This Week in Princeton History for March 15-21

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, 100 Princetonians picket a local bank for ties to apartheid, an unexpected loss of housing causes financial stress, and more.

March 16, 1816—A trunk is discovered open on the lawn of Nassau Hall with $3,000 stolen from it (about $46,000 in 2020 dollars, adjusted for inflation). The trunk belongs to a traveler on his way to New York who was robbed at the local Rowley’s Inn.

March 17, 1977—More than 100 students picket the Princeton Bank and Trust on Nassau Street for more than 90 minutes to demand an end to sales of Krugerrand, a South African gold coin. Sales of the coin help support apartheid, and students want to raise awareness of such entanglements locally, beyond the university’s investments. Emery Witt, a pharmacist next door, is frustrated that the picketing seems to be hurting his own business, but says he is pleased that students are expressing themselves.

Princeton University students picket Princeton Bank and Trust, March 17, 1977. Photo from the Daily Princetonian.

March 18, 1997—Ashley Stevenson ’99 and Dan Morris ’98 marry each other at a Spring Break wedding in Salt Lake City, Utah.

March 20, 1843—Charles Godfrey Leland writes to his father to ask for money to cover his expenses after he has unexpectedly lost his room in town and none are available on campus:

The next and greatest question is, what shall I do next session for board—the only way to get a room in College is to take a room and buy the furniture, for every room in College is now occupied and will be still more so next session. Fonte, however, intends going out of College and will give his room (one of the very best) to any one who will buy his furniture (which, with the exception of the carpet, is the same that George Boker had)—for 30 or 40 dollars—which is very cheap. I have promised him I would let him know by the end of this week whether I would take his room or not.

For the previous installment in this series, click here.

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Dear Mr. Mudd: Did Enslaved People Live in Princeton’s Dormitories?

This post is the first in a two-part series.

 

Dear Mr. Mudd,

Rumor has it the dorms at Princeton were designed to allow students to bring enslaved people with them to live in adjoining rooms and serve them. Is this true?

 

Though one often hears a rumor about enslaved people accompanying students to campus and living in dorms with them, there is quite a bit of evidence that this could not have taken place, and we have never found any evidence that indicates that it did. Indeed, as is detailed below, any building currently used as a dormitory was constructed after slavery was illegal in the United States. The rumor’s persistence despite this probably reflects the legacy of the social hierarchies of prior generations of Princetonians. In this first of a two-part answer, I will outline the evidence for why this is not factually correct. Next week, I will provide more context for the emotional truth about histories of oppression on campus held within this myth.

There were enslaved people present on Princeton’s campus; this is well-established and interested researchers can find a wealth of information on the Princeton and Slavery website. Nonetheless, the only enslaved people known to live on campus lived in the President’s house, not in student dormitories, and were legally considered the private property of the institution’s presidents. Slavery was not fully outlawed in New Jersey until the Civil War, and Princeton itself was friendly to Southern ideas about race, enrolling many students from slaveholding families. There was also a need for what was then termed “servants” and what we know today as staff in a wide range of roles who provide meals and maintain and clean campus buildings. However, the individual students would not have brought enslaved persons with them, and having personal attendants living alongside them was prohibited.

It was the role of the Steward to ensure adequate staffing in service roles on campus, as Jonathan Baldwin’s contract spelled out in 1768, and students paid a fee for the college servants to make their beds and sweep their rooms unless they agreed to handle these matters themselves. Meanwhile, outside this specific service provided to them in their housing contracts, students were required to clean their own rooms and shoes. The Board of Trustees formally approved this rule in 1757, at their first meeting ever held in Nassau Hall, the first building that functioned as a dormitory as well as a chapel, library, refectory, and recitation hall.

Image of Nassau Hall, 1764. Nassau Hall Iconography Collection (AC177), Box 1.

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This Week in Princeton History for January 13-19

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, frustrations arise from confiscated toasters and banned bicycles, Southerners celebrate Robert E. Lee’s birthday, and more.

January 14, 1998—Graduate student Kieran Healy *01’s “The Grinch Who Stole Breakfast” complains of a Christmas present being confiscated by overzealous dormitory inspectors, although he does not live in a dorm, because the unopened toaster was against rules prohibiting heat-producing appliances in campus housing. “My house has a six-ring Viking Professional gas stove in it, so why didn’t they confiscate that as well?”

January 15, 1974—Brendan Byrne ’49 is sworn in as New Jersey’s 47th governor.

Brendan Byrne ’49 (center) at Princeton University for his first Board of Trustees meeting (New Jersey’s governors are ex-officio members of the board), 1974. Office of Communications Records (AC168), Box 128.

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This Week in Princeton History for May 20-26

In this week’s installment of our recurring series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, married undergraduates face a housing shortage, two Charter Club officers are sentenced to prison, and more.

May 20, 1782—Princeton president Samuel Stanhope Smith signs a receipt for Peter Elmendorf, Class of 1782, for payment of the rent of his room for the year (40 shillings).

May 21, 1971—The Daily Princetonian reports on a housing shortage facing 96 married undergraduates.

May 24, 1864—Twenty-three-year-old Abram Zabriskie, Class of 1859, a colonel in the Union Army, dies from wounds originally sustained in the Battle of Drury’s Bluff on May 16.

Abram Zabriskie, Class of 1859, ca. 1860. Historical Photograph Collection, Alumni Photographs Series (AC058), Box MP10.

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