Three major residential houses and courtyards constitute the ensemble of the thirty-nine Quadrangle Dormitories. Of these thirty-nine, ten residential houses are named after enslavers and memorialize their legacies.
George Whitefield (pronounced Wit-feeld) is one of the founders of Methodism and a major figure in the transatlantic religious revivals of the eighteenth century, known as the “Great Awakening." Whitefield was known during his own time for preaching to integrated audiences. In 1740, he published an open letter to the “Inhabitants of Maryland, Virginia, North and South Carolina concerning their Negroes” in the Pennsylvania Gazette. In this letter, Whitefield chastised enslavers for mistreating their laborers. But a closer look at the letter reveals that he never condemned the institution itself, focusing instead on converting enslaved people to Christianity.
Whitefield’s major contribution to the University of Pennsylvania was the building on 4th & Arch Street originally intended for his church in Philadelphia, which became the College of Philadelphia’s first campus. He abandoned that building to found "Bethesda," an orphanage in Georgia. Years earlier, Georgians had expressed fears of slave rebellions and prohibited slavery within the colony. As Whitefield's orphanage faced financial struggles, Whitefield concluded that enslaved labor would help his orphanage succeed. In 1747, he began to lobby in earnest to legalize slavery in the Georgia colony on the grounds that slavery would benefit not only the Bethesda orphanage but the entire colony. He claimed that "Georgia never can be a flourishing province unless negroes are employed." In 1752, the laws were overturned, and George Whitefield had succeeded in his campaign to re-legalize slavery in the colony of Georgia. Upon his death, Whitefield bequeathed 4,000 acres of land in Georgia and 50 enslaved people to the Countess of Huntingdon.
Caesar Augustus Rodney
The Rodney dormitory is named for Caesar Augustus Rodney (1772-1824) (pictured). Rodney was a Delaware Congressman, US Attorney General, and Penn graduate. At the height of his success, his family’s plantation benefitted from the unpaid labor of at least 200 enslaved people.
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The Coxe dorm is named for the Coxe family who had strong connections to the university. William Coxe (1723-1801) was a trustee of the university for over a decade. During that time he served as the Treasurer of the Board of Trustees. Pennsylvania tax records paid in 1769, during his time as Treasurer, document his ownership of enslaved people.
William’s brother’s grandson, John Redman Coxe (1773-1864) (pictured) was also connected to Penn. He assisted Benjamin Rush during the Yellow Fever Epidemic and subsequently earned a medical degree from the university. He served as a trustee for almost a decade, until he was appointed the chair of the chemistry department in the Penn Medical School. Less than 10 years later, he shifted to pharmaceutical studies and served as a professor of "materia medica." He ended his relationship with the university in 1835, after losing his professorship.
Henry Sidney Coxe (1798-1850), attended the university as an undergraduate (B.A. 1815) and a masters student (A.M. 1818). During his time as an undergraduate, he founded the Philomathean Society, Penn’s first student organization. Upon his death in 1850, he emancipated 6 of his enslaved people and their children.