Introduction

William K. Selden, historian of some of Princeton’s most iconic sites, writes that “of the more than one hundred fifty buildings on the Princeton University campus only Nassau Hall has inherited a history more significant than Prospect.”[1] Prospect, as the property was then known, passed through the hands of Colonel George Morgan, John Craig, and the Potter family before it was eventually donated to Princeton University as a residence for the president in 1878.[2] Though it is no longer the home of the president, Prospect House remains a Princeton landmark. Visitors take pictures in Prospect Gardens, University events are held in the Prospect House dining room, and students pass by the stone mansion as they walk to class each day. And while Nassau Hall may have been where Princeton’s 18th and 19th-century students spent most of their time, they also regularly encountered Prospect and its residents—some of whom were enslaved laborers.

The land Prospect sits on, and the wealth it was built upon, were intimately connected to slavery from its earliest years.  But which of the owners of Prospect actually owned slaves? Did students ever visit the property and encounter them? Examining Prospect’s history allows us to shed new light on what slavery meant to students educated at Princeton (then the College of New Jersey), as well as the university’s historical ties to the institution of slavery.

Prospect House

Recent photo of Prospect House on the site of Prospect Farm, where enslaved people lived and worked.

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George Morgan

Colonel George Morgan bought Prospect in 1779. He was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania in 1742 and at the age of twenty-one became involved in the Philadelphia-based mercantile firm Baynton and Wharton.[3] Three  years before buying Prospect, Morgan was also named the United States Agent for Indian Affairs.[4]

Morgan did not build the original Prospect farmhouse from scratch, but because of damage incurred during the Revolutionary War he dramatically renovated the stone farmhouse after the war. According to a biographer, in only a short time a “change came over the spirit of the place.”[5] Morgan was a scientific farmer and used Prospect to study various gardening techniques as well as beekeeping and husbandry. The property comprised approximately two hundred acres with a barn, stables, milk-house, outhouses, a three-acre garden, and, of course, the renovated farmhouse.[6]

Morgan seems to have employed both free and unfree black laborers to run his extensive farm operations.  For example, in 1786 he paid local free black man Cezar Trent to cut and carry firewood to Nassau Hall for student Tommy Hutchins and his adopted Lenape Indian son, George Morgan White Eyes.[7] On June 15, 1779, Morgan paid Joshua Leonard, a local mixed-race man, “forty dollars for mowing.”[8] But in addition to these wage workers, Morgan’s account book also suggests that he owned slaves. On September 11, 1779, Morgan paid Stephen Moford for “a pair of shoes for Man John.”[9] Again in 1787, Morgan records buying shoes for “Wench Lid,” “Boy Peter,” and “Girl Mary,” apparently some of his other slaves.[10]

At least one of Morgan’s slaves attempted to run away, as he posted an advertisement for a fugitive from his farm in 1780.[11] The advertisement, published in the Pennsylvania Packet, identified the runaway as Michael Hoy, for whom Morgan offered a reward of five hundred dollars. Several months before, Morgan recorded a payment for “mending shoes and gaiters for Michael” in his account book.[12]

George Morgans Prospect Farm

“Prospect watercolor by Maria Templeton, 1797," a rendering of Prospect Farm while it was owned by George Morgan.

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In addition to the hired hands and enslaved people present on the farm, Morgan also boarded Native American students who were being educated at Nassau Hall. Because Morgan was the U.S. Agent for Indian Affairs, he had ties to the local Leni Lenape tribe. Morgan had a particularly close friendship with their chief, White Eyes. Following the chief’s death at the hand of an American soldier during the Revolutionary War, Morgan adopted White Eyes’s son—George Morgan White Eyes, named for his father and the Indian Agent the chief had considered a close friend. The Continental Congress agreed to have George Morgan White Eyes (as well as two more of the tribe’s “most prominent boys”) educated in Princeton at the government’s expense.[13] Along with White Eyes, two other Delaware Indians were sent to Princeton, where Morgan took responsibility for them.[14] The boys were John and Thomas Killbuck, aged sixteen and eighteen respectively. All three students were tutored by then-president John Witherspoon at Nassau Grammar School in the basement of Nassau Hall, and George Morgan White Eyes eventually entered the College of New Jersey in 1784. It is somewhat unclear as to how long these boys lived in Morgan’s home, but in 1783 both White Eyes and John Killbuck were boarding at Prospect.[15]

