When Princeton Theological Seminary was founded in 1812, it was part of a national culture and a local community that were deeply entangled in slavery. The faculty and students at Princeton Seminary in its early years through the Civil War would have encountered slavery as a familiar aspect of life. It was part of the context of their theological studies in this place. Just as they were shaped by their context, the faculty and graduates of Princeton Seminary also shaped the town of Princeton and other communities around the country where they served. As theologians and religious leaders, they spoke with moral authority about the questions of their day. But they were not of one mind about the ethical evaluation of slavery. Nor did their personal practices always align with their professions of theological conviction.
The following report begins to trace the complicated story of Princeton Seminary and its relationship to slavery. From its founding aspirations, Princeton Seminary has placed high value on both rigorous scholarship and Christian faith, and a commitment to these values informs our present study of the Seminary’s history, which is both an act of faith and scholarly investigation. These efforts are part of an honest and transparent evaluation of our past. Truth-telling is an important discipline for Christian people. It is critical that we understand the truth about our history, for only then can we make confession and move toward the reconciliation that God desires for us all.