The Runaway Spy

Michael Hoy departed on horseback from Princeton toward New York, under the cover of darkness, on the evening of May 20, 1780. Three days later, his owner, Colonel George Morgan, composed a newspaper advertisement for his capture. “The Slave is near 6 feet high,” wrote Morgan, “strong and well made.” Hoy was about forty years old, “speaks good English, reads and writes a tolerable hand, and is a decent and well behaved ingenious fellow, capable of a variety of works.” He wore “a suit of superfine mixt broad cloth, a new red great coat, white stockings, half boots,” and a stylish beaver hat, still in good condition. Morgan enslaved Hoy on his Prospect Farm estate, which stood directly adjacent to the College of New Jersey, and which now forms part of Princeton University. Indeed, he suspected that Hoy and a white accomplice stole a bay mare, on which to make their escape, from Samuel Stanhope Smith, Professor of Moral Philosophy at the college.[1]

Morgan assumed that Hoy was “seduced to undertake to carry letters or intelligence” to the British in New York. The Colonel must have been furious. A close associate of George Washington and Indian Agent for the colonial government, he was a leader of the American Revolution and one of Princeton’s most famous citizens. The “decent and well behaved” Hoy, with his tolerable literacy and new red coat, made him look like a fool. How long did he spy at Prospect Farm? What secrets did he pass to the enemy?

When Morgan published his advertisement in the Pennsylvania Packet on May 30, 1780, he offered a combined total of $500 for the fugitive and his loot. Two weeks later, Professor Smith published a separate ad in the New Jersey Gazette describing his missing horse and offered a $600 reward “to restore the mare and convict the thief.” Over the following month, the desperate Morgan reprinted his ad at least four more times in two different newspapers. It seems likely that Hoy managed to elude capture, at least for a time. Whatever damage he inflicted on his owner’s career was short-lived. Three years later, Prospect Farm became the official seat of the Continental Congress. As representatives debated policy and attempted to manage the federal government from the pastoral estate, the Colonel’s slaves and Smith’s students continued to work nearby.[2]

Michael Hoy

George Morgan's newspaper advertisement for enslaved spy Michael Hoy.

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Between 1774 and 1818, Princeton slaveholders published at least twenty-eight newspaper advertisements for runaway slaves. Each one tells a unique story as interesting and important as that of Michael Hoy and Colonel Morgan. Runaway ads usually appeared on the back pages of newspapers, alongside notices for estate sales, discount merchandise, valuable livestock, and missing animals. Especially during the colonial and revolutionary periods, they could be found next to similar ads for escaped prisoners, indentured servants, deserted soldiers, and wayward wives. Some ads were colorful and verbose. Others were perfunctory and short. Sometimes they accompanied notices of slave auctions and trades. Princeton residents published a minimum of sixteen advertisements describing slaves for sale prior to 1818. Runaway and slave sale ads were both essential components in a broader culture of slavery sustained by networks of commerce, surveillance, and law. Often they reveal more about their authors than they do about their subjects.[3]

As historical evidence, runaway advertisements are problematic. They represent only a thin cross-section of the enslaved population. Most of the advertised runaways in the Princeton region were males under the age of thirty, with women accounting for about twenty percent of the total. Most were single, although some had spouses or partners. The majority were agricultural workers or housekeepers. These men and women were exceptional cases, those who made the difficult and dangerous decision to steal themselves and who proved adept at evading their captors. Even so, they constitute an unknown portion of the total number of escapees. Slaveholders did not always go through the trouble and expense of advertising for their runaways. Some fugitives left for short periods or were recaptured quickly, and those who made it into newspapers were the most successful and irksome. Slaveholders wrote their ads with a specific purpose in mind, and their descriptions reflect a system of exploitation and privilege rooted in racism, sexism, and violence. Read against the grain, however, their narratives yield a rich trove of sociological data. Considered as a whole, they are powerful testimony that Black lives matter.

