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Slave Ownership

While there were many ways in which people could benefit from the institution of slavery, slave ownership was the most obvious and direct form of complicity. Student researchers of the Penn & Slavery Project uncovered evidence of the slave ownership of Penn's eighteenth-century trustees and faculty using three main methods. 

When slavery was legal in the United States, enslaved people were considered the property of their owners. As such, enslaved people were included in the inventory of the slave owner's property taxes. The 1769 and 1774 Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration Records of eighteenth-century trustees and faculty revealed slave ownership and the number of enslaved people the men held.

Several trustees and faculty had probate papers, or wills, prepared before their deaths. In these papers, some of the men bequeathed their land, furniture, and property, including enslaved people, to their family members.

Eighteenth-century newspapers also provided evidence of slave ownership. Slave owners would post 'runaway slave' ads in newspapers in an attempt to maintain ownership of enslaved people. These advertisements could be found alongside announcements for the sale of enslaved people, be they private sales (pictured above) or public auctions. While tax records and probate papers could remain private, the Pennsylvania Gazette, owned and edited by Benjamin Franklin, provided insight about the public nature of slave ownership.

Explore the links to learn more about Penn's early trustees and early faculty and their various connections to the institution of slavery. 

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