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Sun, 03.15.1772

Robert Finley, Abolitionist born.

Robert Finley

*The birth of Robert Finley is celebrated on this date in 1772. He was a white-American Presbyterian clergyman, abolitionist, and educator.

Finley was born in Princeton, New Jersey, to James Finley and his wife, Ann Angrest. His father immigrated from Scotland to New Jersey in 1769. His paternal grandparents were James Finley from Paisley and Ann McDonald Finley. Finley entered the College of New Jersey at the age of 11 and graduated in 1787 at the age of 15. He taught in Charleston, South Carolina, where many enslaved Blacks lived and worked on plantations outside the city. Finley returned to Princeton in 1793 to study theology, and the Presbytery of New Brunswick, New Jersey, licensed Finley as a minister in 1794.

In 1795, Finley was ordained as the Presbyterian church pastor at Basking Ridge, where he served for 20 years. He was appointed a trustee of Princeton in 1806 and served until his resignation in 1817. Dr. Finley helped organize the National Colonization Society of America and the American Colonization Society in Washington, D.C., in 1816 and 1817. The American Colonization Society (ACS) proposed to relocate free American blacks to Liberia, West Africa.

Some abolitionists believed that Black people would face better chances for freedom and prosperity in Africa than in the United States. Also, if there were a colony available to them where they could be resettled, abolitionists hoped to gain more manumissions of enslaved people and eventually end the institution.

Between January 7, 1822, and the American Civil War, more than 15,000 freed freedmen and 3,198 Afro Caribbeans relocated to the settlement. The U.S. did not recognize Liberia's independence until February 5, 1862, during the American Civil War, because of previous opposition by Southern Congressmen. After the South seceded, the remaining legislators voted to recognize the republic. Finley did not live to see any of these developments.

Soon after the ACS was founded, Finley was selected as the next president of the University of Georgia. In 1817, he fell ill while traveling south to Athens, Georgia. He died three months after arriving on November 3, 1817. Finley is buried in Jackson Street Cemetery on the university's north campus.

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