Colonial Period (1746-1775)

Slavery existed in the town of Princeton from its inception at the end of the 17th century. Thomas Leonard, who settled in town as early as 1710, owned several plantations and built a sizable fortune from enslaved labor. He also led the campaign to locate the College of New Jersey in Princeton and served as a trustee. In 1754, as the Chairman of the Building Committee, Leonard laid the cornerstone of Nassau Hall. The following year, he listed sixteen slaves in his will, among his cattle, sheep, hogs, and other property: “a negro lad called John…my negro girl Caroline…Francis…Harry, Jack, John, James, Frank, Abraham, Isabell, Judy, Nancy, Poll, Betty, Dinah, and Jenny.” Leonard’s estate was only one of several slaveholding dynasties whose grinding exploitation and resulting super-profits fueled Princeton’s colonial economy.[4]

Life for the region’s earliest slaves was difficult and often violent. Peet, who fled from Princeton’s venerable Longstreet family in 1774, had “a large scar on one side of his neck, and another on his head, occasioned by a cut with a knife.” Whippings, beatings, and other forms of abuse were common. Although the odds were not in their favor, occasionally slaves struck back. Cuff ran away from wealthy farmer Daniel Hart, in nearby Hopewell, on three separate occasions. Finally, on October 12, 1767, he “attacked his master with a knife and axe; with which he cut open his skull, and gave him many other wounds on his back and arms.” Hart died from his injuries. Cuff escaped yet again, but hanged himself on a tree in the woods west of Princeton, in a location later known as “Cuffee’s Hollow.” Following an extensive search, local residents eventually discovered his body and burned it as a warning to others.[5]

Burning Of Cuff

A letter from Princeton, dated October 28, 1767, describing the burning of fugitive slave Cuff.

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Given Princeton’s large enslaved population, the relative paucity of runaway advertisements during the colonial era is striking. This is probably due, in part, to a lack of print culture and literacy. Early colonial newspapers were scarce, irregular, and usually located in distant Philadelphia or New York. The town’s rural isolation also made it difficult for enslaved people to escape. The close quarters of the small farming community and tight social networks among elite slaveholders and free white residents made it easier to surveil and police the Black population. Cuff’s dilemma reflected the limited options for enslaved men and women in the region. His decision to attack his master and to commit suicide after his fourth escape, with an armed posse in hot pursuit, was perhaps the closest he could get to asserting his freedom.

Slaveholders also used government power to secure their property and to clamp down on any form of resistance. Following a series of slave revolts, arsons, and murders in the first half of the 18th century, lawmakers made African descent synonymous with criminality. New Jersey laws stipulated that slaves could not gather in groups larger than five, stay out past nine in the evening, or travel without a written pass. To escape this surveillance regime required almost superhuman effort. And even when escape was possible, it would often require leaving behind family and friends. When Constant ran away from Princeton in July 1774, his owner “imagined he may have a forged pass” and would sail to the West Indies, “from whence he came.” His cosmopolitanism and literacy may have made it easier for him to slip away.[6]

The Revolutionary War (1775-1783)

The onset of the American Revolution coincided with a dramatic increase in fugitive slaves. Between 1720 and 1775, the number of New Jersey runaways skyrocketed, far outpacing the modest growth of the enslaved population. During the Revolutionary War (1775–1783), scores of fugitives fought for the British, who offered freedom in exchange for their service. With their intimate knowledge of the local terrain, some New Jersey slaves became successful military leaders, such as the guerilla loyalist Colonel Tye. Others fled to British-occupied territory. John Longstreet escaped from Princeton in 1776 and claimed freedom in New York City. Peter Stogdon (probably Stockton) followed him there in 1780. Both men joined the British navy when they evacuated the city at the end of the war and started new lives in Nova Scotia. Espionage was common enough that when Michael Hoy ran away to New York, his owner assumed he would carry intelligence to the enemy.[7]

The College of New Jersey took pride in its commitment to the revolutionary cause. Its faculty trained a number of leading statesmen and its president, John Witherspoon, signed the Declaration of Independence. The decision to relocate the Continental Congress to Princeton in 1783 was, among other things, a symbol of the town’s national significance. For the slaves who worked in the shadow of the College of New Jersey, however, the situation could be considerably more complex. Following the Battle of Princeton in 1777, Central Jersey fell under colonial authority, making it more difficult to run away. When his loyalist owner fled Princeton with the British Army, an enslaved man named Prime found himself behind enemy lines on Long Island in 1778. He escaped and returned home where, as confiscated property, he became a “Slave of the State of New Jersey.” After a series of legal contests, he finally won his freedom in 1786.[8]

The economic and social chaos wrought by the war made New Jersey slaveholders reluctant to abolish slavery and contributed to a sense of paranoia about their captive workforce. Princeton slaveholders seemed especially nervous about cooperation between enslaved Black people and free whites. Colonel Morgan feared that the enslaved spy Michael Hoy “may travel as a servant to a white man who is supposed to have gone off with him.” Several months later, Princeton resident John Denton offered an eye-popping reward of $1,000 to apprehend the runaway Caesar. He offered additional incentive to uncover any collaborators across the color line. “There is good reason to believe that he has been advised to go away,” wrote Denton, and “any substantial evidence who will discover the fact (if the plot be by a white person) on full conviction, shall have a reward of Six Thousand Dollars; if a black person, Five Hundred.” Denton suspected that Caesar was under British protection on Staten Island.


