Stockton Exhibition Project
The Stockton Exhibition Project, which will unfold over the 2017-18 academic year, explores the history of Stockton University, including how and why the state college was named for Richard Stockton (1730-1781), a New Jersey signer of the Declaration of Independence, in 1969. Our goals through this project, and its associated public programming, are to provide opportunities to engage in discussions about the study of history and the processes of memorialization and commemoration, as well as produce a well-documented, comprehensive study about our institution's past.
How to Get Involved
Stockton University will be hosting a series of programs about this project over the course of the year. Information will be posted online as soon as it is available.
In the meantime, if you have a comment or question please use the button below to submit it to the Stockton Exhibition Project Committee. We look forward to hearing from you.
What's in a Name?
Stockton University was founded in 1969 as Richard Stockton State College. It opened in the Mayflower Hotel in Atlantic City, and was later established in the Pinelands of Galloway with a mission to provide public school students with an interdisciplinary and individualized liberal arts education. Richard Stockton was not the only—or even the most logical—choice for the college’s name. Stockton had never lived or worked in Galloway. He had never owned property here, nor had he been part of any significant event in this part of the colony, later state.
The College Board of Trustees could have chosen from five New Jersey signers of the Declaration of Independence, not to mention the names of New Jerseyans involved in ratifying the U.S. Constitution, or a host of other notables from the state’s illustrious past. Geography was also an option. Indeed, of the dozen or so names initially proposed for the institution, all four of the top contenders—Southern Jersey State College, South Jersey State College, Atlantic State College, and Jersey Shore State College—preferred to commemorate a place rather than a person.
So Why are we Called Stockton University?
The Stockton Exhibition Project will chronicle the decision-making process and explore what the Stockton name has meant to members of the campus community and larger public, from the institution’s founding to the present.
History embraces both information about the past and its interpretations.
By contextualizing a monument, or studying the lives of people whose names commemorate streets, buildings, or schools, we do not erase history; rather, we broaden our understanding of the past. In this ongoing project, we will be researching past historical interpretations and circumstances that influenced the decisions about who or what would be remembered and honored.
Who Was Richard Stockton?
Richard Stockton is best known as one of the five New Jersey signers of the Declaration of Independence. He undertook this bold move at the Second Continental Congress in the summer of 1776. It was a time of tremendous uncertainty, when a new nation was founded that celebrated the ideals of individual freedom and self-governance.
Other elements of Stockton’s life are also well known. He was born into a wealthy family in 1730, studied at the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University), and became a prominent lawyer as well as a leading political figure.
Richard Stockton also enslaved people.
How Could any Signer of the Declaration of Independence Condone Slavery?
Historians have grappled with this paradox for generations without reaching a satisfactory answer. And although Richard Stockton’s story might offer some insights, we will probably never know, or fully understand, his choices.
It is difficult to reconcile how, in this grand republican experiment of a new nation founded on principles of liberty and equality, almost twenty percent of the population was forced to live in bondage. But that they did so is irrefutable. Indeed, most of the signers of the Declaration enslaved people.
In Stockton’s case, he inherited his family’s estate of nearly 200 acres as a young man. He named the property Morven, and relied on the labor of enslaved men and women. Even when he died, and despite assertions during his lifetime, Stockton did not free the people that he owned. They appear in his will, when he bequeathed them, along with his other “property,” to his wife Annis Stockton when he died in 1781. He wrote: “And whereas I have heretofore mentioned to some of my negroe slaves, that upon condition of their good behavior & fidelity, I would in some convenient period grant them their freedom—this I must leave to the discretion of my wife, in whose judgment & prudence I can fully confide.”
What is Patriotism?
Another question with a complex answer. Stockton signed the Declaration of Independence in July 1776, but he was captured by the British five months later and imprisoned. Within a month, he was released and traveled home carrying a pardon from two commanders of the British forces. The conditions of his imprisonment and what led to his release are questions that this project will examine.
What is certain is that, less than a year later, after revolutionary victories in Trenton and Princeton, Stockton was called before his local Council of Safety and required to swear “true Faith and Allegiance to the government established in this State under the Authority of the People.” He did so on December 22, 1777.
A careful analysis of surviving Stockton family papers, as well as government collections, will provide a more thorough understanding of Richard Stockton. We will explore both the context of the eighteenth century, as well as his mid-twentieth-century legacy, when Stockton was transformed from a person of the past into a symbol of the present as the namesake of a new college in the Pinelands of Galloway.
What Happens Next?
Institutions of higher education seek to prepare students to think critically about the world around them, to research what they do not know, and to understand that many issues have multiple points of view. This is important to remember as our conversation about commemoration continues.
The Stockton Exhibition Committee will work throughout this year to research both Richard Stockton, the man, and Stockton, the university, and will share what it finds through this website and public programming. There will be several opportunities to participate in these discussions, and we encourage anyone interested in being part of the process to contact us for more information.
For more information, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
The above images are excerpts from Richard Stockton’s will, including his preamble that the document was written “in my own hand” and his discussion of slavery. New Jersey State Archives, Department of State.Read transcriptions of these pages