Rutgers Tackles Untold Stories of Slavery

7067d2659241d1b25fd2_2.2._OldQueensDoolittlecolor.jpg
Scarlet and Black brings to light connections to slavery and the story of how the university benefited from the displacement of Native Americans. Credits: Rutgers University
7067d2659241d1b25fd2_2.2._OldQueensDoolittlecolor.jpg

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - Rutgers University released the findings of eight months of research that reveal an untold history of some of the institution’s founders as slave owners and the displacement of the Native Americans who once occupied land that was later transferred to the college.

The work, contained in the book Scarlet and Black, Volume 1: Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History, brings out of the shadows the story of Will, a slave who laid the foundation of Old Queens. The research, which spans the mid-18th through mid-19th centuries, also reveals that abolitionist and women’s rights activist Sojourner Truth and her parents were owned by the family of Rutgers’ first president Jacob Hardenbergh.

The project was the result of an initiative by Rutgers University-New Brunswick Chancellor Richard L. Edwards. In the fall of 2015, Edwards appointed the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History, which grew out of a meeting with a group of students concerned about improving the racial and cultural climate on campus.

Sign Up for E-News

“This work shows that we are not afraid to look at ourselves and our early history,” Edwards said. “We are a large public university that is one of the most diverse in the country and we think we need to understand our history and not be ashamed of it, but to be able to face it in a forthright way.”

“Like many other universities whose origins predate the United States Constitution and the founding of our country, the committee has explored aspects of our history that are difficult and complex and I applaud them for it,” said Rutgers University President Robert L. Barchi.  “Their findings provide a fuller understanding of the institution’s early days, and by doing so have drawn a contrast between the Colonial-era Queen’s College of 1766 and the Rutgers–New Brunswick of 2016, which is one of the most diverse and inclusive major public research universities in the country.”

Rutgers joins other Colonial-era colleges in confronting its past, including Georgetown, Yale, Brown and Harvard. The committee worked to create a fuller picture of Rutgers’ history as the university celebrated its 250th anniversary and reflected on a familiar story: the founding by leaders of the Dutch Reformed Church, the role of benefactor Col. Henry Rutgers and the university’s identity as a land grant institution.

Deborah Gray White, a Board of Governors distinguished professor of history and chair of the Committee on Enslaved and Disenfranchised Populations in Rutgers History, said she would like different people to take away different lessons from their work.

“I want our African-American students to be proud of Will and to understand that their ancestry helped build the university,’’ she said. “I want New Jerseyans and Americans to understand that African Americans were integral to this nation even though we came here in chains, and we helped build America.

“This is not a way to tear down the university or diminish it, but it is a way to celebrate it and go forward,’’ White said.

 

Photo: Rutgers Special Collections and University Archives

“It is often the case that the accepted history of an institution only explains part of its true history, but we know there are many threads to explore ,’’ Edwards said. “Some of our founders were heavily involved with Dutch Reformed Church and prominent members of the community – there were many facets to these figures. But among these facets was their involvement in slavery and the slave economy.”

Their names are emblazoned on academic buildings and surrounding public streets and are indelible in Rutgers’ identity. Founder Philip Livingston, who was a slave trader and slave owner; the first instructor Frederick Frelinghuysen, who owned slaves and whose family was deeply connected to the beginning of Rutgers; and trustees Col. John Neilson and Philip French are just a few whose connection to slavery is brought to light in the book. The university’s namesake Henry Rutgers was a slaveholder who, like several of the founders, became active in the American Colonization Society – an organization that advocated for resettling freed slaves in Africa.

The story of Rutgers’ ties to slavery wasn’t deeply hidden. The students who met with Edwards pointed to Craig Steven Wilder’s book Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities, which makes reference to some of Rutgers’ founding families.

A team of faculty, graduate students and undergraduates sifted through records in Rutgers Libraries Special Collections and University Archives, the Sage Library at the New Brunswick Theological Seminary and traveled to the state archives in Trenton and the National Archives in Washington, D.C., to piece together the forgotten threads of Rutgers’ founding. Students delved through the wills, speeches, journals and property records of Rutgers founders and early trustees. They read through manumission records – the documents slave owners filed to grant freedom to the enslaved – analyzed newspapers ads for the sale of slaves and, in rare instances, had slave narratives to provide missing voices in Rutgers’ history.

