Oneida Institute

The Oneida Institute was a short-lived (1827–1843) but highly influential school that was a national leader in the emerging abolitionism movement. It was the most radical school in the country, the first at which black men were just as welcome as whites. "Oneida was the seed of Lane Theological Seminary, Western Reserve College, Oberlin and Knox colleges."[1]:37

Oneida Institute, Whitesboro, New York

The Oneida Institute was located near Utica, in the village of Whitesboro, New York, town of Whitestown, Oneida County, New York. It was founded in 1827 by George Washington Gale as the Oneida Institute of Science and Industry.[2]:32 His former teacher (in the Addison County Grammar School, Middlebury, Vermont, 1807–1808)[3] John Frost,[1]:38 now a Presbyterian minister in Whitesboro with a wealthy wife — daughter of Thomas Ruggles Gold,[4] — was the primary partner in setting up the Institute. They raised $20,000, a significant part of which was from the philanthropist and abolitionist brothers Arthur and Lewis Tappan;[1]:42[5] Arthur had helped various western institutions, to the extent of tens of thousands of dollars, "but his favorite among them was Oneida Institute".[6]:38 With this they bought land and began construction of the buildings. The Institute occupied "more than 100 acres (40 ha) bordered by Main Street and the Mohawk River and by Ellis and Ablett Avenues in Whitesboro village."[7]

The first student movement in the country, the Lane Rebels, began at Oneida. A contingent of about 24, with an acknowledged leader (Theodore Dwight Weld), left Oneida for Lane and then, more publicly, soon left Lane for Oberlin. Oneida's first president, Gale, founded Knox Manual Labor Institute, later Knox College, in Galesburg, Illinois. Oneida hired its second president, Beriah Green, from Oberlin's competitor in northeast Ohio, Western Reserve College. All of this is very much linked to the explosively emerging topic of abolitionism.

The first president: George Washington GaleEdit

The Institute opened in May 1827 with 2 instructors, Gale and Peletiah Rawson, the latter a Hamilton College graduate and engineer that had worked on the just-completed Erie Canal.[1]:42 There were initially 20 students,[8]:11 including most of the 7 that had been working in exchange for instruction on Gale's farm in Western, New York, a pilot project.[1]:42–43 Theodore Weld, who would become the leader of the students, was among them.[8]:11 Enrollment soon grew to 100,[1]:43 and by 1830, 500 applicants were turned away for lack of space.[2]:35 It was chartered in 1829 as the Oneida Institute of Science and Industry.[2]:35 Through Frost, it was "intimately connected" with the Presbyterian church of Whitesboro.[2]:79

Oneida was the first and leading American example of the manual labor college, which Gale thought he had originated, although there were earlier examples.[9]:34–35 His goal was to supplement study with the physical and spiritual or psychological benefits of exercise; for the time this was an innovative and informed position. By "unit[ing] classical education with agricultural, horticultural, and mechanical labor,"[2]:33 Gale was also trying to make education more affordable. "Students worked on the farm, or in the carpenter, trunk and harness-making shops";[1]:43 a printing shop was added later. The first year, floods destroyed the crops, but the second year, students

produced fifty cords of wood, thirty barrels of cider, seven hundred bushels of corn, four hundred of potatoes, one hundred of oats, twenty-five of beans, thirty tons of hay, and eighty bushels of onions—the whole valued at $1000 [equivalent to $24,009 in 2019].[1]:43

"Religious fervor was kept at a white heat. Studies were interrupted to hold protracted revival meetings."[1]:43 Gale replaced the study of Latin and Classical Greek with Hebrew and Biblical Greek.[1]:42 The charismatic, influential Christian revivalist Charles Finney had been a student of Gale prior to Oneida, and Gale sought at Oneida to train students "as emissaries of the new revivalism".[2]:32 "The result was a large crop of crusaders and reformers, who were later turned loose to fulminate against drink, slavery, Sabbath breaking, [and] irreligion, some of whom became famous in their proseletyzing fields."[1]:43

