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Who are the slaves that Harvard will honor?

Wadsworth Hall on the Harvard University campus, where two presidents, Holyoke and Wadsworth, lived with their slaves during their tenure.
Wadsworth Hall on the Harvard University campus, where two presidents, Holyoke and Wadsworth, lived with their slaves during their tenure.(Dina Rudick/Globe Staff)
Benjamin Wadsworth, eighth president of Harvard.
Benjamin Wadsworth, eighth president of Harvard. (Harvard University)

Harvard president Drew Faust declared last week that the college must forthrightly acknowledge its connection to slavery, which she called “our history and our legacy.” On Wednesday, Faust will dedicate a plaque in memory of four slaves who lived and worked in the households of two Harvard presidents. Here are some of the few details about their lives that were recorded.

Owned by Benjamin Wadsworth, eighth president of Harvard (from 1725-1737)

Titus — Described as mulatto or Native American. Records of First Church Cambridge say Titus was among three slaves baptized there between 1696 and 1830. Titus was among only two people of color allowed to join “in full communion” at the church.

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Owned by Edward Holyoke, ninth president of Harvard.
Owned by Edward Holyoke, ninth president of Harvard. (Harvard University)

Venus — Wadsworth’s diary says he purchased “a negro wench” after moving to the home built for his family in 1726. Records indicate Venus, described as a servant of Madam Wadsworth, was baptized at First Church in 1740. Little else is recorded about her life.

Owned by Edward Holyoke, ninth president of Harvard (from 1737-1769)

Juba — In diaries, members of Holyoke family describe Juba running errands and taking part when family members weighed themselves each year. In 1747, he is recorded marrying Ciceely, a slave owned by Judah Monis, a professor of Hebrew at Harvard.

Bilhah — Tucked amid historic details (Sept. 28, 1737: “I was this day inducted into the Presidentship of H. C.’’) President Holyoke’s diary recounts a few events in Bilhah’s life: Sept. 3, 1755: “Went to Boston with Dick.” Oct. 31, 1762: “Delivered of a son about 4 o’clock a.m.’’ And finally: Feb. 24, 1765: “Bilhah Died 6 p.m.”

RELATED: Harvard to honor slaves who worked, lived at Wadsworth House


Sources: “Harvard and Slavery: Seeking A forgotten History” (2011) by Sven Beckert, Katherine Stevens, and the students of the Harvard and Slavery Research Seminar


The Holyoke diaries, 1709-1856


Owning Our History: First Church and Race 1636-1873

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