Documents Tell the Story of Enslaved People at the Columbian College
The year was 1847 and slavery was legal in the District of Columbia, although it was the site of significant anti-slavery activism. Two enslaved men, known only as Abram and John, were owned by Capt. Haynes of Virginia and brought to Columbian College to assist him in his work as the college's steward. Columbian College student Henry J. Arnold provided Abram with $14 and a letter for an attorney with the intention that Abram would file a lawsuit to win his freedom. For this act of bravery, Arnold was expelled from the college.
While the Arnold Case was not completely forgotten in the history of GW, it has remained largely obscure or else apocryphal to both scholars and the general public. Thanks to collaboration between DCAAP and the GW Libraries' digital services unit, the University Archives have now made available to scholars a cache of documents that illuminates this situation. The documentation consists of drafts and copies of letters written by Columbian College’s then-president, Joel S. Bacon, to Arnold, his family and others who inquired or appealed to Bacon about the matter. With this critical documentation, the story of enslaved people at Columbian College can now be more fully told.