the critical element of her identity in Princeton.

Princeton had its own identity, a genteel-seeming community on the surface, but one deeply marked by racial division and even segregation, increasingly evident in the town’s most important institutions: church and school. The main church in town, First Presbyterian, which stood just adjacent to the college campus on Nassau Street, had accepted Black members—including Betsey Stockton herself—but also relegated them to separate seating in the upstairs section of the sanctuary. When the church building burned down in 1835, the white congregation worked to make sure those Black members never returned; instead, the Black Presbyterians eventually had to form their own congregation, which in 1840 became the First Presbyterian Church of Colour of Princeton (later called the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church). One of the original members of the new congregation, Betsey Stockton helped make the church a haven for both religious instruction and general education, leading a Sunday school where children learned both scripture and literacy.[43] The Reverend James W. Alexander, a member of the College of New Jersey faculty, wrote a friend to praise her efforts:

Yesterday I examined Betsey Stockton’s school; I wish I knew of a white school where religion was so faithfully inculcated.[44]

Positive though it was, Alexander’s comment still underscored the separation between white and Black children within the context of the town’s Presbyterian churches.

Perhaps more importantly, Betsey Stockton also taught in the sole public school for Black children—the “colored school” in District 6, also on Witherspoon Street. At the time the school opened in 1837, teaching African American children was by no means a politically neutral act, even in the North. Schools for Black children and those who taught in them had been targets of violence in the early 1830s, and Stockton had to know that. Still, she worked in District 6 for almost thirty years, raising enrollment to as high as seventy students in the 1850s and giving at least two generations of Princeton’s Black students the educational foundation they would need in facing the future in a racist society. Some observers in the town’s white community took note. The local school superintendent filed positive reports year after year, calling Stockton an “excellent teacher” and noting that “the school has been well conducted by a female teacher, (colored) and is thought to exert a healthful influence among the colored population.”[45]

Witherspoon Quarry Street School

The former Quarry Street School, also called the Witherspoon School for Colored Children, on the corner of Witherspoon and Maclean Streets.

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But the educational institution that also exerted a strong, although not always healthful, influence on the “colored population” stood on the other side of Nassau Street: the College of New Jersey (also commonly called Princeton College). Throughout the antebellum era, the college had gained a national reputation for being the northern school most culturally and politically hospitable to southern students, who accounted for (on average, but often more than) forty percent of the undergraduate population right up to the time of the Civil War. As one student observed in 1853:

The Northerner and Southerner, the Abolitionist and free-soiler, the Secessionist and State-rights man, lived in perfect harmony, none endeavouring to intrude their peculiar opinions on the others; . . . The North and South are generally pretty evenly represented . . . But few students ever come to Princeton from farther north than New York, the Yankees giving the preference to their own Colleges.[46]

Princeton students, northerners and southerners alike (though all of them white and male), tended to take a patronizing view of the people who served them, whether Irish immigrants or African Americans. Many students assumed the college servants to be lazy and occasionally larcenous, pointing to the “darkies, who black every morning the boots and shoes which are put in the entries at the risk of the owner.” The only way to avoid theft by the cleaning staff, one student asserted, was by “paying the servant extra, and making him clean the room in your presence; then at least you can guard against being robbed.”[47]

Sometimes, however, student attitudes toward campus workers could be much more menacing. In 1843, a Princeton student from Maryland identified one of the college custodians, James Collins Johnson, as a fugitive from slavery on the state’s Eastern Shore. By reporting Johnson to local authorities, this student set in motion one of the most dramatic racial controversies to embroil both town and gown in the years before the Civil War. After a high-profile trial that attracted attention far beyond Princeton, a local jury ruled that Johnson should be returned to Maryland and enslaved again. At that point, an enraged crowd of townspeople (mostly from the Black community) tried to help Johnson escape, and another crowd of townspeople tried to stop them. “In the fracas that ensued,” several newspapers reported, “some of the students at Princeton college, from the South, took part, and dirks and knives were drawn.” The immediate struggle ended only when a prominent white woman in Princeton, Theodosia Prevost, paid Johnson’s former enslaver $500 for his freedom—allowing Johnson, not to mention the memory of the turbulent incident, to live on in Princeton for decades.[48]

