New-York Central College, McGrawville

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New-York Central College, commonly called New-York Central College, McGrawville, was an institution of higher learning founded by Cyrus Pitt Grosvenor and other anti-slavery Baptists in 1849 in McGraw, New York (at the time called McGrawville; not modern McGrawville, New York).[1] It lasted about 10 years. As put by the author of a modern study, "A little town tried to create a place without any prejudice, and it did make a difference. It created humanitarians and heroes in a time where nothing else existed like this."[2]

Grosvenor "proposed a 'free institution,' for the 'literary, scientific, moral, and physical education of both sexes and of all classes of youth.'" The school's curriculum included classical education as well as agricultural science. The Rev. Grosvenor served as the school's first President, 1849–1850.[1] A newspaper announcement in 1854 gives the President as Leonard G. Calkins, with the note that the Manual Labor Department was "under the supervision of Luther Wellington, a Practical Farmer, a kind and benevolent man, on a farm of 187 acres (76 ha)." Under the "careful training" of the President students took a Rhetorical Class "with daily exercises in Extemporaneous Speaking", "not to be overlooked in this day of 'public speaking'".[3]

The college was modeled after Oberlin, which in 1835 began admitting blacks and in 1837 women. New-York Central College was the first college in the U.S. founded specifically to educate all students: black and white, male and female. It was also the first to have African-American professors: Charles L. Reason, who was an alumnus, William G. Allen, a graduate of Oneida Institute, another short-lived school which was a predecessor of the College, and George Boyer Vashon, the first African-American graduate of Oberlin. Reason was the first black college professor in the country. Allen was Professor of Rhetoric and Greek; in 1850, when he was appointed, be was "well known as a lecturer upon the origin, literature, and destiny of the African race."[4]

In 1851 it was one of 11 colleges to receive New York State legislative funding; it received $1,500, the same amount as New York University, Fordham University, Hamilton College, and Madison University (Colgate).[5]

Students and professors were not allowed to use alcohol or (much more unusual) tobacco.[6]

In 1856 there were 226 students and 9 faculty.[7] Approximately 50% were African-American.

Hostility to the College[edit]

Because of its equalitarian treatment of blacks, which at the time was called "amalgamation",[8] the "nigger college at McGrawville", as it was called,[7] received a lot of public vituperation. A New York legislator said that rather than giving a state appropriation to that "vile sink of pollution", it would be better given to "a mob that will raze it to the ground", because it "was at war with every principle of American liberty".[9] The New-York Tribune called it a "treasonable college", an "obnoxious edifice" where, "if things are suffered to go on at this rate, this whole region will become infected with Abolitionism; the contagion of Free Speech will spread til the Fugitive Slave law will become a nullity and the Union will collapse!"[10]

William Allen affair[edit]

A scandal was caused when African-American professor William G. Allen became engaged to a white student, Mary King. To escape violent repercussions, Allen fled to New York City, where he was joined by his fiancée; they married and immediately left for England, never to return. This event exacerbated already lingering social and political opposition to the school. (Marlene Parks has published a collection of press clippings, which show the hostility.[11])

A clipping of 1854 shows him lecturing to an anti-slavery meeting in Manchester, with other lectures in the vicinity on "'The origin, past history, and literature of the African race'; 'The probable destiny of the African race', &o. &o." A letter from Lord Shaftesbury said he "sympathises most heartily with Professor Allen, and sincerely wishes him suooess in his undertaking. It will give Lord Shaftesbury great pleasure to assist in any way that he can a gentleman of the coloured race, who is a hundred times wiser, and better, than his white oppressors."[12]


The school was later denied funding by the New York State Legislature, and it was bankrupt by 1858.[13]:14

Facing bankruptcy, the school was put into the hands of the wealthy activist Gerrit Smith, who lived nearby, in Peterboro. A smallpox epidemic struck McGrawville in 1860. The effects of the outbreak, coupled with the lingering social and political opposition and financial difficulties, caused the college to close that same year. Another source says it closed in 1859.[1]

The New York Central Railroad, with which there is no known connection, began in 1853.

Central Academy[edit]

Daniel S. Lamont, Secretary of War under President Grover Cleveland, was from McGraw, and studied as a child at the Central Academy, "the successor of a queer institution, known as the Neew York Central College, established by Gerrit Smith and other abolitionists, forr the education of boys and girls without regard to color."[14] Lamont was born in 1851.


See also[edit]

  • Juan Latino, a black college professor in sixteenth-century Spain


  1. ^ a b c Passic, Frank. "Cyrus Pitt Gosvenor". Albion Historical Society Collection. Retrieved 28 November 2010.
  2. ^ Creenan, Robert (October 2, 2017). "New York Central College the topic of McGraw author's new book". Cortland Standard.
  3. ^ "New York Central College". The Liberator. March 24, 1854. p. 3.
  4. ^ "By Telegraph". Newport Daily News (Newport, Rhode Island). December 16, 1850. p. 2.
  5. ^ "New York Legislature". Brooklyn Daily Eagle. June 18, 1851. p. 3.
  6. ^ "Untitled". The Advocate (Buffalo, New York). July 24, 1851. p. 3.
  7. ^ a b Place, Frank, Personal recollections, retrieved December 24, 2018
  8. ^ "Amalgamation". Middlebury Register (Middlebury, Vermont). May 11, 1853. p. 2.
  9. ^ "Literature in the Legislature". Evening Post (New York, N.Y.). June 28, 1851. p. 2.
  10. ^ "Central College Anniversary". New-York Tribune. July 29, 1856. p. 6.
  11. ^ Parks, Marlene K. (2017). New York Central College, 1849-1860, McGrawville, N.Y. : the first college in the U.S. to employ black professors. McGraw Historical Society, through CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform. ISBN 9781517478124.
  12. ^ "Local News. Anti Slavery Meeting". Manchester Weekly Times and Examiner (Manchester, England). November 1, 1854. p. 5.
  13. ^ Elbert, Sarah, ed. (2002). "Introduction". The American prejudice against color : William G. Allen, Mary King, and Louisa May Alcott. Boston: Northeastern University Press. ISBN 9781555535452.
  14. ^ "Col. Daniel Lamont". South Bend Tribune (South Bend, Indiana). March 14, 1893. p. 6.

Further reading[edit]

  • Parks, Marlene K. (2018). New York Central College, Volume 3. Condensed Version of Volumes 1 and 2. McGraw Historical Society. ISBN 9781729614884.
  • McAdam, Todd R. (January 16, 2017). "McGraw producers to screen film on interracial college to DC". Cortland Standard.
  • Parks, Marlene K. (2017). New York Central College, 1849--1860, McGrawville, N.Y. : Volume 1. Part 1. Newspaper Articles concerning the College, November 1847—December, 1849. Part 2. Alphabetical Biographical Sketches Abbott—Lyons. Part 3. Newspaper Articles concerning the College, March, 1850—December, 1850. McGraw Historical Society. ISBN 9781517478124.
  • Parks, Marlene K. (2017). New York Central College, 1849--1860, McGrawville, N.Y. : Volume 2. Part 1. Newspaper Articles concerning the College, January, 1851—December, 1853. Part 2. Alphabetical Biographical Sketches Lyons—Young. Part 3. Newspaper Articles concerning the College, March, 1854—August, 1861. McGraw Historical Society. ISBN 9781548505752.
  • Wright, Albert Hazen (1960). Pre-Cornell and Early Cornell VIII. Cornell's Three Precursors. I. New York Central College. Cornell University.


Primary sources[edit]

External links[edit]