Caesar's Bell

Caesar's Labor | Caesar's Life | Conclusions


We know very little about Caesar. All the records referencing Caesar make no mention of him outside of his enslavement. We do not know his last name. We do know he was enslaved by Ebenezer Kinnersley, but it is unclear if Caesar was freed during his lifetime. We do not know what happened to Caesar after Kinnersley's death, as he goes unmentioned in Kinnersley's will.

We do, however, know that Caesar was one of the approximately 1400 enslaved people who lived and labored in Philadelphia. And we know he worked on the early campus of the University of Pennsylvania. 



Caesar's Labor

Caesar worked on Penn's early campus from 1756 to 1770. His duties included building fires for students and ringing the school bell. The bell that Caesar rang is pictured below. In the late 18th Century, it hung on Penn's early campus, and its ring alerted students that it was time for class. Today it sits silently in the Van Pelt Library 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. 

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There is further proof of Caesar's labor in the College Trustee accounts book. This entry on January 29, 1757, notes that the university paid Ebenezer Kinnersley for the work Caesar performed on campus. 

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Day Book Belonging to the Trustees of the Academy of Philadelphia

Accessed at the Archives of the University of Pennsylvania. 



Caesar's Life

After Ebenezer Kennersley's retirement, he traveled to Barbados. In Barbados, Kinnersley wrote a letter to his wife back in Philadelphia saying, 

‘Caesar was taken very ill last week with a pain in his bowels, which at last settled in his side, bleeding and some doses of physick have made him pretty well again.’

This quote comes before Kinnersley's update of his own health. The fact that Caesar was relevant enough to be mentioned in the letter, suggests his importance to the Kinnersleys. Soon after, Caesar, who had since recovered from his illness, and Kinnersley made the return voyage to Philadelphia. 



Kinnersley was compensated for an enslaved man's labor from 1757- 1770. The letters during his trip to Barbados and tax records suggest he owned one enslaved person from 1767-1774. This suggests that Caesar is the name of the enslaved man who worked on Penn's campus. More research needs to be conducted into the life of Caesar to confirm without a doubt that he is the same man who worked on Penn’s early campus.

Dillon Kersh