John Denton's ad for Caesar, offering a $1,000 reward for his capture and another $6,000 for his white accomplice.

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Travelers of African descent faced intense scrutiny. Henry Heywood, “a black fellow, marked with the small-pox, about five feet nine inches high,” arrived in Princeton in December 1781. Although he claimed to be a free man, who had served with the British army in Virginia, the town constable imprisoned him as a runaway. Princeton officials held Heywood in captivity for six weeks, or until his owner claimed him. His fate remains unclear.[9]

Early National Period (1783-1820) and Haitian Revolution (1791-1804)

With the end of the Revolutionary War, the proliferation of newspapers, and a general movement toward emancipation throughout the Americas, the number of runaway advertisements from Princeton continued to grow. At least five runaway ads appeared between 1774 and 1780. By contrast, a minimum of eight ads appeared in the 1790s, nine in the 1800s, and six in the 1810s. As with their predecessors, these ads described their subjects in intimate and sometimes elaborate detail. There was Lindor, who was “smooth-tongued” with strangers and who eloped with an eighteen-year-old girl “to whom it is pretended he is married.” There was Bob, who was “not possessed of any politeness;” Hannah, who could not help “rolling her eyes when spoken to;” and Charles, who had “a slovenly swinging walk.” There was Harry, who appropriated “sixty silver dollars and three notes” when he departed, and Nelly, with her “long Indian hair,” who carried a distinctive “green umbrella with a fringe.”[10]


Amey Cheston's advertisement for Nelly, who carried a “green umbrella with a fringe.”

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Some Princeton slaveholders published multiple ads in prolonged campaigns to capture fugitives. Francis Blaise offered an $8 reward for the capture of a twenty-year-old woman named Mary in December 1793. Two years later, he increased his reward to $24 and offered it to Mary herself “in diminution upon the price of her sale if she is willing to return.” A small number of fugitives escaped more than once. Sampson, about thirty years old with knock knees and short legs, ran away from Richard Stockton in September 1806. He ran away again, this time from Oliver Hunt, in April 1808. Apart from these rare cases, it is difficult to learn the fate of runaway slaves. Most owners placed a limited number of advertisements and then stopped, either because their attempts were successful or because they preferred to cut their losses.[11]

Some fugitives fled toward Princeton. As early as 1771, an advertisement for an enslaved chimney sweep in Philadelphia noted that “he may go towards Princeton as he has been that road before.” An ad for Michael, “broad shouldered, thick jawed, bandy legged,” published in Philadelphia in 1797, informed readers that he “was raised in Princeton…and it is probable that he may attempt to return there.” Others longed to return home, but could not. Robert Voorhis was born in Princeton to an enslaved mother and her owner, a white "gentleman of considerable eminence.” Traded away as a child, as part of a dowry, at some point in the 1770s, Voorhis eventually escaped and became a sailor in Europe and India. Although he never saw them again, he often contemplated the fate of the mother and the sister that he left behind.[12]

The Haitian Revolution (1791-1804), a successful slave revolt that established the second independent republic in the Americas, probably exerted some influence on Princeton’s enslaved population. Haitian refugees settled in nearby Philadelphia and Trenton. Fleeing revolutionary violence on the island, the Tulane family established a permanent base near Princeton, joining what was already a sizable francophone community. One of the family’s slaves, Choisi, ran away in November 1796. He spoke “French, the Creole Idiom, and bad English,” and his sharpened teeth and facial scarification hinted at his African origins. Mary, who escaped from Francis Blaise three years earlier, also had French language skills. In 1803, as slave resistance spread across the Caribbean, a French colonist in Guadeloupe shipped two of his slaves to Princeton for safekeeping. A third member of their group resisted his enslavement and settled in Philadelphia.[13]


Advertisement for Choisi, a refugee from the Haitian Revolution, who spoke “French, the Creole Idiom, and bad English."

