Princeton University currently has over 160 endowed professorships that provide a critical source of financial support for its research and teaching across every department. Though roughly two-thirds of these professorships were endowed during the 20th and 21st centuries, 54 were donated before 1890 or in honor of someone alive before that year. Of these, four have definitive connections to slavery, either financially through the donors who endowed them, or symbolically through the “distinguished Princeton names” they memorialize.
In the sections that follow, connections to slavery are explored for the following professorships: the Ewing Professorship of Greek Language & Literature, the Albert Baldwin Dod Professorship of Mathematics, the McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence, and the James Madison Professorship of Political Economy. Each of these men played a role in the legacy of slavery in the United States. Charles Ewing (class of 1798) was the Chief Justice of New Jersey and author of the majority opinion in Ogden v. Price, which restricted the applicability of worker protection laws to enslaved people. Albert Baldwin Dod ('1822) was a Princeton mathematics professor who owned a slave while teaching at the college. Cyrus McCormick ('1824) was a slave-owner whose mechanical reaper made him a fortune, but was possibly based on the intellectual property of one of his slaves. And James Madison ('1771), the fourth president of the United States, owned hundreds of slaves on his Virginia plantation.
Additionally, a database of all 54 applicable endowed professorships presents background information on donors and honorees, as well as sources for future research into as-yet unconfirmed connections to slavery.
Ewing Professorship of Greek Language & Literature
Donated to Princeton by the estate of John Cleve Green in 1877, the Ewing Professorship of Greek Language & Literature is one of the oldest endowed professorships at Princeton. It honors Charles Ewing ('1798), an alumnus who served as Chief Justice of New Jersey from 1824-1832 and as a University Trustee from 1820-1832.
While there is no evidence that Justice Ewing personally owned slaves, he had a significant impact on the institution of slavery in New Jersey, and on the lives of African American children born after the passage of the Gradual Emancipation Act in 1804. While sitting on the state Supreme Court, Ewing wrote the majority opinion for Ogden v. Price (1827), a case dealing with whether "slaves for a term"—to be freed under the Gradual Emancipation Act—were protected under labor regulations that applied to other apprentices or servants:
Chief Justice Charles Ewing argued that slaves for a term bore ‘no analogy to that of an apprentice’ and were to be governed under the regulations of the gradual abolition law only. Their assignability as property, owing to their close relation to slavery, made them fundamentally different from apprentices or paupers and therefore more closely related to slaves than any other legal status. The decision [treated] slaves for a term like real estate.
While Ogden v. Price was largely a technical case regarding who was entitled to the services and ownership of slaves in cases of ambiguous legal status, it also limited labor protections for children born to slaves. Ewing’s ruling consigned them to a legal status more akin to permanently enslaved people than to indentured white servants or apprentices, who were afforded greater legal rights.
Ewing's conservatively anti-slavery rulings left a mixed legacy. In Boice v. Gibbons (1826), he upheld the institution of slavery by preserving (though narrowing) the legal “presumption of slavery” for black people in New Jersey. And yet, in Fox v. Lambson (1826) he wrote that he hoped gradual emancipation would “speedily wipe out the stain of slavery and leave us only the reproach that it once polluted the statute book and the soil of New Jersey.” Ewing was also a member of the New Jersey chapter of the American Colonization Society, which advocated sending free blacks to colonize Liberia.
John Cleve Green, whose donations funded the Ewing Professorship, did not have any immediate personal or financial ties to slavery. Green was the great-great-grandson of founding Princeton president Jonathan Dickinson, and though two of Green's brothers attended Princeton he himself did not. Nevertheless, John Cleve Green was one of the largest donors to the University in the 19th century. He'd made his his fortune trading opium, tea, silk, and other goods in China, working with the "largest [US-based] export house in China” of the time, Russell & Co. Upon his return to New York in the 1840s, Green invested his already considerable wealth from the China trade in railroads, ultimately amassing an estimated seven million dollars by his death in 1875—of which he donated nearly two million dollars to Princeton. Further research is needed to confirm whether any of Green’s railroads, most of which were located in the North, transported slave-produced cotton.
Dod Professorship of Mathematics
In 1869, Samuel Bayard Dod ('1857) endowed the Albert Baldwin Dod Professorship of Mathematics in honor of his father Albert B. Dod, who taught mathematics at the College of New Jersey from 1830 until his death in 1845.
