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Tue, 07.03.1798

Betsey Stockton, Teacher born

Betsey Stockton

*The birth of Betsey Stockton is celebrated on this date in 1798. She was a Black domestic and teacher.

Born into slavery in Princeton, New Jersey, as a child, her owner Robert Stockton gave her to his daughter upon her marriage to Reverend Ashbel Green. He was the president of the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University). She was sent to Green's nephew, the Reverend Nathaniel Todd, and returned to Green's household in 1816. In 1817 she was admitted as a member of the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton, and formally manumitted (freed) at that time, taking the surname of Stockton.

She remained as a paid domestic servant with the family and was taught to read. She gained her education from reading in their library and homeschooling by Dr. Green and expressed a desire to go as a missionary to Africa. She also did some teaching at this time. Betsey Stockton learned of plans by Charles S. Stewart, a student at Princeton Theological Seminary and friend of the Green family, to go to Hawaii (then known as the Sandwich Islands) as a missionary. She expressed a desire to go with him and his family. Dr. Green and her Sabbath schoolteacher wrote letters of recommendation to the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions.

Stockton was commissioned by the Board as a missionary and became the first single American woman sent overseas as a missionary. Her contract with the Board and with the Stewarts said that she went "neither as an equal nor as a servant, but as a humble Christian friend" to the Stewarts, and provided that she was not to be more occupied with domestic duties than the other missionaries. The team left New Haven, Connecticut on November 22, 1822, for a five-month voyage. The Stewarts and Stockton settled at Lāhainā on Maui. She was the teacher of the first mission school opened to the common (non-chiefly) people of Hawaii. She also trained native Hawaiian teachers, who took over from her upon her departure until the arrival of another missionary.

She returned with the Stewarts to the U.S. in 1825 due to Mrs. Stewart's poor health. A version of Stockton's Hawaiian diary was published in the Christian Advocate by Dr. Green in 1824 and 1825. Stockton stayed with the Stewart household until at least 1830. She taught briefly at an infant school in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, and established a school for Indians at Grape Island, Canada. After returning to Princeton in 1835, she taught in its school for people of color. In 1840, she helped found Princeton's First Presbyterian Church of Color, which in 1848 was renamed the Witherspoon Street Church. Betsey Stockton died on October 24, 1865. She was buried in Cooperstown, New York alongside the Stewart family.

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