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Although it may be mere coincidence, the number of published slave sales increased substantially at the end of the 18th century. Of sixteen sales mentioning Princeton prior to 1818, at least half appeared between 1791 and 1805, at the height of the Haitian struggle for independence. A similar but smaller sell-off occurred toward the end of the American Revolution. In November 1780, after losing his horse to Michael Hoy, Samuel Stanhope Smith posted a sale notice for a boy “between eleven and twelve years old.” Thomas Wiggins, Smith’s successor as the treasurer of the College of New Jersey, placed ads selling a teenage girl and a “smart, active” thirteen-year-old boy. Smith’s neighbor, Colonel Morgan, sold two women, a girl, and a boy between 1801 and 1804, as he prepared to move to Pennsylvania. Cezar Trent, a free Black man who worked for Morgan, advertised a man for sale in 1795. He was sold, Trent noted, “for no fault but the want of a master.”[14]

Maclean Sr 1808 Preview

Newspaper ad placed by Princeton Professor John Maclean, Sr., selling a slave for a term.

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Following the example of other northeastern states, New Jersey passed a gradual emancipation law at the beginning of the 19th century. The new law freed men born to enslaved mothers when they reached the age of twenty-five and women at the age of twenty-one. Exceptionally cautious and conservative, the law applied only to children born after July 4, 1804. These “slaves for a term” further complicated an already complex and capacious system of unfree labor. Some owners agreed to manumit their human property prior to the enactment of the law. Advertisements for indented servants of African descent appeared as early as the 1790s. Twenty-four-year-old Ben escaped from Princeton in November 1811, with “ten years and six months to serve.” Aaron, nineteen-years-old with “near twelve years to serve,” joined him, along with a white woman and their child.[15]

Until their manumission date, slaves for a term endured the same conditions as permanent slaves. Both classes were subject to brutal treatment and arbitrary sales. As the cotton economy exploded at the beginning of the 19th century, it was not uncommon to smuggle Jersey slaves south to Louisiana and Mississippi. Slave coffles—forced marches of as many as sixty men, women, and children—passed through Princeton on their way to the deep South. Efforts to stem the tide were largely ineffective. Elijah Slack, Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy and Vice President of the College of New Jersey, advertised a nineteen-year-old woman for sale in 1816. “It is believed she will particularly suit a farmer,” Slack explained, using language that would appeal to aspiring cotton planters.[16]

Ben And Aaron

Advertisement for Ben and Aaron, two slaves who escaped before the expiration of their term.

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Individuals born just prior to 1804 were especially vulnerable. Some, such as Ben and Aaron, negotiated or received temporary terms. Nevertheless, as they approached their peak working years in the 1810s and 1820s, they must have felt the sting of their condition. Twenty-year-old Elsy Murray escaped from Peter Bogart, the steward of the Princeton Theological Seminary, in 1818. She was literate and intelligent, carried a travel pass, and dressed in “a red plaid gingham gown, Germantown shawl, green silk bonnet, and plum colored shoes.” Bogart added that he would sell her for a “reasonable price.” The following year, the mayor of Princeton, Erkuries Beatty, described a runaway slave named Joe. Almost twenty-one-years-old, Joe had only four years remaining on his term, but he fled to avoid retaliation by local officials after a rowdy night on the town. Beatty wrote to recent Princeton graduate James Hunter Ewing (class of 1818) to locate and capture the wayward youth in Philadelphia.[17]

Antebellum Period (1820-1861)

Newspaper advertisements for runaways demonstrate with vivid clarity that slavery was a community project. Slaveholders depended on their friends and neighbors, both near and far, to recognize and capture fugitives. The surveillance system, bolstered by travel passes, curfews, and print ads, meant that anyone of African descent was suspicious. Rewards incentivized slave-catchers and criminalized Blackness. Sylvia Dubois, a self-emancipated slave who worked for the Tulane family in Princeton, described an encounter on a local road:

On my way, a man called to me, asking me, “Whose nigger are you?” I replied, “I’m no man’s nigger—I belong to God—I belong to no man.”
He then said: “Where are you going?” I replied, “That’s none of your business—I’m free; I go where I please.”
He came toward me; I sat down my young one, showed him my fist, and looked at him; and I guess he saw ‘t was no use; he moseyed off, telling me that he would have me arrested as soon as he could find a magistrate.

