Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Noyes Academy, 1834-35: The Road to the Oberlin Collegiate Institute and the Higher Education of African-Americans in the Nineteenth Century

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

The Noyes Academy, 1834-35: The Road to the Oberlin Collegiate Institute and the Higher Education of African-Americans in the Nineteenth Century

Article excerpt


Oberlin College is generally thought of as the first institution of higher learning in the nineteenth century to which black youth could gain admission without incumbency. For this reason, Oberlin has long held an esteemed place in black educational history. There, in 1835, by a one-vote margin, members of Oberlin's Board of Trustees committed their institution open to students of color. While blacks were, in infinitesimally small number, admitted to other white colleges before 1835, no college before Oberlin adopted as policy the admission of blacks on an equal basis with whites. However, besides tangential references to student abolitionism at the Lane Theological Seminary influencing subsequent abolitionism at Oberlin College, educational historians have failed to fully explore the taproots of the modern abolition movement that began around 1830.

Particularly absent is any complete understanding of this movement's nexus with the American higher education movement. There is virtually no knowledge of the intense and dramatic period that ignited student activism, not only on the Lane Theological Seminary campus, but on college campuses throughout America. The transfer from the Lane Seminary of students, the so-called "Lane Rebels," to Oberlin College in late 1834, indeed sharpened the antislavery focus on Oberlin's campus. But how and why did these students, the Lane seminarians, develop an interest in abolitionism? There remains, additionally, a lack of clarity as to why the main thrust of antislavery activity was intimately tied to the quest for the higher education of free blacks. It was, no doubt, the emotional surfeit associated with the opening of Oberlin College to black students that has so completely overshadowed the history of the events that preceded it.

The Oberlin vote was a pivotal victory for the cause of abolitionism. Efforts by black and white abolitionists to gain any level of higher educational opportunity for black youth was a formidable undertaking. This was by conscious design. This article focuses on the period 1830-35, and on events that set the stage for the emergence of an Oberlin College. This paper will be devoted partly to a discussion of a series of restrictions forced upon free blacks, which compelled them into nationwide collective action. However, this paper's primary focus is a chronicling of the events that transpired in the New England hamlet of Canaan, New Hampshire. A brief sketch of the black men and women who attended the Noyes Academy in Canaan is provided in the conclusion. Canaan was the site where black and white abolitionists tried to construct the first rung of a higher education ladder, leading to blacks' collegiate and professional school study in America. The Noyes Academy was conceived as the foundation on which the ladder rested. What made higher education in America imperative for free blacks? That question is asked and best answered when viewed within the context of the oppressive race politics and the tumult that came to a head between the years 1830-1835.


In Carter G. Woodson's view (1919), the years 1830 to 1835 were the greatest single period of racial oppression free blacks endured in the first half of the nineteenth century. The free black population expanded from 59,557 in 1790 to over 300,000 by 1830. This "anomalous" population's dramatic increase did not go unnoticed. Expansion of the free black population was accompanied by a rise in black militancy, thus making their presence in America all the more problematic. This militancy threatened the security and viability of slavery. In 1830, whites were still recoiling from the 1822 Denmark Vesey Plot in Charleston, South Carolina. Their fear was intensified by the 1829 fiery "Appeal" of David Walker, calling for slaves to rise against their masters. In 1831, on the heels of Walker's incendiary came the Nat Turner insurrection in Southampton, Virginia in 1831. …

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