In the years just before the Civil War, Princeton’s Black community also began to engage in other forms of mobilization, sometimes to the surprise of southern students. In 1850, a Princeton student from Georgia wrote his parents about witnessing “a general celebration of Negro Sons of Temperance . . . in this place, comprising four divisions, one from Trenton, two from Philadelphia, and one from Princeton”:

They marched through the streets, banners flying, drums beating, and with all the pomp and circumstance imaginable. Orations were delivered, I understand, by several of the order; and the whole procession, followed by women and children, proceeded a mile or two out of town to indulge themselves in a picnic.

He concluded his letter home by noting that this public display of ceremony and celebration “was a strange sight to those of us who were from the slave states.”[49]

A strange sight it might have been to a white southerner at the college, but he neglected to note what one local newspaper reported—“the efforts of a gang of white rowdies to create a disturbance,” one of whom “fired a pistol, the ball of which grazed the front of the cap of a young man who stood near.” Even on a day when Black Princeton residents proudly celebrated their respectability in a temperance parade, the threat of violence interrupted the proceedings and provided a reminder of the contested racial climate of the community.

The threat of racial violence on a larger scale seemed even more serious just over a decade later, when Princeton got a taste of the turmoil that had just engulfed New York City during the Draft Riots of July 1863. Irish workers on the local railroad at Penns Neck “left their work for a day or two, and sauntered through the town in groups, muttering threats against persons they supposed to be Republicans or war men, and against the negroes.”[50] According to the local Republican newspaper, the Princeton Standard, much of the credit for avoiding a violent confrontation went to the town’s Irish Catholic priest, the Reverend James P. O’Donnell, who “had just learned of a threatened riot in Princeton, and . . . denounced it in most unmistakable terms.” O’Donnell warned his Irish congregants that everyone would suffer in such a situation, white and Black. His words apparently worked:

Some who only a few hours before had been breathing out threatenings, of a fiendish character, and who had sworn that every negro should be killed or driven out of town … spoke pleasantly to the colored people, and the town wore a new aspect.[51]

A subsequent account of Princeton’s racial tensions gave a different explanation, however. As a local historian wrote a little over a decade later:

The most effective check given to the mob spirit, was a threat made by a well known and courageous colored man . . . that as soon as an attack was made on them, or on their dwellings, they, the colored people, by concert of action, had resolved to set fire to every Irish habitation in the town.[52]

The considerable size of Princeton’s Black community gave that threat some substance, and the anticipated violence abated without serious incident. Whether or not the town truly “wore a new aspect” no doubt remained quite a different matter.

Seeing Betsey Stockton in History

In such instances of African American self-assertion in Princeton, how can we locate Betsey Stockton? Did she take part in the “fracas” to free James Johnson in 1843? Did she march among the women and children who joined the Sons of Temperance in their parade and picnic in 1850? Did she support the collective threat to retaliate against Irish violence in 1863? Once again, the documents don’t give us an adequate view to find her in the crowd. It would seem unlikely, though, to imagine her sitting passively on the sidelines. The challenge, then, is to define a proper place for her in the larger narrative of antebellum American life—including the movement for racial equality, whether in Princeton or in the nation as a whole.

To do that, we may need to revise our conception of the historical significance of lesser-known individuals, as compared to the more celebrated figures of their era. American historians have finally restored Harriet Tubman, a woman whose repeated risk taking in guiding runaway slaves to freedom set a high standard for personal courage, and Sojourner Truth, a woman whose outspoken call for equality still echoes today, to their rightful places in national history. Like most other Black women in the antebellum era, however, Betsey Stockton has yet to achieve the visibility of Tubman or Truth. Stockton was a school teacher and a church member, a woman who worked tirelessly and effectively at the local level, but who has remained largely lost in the historical record. But that’s the important point. Betsey Stockton’s story invites us to take a more inclusive view of the less prominent people who helped propel the movement for emancipation and equality, sometimes simply by working diligently and consistently to make a difference in the lives of others around them.

