The ownership of slaves created wealth for many whites linked to the College and made their financial support of the College possible. The slaveholding of those connected to the College ranged widely. Members of the elite, like subscribers Governor William Paca and General John Cadwalader held large plantation workforces, sometimes numbering more than one hundred people. More commonly in Kent County, landowners held smaller workforces, sometimes splitting them between rural properties and town homes where they worked as household servants. On the Eastern Shore, the median slaveholding was between two and three people. This meant that enslaved people were often separated from family members–from being claimed by different masters/mistresses, living/working on different properties of the same owner, and being hired out (usually for a yearly contract) to a different owner. And the threat of sale was an ever-present danger. Slaveholders could be found among the College’s early donors and founders, Board members, presidents, and even the families of students.



It was common for college presidents, in accordance with their wealth and social stature, to be slaveholders during the years before emancipation. This was true at northern as well as southern schools. Washington College was no exception.

Ten presidents headed Washington College through the Civil War. Six enslaved people, and at least one more used the labor of a hired slave (names highlighted). The presidents who did not own slaves were in office for less than five years during the period 1782-1865.

1. Rev. William Smith, 1782-1789
2. Rev. Colin Ferguson, 1789-1805    
3. Rev. Hugh McGuire, 1813-1815

4. Rev Joab G. Cooper, 1816-1817 
5. Gerald E. Stack, 1817
6. Rev. Francis Waters, 1818-1823, 1854-60

7. Rev. Timothy Clowes, 1823-1829
9. Peter Clark, 1829-1832
8. Richard Ringgold, 1832-1854
10. Rev. Andrew Sutton, 1860-67 

Reverend William Smith

Newspaper ad for the sale of Cyrus, Collection of Delaware Public Archives

Reverend William Smith, 1782-1789

Formerly the provost of the University of Pennsylvania, William Smith became rector of Chester Parish (now Emmanuel Church). He also took charge of the Kent Free School, and quickly began building it into what would become Washington College. When Smith arrived in Chestertown in 1780 with his family, he likely brought one enslaved person with him, a teenager or young woman named Dinah, and acquired a boy named Primus soon after his arrival. The Kent County Tax Assessment of 1783 lists William Smith claiming two enslaved people: one in the category of “0-14 years of age”, the other “female age 14 to 36”.

Dinah is referenced by name only in a letter from Smith’s wife Rebecca to her son Charles in 1784 in which she writes that, “Black Dinah begs that her best respects be given to Mr. Charles.” William Smith may also be referring to Dinah in a 1793 letter to his friend Dr. Benjamin Rush detailing the news of his wife Rebecca’s death, when he mentions “her faithful little black girl”. It is also possible that Dinah is the slave listed in Smith’s Philadelphia tax records from 1769 and 1774. The references to Dinah suggest that she may have worked in the Smith home under the purview of Rebecca Smith.

Primus, however, seems to have been the personal servant of William Smith, and it is likely that he worked for Smith on campus. Smith’s great-grandson and biographer Horace Weymss Smith refers to Primus as “a favorite negro body-servant of Dr. Smith” and says that Smith “had great regard for Primus whom he bought as a child in Maryland in 1783 and who had been constantly by his side for nearly twenty years.” Primus is undoubtedly the “black boy” mentioned in several letters written by Smith to his friends Benjamin Rush and Jasper Yeates on the death of Rebecca Smith. Smith describes his enslaved man as overcome with grief, “weeping and faithful”. Primus is also mentioned by name in a letter by Smith’s niece Williamina Ridgely to her mother Ann Ridgely in Dover. As a girl, Williamina had attended school in Chestertown with her sister; now a young woman living in Philadelphia, she frequently corresponded with her mother. In January, 1801, Williamina dated an event by saying it was “about the time poor Primus was sent to the hospital.” Primus died in May, 1801.

