It is difficult to find first-hand accounts from enslaved people. The Penn & Slavery Project is committed to elevating the stories and experiences of enslaved people whenever possible. Though we do not have records of Caesar's words, we used the available archival evidence to try to reconstruct Caesar's role and his experience at Penn.
Payment to Ebenezer Kinnersley
Ebenezer Kinnersley served the College of Philadelphia (later known as the University of Pennsylvania) as the first professor of English tongue and oratory. He also served as a dormitory steward (1765-1772), assisted by his wife Sarah Duffield Kinnersley and an enslaved person who received no compensation for his labor. Kinnersley is listed in the College’s Trustee accounts as receiving payments for the labor of this enslaved man.
Tax records from 1767 and 1769 indicate that Kinnersley owned one enslaved person while serving as Steward of Penn's first dormitory. Researcher Dillon Kersh believes it is likely that the enslaved man worked on Penn’s campus until Kinnersley’s retirement in 1770. His research also suggests that Kinnersley enslaved a man named Caesar.
The Trustees' Day Book (pictured above) notes continuous payments made to Ebenezer Kinnersley for “his negros Services at the Academy in Ringing the Bell" and "making Fires.” The enslaved man's labor began on October 25, 1756, and the school began paying Kinnersley in January 1757.
Old Campus Bell
Caesar worked on Penn's early campus from 1756 to 1770. His labor included building fires for students and ringing the school bell. The bell that Caesar rang is pictured above. In the late 18th Century, it hung in a tower on Penn's early campus, and its ring alerted students that it was time for class. Today it sits in the Van Pelt-Dietrch Library Center and serves as proof of Caesar's life and labor. And although it remains silent, it speaks to the role slavery played in Penn's history, and its presence on Penn's current campus. The Penn and Slavery Project is dedicated to uncovering places where slavery hides. For this reason, Caesar’s Bell is the symbol of our project.