Gale "lacked the qualities of a leader".[1]:32 In the summer of 1833 a debate on colonization led to the formation of a colonization and an anti-slavery society.[10]:5

Student dissatisfaction led to a mass walk-out in 1832, with about 24 students leaving for Lane, then Oberlin. Gale soon desired to be replaced; he went to Illinois, where he began Galesburg, Illinois, and the Knox Manual Labor College, which in 1857 became Knox College. Gale left the Institute with "fiscal problems", saddled with "numerous financial obligations".[2]:93

The second and last president: Beriah GreenEdit

It was an heroic age — an age in which principles of truth were striving for recognition in the lives of those bold enough to be right, rather than popular. Among the few institutions that dared to risk their success upon the carrying out of ideas hostile in their time, was the Oneida Institute, at Whitesboro, New York. It was the hot-bed of radicalism as it existed at that day. Many of its ideas have become a part of the national life ; while others are still on debatable ground. There was a heavy brain at its head; and there were great men back of it.[11]:39–40

After a search, the trustees settled on abolitionist firebrand Beriah Green, who started in 1833, and "for whom Gale had nothing but scorn".[1]:44 The school was dominated by Green's personality and was known as "President Green's school".[2]:67


Green "revamped Oneida's curriculum by giving greater attention to the study of ethics or moral philosophy than was the case during Gale's tenure, or indeed at most American colleges in the 1830s." He replaced the study of Latin and classical Greek with Hebrew and New Testament Greek.[2]:66

In 1836 (another source[12] says 1838), in the "juvenile department", William Whipple Warren studied arithmetic, English grammar, geography, and "the Greek of Matthew's gospel".[13] In 1843, a letter seeking funds gives the "Course of Study" as "Greek, Hebrew, arithmetic, bookkeeping, algebra, anatomy, physiology, geometry, natural philosophy [studying nature, forerunner of science], natural theology, evidences of Christianity, political economy, science of government, exercises in declamation and composition."[8]:2

For admittance to the school, Green stated:

It is expected of those who would enjoy the advantages offered at the Oneida Institute, that they furnish trustworthy testimonials of good mental and moral character, be competent to teach a common English school, and able to recite the Greek Grammar, and profess the design of pursuing our course of study fully. These advantages we do not confine to those who may expect ultimately to enter the ministry.[14]:258

Abolitionism; admitting Black studentsEdit

The curriculum was in line with Green's goal of training abolitionist activists, which he believed was what Christianity mandated. Abolitionism was a "sacred vocation".[2]:68 The Institute under Green was "an abolition college",[15] "a hotbed of anti-slavery activity,"[2]:44 "abolitionist to the core, more so than any other American college."[2]:46 Oneida and Whitestown Anti-Slavery Societies were soon formed, declaring that slavery was not just an evil, it was a crime and a sin.[16]

Green accepted the job on two conditions: that he be allowed to preach "immediatism", the immediate emancipation of slaves, and that it be allowed to admit African-American students. These were agreed to. Prior to Green, there had not been any Black students at Oneida; so far as is known, none had applied.

In 1833, allowing African-American students into educational institutions alongside whites was controversial at best, and aroused bitter, even violent opposition. (Even schools for black students only could be the object of violence.[17]:212[18]) While there had been one African-American graduate each from Amherst, Bowdoin, and Middlebury, these were exceptional cases.[19][2]:50 The Noyes Academy in New Hampshire was destroyed in 1835 after it admitted African-American students, making it a "nigger school"; farmers with ninety yoke of oxen dragged the Academy building to a corner of the Common, leaving it "shattered, mutilated, inwardly beyond reparation almost."[20]:267 Four of its students then enrolled at Oneida.[2]:54 The city of New Haven in 1831 unexpectedly and decisively prevented the setting up of "a new college for the instruction of colored youth",[21]:11 of which there was none in United States.[22][6]:25–28,35[2]:50 (See Simeon Jocelyn.) In New York, the American Colonization Society would not allow even a lecture series for blacks on history.[23] The Canterbury Female Boarding School, in Canterbury, Connecticut, was forced to close after it admitted one African-American girl in 1832, and the school for "young ladies and little misses of color" which replaced it was met with such escalating violence from the townspeople that director Prudence Crandall was forced to close it out of concern for the students' safety. New-York Central College, called a "nigger college", was forced to close in part because of local hostility to education of African Americans, and even more so to African-American professors. Oneida was itself called a "nigger school".[24]:362