All the records left behind were in colonial script adding to students’ challenge. They meticulously transcribed the documents they found, including a receipt book for the building of Old Queens, which now houses the president’s office and other administrative departments at Rutgers.

In one of its first few pages, the receipt book reveals payments to local New Brunswick doctor Jacob Dunham “for the labor of his negro.” The slave’s identity would have been likely lost to history if Dunham had not kept detailed records of people who owed him money, which were preserved in the Rutgers archives.  One of the report’s recommendations includes placing a plaque at Old Queens to commemorate Will’s story.

“Not many people know this history,” said Marisa Fuentes, an associate professor in the departments of Women’s and Gender Studies and History and co-editor of Scarlet and Black.

“Walking through Old Queens and knowing who built the building, you think about all the bodies, the ghosts, who linger in that space that we haven’t ever heard about. It is the power of knowledge that transforms the space for you.”

As Edwards learned about the extent of the research and information uncovered, he realized the need for a permanent record of the work. In a little over a year’s time, the committee produced the book that includes seven chapters examining two threads of Rutgers’ history: the university’s ties to Native American land and deep connection to slavery.

The book tells the story of the Lenni Lenape Indians who were mostly displaced from New Jersey decades before the university’s founding, as well as those few who still lived in Central Jersey at the time the school was created, and whose young people were sent to an Indian boarding school in Connecticut rather than being welcomed at Queen’s College during its first decade. Scarlet and Black also explores how Rutgers – like all land grant universities – benefitted from the Morrill Act of 1862 – the federal program that funded schools for the study of agriculture and the mechanical arts through the sale of Indian land out west.

The work examining Rutgers history is expected to continue. Edwards referred to Scarlet and Black as the first volume and is creating a post-doctoral position charged with examining the experiences of African Americans and Native Americans at the university through the 20th century.

Recommendations made by the committee include:

  • Placing historical markers around campus that commemorate people such as Will
  • Establish Rutgers physical and virtual tours which incorporate the material of Scarlet and Black
  • Establish retention scholarships to increase the graduation rates of “at risk” students.
  • Continue the research of Scarlet and Black
  • Consider naming some of the new buildings after contemporary, or historically, prominent African Americans and Native Americans; consider renaming one building.

The full list of recommendations can be found at scarletandblack.rutgers.edu. The university will review and then respond to the committee’s recommendations. 

 “I am proud of the institution for taking charge, doing the project and making a pledge that this is important,” said Beatrice Adams, a graduate student who studies African-American history and history of the American South and assisted with the research for Scarlet and Black.

“I think this report speaks volumes that this doesn't have to be something administrators and professors are doing begrudgingly, but that administrators and professors are doing this because they think it’s something important to be said,’’ Adams said.

The opinions expressed herein are the writer's alone, and do not reflect the opinions of TAPinto.net or anyone who works for TAPinto.net. TAPinto.net is not responsible for the accuracy of any of the information supplied by the writer.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

Piscataway

Staci Berger for Ward 3 Piscataway Township Council, June 5 Democratic Primary

April 24, 2018

1. Why are you running for election for Piscataway Township Council, Ward 3?

I am running for the Piscataway Township Council Ward 3 position because our community needs new leadership. I will be the independent, principled, and collaborative advocate our neighborhood deserves.

I have been a Piscataway homeowner for 20 years.  I am proud that my husband, Bill Irwin, and I are raising ...

Dr. Jacqueline Littlejohn - Candidate for Piscataway Town Council

Why are you running for election to the Piscataway Township Council?

I am running for election to the Piscataway Township Council because I believe that a vibrant democracy only flourishes when the governed have a voice in their government, be it in the form of compromise, protest, or even becoming viable candidates themselves. I have chosen the latter approach. As a candidate I want to be the ...

The Piscataway Democratic Organization Names its 2018 Ward Slate

The Piscataway Democratic Party is putting forward an incredible slate of ward candidates for the Township Council.  “Frank Uhrin, Jim Bullard, Steven D. Cahn and Michele Lombardi have brought us a 12 percent drop in the tax rate, many new job opportunities for hard working residents, and a rise in property values,” party chair and former mayor, Ted Light said.  ...

