Gregory NoblesNov 25, 2022
The Education of Betsey Stockton
An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom
University of Chicago Press 2022
The life of Betsey Stockton (ca. 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—all told against the backdrop of the early United States’ pervasive racism. It’s a compelling chronicle of a critical time in American history and a testament to the courage and commitment of a woman whose persistence grew into a potent form of resistance.
When Betsey Stockton was a child, she was “given, as a slave” to the household of Rev. 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 that education to benefit other people of color, first in Hawai‘i as a missionary, then Philadelphia, and, for the last three decades of her life, Princeton—a college town with a genteel veneer that never fully hid its racial hostility. Betsey Stockton became a revered figure in Princeton’s sizeable Black population, a founder of religious and educational institutions, and a leader engaged in the day-to-day business of building communities.
In The Education of Betsey Stockton: An Odyssey of Slavery and Freedom (U Chicago Press, 2022), Gregory Nobles illuminates both a woman and her world, following her around the globe, and showing how a determined individual could challenge her society’s racial obstacles from the ground up. It’s at once a revealing lesson on the struggles of Stockton’s times and a fresh inspiration for our own.