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Ezra Stiles College

In the year 1776, the Declaration of Independence was signed, and Samuel Hopkins, Stiles' colleague in Newport, Rhode Island, published his anti-slavery pamphlet, A Dialogue Concerning the Slavery of the Africans. In that same year, 1776, Ezra Stiles still owned the slave that he had obtained directly through slave trading.

In his biography of Stiles, Edmund Morgan tells us:

Since [Stiles'] congregation included several merchants and sea captains, he occasionally had the opportunity to invest a little extra cash in one of their voyages ... His most significant investment of this kind was in 1756, before he married. In that year he put a hogshead of rum (106 gallons) aboard a ship commanded by Captain William Pinnegar and bound for Guinea on the coast of Africa. Captain Pinnegar brought him back a ten-year-old Negro boy, to whom he gave the name 'Newport'. (36)

Newport worked through maturity as Ezra Stiles' slave until he was around 30 years old. At the same time that Stiles penned a joint letter with Hopkins condemning "the great inhumanity and cruelty" of slavery, and while Stiles himself wrote and preached against the slave trade, Stiles himself owned a slave whom he had obtained directly through trade and held for 20 years.

In 1778, the Yale Corporation selected the Rev. Ezra Stiles to be the next President of Yale. The move, and the new job, prompted many changes for Stiles, including Newport's liberation. On June 9, 1778, Stiles wrote in his diary, "I freed or liberated my Negro Man Newport, about aged 30. Settled all my Affairs, & myself & seven children set out in two Carriages for New Haven" (37). After eleven years in Africa and twenty as the slave of a Rhode Island preacher, Newport set out to make his living as a free man in colonial Rhode Island.

It must have been difficult for a free black man to make ends meet in Rhode Island. In December 1782, Newport arrived in New Haven. He asked Ezra Stiles for a job, and Stiles obliged, hiring him on the following terms:

This Evening arrived here my Man servant Newport and his Wife & Child, whom I have hired for seven years @ $20 per annum. The Child Jacob two years old last Month and bound to me till age 24. (38)

It appears that Stiles hired his former slave Newport as a servant on the condition that Newport's two year old son, Jacob, would be bonded to and would serve Stiles until age 24 (39). Jacob joined another Native American child, Aaron, who served as Ezra Stiles' indentured servant (40). Newport himself remained Stiles' paid servant until Stiles' death in 1795.

Indentures such as this were common around the time of gradual emancipation. Ira Berlin explains:

Black people who exited slavery often found themselves living in circumstances that looked suspiciously like the old bondage. Following the gradualist laws and conditional manumissions-which delayed freedom well until adulthood-many manumitters required their slaves to agree to long-term indentureships as part of the price of freedom, thereby reviving an older system of subordination and providing masters with a profitable exit from slave ownership. Even without prompting from their former owners, poverty forced many freed people to indenture themselves or their children to white householders. (41)

In 1790, Stiles agreed to serve as the first President of "The Connecticut Society for the Promotion of Freedom and for the relief of persons unlawfully holden in Bondage."


Ezra Stiles' slave

Stiles' Emancipation Society


Numbers in parentheses refer to notes. See the notes page.