Reverend William Smith claimed at least one more enslaved person during his lifetime, a man named Cyrus, purchased perhaps to replace Primus. Williamina Ridgely was scathing in her description of Smith’s treatment of Cyrus in an 1803 letter to her mother, writing, “Doctor Smith is alive and alive like to be, he has advertised his servant Cyrus for sale because he is given to drink. If I can get his letter to the public about Cyrus I will send it to you, it is Satan reproving sin.” Two days later, Williamina sent her mother the advertisement for Cyrus, with a letter in which she noted, “I send you the advertisement of Doctor Smith about his servant because I think it is a shame for him to find fault with the man for what he does himself.”

With research by Caroline Draper, Class of 2021; Patrick Jackson, Class of 2019; Juliet Kaczmarczyk, Class of 2019; and Rose Stevens, Class of 2021

Reverend Colin Ferguson, 1789-1805

Colin Ferguson was one of two presidents who were natives of Kent County (Richard Ringgold was the other). Born and raised on a farm outside of Galena (then known as Georgetown Crossroads), Ferguson was educated in his father’s native Scotland, and returned home to teach at the Kent Free School. When Washington College was founded he became professor of languages, mathematics and natural philosophy. He was ordained an Episcopal priest, but seems to have been more of a scholar than a minister. After William Smith returned to Pennsylvania in 1789, Ferguson was chosen to succeed him by the Board of Visitors and Governors. Ferguson served as President until retiring in 1804.

Ferguson died not long after retiring and his will shows that he claimed five enslaved people as his property. It is likely that some or all of them were bequeathed to Ferguson by his father, Colin Ferguson, Sr., who had died only a few years before his son and left him most of his estate. The 1790 and 1800 censuses show the younger Ferguson claiming first two, then one enslaved person. Whether any of these individuals were actually present on campus working for Ferguson is not known but it is likely, given the prominent position of a college president. From the 1807 inventory of Ferguson’s will we know the names of the people he enslaved: George, 25, described as a “cripple”, Pere, 18, Jude, 23, and two children–Thomas, 9, and Hannah, 7.

With research by Caroline Draper, Class of 2021; and Rose Stevens, Class of 2021

Ferguson’s will shows that he claimed five enslaved people as his property.

Pres. Francis Waters

Freedom Certificate for Violet, formerly enslaved by Waters. Credit: Collection of the Maryland Archives.

Reverend Francis Waters

1818-23, 1854-60

Francis Waters, a Methodist minister from Wicomico County, served two terms as President of Washington College. Waters first came to the College in 1818. The 1820 census lists him in Chestertown claiming ownership of four enslaved people: Phil, aged about 25, Dinah, about 20, and her two children, Sally about 4, and Violet, about 7 months. At least one of them worked at the College, with an entry in the Board of Visitors and Governors’ Meeting Minutes showing Waters receiving compensation for his servant’s labor in making fires and sweeping in the school room. Dinah is the most likely person to have performed this work.

By 1821, Waters had decided to free all four people he enslaved, filing manumission papers at the Kent County Courthouse. But Phil, Dinah, Sally, and Violet were not granted freedom immediately. According to the terms set out by Waters, Dinah and Phil were to become free January 1, 1827, while the two girls would remain enslaved into their mid-twenties. Such term slavery was common in Maryland. Enslaved people got the promise of freedom and masters hoped to get more dutiful workers, less likely to run away.

The enslaved people in this case did eventually acquire their freedom. Freedom certificates were granted to Dinah, Violet (certificate shown), and Phil, as well as to John Henry Sewell, a son born to Dinah after 1821. Sally is not mentioned; it is possible she died before gaining freedom, was sold, or was freed but never applied for the formal documentation.
Reverend Francis Waters left Washington College in 1823 and worked at several other schools in Maryland and Pennsylvania, but returned for a second term as President from 1854 to 1860. By this time Waters had acquired two new slaves, a young man, twenty-seven and a young woman, seventeen (in 1860).