In the years preceding her own emancipation, Betsey Stockton spent much of her time educating herself, eventually making the most of her manumission by becoming not just literate but intellectual, and deeply committed to learning. Once free, she spent the rest of her life educating children of color, first in the Sandwich Islands, then in the Philadelphia infant school, and finally—for over three decades—in the two most important institutions in Princeton’s African American community, the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church and the town’s lone public “colored school.” Her success in each setting defines the single most meaningful constant in her life story, about which the historical record is clear: everyone who observed her work, Black and white alike, came away with unqualified admiration. Even more important, her students came away with the critical essentials of education—reading, writing, and arithmetic, to be sure, but also respect both for themselves and for Betsey Stockton.

Betsey Stockton died on October 24, 1865, just a few months after the assassination of Abraham Lincoln and the end of the Civil War. In Princeton, her funeral brought together a considerable crowd of both races, “a highly respectable congregation of her own color . . . [and] representatives from many of the most distinguished families of Princeton, with clergymen and other friends . . . from the neighboring cities of New York and Philadelphia.” President John Maclean Jr. of the College of New Jersey conducted the service, and several other local notables offered tributes.[53]

But for all the good work she had done in Princeton, and for all the goodwill many of its inhabitants expressed at her passing, Betsey Stockton did not want to be buried in town. Obituaries noted that “it was her desire to repose after death near the graves of the family with which she had been most closely associated in life,” that of her fellow missionaries Charles and Harriet Stewart, “and her remains now rest with many of theirs amid the pine groves of the beautiful cemetery of Lakewood, Cooperstown, N. Y.”[54] The close connections she made in her missionary days with the Stewarts stayed with Betsey Stockton throughout her life, and her burial in their family plot symbolized the loyalty she had shown them long after they returned from the Sandwich Islands.

Over thirty years after Betsey Stockton’s death, Charles Seaforth Stewart—the baby born on board the Thames in 1823—described a proposal in Princeton to make a tablet to her memory and send it to the site of her missionary work. The missionary society in Maui turned down the memorial offer, however, apparently on the grounds that “Betsey Stockton was here but a short time and though she did loyal service she was but one of many at that time.”[55]

In Princeton, there could be no such question about the impact of her work in the town’s African American community. Her “loyal service” lasted quite a long time, and to a great extent she was the one and only. The most fitting symbol of her exceptional status is the simple but elegant stained-glass window still in the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, which commemorates Stockton’s memory and the lasting legacy of her chosen role in Princeton’s African American community: “Presented by the Scholars of Elizabeth Stockton.” That rare use of the formal version of her name, Elizabeth, suggests a reflection of the respect her former students accorded her memory.

For people whose right to equal education, or education of any sort, had been so long questioned, denigrated, and disdained, this tribute to their teacher also served as a tribute to their own achievement. By giving Betsey Stockton a prominent place in the black community’s main church—her window in the Witherspoon Street Church is still visible today on walking tours of the town—they underscored her place in the community’s collective memory. Now, a century and a half after Betsey Stockton’s death, the memory that forms a part of the “people’s history” in Princeton points the way to securing her larger place in American history.

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Gregory Nobles is Professor of History Emeritus at the Georgia Institute of Technology, where he taught from 1983 to 2016, specializing in early American history and environmental history. He is the author of John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman (2017) and The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (2022).

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This essay was revised by the author in March 2022.

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1860 Federal Census for Princeton, Mercer, New Jersey, accessed 28 October 2016,


The limited documentation of Betsey Stockton’s life leaves perplexing gaps in the evidence. Only a few pieces of her own writing remain, and writing her life today has posed an archival challenge; see Gregory Nobles, The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (Chicago, 2022), 1-14. For years, a very useful secondary source on Betsey Stockton’s life was Constance K. Escher, “She Calls Herself Betsey Stockton,” Princeton History, No. 10 (1991), 71-101. While I disagree with Escher on some points, I want to acknowledge my respect for her work. Escher is also author of the essay on Betsey Stockton in Past and Promise: Lives of New Jersey Women, edited by Joan Burstyn for the Women’s Project of New Jersey (Syracuse, 1997). See also Eileen F. Moffatt, “Betsey Stockton: Pioneer American Missionary,” International Bulletin of Missionary Research (April 1995), 71-76.


