In its foundational years, the University of Pennsylvania struggled to stay financially viable. Penn was the nation's first university, and although trustees were providing funding, the university needed to turn to outside donors to stay financially viable.
Originally, the university trustees planned to use land in Pennsylvania, donated by the Penn family as a means of financial support. Previous reports of the university claimed that these efforts were profitable because of slave labor, with specific reference to Perkasie Manor. However, research conducted by the Penn & Slavery Project suggests that enslaved people did not live or labor in Perkasie Manor. In fact, the land served as a lasting financial burden on the university instead of an avenue to financial success.
The next venture was far more successful and took place much farther away from Philadelphia. The trustees sent two faculty members, Provost William Smith, and early Dean of the Medical School, John Morgan on separate fundraising trips. Smith traveled to South Carolina and Morgan traveled to Jamaica. On these trips, both men sought out donations from wealthy families, with special attention to slave-owners. Smith and Morgan's efforts ensured that the university would stay open because of the wealth earned from slave labor.
Image: A record of the donations collected from slave owners. Source, Trustee MinutesBegin →