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. 


Guardian’s 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.

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.


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.


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 a portion of the hire of four enslaved people.

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, seventeen 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.