In 1772, William Paterson (1745-1806), a 1763 graduate of the College of New Jersey and later one of the framers of the U.S. Constitution, wrote two poems, “The Belle of Princeton, Betsey Stockton” and “A Satire on Betsey’s College Suitors” about Elizabeth Stockton (dates unknown), later Elizabeth Stockton Long, the apparently alluring daughter of Captain John Stockton. See Weymer Jay Mills, ed., Glimpses of Colonial Society and the Life at Princeton College, 1766-1773, by One of the Class of 1763 (Philadelphia: 1903), 109-125. The second Betsey Stockton was Elizabeth Stockton (1755-1807), daughter of Robert Stockton and later the wife of Ashbel Green, to whom the young Betsey Stockton was, as Ashbel Green later wrote, "given, as a slave."


Escher, “She Calls Herself Betsey Stockton,” 75.


For brief biographical entries on Ashbel Green, see Milton J. Coalter, “Ashbel Green,” American National Biography, Vol. 9 (New York: 1999), 476-478; James McLachlan, “Green, Ashbel,” A Princeton Companion, ed. Alexander Leitch (Princeton, NJ: 1978), 229-230. For a typescript version of Green’s diary, see: Diaries; 1790-1848; Ashbel Green Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library. His note that he “corrected Bet” appears in the entry for 21 September 1804.


Barbara Bennett Peterson, “Betsey Stockton,” American National Biography, Vol. 20 (New York: 1999), 808-809. Essentially the same entry appears in Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham, eds., African American Lives (Oxford: 2004), 792-794. Peterson erroneously writes that Betsey Stockton “was given as a wedding gift to [Elizabeth Stockton Green] when she married Reverend Ashbel Green,” but that is an impossibility, since the Greens were married in 1785, over a decade before Betsey Stockton was born. It seems a bit unclear, in fact, exactly who Peterson means by “the Greens” and the use of the plural pronoun “their.” In the time Betsey Stockton remained the property of Ashbel Green, he lost three wives in rather quick succession: Elizabeth Stockton Green died in 1807; Christiana Anderson Green, whom he married in 1809, died in 1814; and Mary McCullough Green, whom he married in 1815, died in 1817. Green and his first wife Elizabeth did have three sons, Robert Green (1787-1813), Jacob Green (1790-1841) and James Sproat Green (1792-1862), the latter of whom is sometimes given credit for helping teach Betsey Stockton to read. For Green’s letter of recommendation of Betsey Stockton to Jeremiah Evarts of the ABCFM, 3 September 1821, see: American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions Archives, 1810-1961, ABC 6: Candidate Department, Vols. 1-24, Vol. 4, 209-210, Houghton Library, Harvard Library, Harvard University.


Green’s alleged intention not to keep Betsey Stockton enslaved comes from his letter of reference to the ABCFM; see Ashbel Green to Jeremiah Evarts (ABCFM), 3 September 1821, ABCFM Archives. As James Gigantino explains in The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865 (Philadelphia: 2014), New Jersey’s process of gradual abolition allowed slaveholders to keep enslaved people born before the 1804 law in bondage for another twenty-one years, and therefore Ashbel Green had no legal obligation to manumit Betsey Stockton before that time. On the other hand, the larger social context of the law did create complex patterns of negotiation, and some slaveholders masters granted emancipation before they had to do so, often keeping the formerly enslaved as indentured servants. Although there seems to be no written record of Betsey Stockton’s manumission, her situation seems to fall within that latter category. Still, as Erica Armstrong Dunbar has noted, “The transition was not from slavery to freedom but from slavery to forced servitude . .. Indentured servitude represented the end of enslavement, but it was a far cry from freedom.” Dunbar, A Fragile Freedom: African American Women and Emancipation in the Antebellum City (New Haven CT, 2016), 3-4.


Green to Jeremiah Evarts (ABCFM), 3 September 1821, ABCFM Archives.