With research by Caroline Draper, Class of 2021, Alexis Young, Class of 2020, and Rose Stevens, Class of 2021

Reverend Timothy Clowes 1823-29

Rev. Timothy Clowes arrived in 1823 from New York where he had been ordained an Episcopal minister. While president of Washington College, Clowes served as the Rector of Chester Parish and then St. Paul’s Church, near Fairlee. It was Dr. Clowes who had the misfortune to be at the helm of the College when it burned down in 1827. As he and his family lived in the College building (as was customary), they lost most of their possessions. It appears the Clowes was not a slaveholder, however, records show that Clowes made use of enslaved labor. In 1824 College Treasurer Joseph Wickes hired out his enslaved woman Charlotte to Clowes for an annual fee of eighteen dollars. (That year Wickes made over seven hundred dollars hiring out people he enslaved.) Since Clowes both lived and worked on campus, it is likely that Charlotte was enslaved there.

Board member Joseph Wickes hired out his slave Charlotte to Clowes

President Timothy Clowes

Most of the people Ringgold enslaved likely labored at his farm near Rock Hall.

Richard Ringgold 1832-54

Richard Williamson Ringgold, one of two presidents from Kent County, served for over twenty years. When he took over the helm of the College, he had already chaired the Board of Visitors and Governors and continued to do so until 1843. Ringgold kept the College afloat during very lean times. The College had burned to the ground in 1827, and fundraising for a new building was a priority. Ringgold also headed the Classical Department; within a year he took over teaching of the English Department because there were so few students. 

According to the 1850 Slave Schedule, Ringgold claimed ownership over eight people: two women, one man, a teenage girl, and four children. Most of them likely worked at Ringgold’s farm in Piney Neck, near Rock Hall, but it is likely one or more may have worked as servants in his house in Chestertown and possibly worked for him at the College. In 1853, Richard Ringgold resigned as president of Washington College, citing the institution’s continued inability to attract students. At that time, he reported to the Board, there were only twenty-seven paying students. Ringgold left Chestertown and retired to his farm. 

By 1860, the Slave Schedule showed Ringgold claiming four people as his property, and manumitting two, a girl aged thirteen and a young man aged twenty. The census for that year shows two free African American members of his household: housekeeper Phoebe Lusky, age 50, and her son, James, age 14. It is possible that the two enslaved people Ringgold freed were related to the Lusky family. 

With research by Alexis Young, Class of 2020


The 1860 Slave Schedule shows that there was one other person in the Sutton household–an enslaved girl, aged seventeen.

Reverend Andrew Sutton 1860-67

The Reverend Andrew Sutton came to the College in 1854 as professor of languages and literature. He was then ordained as an Episcopal minister and became Rector of Chester Parish (Emmanuel Church); by 1860 he was the Rector of St. Paul’s Church near Fairlee. That same year Sutton became the president of Washington College after Rev. Francis Waters resigned. Sutton served until 1867 when he moved to Philadelphia with his wife and three children.  

The 1860 Slave Schedule shows that there was one other person in the Sutton household–an enslaved girl, aged seventeen. Since the President lived on campus, this girl would have been there as well, whether she worked as a servant for Sutton personally, or as domestic worker in his household. Note that at the time of this census Sutton was a professor; Francis Waters was still the president. Edward Wroth, the College Steward, listed below. Numerous Board members, Chestertown neighbors, are also shown on this page.

 With research by Alexis Young, Class of 2020



Given that only the wealthiest Americans had the opportunity to attend college before the Civil War, it is not surprising that many students at Washington College came from slaveholding families. The wealth that enslaved people created for elite families enabled their sons to attend college from the colonial era through the Civil War. At Washington College, this connection can be seen clearly through two sets of documents: a surviving tuition list from 1806, and Guardians’ Accounts submitted to the Orphans Court. The students—teenaged boys and young men–had their educations paid for by the forced labor of adults as well as boys and girls their own age, or even younger. 


Guardians’ Accounts

The connection between enslaved labor and financial support of College students is apparent when viewed through the lens of Guardians’ Accounts. When a minor’s parents (or often just the father) died, the estate was monitored by the county Orphans Court. A guardian was appointed and required to submit accounts showing the child’s expenses in order to demonstrate that estate funds were being appropriately used. In the following cases in the Guardians’ Accounts, one can see the tuition (as well as other expenses) of students attending Washington College offset by the hiring out of enslaved people. 

