Slavery and Universities, Colleges and Schools

Note: This project is ongoing and this article and the associated report will be updated as the project research continues.

Universities, colleges and schools have engaged in slavery, and engaged in activities to abolish slavery, directly as organizations, and less directly through the activities of administrators, faculty, staff and students associated with the organizations. When campus officials model and normalize slavery, this is an important educational message to students, who as alumni bring these values and norms back to their home communities. Thus, slavery at the campus can promote slavery in distant communities. This is particularly true when the campuses are educating future ministers and religious leaders, who then model and espouse slavery to their congregations and home communities.

The Northeast Slavery Records Index (NESRI) is assembling records of enslavement associated with universities, colleges and schools, and developing online reports of the records we index. We include records of enslavement by college officials and by students in their home communities. The project is starting with colonial universities and colleges, and those founded in the early decades of the USA.

Select from among the colleges where we have initiated indexing of records and NESRI will generate a report.



Our first cohort of campuses are listed here, along a link to NESRI’s locality report for the university’s county, along with examples of their public acknowledgements of enslavement:

University Founding Date Locality Report Campus Slavery Website Other Links
Harvard 1636 Middlesex County and Suffolk County Officers and Graduates 1636-1930
Yale 1701 New Haven County Biographical Sketches of Graduates of Yale College
Princeton 1746 Mercer County Undergraduate Alumni Index, 1748-1920
Columbia 1754 New York County Columbia and Slavery Alumni Register 1754-1931
Brown 1764 Providence County  
Rutgers 1766 New Jersey  
Dartmouth 1769 Grafton County Dartmouth Library Exhibits – Ties and Bind  
University of Vermont 1791 Vermont Patchwork Freedom  
Williams 1793 Berkshire County Williams Record – Ephraim Williams Enslaver  
Bowdoin 1794 Cumberland County Bowdoin College Library Guides – 1619 Project  
Union 1795 Schenectady County Union College Digital Collections  


Our plan is to include slavery records of students of the colleges and universities, during periods when some important campus leaders were enslavers. Thus far we have been able to access lists of early graduates of colonial universities, but when matching them to the NESRI database of enslavers, the high number of matches often makes if difficult to individualize identifications. For a particular graduate there may be a dozen enslavers with the same name, and determining which of the enslavers, if any, was was the graduate, is impractical without more information – which might be in the student records of the institution involved. Furthermore, many northeastern colonial college students came from places outside of the northeast. NESRI’s systematic lists of enslavers does not extend to southern states. 


We have also focused on clergy for several reasons, primarily because a) the earliest colleges were sometimes developed with divinity school missions, and b) alumni who are clergy can be highly influential community leaders.

Divinity Degrees Awarded in New England, by University (Source: Colonial Clergy of New England)

If members of the clergy learned in undergraduate college studies, or in divinity school, that enslavement is normal and not inconsistent with church teaching, they can preach and model these views in their church communities. Another practical reason is the availability of extensive biographical information about members of the clergy, including the colleges and universities they attended, and the churches they served. 

Important resources that document the universities attended by colonial clergy are Colonial Clergy of New England and Colonial Clergy of the Middle Colonies.


Eventually we plan to also list abolitionists, particularly those who who provided practical assistance to fugitives from slavery. In this way the reports can map the evolution of enslavement attitudes and practices in colleges and universities.


NESRI is an online searchable compilation of records that identify individual enslaved persons and enslavers in the states of New York, Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, Connecticut and New Jersey. NESRI indexes census records, slave trade transactions, cemetery records, birth certifications, manumissions, ship inventories, newspaper accounts, private narratives, legal documents and many other sources. The goal is to deepen the understanding of slavery in the northeast United States by bringing together information that until now has been largely disconnected and difficult to access. NESRI has indexed almost 70,000 records relating to slavery, most naming the enslaved people and/or their enslavers.

To see what NESRI does, the most direct and simple approach is to click on Find Community or Locality Records. Anyone can identify a place like the name of a Town or County or an entire state, and see a customized report of the enslavement records for the selected locality. For colleges and universities, we uses this page to present tables of officials, students and enslaved people.