Diaries; 1790-1848; 2 May 1815, Ashbel Green Papers, Manuscripts Division, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library.




Ibid., 2 May 1815 and 9 December 1816. Green was by no means the first Princeton president to own enslaved people; indeed, all his predecessors had done so. See Craig Steven Wilder, Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities (New York, 2013). In the larger arena of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, Ashbel Green played an important role in drafting the church’s position on slavery in June 1818, which began with a forthright statement: “We consider the voluntary enslaving of one part of the human race by another, as a gross violation of the most precious and sacred rights of human nature; as utterly inconsistent with the law of God, which requires us to love our neighbor as ourselves . . .[I]t is manifestly the duty of all Christians . . . to correct the errors of former times, and as speedily as possible to efface this blot on our holy religion, and to obtain the complete abolition of slavery throughout Christendom, and if possible throughout the world.” Green and his two co-authors softened the position a bit, however to accommodate Presbyterians in regions dominated by slavery: “We do, indeed, tenderly sympathize with those portions of our church and our country where the evil of slavery has been entailed upon them; where a great, and the most virtuous part of the community abhor slavery . . . but where the number of slaves, their ignorance, and their vicious habits generally, render an immediate and universal emancipation inconsistent alike with the safety and happiness of the master and the slave.” Like other white Americans who worried about the social effects of emancipation, the authors eventually turned to colonization as a solution: “We recommend to all our people to patronize and encourage the society lately formed, for colonizing in Africa, the land of their ancestors, the free people of colour in our country.” See Minutes of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America from its Organization A.D. 1789 to A.D. 1820 Inclusive (Philadelphia: 1847), 692-693.


Green to Evarts, 3 September 1821, ABCFM Archives. For Stockton’s admission to the First Presbyterian Church, see Church Book, 1792-1822, Princeton, N. J., First Presbyterian Church, Minutes of Session, Synod of New Jersey Collection, Princeton Theological Seminary Library


Joseph J. Felcone, a rare book dealer in Princeton, has in his collection the book with Betsey Stockton’s signature on the flyleaf: Thomas Branagan, The Flowers of Literature; Being an Exhibition of the Most Interesting Geographical, Historical, Miscellaneous and Theological Subjects, in Miniature . . . (Philadelphia: 1810). I am very grateful to Ellen Dunlap, President of the American Antiquarian Society, for making me aware of Mr. Felcone’s copy of the book, and to Joseph Felcone for offering me a fascinating conversation and the opportunity to photograph Stockton’s signature. The record of Stockton’s deposit in the Philadelphia Savings Fund Society on 25 May 1820 is in Historic Pennsylvania Church and Town Records, Historical Society of Pennsylvania, accessed 10 January 2017, Green’s meeting with Betsey Stockton and her soon-to-be fellow missionary, Charles S. Stewart, is in Ashbel Green Diary, September-October 1822, Box 6, Folder 6.


Betsey Stockton’s journal of her voyage to the Sandwich Islands first appeared as “Religious Intelligence. Sandwich Islands” in a periodical edited by Ashbel Green, Christian Advocate 2 (May 1824), 233-235; (December 1824), 563-566; and Christian Advocate 3 (January 1825), 36-41; hereafter cited as Stockton Journal. A more readily accessible version is in African American Religion: A Historical Interpretation with Representative Documents, eds. David W. Wills and Albert J. Raboteau (Chicago: 2006), accessed 12 December 2015,


For profiles of the mariners and missionaries on board the Thames, see Thomas E. French, The Missionary Whaleship (New York: 1961), 64-70. John Demos, The Heathen School: A Story of Hope and Betrayal in the Age of the Early Republic (New York: 2014), offers a thorough account of the ABCFM school in Cornwall.


For Betsey Stockton’s ABCFM contract, see Ashbel Green, Charles Samuel Stewart, and Betsey Stockton to Jeremiah Evarts, 24 October 1822, ABCFM Archives. For an example of the oft-reprinted newspaper description of Stockton’s role, see the account of the missionaries’ departure in New Haven’s Connecticut Journal, 26 November 1826.