After graduating from the College of New Jersey in 1822, Dod entered the Princeton Theological Seminary to train for the ministry. In 1826 he accepted a tutorship at the College of New Jersey, and although he was asked to serve as the minister for several congregations he found that he preferred to teach. Dod was made a mathematics professor in 1830, though he continued to preach and lecture at the Princeton Theological Seminary. He received a Doctorate of Divinity from the University of North Carolina in 1844 and from New York University in 1845.
Dod was one of the residents of Mercer County to own a slave, and likely the last professor to own a slave while teaching at Princeton. At the time of the 1840 census, there were only 22 slaves in all of Mercer County, 12 of whom resided in Princeton. The census records Albert Dod owning an enslaved an African American woman between the age of 10 and 23 more than three decades after the passage of New Jersey’s Gradual Emancipation Act. It is unknown who this enslaved woman was or where Dod purchased her, but her presence on campus may have seemed anachronistic to many Northern students at the college. Dod’s story is thus emblematic of the broader narrative of abolition in New Jersey, as the Gradual Emancipation Act of 1804 did not fully eliminate slavery in the state until the passage of the 13th Amendment more than sixty years later.
McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence
Endowed in 1897 by Mrs. Cyrus H. McCormick Sr. and her sons Cyrus Jr. ('1879) and Harold F. McCormick (‘1895), the McCormick Professorship of Jurisprudence is one of the most prestigious at Princeton, having been held by United States President Woodrow Wilson, renowned constitutional scholar Edward Corwin, and currently by conservative public intellectual Robert P. George.
Cyrus McCormick (1809-1884) was born and raised at his family’s Walnut Grove farm and estate in Virginia’s Shenandoah Valley. Now on the U.S. National Register of Historic Places, the Walnut Grove farm was worked by nine enslaved people at the time Cyrus McCormick lived there, individuals whom he inherited upon his father Robert’s death in 1846. Like his father, McCormick was an inventor as well as a planter, and in 1834 he received a patent for a mechanical reaper. McCormick did not begin mass producing the reaper until 1847, when he and his brother moved to Chicago to establish the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company (drawing on Chicago’s industrial production capacity, and on rapidly growing demand for reapers in the Midwest and West). By the time of his death in 1884, the reapers had made McCormick a fortune of over eleven million dollars.
It is widely believed, though not definitively confirmed, that Cyrus McCormick based his idea for the mechanical reaper at least in part on work done by his slave Jo Anderson, as well as designs McCormick’s father had worked on. Lester Godwin Jr., a former curator at the Walnut Grove historic site said that Jo Anderson “has as much to do with the later development of the reaper as Cyrus McCormick,” specifically pointing to his involvement in the development and refinement of the prototype once in physical form. Furthermore, McCormick’s grandson Cyrus III wrote in 1931 that “Jo Anderson deserves honor as the man who worked beside [McCormick] in the building of the reaper.”
McCormick’s sizable fortune, which endowed the Professorship of Jurisprudence, is therefore deeply intertwined with personal and national stories of slavery. Beyond being a slave-owner himself, McCormick very likely profited off of the intellectual property of one of his slaves, who received no compensation until after the Civil War. McCormick purchased a small cabin for Anderson after the Civil War and gave him small annual gifts—but this was not even a tiny fraction of the wealth the reaper had made McCormick.
The McCormick Harvesting Machine Co. sold reapers to farms and plantations across the slaveholding South and West, where they would be used by white farm laborers and slaves alike. His fortune, then, cannot be fully understood apart from its origin in the labor (and likely the intellectual property) of enslaved people in the South.
Madison Professorship of Political Economy
The James Madison Professorship of Political Economy is one of just eight (out of more than 160 endowed professorships) created by the Board of Trustees rather than by a donation to the University, and honors United States President James Madison ('1771). As a much-studied founding father, Madison’s connections to slavery are well known, but are worth recounting here—especially as his professorship was endowed in 1969, more than a century after emancipation, reflecting a conscious choice on the part of the trustees to honor a man they knew both owned slaves and furthered the institution of slavery. At a time when universities are reexamining their ties to those with deplorable views on race—including debates over Woodrow Wilson at Princeton—it is worth understanding Madison’s legacy on slavery, both nationally and as it relates specifically to the university.
