This Week in Princeton History for August 17-23

In this week’s installment of our ongoing series bringing you the history of Princeton University and its faculty, students, and alumni, a prisoner of war says he deserves credit for independent study while held captive, the U-Store breaks ground on a new home, and more.

August 18, 1944—Lt. Nicholas Katzenbach ’43 writes to the War Service Bureau that he has been studying 8 hours per day in a German prison camp and feels he has completed the requirements for his A.B. despite missing the final three semesters with his class at Princeton. After submitting a thesis and passing a series of exams given by Princeton faculty the following year, he will be given given credit for ten courses and awarded his degree with honors in October 1945. Katzenbach will ultimately achieve his greatest fame as the U.S. Attorney General who will confront segregationist Alabama Governor George Wallace in an incident that will be known as the “Stand in the Schoolhouse Door.”

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“Princeton College Bought Me”: The Life of a Fugitive Slave in Princeton

Many nearly-forgotten legends surround James “Jimmy Stink” Collins Johnson, who lived in Princeton for most of his life after escaping from slavery in Maryland. Today it is impossible to completely separate fact from fiction, but this is our best reconstruction:

The sources tell us that two slaves in Easton, Maryland, welcomed a baby on October 2, 1816. Early in his childhood, their mistress gave the boy, James Collins, to their master’s son, Teakle Wallace, who was only a month older than James. James married a freedwoman in Church Hill, several miles away, in 1836. Frustrated with captivity, James began planning an escape. When Wallace gave James five dollars for some reason, James seized the opportunity and left Easton on foot at midnight on August 8, 1839, never to return. After stopping to say good-bye to his wife and promise he would send for her when he could, he continued walking to Wilmington, Delaware, where a portion of his money bought him fare on a riverboat to Philadelphia. At this point, he changed his name to James Johnson. In Philadelphia, he bought a train ticket to Trenton. Legend has it that he had just fifty cents left when he arrived in Trenton, which he spent on train fare to carry him as far north as possible. His destination was Princeton, New Jersey, where he arrived on August 10.

In Princeton, Johnson found work at the College of New Jersey, colloquially called “Princeton College,” as a janitor in Nassau Hall. A few years later, Simon Weeks (Class of 1838), a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and a friend of the Wallaces, saw and recognized Johnson and wrote back to Maryland to report on this. Some weeks passed. Then, as Andrew Clerk Imbrie later wrote for the Nassau Lit, Johnson’s master confronted him at the local post office. Johnson “stood quaking before young Teakle Wallace a picture of abject misery. Visions of the old days came back to him … he had tasted liberty since then, and his whole nature revolted at the idea of going back to once more become a slave.”


James Johnson and unknown young man, ca. 1890, Historical Photograph Collection, Individuals Series (AC67), Box MP4.

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Mudd in Print

Have you ever wondered what our researchers are up to in the reading room? Many of them are working fervently towards producing highly esteemed, ground-breaking, and sometimes award-winning books.

This entry features a sample of recent publications, each developed through extensive research at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library. Drawing from material found in the Princeton University Archives, as well as the Public Policy Papers, these works demonstrate the varied research potential of the collections housed in our library. (All descriptions from

Ebony and Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities by Craig Steven Wilder

Ebony and Ivy

In Ebony and Ivy, Craig Steven Wilder, a rising star in the profession of history, lays bare uncomfortable truths about race, slavery, and the American academy.

The Brothers: John Foster Dulles, Allen Dulles, and Their Secret World War by Stephen Kinzer

A joint biography of John Foster Dulles and Allen Dulles, who led the United States into an unseen war that decisively shaped today’s world.

Wilson by A. Scott Berg


From Pulitzer Prize–winning, #1 New York Times–bestselling author A. Scott Berg comes the definitive—and revelatory—biography of one of the great American figures of modern times.

George F. Kennan: An American Life by John Lewis Gaddis


Three decades in the making, the definitive, authorized biography of one of Cold War America’s most prominent and most troubled grand strategists.

Princeton: America’s Campus by W. Barksdale Maynard


Neither a straightforward architectural history nor a simple guidebook, it weaves social history and the built fabric into a biography of a great American place.

These books are also on display in the lobby case at the Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library.

by: Amanda Pike



Nineteenth-century letters move into 21st century

A collection of John Maclean’s papers are now available online. Maclean, the 10th president of Princeton University, served from 1854-1868 when the institution was known as the College of New Jersey. The letters, acquired last year, were scanned and loaded as PDFs and linked to the collection’s finding aid via its folder list. These letters to and from John Maclean document the history of the College of New Jersey as well as family matters. Maclean was the son of Princeton’s first chemistry professor, and the papers include the 1814 inventory of the estate of his father, John Maclean, Sr. One of the more interesting documents provides evidence of New Jersey’s connections to slavery. See the last two entries of p. 3 of this inventory, found in Box 4, Folder 11.