Thomas Bordley


Thomas Bordley was born in Kent County in 1772, the middle child of a prominent local doctor, William Bordley (see Founders) and his wife, Elisabeth Tilden Bordley. Thomas had two sisters; their births were all recorded in the Quaker Meeting minutes (Cecil Monthly Meeting), suggesting that Elisabeth came from a Quaker family. She must have left her faith at some point, because she and her husband William were slaveholders, something that was prohibited in the Quaker faith by this time.

William Bordley died when his son Thomas was twelve. But Bordley left his family well-provided for. The 1783 Tax Assessments list him twice: once in Chestertown, and once in the area of Langford Bay at a 130-acre farm called “Kindness”, where he held seven people in slavery. His son Thomas inherited this land. The Guardians’ Accounts for 1791 show his guardian Dr. James M. Anderson claiming Bordley’s tuition expenses for Washington College. Anderson was a prominent physician in Chestertown who later served as Bordley’s preceptor (mentor, in the days before medical schools); he was also president of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors. The Guardians Accounts show that Thomas’s tuition, board and other expenses were paid for by the rent of Kindness and the hire of three enslaved people: Joe, Rachel and Sam.

 Thomas Bordley graduated from Washington College in 1790, and became a physician in Kent County. This is not surprising, given that his father was a doctor, and that the man he chose as his guardian when he reached the age of fourteen was another local physician, James M. Anderson (see Abolitionists), and one with ties to Washington College. Thomas Bordley did not live to practice as a doctor very long, however; he died in 1803.

Yet by the time he died he had amassed a significant amount of property. His estate, valued at $2400 in 1804, encompassed eleven enslaved people, including the Joe and Rachel referenced earlier. Sam had been manumitted by Bordley in 1797.


Bordley’s tuition at Washington College was paid for by the hire of Joe, Rachel and Sam.

Samuel Davis, III


Samuel Davis III attended Washington College from 1790 through at least 1795, when he was aged 15 to 18. During this time he lived at a local boardinghouse in town owned by Jonathan Hodgson (or Hudson).  Samuel’s father, Samuel Davis, Jr., was one of the original donors to the founding of Washington College. He died in 1790, and left his son 460 acres of land as well as three enslaved people named Stephen, Patt, and Bill.

Although his mother Hannah was still living, Samuel Davis III was appointed a male guardian, John Hurtt, Jr., to oversee his support. The Guardians Accounts that Hurtt submitted annually to the Orphans’ Court show Davis’s expenses as well as the income from the trust left by Samuel’s father. Hurtt claimed recompense for various expenses needed for his ward’s upkeep including tuition at the College. To pay for his tuition and other bills, income was generated by the hiring out of the enslaved people Stephen, Pat, Bill, and two others, Will and Martha. 

In 1797, Davis decided to reward three of the enslaved people who helped him through College by granting them their freedom. He manumitted Stephen, age 21, immediately; Martha, age 19, would be freed in 1799; William would have to wait until 1802.

It is not known if Samuel Davis III graduated from Washington College, regardless, he secured sufficient education to establish himself as a lawyer in Kent County. But he did not have long to practice his profession. He appears in the 1800 census, claiming two people as his property, but then died some time between 1807 and 1809.

With research contributed by Caroline Draper, Class of 2021

Davis’s education at Washington College was funded by the hire of Stephen, Will and Martha.

John B. Eccleston

Eccleston’s tuition and books were paid for by the hire of George, Bob, Sina, and Aaron

John Bowers Eccleston


John Bowers Eccleston was born in Kent County in 1794. In 1805, at age eleven, Eccleston was orphaned. Eccleston’s guardianship account shows that he was enrolled at Washington College as a student; his tuition, along with other expenses such as books are listed. His education was funded by the hire of four enslaved people: George, Bob, Sina, and Aaron. 

Despite the loss of his father, the income generated by the enslaved people gave Eccleston a distinct advantage. He went on to become successful lawyer, judge, and landowner in Kent County. He joined the 21st Regiment of the  Maryland Militia, becoming a corporal and fighting in the Battle of Caulk’s Field. He served briefly in the Maryland House of Delegates, but spent most of his career as an attorney before becoming a judge, of the Second Judicial District, then of the Maryland Court of Appeals. 