Madison (1751-1836) came from one of the largest slave-owning families in Virginia and owned at least one hundred slaves over the course of his life, both at his Montpelier Plantation and in the White House while serving as president (1809-1817). As the “Father of the Constitution” and its principal author, he proposed the "three-fifths clause," which counted enslaved people as three-fifths of a person for the purposes of apportioning congressional districts and Electoral College votes. Madison also served as president of the American Colonization Society, an organization that promoted the colonization of present-day Liberia by freed slaves (and which had significant ties to Princeton).
When 18-year old “Jemmy” Madison left his parents’ home at Montpelier for the College of New Jersey, he was accompanied by two family friends—future North Carolina Gov. Alexander Martin ('1756) and his brother, Rev. Thomas Martin (‘1762)—as well as an enslaved man named Sawney, who had been his “personal manservant” at Montpelier. Sawney was the son of African-born slaves owned by Nelly Conway (James Madison’s mother), who most likely brought him to Montpelier after her marriage. Sawney was the son of African-born slaves owned by Nelly Conway (James Madison’s mother), who most likely brought him to Montpelier after her marriage. Little is known for certain about Sawney before he assumed “primary responsibility” for James Madison Jr. during his trip to Princeton and back. However, this “special responsibility” of bringing Madison to the College of New Jersey was key in bringing Sawney “to the attention of the master," James Madison Sr., and earned him substantial additional responsibilities at Montpelier. By 1782, he oversaw nearly one quarter of the enslaved laborers at the plantation.
This database should prove helpful for those interested in further researching the connections of Princeton’s endowed professorships to slavery and the slave trade.
The spreadsheet below lists professorships established before 1890 or which honor someone alive before 1890, along with the name(s) of the donor(s) and honoree(s), brief notes on their known or potential connections to slavery, and sources relating to each individual. A handful of professorships, which are noted on the spreadsheet, have as-yet unconfirmed connections to slavery which merit further research.
A database of Princeton's endowed professorships donated before 1890 or which honor someone alive before that time.
View Primary Sources
James Gigantino, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2014), 100.
Hendrik Hartog, Minna’s Care, or the Legal Culture of Gradual Emancipation (draft manuscript, publication forthcoming).
Hartog, Minna's Care.
Annual Report of the American Colonization Society, Volumes 6-10 (Washington D.C.: Davis & Force, 1823), 82, accessed 9 January 2017, https://books.google.com.
William K. Selden, The Legacy of John Cleve Green (Princeton, NJ: University Office of Printing Services, 1988).
William B. Sprague, Annals of the American Pulpit (New York: Robert Carter & Brothers, 1858), 737-739, accessed 9 January 2017, https://books.google.com.
1840 Federal Census, Princeton, Mercer County, New Jersey, accessed 9 January 2017, www.ancestry.com.
Gigantino, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865.
William T. Hutchinson, Cyrus Hall McCormick: Seedtime, 1809 – 1856 (New York: Hutchinson Press, 1930), 17.
George Iles, Leading American Inventors (New York: Henry Holt & Co., 1912), 276-314.
The estimate of McCormick's net worth comes from from: Michael Klepper and Michael Gunther, The Wealthy 100: From Benjamin Franklin to Bill Gates – a Ranking of the Richest Americans, Past and Present (Secaucus, NJ: Carol Publishing Group, 1996), xiii.
Bonnie Winston, “Black History Profile: Jo Anderson," Richmond Times-Dispatch, 1998, republished 5 February 2013.
Ibid.; Cyrus McCormick III, The Century of the Reaper: an Account of Cyrus Hall McCormick, the Inventor of the Reaper, of the McCormick Harvesting Machine Company, the Business He Created, and of the International Harvester Company, his Heir and Chief Memorial (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1931). See also: Patricia Carter Sluby, The Inventive Spirit of African Americans: Patented Ingenuity (New York: Greenwood Publishing Group, 2000).
Winston, "Black History Profile: Jo Anderson."
Hannah Waxman and Do-Hyeong Myeong, “Students ‘walkout and speakout,’ occupy Nassau Hall until demands of Black Justice League are met," The Daily Princetonian, 18 November 2015.
Douglas B. Chambers, Murder at Montpelier: Igbo Africans in Virginia (Jackson, MS: University Press of Mississippi, 2005), 153.