A month before Green's arrival in August 1832, 35 students formed an antislavery society on immediatist principles, the first in New York State. 34 students formed a colonization society;[2]:36 colonization was not in favor of full emancipation, and thought the best place for free blacks was "back to Africa", e.g. Liberia.

In his inaugural address, Green called for "immediate, unconditional, and uncompensated emancipation". Compensated emancipation meant that owners of released slaves would be compensated for the loss of their "property", as they were, in part, when the District of Columbia's slaves were emancipated in 1862.

In this environment Oneida admitted African-American students, the first college in the country to admit them without restrictions.[2]:xiii According to alumnus Alexander Crummell, there was "perfect equality" between the black and white students.[2]:49

There were generally 10–14 "colored students". In 1840, "including Indian blood", there were 20.[8]:3


When Green became President, the Institute was in debt.[8]:2 American abolitionists, including Gerrit Smith,[25] pledged $65,000 (equivalent to $1,561,000 in 2019) towards the support of the Institute, although because of the Panic of 1837 not all were able to fulfill their pledges.[26] The Panic left the Institute $9,000 in debt.[8]:2


Before 1840, there were an average of 100 students. After incurring the large debt, which Charles Stuart called "embarassments", "in 1841 the instructors relinquished nearly all of their salaries", and enrollment was cut to 25; the following year, 50–75. Just before closure, counting the President there were four professors, "and an able financier".[8]:2

"[T]he education societies withdrew their aid from its students, because its course of study substituted Hebrew for Latin, and it was called an Institute, not an Academy, College, or Theological School! And the charges that have been sung among the pro-slavery influences of church and state around it, on the 'nigger school' cannot well be numbered."[8]:3–4 According to Sernett, the Presbyterian Education Society and the American Education Society "struck Oneida Institute from its list of approved schools" in 1834.[2]:41, 209 Another source says this was in 1839.[27]:55

In 1836, the New York Senate passed a resolution "directing the Committee on Literature [schools] to inquire into the propriety of denying the Oneida Institute all participation in the Benefits of the Literature Fund." This was because it was "regarded as the hot-bed of sedition, [and] that Beriah Green, the principal, had been active and successful in propagating the doctrines of abolitionism." The Legislature took no action after more than 150 people met to protest and to demand academic freedom.[27]:54–55

During 1833–1834 Frost's employment is specified as "Agent, Oneida Institute". By 1835 Frost had left Whitesboro for a pulpit in Elmira[3] (which he helped make an Underground Railroad center[28]). His replacement, David Ogden, was not an abolitionist. This led to a withdrawal from the Whitesboro Presbyterian Church of "seventy-one communicant members, including most of the elders", to form a new Congregational church under Green's direction.[2]:87 As a result, "Green and his school [were left] with fewer and fewer friends"; he could no longer turn to churches for funding.[2]:89

The Oneida Institute ceased operations in 1843.[2]:105 One factor was the New York Anti-Slavery Society's failure to pay the institute $2000 for the printing costs of their paper Friend of Man,[2]:94[7] but even if it had, there was no way to make the Institute financially viable. According to Dana Bigelow, "Green left the institution a wreck". He identifies the causes of its failure as three: first, the manual labor scheme; "unskilled labor was found to be unprofitable". (The $1000 mentioned above did not cover costs.) Second, replacing the classics with the Bible; "this did much to disconnect the institution with the general theory and habit of culture in the country and to stamp it with a certain reputation of singularity which could not fail to be in many ways disastrous." Finally, the treating of black and white students equally, and its "iconoclastic zeal for the overthrow of social institutions and interests", led to "much popular odium".[29]:208–209

"Oneida was the seed of Lane Theological Seminary [c. 1830], Western Reserve University [1826], Oberlin [1833] and Knox College [1837]."[1]:37[5] Through the Whitestown Seminary it is also a predecessor of Bates College (1855).[2]:66 A graduate, William G. Allen, became the second African-American professor in the country at nearby New-York Central College, which also admitted African-American students and was also short-lived.

