Caesar & The Kinnersleys

This Augmented Reality piece is based on an imagined portrait of early Penn professor Ebenezer Kinnersley, along with his wife, and the man he claimed ownership of. Our inspiration for this imagined portrait is the portrait of George Washington’s family. Like many portraits of families that enslaved people, Washington’s family portrait focuses on the white family but includes an enslaved person as a marginal presence in the background. 

Slavery was fully legal in Pennsylvania for the first several decades of Penn’s existence, and many members of Penn’s faculty and board of trustees owned at least one slave. Penn hired professor Ebenezer Kinnersley to operate the first dorm for the college which was opened in 1764 (on 4th street). Kinnersley owned one enslaved person, a man who we believe is the same man he names as Caesar in subsequent correspondence. The University of Pennsylvania paid Kinnersley for Caesar’s work for thirteen years. In Penn’s official records, Caesar is listed only as “Kinnersley’s negro.” Dillon Kersh, an undergraduate researcher with the Penn & Slavery Project, unearthed the important detail of Caesar’s name. The portrait that is dramatized here brings to life one story connected to Penn’s historic ties to slavery. 

Credit: Richard Bradford, John Lopes, Jennifer Summerfield, Christopher Vandegrift, David Toccafondi, Kathleen Brown, Arielle Brown, VanJessica Gladney, Alexis Broderick Neumann, Laurie Allen, Meaghan Moody, Paul Farber, Angus Corbett