Judge Eccleston involved himself in a wide array of local groups, from religious (president of the Chester Town Tract Society, vestryman of Chester River Parish), to political (delegate to the state colonization convention), to business (secretary for the Chester Silk Company). From 1823 to 1858 he was an active member of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors. When he died in 1860, he claimed ownership of four people.

With research contributed by Patrick Jackson, Class of 2019


1806 Tuition List

A surviving tuition ledger in the Washington College Archives enables us to see the extent of slaveholding among students’ families. The document lists the names of twenty-six parents and guardians of students attending Washington College in May, 1806. It is unknown whether the list includes all families of students attending the College at that time. Yet it gives us an idea of the extent of slaveholding of students’ families. Of the names on the list, twenty were determined to be slaveholders, three were not, and for three there was insufficient evidence. 

The slaveholding size of the parents and guardians ranged from a single enslaved person–claimed by Elizabeth Worrell–to sixty-seven people–claimed by Sidney George of Cecil County. Other large planters on the list included Richard T. Jones of Queen Anne’s County who enslaved sixty people, Richard Tilghman of Wye, fifty-eight people, and Thomas Emory of Queen Anne’s, thirty-two people. The largest Kent County slaveholder was Benjamin Briscoe, who enslaved nineteen people. Information about average slaveholding size in Maryland in 1806 is not available. Data from a later census, however, gives some idea of how very wealthy these men were. In 1850, the most common slaveholding In Maryland was between two and four people. About eighty percent of Maryland slaveholders claimed fewer than ten people. This tuition list provides evidence that not only did Washington College students come from families that profited off of enslaved labor, the extent of this labor made them some of the wealthiest citizens on the Eastern Shore.


With research contributed by Charlie Wittich, Class of 2021, and Tommy Pontius, Class of 2022.




(Early Donors)

As part of the founding of Washington College, William Smith traveled the Eastern Shore seeking donations from wealthy residents. Not surprisingly, a majority of these early donors claimed human property.

The people Smith solicited from donated amounts varying from nine pounds (the smallest amount accepted) to over one hundred and fifty pounds for a single donor (from Revolutionary War hero and Kent County planter General John Cadwalader). The Visitors of the Talbot County School provided nearly three hundred and fifty pounds. Many–if not most–of these donors were slaveowners.

Earlier research by student Albin Kowalewski found that of approximately 356 donors to the College’s founding in 1782, only fourteen did not own slaves. 168 definitely owned slaves. (The data is not exact because the 1790 census is incomplete.) The numbers of slaves owned by individuals ranged from a high of 305 (wealthy planter Edward Lloyd of Talbot County) to a single slave, owned by several donors. These subscribers boasted some of Maryland’s most prominent citizens. In addition to Lloyd, the list included future Governor William Paca, several members of the prominent Goldsborough family, and of course, George Washington.

Donors came from every county on the Eastern Shore, as far south as Accomack, Virginia; not surprisingly, the largest number of donors came from Kent County. Kent County was fourth overall in highest slaveholding–795 enslaved people claimed by fifty-eight owners.


With research by Albin Kowalewski, Class of 2007

Joseph Nicholson placed this advertisement to recover his runaway enslaved man Scipio in the Pennsylvania Gazette, November 17, 1757


The seven founders of the College included some of Chestertown’s most notable citizens: Joseph Nicholson, Dr. James Anderson (see Abolitionists), Dr. John Scott (see Abolitionists), Dr. William Bordley, Peregrine Letherbury, Benjamin Chambers, and Rev. William Smith (see Presidents). 

All but Smith were also subscribers to the College. All were locally prominent men, most having served in either military or civilian leadership roles during the American Revolution, just before the College was founded in 1782. All seven were slaveholders. Three of the men–Anderson, Scott, and Bordley–manumitted (freed) at least one of their enslaved people.

