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Exploring an Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom at the New Haven Museum

New Haven, Conn. (October 6, 2022)— The life of Betsey Stockton (c.1798–1865) is a remarkable story of a Black woman’s journey from slavery to emancipation, from antebellum New Jersey to the Hawai’ian Islands, and from her own self-education to a lifetime of teaching others. In conjunction with their newest exhibition, “Point of Departure: New Haven 1822,” the New Haven Museum (NHM) will present, “The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom,” with Dr. Gregory Nobles, Professor Emeritus of History, at Georgia Tech. The free presentation will be held on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, at 6 p.m. and is co-sponsored by the Hawaiian Mission Houses Historic Site & Archives. Limited in-person attendance registration at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/428120779777. Virtual attendance will be via Zoom and Facebook Live. Virtual registration is at: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/428128452727/.

Based on Nobles’ recently published book of the same title, the lecture will provide an inspiring look at the life of Stockton, a member of the Second Company of New England Protestant missionaries that departed from New Haven’s Tomlinson’s Wharf for Hawai’i in November 1822. Stockton kept a diary of the voyage—excerpts of which appeared in New Haven newspapers—and a great deal of what is known of the trip is from her firsthand accounts.

As a child, Stockton was “given, as a slave” to the household of Reverend Ashbel Green, a prominent pastor and later the president of what is now Princeton University. Although she never went to school, she devoured the books in Green’s library. After being emancipated, she used her education to benefit other people of color, first in Hawaii as a missionary, where she tutored the King’s son and opened a school for Hawai’ian children from the so-called “common” class.

On returning home to Princeton, she opened several schools for students of color and was founding member of the Witherspoon Street Church, Princeton’s first Presbyterian church for people of color. Today, the Betsey Stockton Center for Black Church Studies is named in tribute to her at the Princeton Theological Seminary. Stockton became a founder and a leader engaged in the day-to-day business of building community and a revered figure within Princeton’s Black population.

During his NHM presentation, Nobles will focus on Stockton’s life prior to her 1822 departure from New Haven to Hawai’i. “I hope people will appreciate how truly exceptional it was for a young woman born into slavery to educate herself for such a calling, to commit herself to such a mission, and, in the process, to free herself from such a racially-conflicted society as the U.S. in the early 19th century,” Nobles says.

He also aims to help the public understand how much slavery and racism pervaded the North as well as the South, and how Stockton’s teaching of children of color—first Hawaiian, then Black—was not just a job, but a means of empowering them to face the racial dangers that surrounded them. In the end, he argues, Stockton’s persistence was a form of resistance.

About Gregory Nobles

Dr. Gregory Nobles, professor emeritus of history at Georgia Tech, spent 33 years as a specialist in early American history and environmental history. In addition to teaching, he served as associate dean of the Ivan Allen College, chair of the School of History, Technology, and Society, and founding director of the Georgia Tech Honors Program. He held two Fulbright professorships and has received numerous research grants, including three from the National Endowment for the Humanities, and residential fellowships at the Charles Warren Center at Harvard University, the American Antiquarian Society, the Huntington Library, the Princeton University Library, and the Newberry Library. In 2004 he was named to the Distinguished Lectureship Program of the Organization of American Historians and, for 2005-2008, was elected to the Advisory Council of the Society for Historians of the Early American Republic (SHEAR). He also served SHEAR as a member of the Editorial Board of the Journal of the Early Republic and as a member of the SHEAR Book Prize committee. After retiring from Georgia Tech, Nobles was the 2016-2017 Mellon Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the American Antiquarian Society, and for the 2018-2019 academic year, the Robert C. Ritchie Distinguished Scholar in Residence at the Huntington Library in San Marino, California. Nobles is the author or coauthor of several books, most recently, “John James Audubon: The Nature of the American Woodsman.”

About “Point of Departure: New Haven 1822

“Point of Departure: New Haven 1822,” which opens on Wednesday, October 19, 2022, offers a glimpse of the Elm City as it was when a group of missionaries sailed from New Haven for the Sandwich Islands, now known as Hawai’i. Using maritime documents, newspaper articles, journals, engravings (including several not previously exhibited or reproduced), paintings, and books, guest curator Sandra Markham captures a portrait of the city as it would have been seen by the voyagers prior to their treacherous journey around the far end of South America to the North Pacific.

About the New Haven Museum

The New Haven Museum, founded in 1862 as the New Haven Colony Historical Society, is in downtown New Haven at 114 Whitney Avenue. The Museum collects, preserves and interprets the history and heritage of Greater New Haven and through its collections, exhibitions, programs and outreach brings more than 375 years of the Elm City’s history to life. For more information visit www.newhavenmuseum.org or facebook.com/NewHavenMuseum or call 203-562-4183.



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