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The Extraordinary Life of Betsey Stockton: A Freedom Journey from Princeton, Around the World, and Back
The Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens, Rose Garden
San Marino, CA
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The Extraordinary Life of Betsey Stockton: A Freedom Journey from Princeton, Around the World, and Back
Betsey Stockton's story is a remarkable saga of one woman's journey from slavery to freedomand, above all, to leadership in Princeton's African American community in the years before the Civil War. Born circa 1798, a mixed-race baby in the household of Robert Stockton, one of Princeton's most prominent men, Betsey was "given, as a slave" into the household of Dr. Ashbel Green, who later became Princeton's eighth president (1812-1822). In 1822, after Green had emancipated her, Betsey Stockton embraced a strong sense of mission that shaped her future in a series of firsts. She was the first African American and the first unmarried fe-male missionary to the Sandwich Islands, where she lived from 1823 to 1825. She was the first teacher in an "infant school" for children of the African American poor in Philadelphia from 1828 to 1830. Then, in her most significant and longest enduring first, she became a founder of both the First Presbyterian Church of Colour of Princeton (later the Witherspoon Street Church) and Princeton's Public School No. 6, the town's sole (and segregated) educational institution for black children. Living and working on Witherspoon Street, Stockton spent over three decades of her life as the unmarried matriarch of the "other" Princeton, the black community that accounted for 20% of the town's population. She promoted a different sort of Princeton education, one that stood in stark contrast to the sort associated with the college on the other side of Nassau Street. By the time she died, in 1865, Betsey Stockton had made a critical contribution in the struggle for equal rights in the antebellum North, struggling to keep together a community in a nation coming apart.

Gregory Nobles '70, Professor Emeritus of History at Georgia Tech, is the 2018-2019 Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Fellow in Early American History at the Henry E. Huntington Library. His most recent book, John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman, was published in 2017, and he is now working on a biography of Betsey Stockton. He will discuss the difficulties and delights of writing about people have not been famous, or even familiar, in the bigger picture of America's past, but whose stories certainly matter in helping us gain a better understanding of who makes history.


The Huntington Library, Art Collections, & Botanical Gardens, Rose Garden (View)
1151 Oxford Road
San Marino, CA 91108
United States




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