Betsey Stockton and Her District No. 6 School

Common School for Black students located between Maclean and Quarry Streets
Opened circa 1837.

Public education in Princeton originates with Betsey Stockton, a formerly enslaved woman who started the town’s first “common school” for Black students in the mid-nineteenth century.

Betsey Stockton was born in Princeton around 1798 and enslaved to Robert Stockton. At a young age, she was transferred from the Stockton household to the Philadelphia home of Ashbel Green. Green, the son-in-law of Stockton’s owner, would become President of the College of New Jersey (today, Princeton University) in 1812. While in Green’s household, Stockton learned how to read and took advantage of the family’s vast library.

Green granted Stockton her freedom sometime between 1810 and 1817. In 1822, Stockton sailed to the Sandwich Islands (today, Hawaii), where she served as a missionary and taught Native Hawaiian students. She came back to the United States in 1826, teaching at a private school in Philadelphia before returning to Princeton in 1833.

Stockton continued her work as an educator in her hometown of Princeton. She established the Sunday school at the new Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church and opened up additional schools for Princeton’s Black community. One offered night classes for working teenagers and adults, while another became the first public school for Black children in town, the Witherspoon Street School for Colored Children.

Betsey Stockton

Betsey Stockton. Hawaiian Mission Houses.


Town Superintendent’s Common School register of the Township of Princeton [detail], 1847. Historical Society of Princeton.
In the above common school register, Princeton Township’s superintendent records how “the only district school is for colored children under the care of Betsey Stockton, an excellent teacher.” At this school, Stockton taught an average of 30 students in a variety of subjects, including spelling, reading, arithmetic, and geography. The superintendent goes on to describe the institution as “an excellent school.”


Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church, circa 1971. Historical Society of Princeton. Photo by Mercedes Rogers.
Members of the Witherspoon Street Presbyterian Church honored Betsey’s Stockton’s service to church and community with a stained glass window dedicated to “Elizabeth Stockton.”