Exhibition on view from
April 25, 2019
Regenstein Bookstacks, 4th Floor
“Transcript of Will and Probate of Col. Robert Martin,” Folder 11, Box 55, Stephen A. Douglas Papers, Special Collections, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Colonel Martin originally offered the deed to his plantation on the Pearle River in Mississippi as a wedding present to his son-in-law, Stephen A. Douglas. Douglas, recognizing the political liability of owning a planation, devised to have the property willed to his wife Martha, Col. Martin’s daughter. This arrangement gave Douglas plausible deniability with regard to owning slaves, while allowing him to profit from the plantation, estimated to be worth $5 million in today’s dollars. Douglas gained both from the profits of the plantation and the ability to leverage the land and slaves as collateral. The will names Douglas as the general manager of the slave plantation along with giving him one third of the profits, with the remaining balance to Douglas’s wife. “The net income stream from such a large plantation, if it were operating today, would likely have amounted to nearly half a million dollars per year when adjusted for inflation. (C. Jordan, G. Mount, and K. Parker. “A Case for Reparations at the University of Chicago.” The Reparations at UChicago Working Group paper, University of Chicago, US History Workshop, May 2017.) It was from this profit, which was made from slave labor, that Stephen A. Douglas was able to donate the land and money to found the original University of Chicago.
Stephen A. Douglas. Papers, Box 55, Folder 7, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library. A letter written from James A. Strickland to Douglas on February 3, 1854, to update him on the state of his plantation. The notation on the back of the letter reads: James Strickland/ Miss/ About your/ Plantation
Douglas ran his plantation from afar to maintain the appearance that he was not directly enriched by slavery. He received written updates from the overseers of his plantation. James A. Strickland managed the plantation at its original location by the Pearle River. All financial transactions for the estate were put in Strickland’s name, who then transferred money to Douglas through a New Orleans commission agent (Anita Watkins Clinton, “Stephen Arnold Douglas—His Mississippi Experience,” The Journal of Mississippi History Vol. L, No. 2 [May 1988], 62). In 1859, Douglas moved all 142 slaves from Lawrence to Washington County, Mississippi and hired a new overseer, Arnold Lashley. Lashley was known for brutal treatment of slaves (J. J. Ligon to Mary Martin, May 1, 1859, Illinois Historical State Library [now the Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library], Springfield, Illinois as cited Clinton, 79-80). The letter displayed here was written by Strickland to Douglas, updating him on the state of his plantation. The papers Douglas’ family donated to the University of Chicago Archives include multiple such communications from Strickland to Douglas and one from Lashley to Douglas.
An invitation to a Board of Trustees meeting for the original University of Chicago, signed by Stephen A. Douglas and the first President of the University, J.C. Burroughs. Stephen A. Douglas Papers, Box 55, Folder 14, Special Collections Research Center, University of Chicago Library.
Douglas "donated ten acres of his Bronzeville homestead on the northwest corner of 35th and Cottage grove valued at over $60,000 (or $1.2 million in today’s dollars). The recipient of this land, purchased through the blood of slaves, was the now viable University of Chicago. Douglas himself laid the cornerstone to officially establish the university, served as the first president of the board of trustees, and had a building named after him at this original Bronzeville campus." (Jordan, Mount and Parker, 6) The campus was built adjacent to Douglas’s residence and was referred to, derisively, as “Douglas University.”
W.W. Everts, History of the University of Chicago, page 1, Folder 4, Box 9, Old University of Chicago Records, Special Collections, University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois.
Dr. W.W. Everts was a trustee of the original University of Chicago and vocal opponent of its first President J.C. Burroughs. Everts had a very public dispute over the running of the school with Burroughs. This dispute was chronicled in multiple articles of the Chicago Daily Tribune. In 1869, while serving as a trustee at the University, Everts facilitated the purchase of the Hengstenberg Collection for the Baptist Union Theological Seminary. As described in the next case, this collection was purchased for the Seminary but kept in the possession of the old University (and used by its students and faculty) until 1875 but then later returned to the library of the University, in its new form in 1890.
Everts’ unpublished manuscript of a history of the Old University of Chicago was written ca. 1889. In it he chronicles the financial troubles of the Old University of Chicago and attempts by the trustees and donors to avoid repaying debts after the first University closed. “Some have supposed that disagreeable histories should be suppressed, but the Bible did not suppress the treachery of Joseph’s brethren…The justice of history will not suffer the lamp of public experience to be put out. The ‘ghost’ of any public iniquity will ‘not down’ at cowardly and untruthful bidding. The best safeguard against errors of the future is faithful exposure, and frank confession of errors of the past. A more vigilant and conscientious officialism, and a more loyal and fearless journalism are prime necessities of our times. With the audacity of irresponsibility men rush into places of power where angels might shrink abashed.” (Everts, 11) Ironically, Everts’ history was never published but is part of the University archives.
Excerpt from "UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: A Historical Sketch of the Institution." Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922), Jun 29, 1873.
Douglas first offered his land for a University to the Presbyterian community of Chicago and solicited Dr. A. Eddy to raise funds to found a Presbyterian University. This offer was never accepted likely due to Douglas’s known connection to a Mississippi planation and his controversial support of the Kansas-Nebraska Act that overturned the Missouri Compromise, which had prohibited slavery in the Louisiana Territory north of the 36° 30´ latitude line.
Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, The University of Chicago Biographical Sketches: Volume II (The University of Chicago Press, 1925), 17-18
Dr. John C. Borroughs, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Chicago, capitalized on the failure of Eddy to convince Presbyterians to accept Douglas' offer. Burroughs was able to secure the land from Douglas for a Baptist university. But Douglas’s controversies followed the Baptists. “Owing to the intense hostility against Mr. Douglas prevailing in 1856-57 the trustees had great difficulty in raising funds for the proposed institution.” (Thomas Wakefield Goodspeed, The University of Chicago Biographical Sketches: Volume II [The University of Chicago Press, 1925], 17-18.)
John Boyer, The University of Chicago: A History (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2015).
The case for reparations at the University of Chicago is strengthened by connections between the “Old” University of Chicago of Bronzeville, founded with money made from slave labor, and the current University of Chicago of Hyde Park. Over time, Presidents, Trustees and administrators of the current University of Chicago have sought to distance these two institutions, claiming they share only a name. In his recent history of the University, John Boyer describes clear connections between Old University of Chicago and University of Chicago. Along with sharing a name, all alums of Old University of Chicago were recognized by the reincorporated institution. Early donations to the “new” University of Chicago came from donors, trustees, and alums of the Old University of Chicago. Almost half of the twenty-one members of board of trustees had “some significant personal connection to the old enterprise.” (Boyer, 58-59).
Excerpt from OLD U. OF C. ALUMNI MEET: "BEEFSTEAK" DINNERS OF ORIGINAL COLLEGE Chicago Daily Tribune (1872-1922); Feb 23, 1907; ProQuest Historical Newspapers: Chicago Tribune pg. 6
The speeches given at an event for alumni of the Old University of Chicago highlight the connection between the original institution and the current University. Alums of Old University of Chicago are told that they “planted the seed” for the current institution.