In 1828 Edward Mitchell was the first student of African descent to graduate from Dartmouth College, more than thirty-five years before any other Ivy League school admitted a black student. This book tells Mitchell’s life story with the help of a recently rediscovered trove of his college essays, notes on his religious conversion, and hand-copied versions of his sermons.
Born and raised in the French slave colony of Martinique, Mitchell immigrated to the United States and came of age in Philadelphia, where he broke bread with the city’s African American clerics and civic leaders. The Dartmouth trustees initially denied Mitchell admission but yielded to unified student protest. After his graduation, Mitchell continued his northward journey to serve as a Baptist preacher and evangelist in the pulpits of northern New England. His religious odyssey concluded in Lower Canada, where he was remembered as “the most profound theologian ever settled.” During his travels throughout the Atlantic world in an age of revolution and religious revival, Mitchell encountered the dominant social, economic, and political realities of his time.
Although long celebrated as the inspiration for Dartmouth’s legacy of educating men and women of African ancestry, Mitchell’s life story remained unknown for almost two centuries. This book, which embodies history as recovery, is a testament to the authors’ desire to know the man behind the story.
FORRESTER A. “WOODY” LEE is a professor of cardiology at the Yale School of Medicine. JAMES S. PRINGLE is a botanist at Royal Botanical Gardens, Ontario. They are both Dartmouth alumni.
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