Benjamin Chambers (1749-1816) served as Colonel of the Kent County Militia in both the Revolution and War of 1812. He was also the Clerk of Court for many years, and served as Treasurer and then President of the Board of Visitors and Governors. His son Ezekiel (see Board) graduated from the College and would in turn become the Board President. Benjamin Chambers owned thirty enslaved people by the time of his death.

Peregrine Letherbury (1752-1801) was a Major in the Kent County Militia and served in Maryland Legislature from 1775 to 1789. Letherbury taught law at the College, and was also the Secretary and President of the Board. His daughter Mary married George Washington Thomas, another Board member. At the end of his life, Leatherbury enslaved five people.  

William Bordley (1741-1784) was a physician who served as Colonel in the Kent County Militia. His son Thomas (see Students) graduated from the College. At the time of his death William Bordley owned seven slaves at his farm on Langford Bay.  

Joseph Nicholson held numerous civic positions: Colonel in the Maryland Militia, member of the Committee of Correspondence of 1775, Registrar of Wills, Kent County Sheriff. By 1783, he held thirteen people in slavery on his farm on Upper Langford Bay. His grandson Joseph Hopper Nicholson was one of the first graduates of the College, and a member of the Chestertown Abolition Society. Joseph Nicholson placed the advertisement at left to recover his runaway enslaved man Scipio in the Pennsylvania Gazette, November 17, 1757.

With research by Queen Cornish, Class of 2023

Board of Visitors & Govern0rs


Members of the College’s Board of Visitors and Governors changed over time, as some members retired, moved away, or died, and new men replaced them. College policy dictated that the Board be composed of between seventeen and twenty-four members, with seven from Kent County. Board Meeting Minutes show that the active members were, not surprisingly, the local ones, especially those who lived in Chestertown. Many, if not a majority, were slaveholders.

James M. Anderson (see Abolitionists)

Ezekiel F. Chambers

Ezekiel Forman Chambers, son of founder and Board member Benjamin Chambers, graduated from the College in 1805. He became a member of the Maryland legislature and the U.S. Senate, but spent most of his career as a judge of Maryland’s Second District, then the Maryland Court of Appeals. He also served on the Board of Visitors and Governors from at least 1816 (the earliest record of Board meetings) and chaired it from 1843 until the Civil War. Chambers was perhaps the Board’s most active member, appearing at virtually every meeting and serving as the College’s legal counsel as well.

Chambers was a significant property owner, with several homes in Chestertown, farms in Kent and Queen Anne’s Counties, and over fifty people held in bondage. Some sources put him as the wealthiest person in antebellum Kent County. At least three of the people Chambers enslaved are known to have made attempts to free themselves. (See Fugitives) Only one, Harriet Fuller, was successful.

As slave escapes reached record numbers in Kent County in the 1850’s, Chambers chaired an 1858 meeting of slaveholders outraged by their loss of property. Among those who spoke were fellow Board members (and sitting members of Congress) James A. Pearce and James B. Ricaud. Chambers aired a belief common among slaveholders that enslaved people only considered leaving bondage after being incited by whites. It was easier to understand the “machinations” of white abolitionists than to believe that enslaved people simply wanted freedom like any other person and were capable of seeking it.

In 1864, Chambers and fellow Board members David C. Blackiston and George S. Hollyday represented Kent County at the constitutional convention which ultimately decided to end slavery in the state. Chambers, however, defended slavery on moral, religious and legal grounds. “It is ruinous,” he said of emancipation, “not only to us, as it takes away our property, but ruinous to the slaves themselves, I will not use hard terms, but I will ask what is to become of them?” Despite living among a large community of hard-working, self-supporting free blacks, Chambers insisted that out of slavery, black people could not survive. “These people will follow the fate of the Indians. Two such different races cannot mingle as equals.”

While he argued they were unfit for citizenship, at least eight men enslaved by Ezekiel Chambers joined the United States Colored Troops to defend their country (See Civil War Soldiers). When he applied for compensation in May, 1864, he was denied, judged as “Disloyal.” Chambers also sought to continue holding children to labor through the system of apprenticeships (See Apprenticeships).

