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INSTITUTE FOR THE STUDY OF THE UNIVERSITY IN SOCIETY

 
 

The College and Abolitionism

From the 1830s through the Civil War, there was a strong and insistent effort in the eastern and northern states to advance the position that all slaves ought to be released immediately. Related to this movement was the effort to help fugitive slaves make their way toward safe havens via the Underground Railroad.

It is well documented that Abolitionist sentiment was strong among the students and faculty at Western Reserve College in Hudson from the early 1830s. The issue became a factor in an early battle that pitted several of the College's trustees, who were advocates of "Colonization" (a movement supporting the voluntary return of freed slaves to Africa), against President Charles Storrs and some of the faculty.

John Sykes Fayette, Class of 1836, was the first African American student at Western Reserve College and was an ardent Abolitionist. He is shown here years later with his wife.

Hudson was for a number of years the home of John Brown, one of the leading opponents of slavery in the nation. And in the 1850s, the annual commencement address at Western Reserve College was given by Frederick Douglass, a national figure who was an outspoken proponent of abolitionism.

The contentious debate literally consumed the College and the town. Two of the leading faculty proponents resigned, and President Storrs, who died an early death shortly afterward, became a national martyr to the cause of abolitionism. A number of students withdrew from the College and transferred to Oberlin College, where they expected to receive a warmer welcome from residents.

Also beginning in the 1830s, the Underground Railroad established a presence in the region. While many of the area's political leaders remained loyal to the Colonizationist cause, several of them - including town founder David Hudson - were active agents in the Underground Railroad. A diary from the time reports that "a runaway slave, his wife, and child." arrived at Western Reserve College on November 11, 1834, whereupon "the boys at the College" scraped together $5 to send the family on to Cleveland. Many of the residences in Hudson, including those of some College faculty members, were used to shelter runaway slaves.

In what is today University Circle, it is documented that the Ford family home (located on the southeast corner of what is today Euclid Avenue and Adelbert Road) was used as a refuge for fugitive slaves, as was the Cozad family home across Euclid Avenue (then known as the "Buffalo Road").