Enslaved at UGA

The University of Georgia was built and sustained by enslaved residents of Athens, who made up about half the local population. As was the case with many universities inextricably linked with slavery, Franklin College, as the University was most commonly known then, owned no people directly. And yet every day, enslaved Athenians labored on behalf of the students and faculty of the University. Each year, the Board of Trustees passed budgets that included the hire of enslaved laborers, a practice common in small and large towns alike in the pre-emancipation South. Throughout its first decades, the University of Georgia relied on uncompensated labor for its day-to-day operations.

Like in much of the urban South, slavery in Athens and at the University of Georgia worked principally through the practice of ‘hiring.’ In this practice, the labor of enslaved men and women would be rented, usually on an annual basis, from local slaveowners. This common practice simultaneously made slavery more nimble as an institution and made slavery an inescapable part of the urban south. Local individuals, by and large, claimed ownership of those who worked in and around the University. In most years, the Board allocated funds, ranging from $60 to $200 for the hire of local slaves. [1] The Prudential Committee, an administrative board responsible for overseeing much of the work of the university, contracted in 1842 with Sarah H. Harris for the hire of her ‘negroes’ as college servants for $100 each. [2]

Other slaves were ordered to ‘wait on the students, clean their shoes and boots, to make their fires, and to clean the college buildings.’

Professors and university presidents, too, owned enslaved people who worked on campus. Alonzo Church, the university president for thirty years, named six enslaved people—Elvir (a girl about ten years old), Alfred, Louisa, Hanson, Caroline, and Sophia (and her children) in his will. [3] Richard Malcom Johnston, a professor of literature, brought Lucius Henry Holsey to campus to serve him when he was appointed to the faculty in 1858. A long-time professor of classical literature, James P. Waddell, was reimbursed upon leaving the university for the ‘negro house’ he had built on university property. [4]

Enslaved labor was essential to everyday college life. The ‘college servant’ was tasked with ‘frequently scouring’ the students’ dormitories. [5] Other slaves were ordered to ‘wait on the students, clean their shoes and boots, to make their fires, and to clean the college buildings.’ [6] Some laborers were hired as the need arose. Professors were compelled to hire two more enslaved workers than they had initially intended in 1855 in order to carry water for student use from ‘various places and at long distances’ after attempts to dig new wells on university land failed. [7] Scheduled, routine maintenance and repairs—including whitewashing dormitory and classroom walls, mending plasterwork, repairing fireplaces and windows—was all completed ‘by the agency of the col. servants.’ [8] Some enslaved Athenians were known widely as skilled craftsman who tended to university property. William Hull was the college’s well-known carpenter. [9] University faculty appointed Patrick with helping care for the university’s early botanical garden. [10]

The University of Georgia, like nearly all other major institutions in the antebellum South, depended deeply and directly on the labor of enslaved men and women. The work to calculate the debt owed for this unpaid labor still remains.

Footnotes: 

[1] E.g. University of Georgia Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol 2: page 187, August 5, 1828, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/131; University of Georgia Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol 4: page 94, July 4, 1862, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/146.

[2] Prudential Committee Meeting Minutes, 1834-1857: pages 15-16, December 17, 1842, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/152.

[3] Alonzo Church, Georgia Probate Records, 1742-1990, page 98, May 20, 1861, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/37.

[4] Prudential Committee Meeting Minutes, 1834-1857: page 111, January 5, 1857, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/exhibits/show/slavery/item/155.

[5] University of Georgia Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol 2: pages 160-161, Aug. 3, 1826, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/68.

[6] University of Georgia Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol 2: page 186, November 1, 1857, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/exhibits/show/slavery/item/73.

[7] University of Georgia Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol 3: page 342, August 1, 1855, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/116.

[8] University of Georgia Board of Trustees Minutes, Vol 3: page 349, November 7, 1855, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/86.

[9] Augustus Longstreet Hull, Annals of Athens, Georgia, 1801-1901, (Athens, Ga., Banner Job Office: 1906), 174, https://archive.org/details/annalsofathens00hull/page/174.

[10] Prudential Committee Meeting Minutes, 1834-1857: pages 15-16, December 17, 1842, https://digihum.libs.uga.edu/items/show/152.

Enslaved Peoples

Name University Rolesort descending Brief Bio
Patrick Botanical Garden Laborer
Dick Enslaved Person
Lucius Holsey Enslaved Person
Caroline Enslaved Person
Hanson Enslaved Person
Elvir Enslaved Person
Dick Cary Servant
Billy Servant
Sam Servant
Alfred Servant
Louisa Servant
Wilson Servant
C-l-d [??] Servant
Sophia Servant

Get in touch

  • Department of History
    220 LeConte Hall, Baldwin Street
    University of Georgia
    Athens, GA 30602-1602
  • 706-542-2053
  • 706-542-2455
  • history@uga.edu

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