With research contributed by Cassy Sottile, Class of 2020 

John Bowers Eccleston (see Students)

Benjamin F. Houston 

Benjamin Franklin Houston was born in Kent County in 1811. He studied medicine at the University of Maryland, and then began a medical and surgical practice in Chestertown. He served as a member of the Board of Visitors and Governors from 1843 through the Civil War. Like many wealthy people, Houston also owned a farm outside of town, in an area called Poplar Neck near Rock Hall.  

Although Houston does not appear in the 1850 Slave Schedule, one man–Isaac Reed–who escaped bondage in 1856 named Houston as his owner. It is possible Houston did not in fact own Reed, but instead had hired his labor from another slaveholder. Or Houston could have simply been missed by the census-taker. (See Fugitives). By 1860, Houston claimed two enslaved people at his Poplar Neck farm. They were George Brown, 15, and Henry Demby, 14. Houston enslaved four more people at his Chestertown residence–Emily Berryman, 20, her daughter Fannie, 2, and her son Charles, 1. James Berryman, Emily’s husband, and the children’s father, was held in bondage by another Board member, Ezekiel Chambers. After slavery was ended in the state, Houston, like many slaveholders, attempted to retain his laborers through forced apprenticeships, in this case, involving the older Berryman children. (See Apprenticeships) Benjamin F. Houston died in 1888, and is buried at the cemetery at St. Paul’s Church.

James Alfred Pearce

Despite serving in the U.S. Senate for nearly twenty years (as a Whig, then after 1856 as a Democrat), Pearce devoted much time to the College Board and also taught law at the College. He lived in both the Custom House and later the Hynson-Ringgold House. 

The Slave Schedules show Pearce enslaving ten people in 1850, then thirteen people in 1860. In addition to his home in Chestertown, he also had a farm north of town along Morgan’s Creek.

Among Pearce’s work in Congress was his effort to amend the bill which ended the slave trade in the District of Columbia, passed in 1850. Pearce, along with three other Upper South Senators, suggested much harsher penalties for helping enslaved people escape and empowering local officials to stop the growth of the free black population, and even expelling free black people, whom he denounced as “disorderly, riotous and troublesome”. Pearce’s amendments ultimately failed.

James A. Pearce was among numerous community leaders who spoke out against abolitionism and in defense of the punishment meted out to James Bowers, a local farmer who in the summer of 1858 was tarred and feathered by a mob for allegedly helping slaves to escape the county.

With research contributed by Alex Ramos, Class of 2020 

James Barrol Ricaud and Laurence L. Ricaud

The Ricauds came from a old family in Kent County, associated with farms near Rock Hall and St. Paul’s Parish. Their grandfather Richard was one of the early subscribers to the College’s founding. The brothers (along with three siblings) were orphaned at an early age, losing first their father, then their mother by 1824. But they were left well-provided for. The Guardians Accounts show expenses for James and Laurence while attending Washington College in the 1820s, although only James is known to have received a degree, in 1828. James went on to study law and ultimately became a judge of the Maryland District Court. He also entered politics, serving first in the Maryland Assembly, then as Representative to the U.S. House, elected on the American (“Know Nothing”) Party ticket in the 1850s. Laurence attended the University of Pennsylvania Medical School and became a physician.

Both men had joined the Board of Visitors and Governors by 1854 and continued through the Civil War. Like most Board members by this era, the Ricaud brothers were slaveowners. The 1860 Slave Statistics show Laurence claiming ten slaves in the First District, at his farm near Rees Corner and St. Paul’s Church. His brother had a property nearby, Springfield Farm, where he held twenty-nine people to labor. (They had as neighbors fellow Board members and slaveholders Benjamin F. Houston and George Westcott.) Both men also had residences in Chestertown, but only James (pictured) seems to have held slaves there. He had both a residence in town and by 1862, had purchased Stepney Manor just outside town. Between these two locations, he kept seventeen people enslaved.

James B. Ricaud was among several community leaders who spoke out against abolitionism and in defense of the punishment meted out to James Bowers, a local farmer who in the summer of 1858 was tarred and feathered by a mob for allegedly helping slaves to escape the county. 