The pugnacious Dubois, who gained her freedom after beating her owner’s wife into submission, managed to avoid arrest in this instance. It is reasonable to assume that such confrontations were frequent on the roads near Princeton, although not always as fortunate for the Black travelers being detained and questioned.[18]

Runaway slaves relied on their own, more clandestine, community networks. Traveling the long distance to Philadelphia or New York and remaining hidden from slave catchers would have been extremely difficult without accomplices. Newspaper advertisements from Princeton sometimes included a warning to those who would assist fugitives. “All persons are forewarned harboring her at their peril,” as one 1818 ad put it. The fact that such admonishments were necessary suggests that help was a common occurrence. By the middle of the 19th century, these informal networks became known as the Underground Railroad. As civil war loomed on the horizon, the steady stream of fugitives, aided by new allies and new routes to freedom, precipitated a political crisis.[19]

Elsy Murray

Advertisement for Elsy Murray, who escaped from Peter Bogart in 1818. Bogart threatened anyone "harboring her."

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A runaway slave from Princeton nearly sparked a war between Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Jack was born around 1791 as the property of the estate of John Berrien, a state supreme court judge and a trustee of the College of New Jersey. Because Berrien died before his birth, both Jack and his mother became part of the family inheritance, and he was traded or sold several times. Sometime around 1821, he made his escape. When later asked about his decision, he claimed that Judge Berrien had pledged to free him at the age of thirty. Although Berrien’s family disputed his account, it was not implausible – the Judge may have informed Jack’s mother or others of his intentions before his death. Whatever the case, Jack decided to seize the initiative. He headed west, eventually stopping in Horsham, Pennsylvania, about thirty miles outside of Princeton. While there, he found employment with a local farmer, Joseph Kenderdine. At some point (the details are not clear), his most recent owner, Caleb Johnson, learned his whereabouts. On a Sunday morning in October 1822, Johnson, his brother, and two friends set out to capture him. They carried pistols and chains.[20]

The Johnsons were a Princeton dynasty, whose wealth and power were rooted in agriculture and enslaved labor. Caleb Johnson’s great-grandfather was one of the town’s first settlers and amassed a considerable fortune in land and slaves. In 1810, Caleb’s older brother, Enoch Johnson, published a runaway advertisement with a reward of $25 (close to $500 in modern terms). Why the family felt the need to dispatch an armed posse in 1822 remains unclear. It may be a measure of the increasing desperation among New Jersey slaveholders. As antislavery sentiment gained traction in the northern states in the early decades of the 19th century, the old system of community surveillance based on newspaper ads began to crumble. Evidence suggests that interstate raids were not unusual during this period. Two of Johnson’s posse admitted to visiting Pennsylvania several weeks before their abduction of Jack, in pursuit of another runaway slave. That mission was conducted quietly and proved successful.[21]

Caleb Johnson probably relied on slave catcher networks to locate his prey. The raid was well-planned. Feigning a carriage accident, the group gained access to the Kenderdine house, captured Jack, placed him in manacles, and sped out of town. The Kenderdine family, highly respected Quakers with strong antislavery beliefs, sounded an alarm. A crowd of about twenty residents, Black and white, women and men, intercepted the carriage and pelted the kidnappers with stones and clubs. The Jersey posse threatened to open fire, but were overwhelmed and forced to remain. The Kenderdines pressed charges and Johnson counter-sued. Amid the chaos, the posse managed to smuggle Jack back to Princeton. The court battles stemming from the incident dragged on for years and involved a dizzying constellation of political and legal arguments. Most of the major players, including Jack, provided testimony. In April 1833, the final case came to an end when a federal jury in Philadelphia awarded $4,000 in damages to Johnson and his associates. Two years prior to this, if contemporary reports can be trusted, Johnson freed Jack, who decided to remain in Princeton.[22]

Caleb Johnson Preview

Manumission record for John Skillman, signed by Caleb Johnson. This is probably the captured runaway Jack.

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The violent confrontation between Princeton slaveholders and Pennsylvania residents signaled a change in the political landscape. As the national debate over slavery intensified, every fugitive had the potential to spark a conflict. Princeton was not immune from the growing instability. At some point before 1830, a woman named Matty escaped from Ebenezer Stockton, the town’s most prominent physician and a 1780 graduate of the College of New Jersey. Relocating to Elizabethtown, just outside of New York City, Matty applied for membership in the local Presbyterian church. This created a dilemma for the corresponding church in Princeton, who counted her as a congregant and who refused to release her unless she made an effort “to be liberated from her master in a fair and legal manner.” After two return trips, Matty managed to obtain her freedom from Stockton and won approval from the congregation to join the church in Elizabethtown. The negotiations typified elite white residents’ cautious and conservative approach to emancipation.[23]

