Question: A recent Berean Call email quoted Samuel Davies, 4th president of Princeton University in “The Things Omitted.” It seems that the first eight presidents of Princeton were slave owners—Berean Call “omitted” that fact! See the AP article on Georgetown University repenting of selling slaves in the 1860s and offering acceptance of formerly owned slave descendants as students. Your comments?
Response: Slavery is (not was) an enormous evil and is probably practiced today across the world in far greater numbers than at any other time in history. Political systems such as communism essentially institutionalize economic slavery, with the majority being ruled by a tiny group of elites. Increasingly, our culture is dividing those “endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness” into a small group of elites who rule over those who, in all practicality, are slaves to the state. This certainly is preparing the world for the ultimate tyranny of the Antichrist.
When the founders of this nation included the “unalienable rights” language in our Declaration of Independence, many at the time recognized that what became known as the South’s “peculiar institution” was on its way out.
We did not deliberately “omit” listing Davies as a slave owner. What we published was simply a quote, and a very good quote, from a very flawed man—just like you and me. Neither do we omit the following: Paul wrote an epistle to the slave owner Philemon, urging him to receive Onesimus the slave back, “...not now as a servant, but above a servant, a brother beloved, specially to me, but how much more unto thee, both in the flesh, and in the Lord” (v. 16).
It’s almost a cliché to point out that David, whom the Lord considered “a man after mine own heart,” was an adulterer and murderer. Do we refrain from quoting the Psalms?
Of the author, however, “Davies, himself a slave owner, made the evangelistic outreach to the slave population a significant priority of his ministry. By 1755, nearly three hundred slaves attended his church services. With the help of friends in England (John and Charles Wesley numbered among them), Davies provided spelling books, catechetical material, and the hymnals of Isaac Watts for the slaves. The slaves especially valued Watts’s hymnals. Davies recounted that at times the ‘sundry of them were lodged all night in my kitchen; and sometimes, when I have awaked about two or three o’clock in the morning, a torrent of sacred harmony poured into my chamber and carried my mind away to heaven’”
It is well recorded that these slaves had equal access to partake of communion at his services. Davies countenanced no segregation. Although “personally not opposed to slavery, Davies believed that slaves deserved direct access to the word of God the same as their masters” (Richards, Jeffrey H., “Samuel Davies and the Transatlantic Campaign for Slave Literacy in Virginia.” The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography. Richmond: Virginia Historical Society, p. 111). Though a flawed man living in a flawed culture, this is a clear indication of the work of the Holy Spirit that reaches the hearts of men no matter the time or setting—even in our arguably more corrupt society today.
Yes, Davies owned slaves. Whatever the motivation in another culture, his subsequent treatment of them (including literacy) was a long step toward emancipation. That’s the reason why prior to the Civil War, in some states, teaching a slave to read was against the law, as in 1831 North Carolina.