With research contributed by Katie Reinl, Class of 2019

George Vickers

George Vickers joined the Board of Visitors and Governors in 1849. Vickers was a lawyer who served first in the state legislature, then the U.S. Senate, as a Democrat. He was seated just in time to cast the decisive vote saving President Andrew Johnson from removal from office.

During the Civil War Vickers, a staunch Unionist, was put in charge of Kent’s militia. The Home Guard trained at “Camp Vickers” (near today’s Radcliffe Creek School). Two of his sons served in the war: James fought for the Union while Benjamin joined the Confederate Army. Benjamin died at the Battle of Shiloh.

Despite his support for the Union, Vickers was no abolitionist. The 1860 Slave Census shows him claiming eight people at his town address and another fifteen at his Quaker Neck farm. When five of his enslaved men joined the U.S. Colored Troops, he profited from their sacrifice, earning five hundred dollars (See Civil War Soldiers). He was one of many Board members who sought to perpetuate the enslavement of blacks after emancipation, indenturing three young children he had formerly enslaved. (See Apprenticeships).


With research contributed by Paris Young, Class of 2021

Thomas Whittington

Thomas Whittington was a physician in Kent County who served on the Board from 1816 until his death in 1823. Whittington inherited a large amount of land when his brother Joseph Whittington of Queen Anne’s County died in 1794. It is likely that Joseph left Thomas several enslaved people at that time, for by the time of his own death, Thomas Whittington claimed seven enslaved people. He had also previously sold six people: Joseph, in 1805, Clara, in 1809, Ben, in 1816, Emory, in 1818, Hannah, in 1820, and James, in 1822. All but Emory and Hannah were sold within Kent County; Emory was sent to Kentucky; Hannah, who had seventeen years left to serve before gaining her freedom, was sold to a Baltimore buyer. It is not clear if Whittington was responsible for Hannah’s original manumission; selling enslaved people with time to serve was possible and could put them in jeopardy if their new owner refused to honor the manumission agreement. Another woman, Nan, age 32, was freed by Whittington, in 1811, as was as the enslaved man Bill (see below).


At least one of the people held in slavery by Whittington worked at the College. College records show a request to pay Whittington the amount of $15.75 “for work being done by his negro man at college.” Whittington’s series of wills and probate records reveal seven enslaved people at the time of his death, only one of whom was an adult male. His name was Bill, and he was later freed “in consideration of his faithfull attention” to Whittington. Another possibility is a twenty-one year old enslaved man named James whom Whittington sold in August, 1822, for $370, for reasons unknown.


Peregrine Wroth

Wroth was a local physician who graduated from the college in 1803. He also taught Chemistry and Geology, and was a longtime member of the Board of Visitors and Governors, serving as its Treasurer. In later life, Wroth wrote out various letters, poems, and reminiscences, including his fond memories of life growing up on a Kent County farm. In an 1858 narrative he titled “The Yule Log”, Wroth recalls Christmas at the farm where he grew up. He describes a cozy scene with happy enslaved people, grateful for what their master gave them, content in their situation, a community that functions because everyone—black and white—knows their place.

Like many Upper South slaveholders, Wroth was a supporter of colonization, the plan to deport free blacks (and slaves freed for this purpose) from the United States, typically to Africa. The movement appealed to those who saw slavery as problematic for the nation’s future but were also racist and could not tolerate equality with a growing free black population. As Wroth stated in an address to a meeting of the Kent County Colonization Society, free blacks “cannot amalgamate with their former masters either in government or society.” He added, “They distrust our councils; compel us to do violence to our political creed–and must ultimately sap the foundations of the Republic!”

The postwar years saw Wroth exchanging letters with a number of friends and relatives in the South, and lamenting the loss of what he termed the “good old times”. In January, 1866, he wrote to Robert E. Lee, asking for a picture and autograph. Lee complied, and the two began corresponding, sometimes through their wives. In June, Mrs. Wroth wrote to Mrs. Lee, “Your husband and the other great men at the head of the armies of the Confederacy – how earnestly we prayed for your success, rejoiced at your victories, mourned over your reverses.”

With research contributed by Will Sade, Class of 2019