As late as 1830, about one quarter of New Jersey’s Black population remained either permanently enslaved or slaves for a term. At the same time, the geography of slavery began to shift. The state’s free Black community grew in size and prosperity. Beginning in the 1820s, a group of free and enslaved New Jerseyans established a maroon community known as Timbuctoo. Located about thirty miles south of Princeton, the settlement opened a new front in the ongoing freedom struggle and became a local symbol of African American achievement and resistance. Runaway networks became more organized. Although the evidence is vague, it appears that Princeton served as a transit point on the rapidly expanding Underground Railroad. The town’s location, about halfway between Philadelphia and New York, made it strategically significant. And the thriving local economy, fed by the College of New Jersey, attracted a large and self-sustaining free Black population.[24]

Most travelers on the Underground Railroad did not remain in Princeton for long. Those who did stay took a calculated risk. Escaping from slavery in eastern Maryland, twenty-three-year-old James Collins arrived in town in 1839. He adopted the surname Johnson, perhaps to blend in with the veteran runaway Jack and others connected to the prominent slaveholding Johnson family. Joined by his wife and child, he took a job as a janitor at the College of New Jersey. Four years later, a student recognized him and alerted his owner’s family in Maryland. Agents soon arrived to arrest him. The ensuing trial pitted the interests of southern slaveholders—many of whose sons attended school at Princeton—against a local community anxious to distance itself from the institution.[25]

James C  Johnson

James Collins Johnson escaped from slavery in Maryland and settled in Princeton, where he was recognized by a student and arrested.

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Johnson was not the first southern runaway to cause problems in New Jersey. In 1826, Maryland sent a special delegation to the New Jersey state legislature to enact a new law facilitating the return of fugitive slaves. Ten years later, the capture of a Maryland runaway near Timbuctoo prompted a series of legal showdowns. By the time of Johnson’s trial in 1843, the process was routine, and he was swiftly convicted and sentenced to return south. Fortunately for Johnson, an affluent white woman agreed to purchase his freedom for the substantial sum of $500. Settling in Princeton, he continued to work at the college, where he became something of a local celebrity, and eventually repaid the cost of his manumission in full. During the antebellum era, his family’s presence in town provided a constant reminder of the issues at stake in the battle over slavery.[26]

John Maclean Jr., the tenth president of what is now Princeton University, revealed how much attitudes had changed by the time of the Civil War. In April 1862, the Pennsylvania state legislature introduced a bill to prevent an influx of fugitives from the South. It stated, in part, that “it shall not be lawful for any negro or mulatto of either sex to come into this State either for the purpose of making it his or her temporary or permanent home, or for any purpose whatever.” The bill made it illegal to aid or conceal fugitive slaves, with fines of up to $1,000 and 12 months in prison. Upon reading the news, Maclean wrote a furious editorial for a Presbyterian religious journal. The enactment of the bill, he announced, “would disgrace a nation of heathens.” Refugees should be protected, he argued, not vilified:

Encourage them, if it be deemed best, to emigrate to some more hospitable clime, say Liberia, Hayti, or the British West India Isles; aid them in going; but let them not be driven away, or treated as criminals, if they prefer to stay.

No doubt the story of James Collins Johnson weighed on his mind as he wrote. Princeton, Maclean noted, contained some 3,700 residents, one-sixth of whom were of African descent. Yet they lived together in peace. Gone were the days when his predecessors placed newspaper advertisements for runaways and described Black bodies for sale. Princeton was now a sanctuary city.[27]

Maclean Presbyterian Preview

Princeton President John Maclean Jr. wrote this letter to the editor defending the rights of fugitive slaves.

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About the AuthorPanel Toggle

Joseph Yannielli received his PhD from Yale and was the Perkins Postdoctoral Fellow in the Princeton Humanities Council. His work focuses on the history of slavery and abolition, with a special focus on America, West Africa, and the wider world during the nineteenth century. His other areas of interest include political and social movements, missionaries and religion, capitalism and globalization, and the United States in the world. At present, he is completing a book about the Mendi Mission and the role of Africa in the American abolition of slavery. He was the first project manager and lead developer of the Princeton & Slavery Project website, as well as several other digital history projects.

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ReferencesPanel Toggle


George Morgan, advertisement for Michael Hoy, Pennsylvania Packet, 30 May 1780.


