Robert Smith


University of Pennsylvania Archives

Robert Smith renovated the first school building in 1751 and continued to work for the University of Pennsylvania as the ‘House Carpenter’. Smith built the university’s first dormitory in 1763, and a house for the first Provost William Smith in 1774.

Smith served as a prominent member of the Carpenter’s Company. The Carpenter’s Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1724, was a group of architects, building contractors, and engineers that completed projects throughout the city.

While working with the Carpenter's, Smith helped to build many historically significant buildings in Old City, Philadelphia including Carpenter’s Hall, the meeting place of the Carpenter’s Company and, eventually, the first Continental Congress; the steeple of Christ Church; Benjamin Franklin’s Philadelphia home.

The Carpenter’s Company allowed its members to use slave labor while constructing buildings.


Articles of the Carpenter Company

It is unclear whether Smith paid slave labor fees to the Carpenter’s Company while working on buildings for the University of Pennsylvania, and thus, unclear whether any enslaved people constructed buildings on the first campus. However, Tax & Exoneration records show that Smith paid taxes on "2 Negroes" in 1769 and "1 Negro" in 1774, making it possible that enslaved people provided labor.

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Pennsylvania Tax & Exoneration Records, 1769 & 1774