Morgan also took two white students under his wing: Thomas Hutchins (class of 1789) and Henry Clymer (‘1786). Hutchins was the illegitimate son of one of Morgan’s friends, U.S. Geographer Thomas Hutchins. He first enrolled in Nassau Grammar School then entered the College of New Jersey in the fall of 1785.[16] A 1784 entry in Morgan’s account book suggests that Morgan was paying for Hutchins’s tuition.[17] Henry Clymer also lived at Prospect in 1785 and graduated the next year.[18] In addition to these “adopted” sons of Morgan, his own three sons also attended the college: John (‘1789), George (‘1795), and Thomas (‘1809).  The fact that all of these young men were under Morgan’s watch, and some actually lived in his home, while they attended classes in Nassau Hall illustrates the links between Prospect and the college.

The proximity of Morgan’s land to the college grounds is also a critical piece of the story. A short walk from Nassau Hall, the edge of Morgan’s estate was separated from the campus only by a small turf wall and a cherry orchard. In fact, the cherry orchard facilitated casual daily interactions between students and the farm’s residents. Morgan had planted the orchard “mainly for the use of the students of the college”—his role caring for boys who attended the college, and his nearness to the campus itself, perhaps causing him to take interest in the students’ well-being. For their part, the boys took full advantage of Morgan’s generosity.[19] In an 1856 letter to his father, Princeton student Henry Kirk Muse alludes to these cherries, stating “there is a great abundance, and of good quality” of them, unlike other sought-after fruits like figs or watermelon.[20]

Today, the land that used to comprise Morgan’s gardens and outbuildings forms a central part of Princeton’s campus. As archivist Henry Savage writes, by the 1950s “most of Colonel Morgan’s large farm [had] been transformed into dormitories, laboratories, and recitation halls” for Princeton students.[21]

John Craig and the Potter Family

John Craig purchased Prospect in 1804 from John Morgan, George Morgan’s eldest son, and lived there for twenty years. Like his predecessor, Craig kept up farm operations on the Prospect property. But did Craig have slaves working on his farm? Cezar Trent, the local free black man who had occasionally worked for Colonel Morgan, listed another free black man, Peter Scudder as “the late servant to Jno I. Craig” in his will.[22] It is uncertain whether Peter Scudder was a slave or a hired laborer working for Craig, as the term “servant” was used for both in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Craig sold Prospect to John Potter in 1824. Potter was born in Ireland in 1765 and emigrated to Charleston, South Carolina in 1784. While Potter most likely “maintained his business headquarters in Charleston” he also began to buy up plantations along the Savannah River.[23] The swampy land was well suited to rice cultivation, and he built his fortune off the enslaved people who labored on his property. On one occasion Potter purchased 338 slaves from another plantation owner, William Mein, “for $145,350, or an average of $440.08 per head.”[24]  Rice cultivation was particularly taxing work for enslaved people. Historian Ira Berlin writes that “rice made enormous demands on those who cultivated, processed and milled it.” Berlin cites a Scottish visitor to the South who noted that the labor demanded by rice plantations was “only fit for slaves, and I think the hardest work I have seen them engaged in.”[25] But while rice cultivation was grueling for slaves, the staple crop was an incredibly lucrative business for plantation owners.

