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The Drew Theological Seminary was housed in the building now known as Mead Hall, a building originally built 1833-1836 by William Gibbons, a wealthy Savannah-born slaveowner. In 1840, fourteen persons of color resided in the Gibbons household; their precise legal status, in the context of New Jersey's gradual abolition policies, bears further investigation. At the time he resided on this property William Gibbons owned multiple plantations in South Carolina and Georgia and well over one hundred slaves.
After the Civil War, the building was acquired by Daniel Drew for the new seminary that would bear his name.
From John T. Cunningham's
University in the Forest: The Story of Drew University
"William (Gibbons) inherited his father's holdings in Elizabeth and a fine town house on Greenwich Street in New York. His real wealth, however, was in Georgia, where he owned several plantations encompassing thousands of acres. He also held more than 500 black slaves, worth $500 to $1,000 each. William Gibbons was a millionaire; few in America then shared the distinction." (35)
"(At Madison) Servants lived in the cellar. They were not slaves, although as 'free' persons in New Jersey at the time, their lot was scarcely better than that of Gibbons' Southern house slaves." (40)
"The elder Gibbons preferred Madison (over Savannah), however, keeping track of his Southern interests through meticulous monthly reports from his overseers. Accounting for his 500 to 600 Georgia slaves was a major concern for Gibbons; the reports were replete with stories of sick slaves, occasional deaths in the slave quarters, anticipated new slaves or trades of slaves, and medical or clothing expenses for plantation hands. Gibbons was quite interested in the welfare of his slaves and occasionally interceded on their behalf if an overseer reported a family about to be broken up by a sale or transfer. His generosity was limited; in an 1828 letter he cautioned against increasing the allowances of slaves: 'When I made the last change of the kind and departed from the allowance list they took advantage of me.'" (40)
"William Gibbons died of heart failure on December 10, 1852, and was buried next to his wife in the Madison family plot. After selling the horses as directed in his will, Heyward returned permanently to Savannah. Caroline, the spinster daughter, continued to live at least part time in the mansion, surrounded by aging servants and fading memories." (41)
A brief history of Mead Hall
Thomas Gibbons biography
(father of William Gibbons)
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