There are Princeton alumni who were involved with advancing minority rights in the 20th and 21st centuries who are known better today, but Princeton graduates engaged in these activities well before then. Here are five alumni who advocated for Native American, Black, Jewish, and immigrant rights after earning a Princeton degree in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Leonard D. Shaw, Class of 1784
Leonard D. Shaw, a member of the Class of 1784 from New Jersey, had close ties to Native Americans. Shaw was appointed a deputy agent of the United States to the Cherokee in 1792. This appointment meant learning to speak Cherokee and exchanging information on agriculture and “such useful arts as you may know or can acquire.” The intent of the appointment was to improve relations and “to infuse into all the Indians the uprightness of the views of the President…and his desire to better the situation of the Indians in all respects.”
Records assert that after moving to live among the Cherokee, however, Shaw’s sympathies began to fall with them rather than with his own country’s leadership. Soon, he had married into the tribe. He advised the Cherokee chiefs that they should not confer with the Tennessee governor, because the governor would not act in the best interests of the tribe, urging them to attempt to deal directly with the federal government in Washington instead. He then reportedly told them, “You know I was sent here by your father the president, to do you justice, and justice you shall have, as far as in my power.” He promised to “go to Congress, and recover your land for you, to the old line.” This did not go over well with Shaw’s superiors.
We have found no record of what happened to Shaw after 1793, when he was removed from office for “inebriety and great want of prudence.” The only thing we know is that he vowed to bring the Cherokee to then-president George Washington to help them demand a return of their land, an event that did not apparently occur. It is believed that he lived out the rest of his life with his new family among the Cherokees in Tennessee. Continue reading