As several other high-ranking colleges and universities have done in recent years, Columbia University in New York City has mounted an effort to examine the educational institution’s ties to slavery. The university has debuted a new website that details not only the university’s involvement in slavery since its founding as King’s College in 1754 but also efforts by those at the university to abolish it.
The research was conducted by staff, faculty, and students in Columbia’s history department. The research team found that at the start of Revolutionary War, nearly 3,000 of the New York City’s population of 19,000 consisted of slaves and some 20,000 slaves lived within 50 miles of Manhattan. The project notes that “from the outset, slavery was intertwined with the life of the college. Of the 10 men who served as presidents of King’s and Columbia between 1754 and the end of the Civil War, at least half owned slaves at one point in their lives.”
At least one student brought a slave with him to Columbia. John Custis, the stepson of George Washington, enrolled for a short time in 1773 and brought his slave Joe to New York.
A video showing Eric Foner, DeWitt Clinton Professor of History at Columbia, discussing the project can be seen below.