One example deserves special note. The eloquent opening line of Stockton’s published journal—“Here begins the history of things known only to those who have bid the American shores a long adieu”—also appears in essentially the same words in the first entry, on 26 November 1822, of Charles S. Stewart’s manuscript journal—“Here then begins the history of things & circumstances known only to those like ourselves who have bid the American shores a long adieu.” The similarity of language may suggest shipboard collaboration more than actual plagiarism. That is, Stewart may have offered Stockton a good opening line, or he may have inserted it on his own before sending the document to Ashbel Green for subsequent publication. There seems to be no similar linguistic duplication in the rest of Stockton’s and Stewart’s journals. See “Private Journals, to and in Sandwich Islands, 1822-1824,” The Rev. Charles S. Stewart Papers, New York State Historical Association. This manuscript journal became the basis for Stewart’s later published version, Private Journal of a Voyage to the Pacific Ocean, and Residence at the Sandwich Islands, in the Years 1822, 1823, 1824, and 1825 (New York, 1828). On Ashbel Green’s role in editing Stockton’s journal, see Ashbel Green Diary, 2-6 November 1824, 31 December 1824, Box 6, Folder 8. For other journals kept by missionaries on the Thames, see Levi Chamberlain Journal, 1822-1849 (typed transcripts), Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site and Archives; and Louisa Everest Ely Diary, 1822-1823, Connecticut Historical Society Library Historical Manuscripts (77547).


Stockton Journal, 25 December 1822, 6 February, 9 February, 4 March, 10 March 1823


See, for instance, Stewart, Private Journal and Levi Chamberlain Journal Transcripts. General Collection, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University.


Stockton Journal, 5 December 1822, 10 March 1823, 30 March 1823.


Ibid., 4 March 1823, 4 April 1823.


Ibid., 4 April 1823.


For a description of Allen’s life, see Marc Scruggs, “Anthony D. Allen: A Prosperous American of African Descent in Early 19th Century Hawai’i,” The Hawaiian Journal of History, 26 (1992), 55-93.


Stockton Journal, 10 May 1823.


Mathew Carey, The First Annual Report of the Infant School Society of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: 1828), 8, 12.


For an overview of the infant school model established in England, see J. R. Brown, An Essay on Infant Cultivation: With a Compendium of the Analytical Method of Instruction and Elliptical Plan of Teaching, Adopted at Spitalfields Infants’ School; With General Observation on the System of Infant Tuition, &c. (Philadelphia: 1828), quotation on p. 3. For the spread of infant schools in the American North, see Caroline Winterer, “Avoiding a ‘Hothouse System of Education’: Nineteenth-Century Early Childhood Education from the Infant Schools to the Kindergartens,” History of Education Quarterly 32, no. 3 (Autumn 1992): 289-314.


Mathew Carey, Infant Schools (Philadelphia: 1829), 1.


Minute Book of the Board of Managers of the Infant School Society of Philadelphia, 15 January 1828, Infant School Society of Philadelphia Records (#1665), Historical Society of Pennsylvania.


Ibid., 3 March and 5 May 1828.


Ibid., 26 May 1828. Stockton’s assistant, a nineteen-year old African American woman named Rebecca Cobb, had a salary of $100 per year, and she apparently did not get a raise. One other visitor of note, Ashbel Green (then living in Philadelphia at 190 Pine Street, several blocks from Stockton’s school at 60 Gaskill) walked over for a look one morning in early December 1828, and later that evening recorded in his diary that he had “Visited Betsy’s school”—but nothing more, either then or later. See Ashbel Green Diary, 4 December 1828, Box 6, Folder 12. It is possible that Betsey Stockton lived with Green at the time: the 1830 Federal Census lists a free woman of color, aged between 24 and 35, in Green’s household, and Stockton would have been around 30. 1830 Federal Census, Philadelphia New Market Ward, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, accessed 9 November 2016,


The comments from the visiting committee are in the Minute Book of the Board of Managers of the Infant School Society of Philadelphia, 1 December 1828, 2 February 1829, 1 June 1829. The Second Annual Report of the Infant School Society of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: 1829), 6.