The "Lane Rebels"Edit

Theodore Dwight Weld, who had studied at Oneida from 1827 to 1830, was dissatisfied with Gale's leadership. He led a 1833 exodus of "Oneida boys...disenchanted with Gale's leadership and the lack of regular theological courses"; they rafted down the French and Allegheny rivers to Cincinnati, and constituted 24 of the 40 members of the Lane Seminary's first theological class.[2]:40

Whitestown SeminaryEdit

Whitestown Seminary, New York. Hand-colored. The four young trees in the above illustration have grown.

To satisfy debts its facilities were sold to the Free Will Baptists, who created the Whitestown Seminary in 1844. A condition of the sale was that the new seminary admit students of "all colors".[2]:105 Several Oneida Institute students enrolled.[2]:106 Whitestown Seminary merged with the Cobb Divinity School to form the Free Will Baptist Bible School, which moved to the New Hampton Institute in 1854 before moving to Bates College in 1870 and eventually merging the school's religion department.

A predecessor was the school of H. H. Kellog, in Clinton. Elizabeth, "lady principal", daughter of Robert Everett, two of whose brothers attended the Oneida Institute, married John Jay Butler.[30]:533


Green's policy was to accept any qualified student that applied. As a result, student Grinnell described the student body as "a motley company", consisting of:

emancipators' boys from Cuba; mulattoes; a Spanish student [from Minorca]; an Indian named Kunkapot; black men who had served as sailors, or as city hackmen [drivers], also the purest Africans escaped from slavery; sons of American radicals; Bible students scanning Hebrew verse with ease, in the place of Latin odes; enthusiasts, plowboys and printers; also real students of elegant tastes, captured by the genius of President Green.[2]:51

Alumni of the Oneida InstituteEdit

White studentsEdit

Listed in bold are those students who, under the influence of Theodore D. Weld, left Oneida for the Lane Theological Seminary. All of them were white.