Samuel S. Smith, advertisement for a mare, New Jersey Gazette, 14 June 1780; George Morgan, advertisement for Michael Hoy, Pennsylvania Packet, 30 May, 20 June 1780; ibid., Pennsylvania Gazette, 31 May, 7 June, 28 June 1780; Varnum Lansing Collins, The Continental Congress at Princeton (Princeton, NJ: University Library, 1908).


Advertisements were identified using the America’s Historical Newspapers database. Due to the unreliable nature of text-recognition, the poor quality of the images, and the fragmentary sample of local newspapers, this evidence cannot be considered complete or scientific. At best, it is impressionistic and suggestive. Readers should approach this data with appropriate caution.


“Abstract of Thomas Leonard’s Will,” 6 December 1755, in John Frelinghuysen Hageman, History of Princeton and Its Institutions, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1879), 46-48; John Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey: From Its Origin in 1746 to the Commencement of 1854, vol. 1 (Philadelphia: J. B. Lippincott & Co., 1877), 145-146; Jack Washington, The Long Journey Home: A Bicentennial History of the Black Community of Princeton, New Jersey, 1776-1976 (Trenton: Africa World Press, 2005), 1-7.


Aaron Longstreet, Jr., advertisement for Peet, New York Gazette, 14 November 1774; advertisement for Cuff, Pennsylvania Chronicle, 12 October to 19 October 1767; letter from Princeton, 28 October 1767, in ibid., 26 October to 2 November 1767; Ralph Ege, Pioneers of Old Hopewell, with Sketches of Her Revolutionary Heroes (Hopewell, NJ: Race & Savidge, 1908), 128-131, 177-178.


George Fishman, The African American Struggle for Freedom and Equality: The Development of a People’s Identity, New Jersey, 1624-1850 (New York: Garland Publishing, 1997), 27-56; John William Sanders, advertisement for Constant, New York Gazette, 11 July 1774.


James J. Gigantino II, The Ragged Road to Abolition: Slavery and Freedom in New Jersey, 1775-1865 (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2015), 31-63; Fishman, African American Struggle, 60-66, 101-121; John Longstreet, item number 1528, “Carleton Papers – Book of Negroes, 1783,” Library and Archives Canada, accessed 1 September 2017,; Peter Stogdon, item number 2387, ibid.


Giles R. Wright, “Prime: Another Resident of Bainbridge House,” Princeton History 10 (1991): 60-70.


George Morgan, advertisement for Michael Hoy, Pennsylvania Packet, 30 May 1780; John Denton, advertisement for Caesar, New Jersey Gazette, 15 November 1780; John Totten, advertisement for Henry Heywood, Pennsylvania Journal, 30 January 1782.


B. Cheilan, advertisement for Lindor, Federalist & New Jersey State Gazette, 27 April 1802; James Lake, advertisement for Bob, Trenton Federalist, 18 October 1802; Elijah Blackwell, advertisement for Hannah, Trenton Federalist, 8 April 1805; William Griggs, advertisement for Charles, Trenton Federalist, 15 June 1815; Abraham Skillman, advertisement for Harry, Aurora General Advertiser, 13 December 1799; Amey Cheston, advertisement for Nelly, Trenton Federalist, 24 October 1809.


Francis Blaise, advertisement for Mary, New Brunswick Advertiser, 31 December 1793; ibid., 21 July 1795; Richard Stockton, advertisement for Sampson, Trenton Federalist, 27 October 1806; Oliver Hunt, advertisement for Samson, Trenton Federalist, 4 April 1808.


Isaac Coats, advertisement for Say, Pennsylvania Journal, 14 February 1771; William McClellan, advertisement for Michael, Porcupine's Gazette, 8 June 1797; Robert Voorhis and Henry Trumbull, Life and Adventures of Robert, the Hermit of Massachusetts (Providence, RI: H. Trumbull, 1829), 10.


Mr. Tulane, advertisement for Choisi, Aurora General Advertiser, 7 November 1796; Francis Blaise, advertisement for Mary, New Brunswick Advertiser, 31 December 1793; Lydia Maria Child, Isaac T. Hopper: A True Life (Boston: John P. Jewett & Company, 1854), 91-95; Fishman, African American Struggle, 129-131; Timothy Hack, “Janus-Faced: Post-Revolutionary Slavery in East and West Jersey, 1784-1804,” New Jersey History 127 (2012): 23-24; James Alexander Dunn, Dangerous Neighbors: Making the Haitian Revolution in Early America (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2016).