Mathew Carey, Reflections on the Causes that led to the Formation of the Colonization Society, With a View of its Probable Results (Philadelphia: 1831), 1, 16.


First Annual Report of the Infant School Society, 8-9. In the following year, 1829, Carey’s Second Annual Report listed the names of local donors to Philadelphia’s three infant schools for white children—45 Life Subscribers at $20 each and 382 Annual Subscribers at $2 each—and a shorter list of thirty-one people who contributed to “the Fund for the Coloured School.” He also noted that a “large number of people of colour contribute one dollar annually to this fund,” but he did not record their names. Second Annual Report of the Infant School Society, 10-12.


Second Annual Report of the Infant School Society, 12.




Ashbel Green Diary, 18 April 1829, Box 6, Folder 13.


Minute Book of the Board of Managers, 4 May 1829. The entry for 7 September 1829 notes that “B. Stockton resumed her duties on the 1st inst.”


Ibid., 4 January and 24 May 1830.


Ibid., 4 October 1830.


Fourth Annual Report of the Infant School Society of Philadelphia (Philadelphia: 1831), 4.


For the Princeton Federal Census data, see 1840 Federal Census, Princeton, Mercer, New Jersey; 1860 Federal Census, Princeton, Mercer, New Jersey, both accessed 28 February 2017, The statewide data for New Jersey comes from Campbell Gipson and Kay Jung, “Historical Census Statistics on Population Totals by Race, 1790 to 1990, and by Hispanic Origin, 1790 to 1990, for the United States, Regions, Divisions, and States,” Population Division Working Paper No. 56, U. S. Census Bureau, Table 45, New Jersey, 63.


For Betsey Stockton’s individual entry in the 1860 census, see above, fn 1.


Today, the Witherspoon Street Church points with pride both to Betsey Stockton’s leadership and to its anti-slavery origins, noting that “Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church began during a time of social, political and religious upheaval in the Princeton Community as well as the nation.  The church emerged as a determined congregation of slaves, servants and free people who challenged the basics of the African Colonization Society and the weight of the Fugitive Slave Laws.” See (accessed 1 March 2017).


John Hall, D. D., ed., Forty Years’ Familiar Letters of James W. Alexander, D. D. Constituting, With the Notes, A Memoir of His Life, Vol. 1 (New York: 1860), 260, 294.


Annual Report of the State Superintendent of Public Schools of the State of New Jersey, for the Year 1859 (Trenton, NJ: 1860), 110.


James Buchanan Henry and Christian Henry Scharff, College As It Is or, The Collegian’s Manual in 1853, ed. Jefferson Looney (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Libraries, 1996), 68-69.


Ibid., 246-247.


48 Lolita Buckner Inniss, “James Collins Johnson and the Princeton Fugitive Slave Case.” African American National Biography, ed. Henry Louis Gates, Jr. and Evelyn Higginbotham (New York, 2012). See also Inniss, “A Fugitive Slave in Princeton," Princeton Alumni Weekly, 6 October 2016; and The Princeton Fugitive Slave: The Trials of James Collins Johnson (New York, 2019). In the immediate aftermath of the trial, the James Johnson case received considerable attention in the nation’s newspapers, particularly in the North; see, for instance, the Philadelphia Public Ledger, 9 August 1843; Newburyport (MA) Herald, 10 August 1843; and Portsmouth (NH) Journal of Literature and Politics, 12 August 1843, all of which ran similar versions of the same story.


Charles Colcock Jones, Jr. to the Rev. and Mrs. Charles Colcock Jones, 16 September 1850, in Robert Manson Myers, A Georgian at Princeton (New York: Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, 1976), 88.


John Freylinghausen Hageman, History of Princeton and its Institutions, Vol. 1 (Philadelphia: 1879), 300.


Princeton Standard, 24 July 1863.


Hageman, History of Princeton and its Institutions, Vol. 1, 300.


The Freedman’s Journal, 3 November 1865; New York Observer, 9 November 1865.




“Information from Mrs. E. C. Cluff, Jr., Librarian, Hawaiian Mission Children’s Society,” 6 March 1962, in Charles S. Stewart Papers, New York State Historical Society.

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