John Potter moved to Princeton in 1824 when his daughter, Maria Potter, married Robert F. Stockton of the eminent Stockton family. When he relocated to New Jersey, John Potter got involved in the Camden & Amboy Railroad and Delaware Canal and soon became the company’s largest shareholder.[26] John Potter did not not completely give up ownership of his southern plantations when he moved North, however, and his sons James and Thomas continued to buy up land along the Savannah River.[27] By the mid-19th century, the Potters owned approximately three thousand acres of land.[28]

Unlike George Morgan’s sons, neither of John Potter’s sons attended the College of New Jersey (although his grandson John H. Potter matriculated with the class of 1863). In 1851, after Thomas Potter inherited Prospect from his father, he tore down the original farmhouse in order to build the stone mansion that still stands today.[29] Like his father, Thomas had made his wealth off of the labor of hundreds of slaves in the Deep South.  In this way, the wealth that the Potter’s accumulated through the productivity of their southern rice plantations eventually served as a foundation for Prospect House, which remains a campus landmark.

ReferencesPanel Toggle

[1]

William K. Selden, Prospect House at Princeton University: A National Historic Landmark (Princeton University, 1999), 1.

[2]

John F. Hageman, History of Princeton and Its Institutions, Vol. 2 (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott &, 1879), 310.

[3]

George Morgan started as an apprentice for Baynton and Wharton. He was made a partner in the fall of 1763 and the firm became Baynton, Wharton, and Morgan. See Max Savelle, George Morgan, Colony Builder (New York:Columbia University Press, 1932), 7.

[4]

Ibid., 137.

[5]

Ibid., 169.

[6]

Department of Grounds and Buildings Subject Files (AC110- Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Mudd Library), Series 1, Box 8, Folder 14, Buildings/Prospect—Morgan Farm. “Prospect near Princeton” by Henry L. Savage, Archivist (1957), 3.

[7]

Ibid., 166. He again pays Cezar Trent in December of 1787 for cutting and carrying firewood “up stairs in College” and for cleaning the room of Tommy Hutchins and George Morgan White Eyes (192).

[8]

Ibid, 67.

[9]

Ibid, 84.

[10]

Ibid, 193.

[11]

The Pennsylvania Packet, 30 May 1780, p. 3.

[12]

George Morgan, “Account Book: Princeton,” George Morgan Collection, 1759-1806, Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collection.

[13]

Varnum L. Collins, "Indian Wards at Princeton," Princeton University Alumni Bulletin 13: 101-06.

[14]

George Morgan, “Account Book: Princeton,” 83.

[15]

Ibid., 103.

[16]

Richard Harrison, Princetonians, 1784-1789: A Biographical Dictionary (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), 414.

[17]

George Morgan, “Account Book: Princeton,” 146.

[18]

Harrison, Princetonians, 1784-1789: A Biographical Dictionary, 109.

[19]

Hageman, History of Princeton and Its Institutions, Vol. 2, 187.

[20]

John H. Muse, Correspondence with My Son, Henry Kirk Muse: Embracing Some Brief Memorials of His Character and Essays from His Pen, While a Student at Princeton College, New Jersey (New York: John A. Gray Printer, 1858), 154.

[21]

Department of Grounds and Buildings Subject Files (AC110- Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Mudd Library), Series 1, Box 8, Folder 14, Buildings/Prospect—Morgan Farm. “Prospect near Princeton” by Henry L. Savage, Archivist (1957), 7.

[22]

Cezar Trent (1813), New Jersey Abstract of Wills, 1670-1817, 383.

[23]

Mary Granger, ed., Savannah River Plantations (Savannah, GA: Georgia Historical Society, 1942), 225.

In addition to this secondary source, the 1820 Federal Census for Charleston, South Carolina, lists fourteen enslaved people in John Potter’s household.

[24]

Granger, Savannah River Plantations, 226.

[25]

Ira Berlin, Generations of Captivity: A History of African-American Slaves (Cambridge, MA: Belknap of Harvard University Press, 2003), 71.

[26]

John E. Watkins, Camden and Amboy Railroad: Origin and Early History (Washington, D.C.: Gedney & Roberts, 1891), 26.

[27]

Hageman, History of Princeton and Its Institutions, Vol 1. Hageman explains that John Potter “owned valuable plantations in the South, and so did his sons, retaining them till their death, and generally spending the winter there” (314).

[28]

Granger, Savannah River Plantations, 225.

[29]

Hageman, History of Princeton and Its Institutions, Vol 1., 282.

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