S. S. Smith, sale advertisement, New Jersey Gazette, 29 November 1780; Thomas Wiggins, sale advertisement, ibid., 10 January 1781; ibid., 30 December 1794; Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey, 345; John Morgan, sale advertisement, True American, 24 March 1801; ibid., 23 April 1804; Caesar Trent, sale advertisement, New Jersey Gazette, 12 January 1795.


Gigantino, Ragged Road to Abolition, 96; Elijah Blackwell, advertisement for Ben and Aaron, Trenton Federalist, 11 November 1811.


Samuel S. Forman, Narrative of a Journey Down the Ohio and Mississippi in 1789-90. (Cincinnati: Robert Clarke & Co., 1888), 19-20; Elijah Slack, sale advertisement, New Brunswick Fredonian, 8 August 1816; Gigantino, Ragged Road to Abolition, 149-173.


Peter Bogart, advertisement for Elsy Murray, New Brunswick Fredonian, 14 May 1818; Hageman, History of Princeton, vol. 1, 272-273; Erkuries Beatty to James Hunter Ewing, 20 March 1819, collection 158, Historical Society of Princeton (Princeton, NJ).


C. W. Larison, Sylvia Dubois (Now 116 Years Old): A Biography of the Slave Who Whipped Her Mistress and Gained Her Freedom, in Speaking Lives, Authoring Texts: Three African American Women’s Oral Slave Narratives, ed. DoVeanna S. Fulton Minor and Reginald H. Pitts (Albany: State University of New York Press, 2010), 166-167.


Peter Bogart, advertisement for Elsy Murray, New Brunswick Fredonian, 14 May 1818; Stanley Harrold, Border War: Fighting over Slavery before the Civil War (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2010); Richard Blackett, Making Freedom: The Underground Railroad and the Politics of Slavery (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2013).


Maclean, History of the College of New Jersey, 274. The account here and below is based on Caleb Johnson vs. Isaac Thompkins, et al., Hazard’s Register of Pennsylvania, 25 May, 1 June 1833; Hiram Corson, “The Abolitionists of Montgomery County,” in Historical Sketches: A Collection of Papers Prepared for the Historical Society of Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, vol. 2 (Norristown, PA: Herald Printing and Binding Rooms, 1900), 45-61; Thaddeus Stevens Kenderdine, The Kenderdines of America (Doylestown, PA: Doylestown Publishing Company, 1901), 180-186.


Francis Bazley Lee (ed.), Genealogical and Personal Memorial of Mercer County, New Jersey, vol. 2 (New York: Lewis Publishing Company, 1907), 444-445; Enoch Johnson, advertisement for Caesar, New York Gazette, 22 November 1810. Monetary comparison is based on Robert Sahr, “Inflation Conversion Factors for years 1774 to estimated 2026, in dollars of recent years,” accessed 1 September 2017,


Caleb Johnson manumitted one “John Skillman” on December 29, 1830. If this was Jack, it corresponds to reports, cited above, that Johnson freed him prior to the final verdict. See “Manumissions of Slaves in Somerset County,” Somerset County Historical Quarterly 2 (1913): 48.


Hageman, History of Princeton, vol. 2, 124; Richard A. Harrison, Princetonians, 1776-1783: A Biographical Dictionary (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1981), 303-304.


Gigantino, Ragged Road to Abolition, 194; DeNeen Brown, “Excavation of sites such as Timbuctoo, N.J., is helping to rewrite African American history,” Washington Post, 3 August 2010; Wilbur H. Siebert, The Underground Railroad from Slavery to Freedom (New York: Macmillan Company, 1899), 124; New Jersey Writers’ Project, “The Underground Railroad in New Jersey,” Stories of New Jersey 9 (1939-1940): 1-6; Washington, Long Journey Home, 52-59.


Lolita Buckner Inniss, “James Collins Johnson: The Princeton Fugitive Slave,” Princeton & Slavery Project.


William R. Stuart to the President of the Senate of New Jersey, 6 January 1826, Mrs. Ford K. Brown Collection, MSA SC 247-1-35, Special Collections, Maryland State Archives (Annapolis, MD); Benjamin Drew, A North-Side View of Slavery: The Refugee, or the Narratives of Fugitive Slaves in Canada (Boston: John P. Jewett and Company, 1856), 32-40.


“Negro Legislation at Harrisburg,” Philadelphia Inquirer, 3 April 1862; John Maclean, Jr., “For the Presbyterian,” folder 6, box 23, Office of the President Records (AC #117), Princeton University Archives, Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton University Library (Princeton, NJ). It is unclear whether Maclean’s letter was ever published.

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