  • John Watson Alvord, Congregational minister; President of the Freedman's Savings Bank, 1868–1874.[31][9]:55 n. 43
  • Joel Prentiss Bishop (1814–1901), attorney and legal writer
  • Albert A. Bliss (1812–1893), Ohio State Treasurer
  • William H. Brand (1824–1891), legislator in New York State
  • George Bristol[9]:55 n. 43
  • Charles Peck Bush (1809–1857),[9]:55 n. 43 Michigan legislator
  • Horace Bushnell (1802–1876).[9]:55 n. 43 Bushnell and Dresser were the first two to enroll at Lane.
  • Amos Dresser (1812–1904). Bushnell and Dresser were the first two to enroll at Lane. Dresser left Lane with the others, but did not go to Oberlin. In 1835, in a nationally publicized incident, he was tried for possessing anti-slavery publications, convicted, and whipped publicly in Nashville, Tennessee.[32][33][9]:55 n. 43
  • Alexander Duncan,[9]:55 n. 43 perhaps to be identified with Alexander Duncan (1788–1853), physician and legislator
  • John and Robert Everett, who both graduated; they learned the printer's trade working on Friend of Man, and went on to print the Welsh religious magazine Y Cenhadwr americanaidd of their father Robert Everett. Their brother-in-law J.J. Butler was professor of theology in Whitesboro, then went to Lewiston, Maine, and finally to the new Freewill Baptist school, Hillsdale College.[30]:532–533
  • Charles Grandison Finney (1792–1875), leading revivalist, second president of Oberlin College. Finney was a student of Gale at his pilot project, not the Institute itself.
  • Hiram Foote[9]:55 n. 43
  • Joseph L. Frothingham, disappeared when he was at Whitesboro about to begin studying.[34]
  • Samuel Green, Beriah Green's oldest son,[2]:44 who published information on him.[35]
  • Josiah Bushnell Grinnell (1821–1891), U.S. Representative from Iowa, founder of Grinnell, Iowa, benefactor of Grinnell College[2]:51
  • Augustus Hopkins[9]:55 n. 43
  • Russell Jesse Judd[9]:55 n. 43
  • John J. Miter[9]:55 n. 43
  • Lucius H. Parker (1807–1872). Graduated from Oberlin Seminary in 1838.[36]
  • William F. Peck, later a professor at Oberlin[9]:24
  • Joseph Hitchcock Payne[9]:55 n. 43
  • Ezra Abell Poole[9]:55 n. 43
  • Samuel Fuller Porter (1813–1911), from Whitestown.[37][9]:55 n. 43
  • Charles Stewart Renshaw[9]:55 n. 43
  • Benjamin Burleigh Smith, missionary to India
  • Henry Brewster Stanton (1805–1887), abolitionist. Future husband of suffragist Elizabeth Cady Stanton, older brother of Robert L.
  • Robert L. Stanton,[9]:55 n. 43 younger brother of Henry Brewster
  • James Steele (1808–1859)[38]
  • Asa A. Stone[9]:55 n. 43
  • Sereno W. Streeter[9]:53[9]:55 n. 43
  • Two sons of abolitionist Lewis Tappan.[39]:22[40][17]:167 One was William Tappan.[41]:43
  • Ebenezer Tucker, graduated in 1840; continued his studies at Oberlin. Became a teacher at the integrated Union Literary Institute, in Randolph County, Indiana.[42]:172–173
  • Giles Waldo. One of the "Lane Rebels", but, uniquely, shows up as a student at Oneida after leaving Lane.[43][41]
  • Calvin Waterbury. In 1831, "Waterbury got a school at Newark on the Licking River in Ohio. When in the spring Waterbury talked too much temperance, the inhabitants threatened to ride him out of town on a rail. He prudently climbed aboard a raft and floated down to Cincinnati."[9]:53
  • Augustus Wattles[9]:55 n. 43
  • Edward Weed[9]:53[9]:55 n. 43 "There was a town gathering at Chillicothe on the same day of last week, when Mr. Weed arrived in town on some business; and being known as an abolitionist, some indignities were offered to him—such as shaving his horse, removing the wheels of his wagon, &c.; that Mr. Weed soon after left town, was followed by the mob, his wagon broken to pieces, his horse killed, and at length himself suspended to a tree by a rope of bark, until he was dead."[44]
  • Theodore Dwight Weld (1803–1895), leading abolitionist, friend of Finney. Studied at Oneida 1827–1830;[39]:59 by 1832, "the most famous of the Oneida students".[6]:38 In 1833 he led a group of 24 who decamped en masse for Lane Seminary, then, after debating slavery at the Seminary was prohibited, to Oberlin.[2]:40
  • Samuel T. Wells[9]:55 n. 43
  • George Whipple[9]:55 n. 43
  • Hiram Wilson (1803–1864), abolitionist, founded the school for fugitive slaves in Canada in which William Allen taught in 1841.[2]:59, 105 One of the "Lane rebels".[9]:55 n. 43

Native American studentsEdit

African-American studentsEdit

Listed in bold are students who were at the Noyes Institute before it was destroyed, in August 1835. No Black students from Oneida enrolled at Lane.

Alumni of the Whitestown SeminaryEdit

For a list, taken from History of Oneida County, 1667—1878 by Everets and Farriss, see [1].

Manual Labor SchoolEdit

According to Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography, in 1845 Green founded a Manual Labor School in Whitesboro.


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Further readingEdit

  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domainWilson, J. G.; Fiske, J., eds. (1887). "Beriah Green". Appletons' Cyclopædia of American Biography. New York: D. Appleton.