2 city men among 4 indicted in fatal shooting

April 26, 2018

NEW BRUNSWICK - Two city men are among four suspects charged in the shooting of an East Brunswick who was fatally wounded outside a Union County restaurant earlier this year.

 
Tyquan Fuqua, 23, and a relative, Almalik Fuqua, 27, both of New Brunswick, were indicted on charges of murder and other crimes for the Jan. 14 killing of Tryone Osorio, 30, outside a restaurant on the 500 block ...

Obituaries

Piscataway – Reinhard Rudolf Kiefer, 85, died Sunday March 11, 2018 at home. Born in ...
Read more
Piscataway, NJ – Manuela Cruz, 94, born July 17, 1923, passed away peacefully on March 8, ...
Read more

Rutgers Varieties Take Center Stage this Saturday at AG Field Day on Cook Campus

April 26, 2018

RUTGERS UNIVERSITY - New Jersey gardeners will have an opportunity to try the latest and very best vegetable and small fruit varieties from Rutgers University’s New Jersey Agricultural Experiment Station this Saturday at Rutgers Day aka “Ag Field Day” at the Cook Campus, School of Environmental and Biological Sciences in New Brunswick, NJ off of college farm ...

Westfield Residents Host 6th Annual Massive Tag Sale to Benefit Furniture Assist

If you like a bargain, love antiques or collectibles, or need furniture/household/clothing/children’s items, please visit the upcoming 6th Annual Massive Tag Sale Friday & Saturday, April 27-28, starting at 9 a.m., to benefit Furniture Assist. The sale is held at 816 Prospect Street, Westfield, NJ, and attracts bargain-hunters, antique dealers and collectors from all over New ...

Ready for Rutgers Day this Saturday?

NEW BRUNSWICK, NJ - RU ready for Rutgers Day?

You will not want to miss the university’s annual welcome and show-and-tell for New Jersey residents of all ages. It all takes place this Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

It is already thr 10th anniversary of Rutgers Day, There will be more than 700 free performances, demonstrations and interactive activities. Last ...

Holy Savior Academy Excels in the Arts - Annual Spring Musical, Art Show to Take Place in May

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – The students and staff at Holy Savior Academy, a pre-K3 through eighth grade AdvancedED accredited Middlebrook Deanery Catholic School located in South Plainfield, have been busy gearing up for two widely anticipated spring events. In May, the drama club will present its 4th annual Spring Spectacular Musical and a school wide art show will also take ...

Upcoming Events

Carousel_image_e1c86484bd07288a6140_bike_blessing_sickle_cell

Sat, April 28, 11:00 AM

New Market Firehouse, Piscataway

Sickle Cell Fundraiser and Bike Blessing

Education Giving Back

Sat, April 28, 7:00 PM

Crescent Avenue Presbyterian Church, Plainfield

Plainfield Symphony Mahler's 9th Symphony

Arts & Entertainment

Carousel_image_f725af9823f099a5b919_pway_5k_full_flyer

Sun, April 29, 9:00 AM

Piscataway High School, Piscataway

PWay 5K Run/Walk 2018

Education Sports

Sun, April 29, 2:00 PM

Otto Kaufman Community Center, Skillman

Relax, Rejuvenate, Renew

Health & Wellness

Mon, April 30, 7:00 PM

Somerset Valley Playhouse, Hillsborough

Auditions for Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of ...

Arts & Entertainment

Somerset 4H Hopes to Braid its way into Guinness Book of Records

April 26, 2018

BRIDGEWATER, NJ - For the several months, over 200 Somerset County 4-H members and adult volunteers, some from Hillsborough, have been stripping fabric and braiding sections to create the World’s Longest Textile Braid, in hopes that it would be entered into the Guinness Book of World Records.

Well they did it!

To qualify, the braid had to be at least 800 meters,  the ...

Cluelessly Clueless

I teenaged my way through high school under the assumption that my parents had no idea what I was doing.  I like to think I was pretty good at withholding information and presenting situations in ways that were other than they really were.

 

Still, sometimes they found things out.  Like the time my friends plopped me on our front door step at one o'clock in the morning ...