The Presbyterian & The Politician: Uncovering and Comparing the History of Reverend Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert and Andrew Gray
Posted on July 13, 2021 at: 3:05 pm
By Edward Redmond, Ray Callahan Experiential Learning Fund Fellow, Spring 2021
Was someone an enslaver? This is a deceptively simple question that took me a little less than half a year to answer regarding Reverend Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert and Andrew Gray, two key figures in the University of Delaware’s early history. The research process was difficult and long but led to the uncovering of interesting information and opened avenues for further research. But, this all leads us to a simpler question: who were these men?
Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert
Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert was a Presbyterian minister, and in 1834 he became the first President of the Board of Trustees for the newly made University of Delaware, which at that point was called New Ark College, and then the college’s first president. In 1835, Gilbert left the board and the presidency over a fundraising dispute; Gilbert was a devout Presbyterian and objected to using a lottery to fund the institution, viewing it as against his religion. However, he came back in 1840, after some of that money was shuffled around, serving as president of the college again until 1847. Gilbert’s history is deeply intertwined with the history of the University of Delaware; because of the huge impact he had on the history of the university, discovering if he was an enslaver is of the utmost importance.
Andrew Gray was important to the college in an opposing way. Part of Delaware’s legislature, he argued for the state to charter the college and then served as one of the founding trustees, making him a vital part of the formation of the institution. Despite his position on the Board, in the end Gray attempted to dismantle the college! In 1843, Gray accused board members of fraud, leading to several investigations, and also argued the institution should be dismantled. Gray started out as someone who helped charter what became the University of Delaware, but ended up attempting to destroy it. For this reason, finding out whether Andrew Gray enslaved people seemed important due to his vital yet tumultuous history with the university.
Did Reverend Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert Enslave People?
It is hard to prove a negative. There are no indications that Gilbert was an enslaver in census records, his will, his land documents, and even portions of books written about him. The closest tie that can be made about Gilbert to slavery is that he supported the American Colonization Society. Gilbert was the permanent clerk for the Presbyterian General Assembly, which published in the newspapers about how they backed the American Colonization Society.(1)The American Colonization Society believed that enslaving people was bad and should be ended, but the Black people who are freed should not stay in America, and should instead be shipped “back” to Africa; hence “colonization.” This was, of course, terrible for numerous reasons. Gilbert’s connection to the American Colonization Society is interesting, and further research could be done to see if the university was affected in any way by his ties to this group.(2)
Did Andrew Gray Enslave People?
This is a resounding yes. In the 1830 federal census, Andrew Gray is clearly listed as enslaving numerous people. The census marks people by household, and in Gray’s household in Mill Creek, the census taker noted 2 enslaved boys under ten years of age, 3 enslaved boys between 10 to 24 years old, 2 enslaved girls under ten years of age, and one “free colored” man between 36 to 55 years old. This document raises numerous questions. Why did Gray enslave so many children? What were those children doing? Why was there a man listed as a “free colored” man when he was still residing in the house of an enslaver? There is much research that should be done into Gray, and specifically I feel it would be very important to try and discover the names of the people he enslaved, so that we can honor them better.
Conclusion: What Next?
More research should be done into these men, to see how they possibly influenced the early history of the University of Delaware. As for the individual men, research into Gilbert may produce more information on how his belief in the American Colonization Society may have influenced the early University of Delaware, and potentially Presbyterian thought on slavery. For Gray, researching into his life may show how he impacted laws about slavery in the Delaware legislature. For Gray specifically, researching more about the people he enslaved is incredibly important, and I hope that some time in the future we will be able to discover the names of those Gray enslaved and more general information about their lives. My research is a baseline, one that I hope will be expanded upon by other researchers in the future.
- “Presbyterian General Assembly (N.S.),” The National Era, (Washington, DC), May 29, 1851.
- See the “Scarlet and Black” project by Rutgers for more information about how the American Colonization Society’s ideals were integrated into certain colleges.
Image Credits in Order Shown
1830 Delaware Census, Mill Creek Hundred, Andrew Gray
Reverend Eliphalet W. Gilbert, 1835 1825, Oil on wood panel, H-41 W-34.5 D-2.75 inches, 1835 1825, 1883.007, Delaware Historical Society
New Castle County Probate Records, Ca 1682-1925; Author: New Castle County (Delaware). Register of Wills; Probate Place: New Castle, Delaware
1810 Delaware Census, Mill Creek Hundred, Andrew Gray
1830 Delaware Census, Mill Creek Hundred, Andrew Gray
Delaware Public Archives – State of Delaware. “Apprentice Indentures.”
Delaware Public Archives – State of Delaware. “Assessment and Census Records.”
Delaware. Orphans’ Court (New Castle County), Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Genealogical Society., and New Castle County (Del.). Court of Chancery. “Orphans Court Records.”
Delaware Public Archives – State of Delaware. “Probates.”
New Castle County (Del.). Register of Wills. and Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Genealogical Society. “Will Book A-.”
“Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert.” 1825-1835.
“Intelligence Extraordinary,” Delaware Journal, (Wilmington, DE), October 3, 1828
“Thomas Jefferson County Meeting.” The Wilmingtonian and Delaware Advertiser (Wilmington, DE), March 2, 1826.
“Presbyterian General Assembly (N.S.).” The National Era (Washington, DC), May 29 1851.
Finkelman, Paul 1949-. An Imperfect Union: Slavery, Federalism, and Comity. Studies in Legal History. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1981.
Munroe, John A. The University of Delaware: A History. The University, 1986.
Sprague, William B. (William Buell), 1795-1876. Annals of the American Pulpit: Or, Commemorative Notices of Distinguished American Clergymen of Various Denominations : From the Early Settlement of the Country to the Close of the Year Eighteen Hundred and Fifty-Five : With Historical Introductions. Birmingham, Ala.: Solid Ground Christian Books, 2005.
“Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert.,” 1858.
White, Deborah Gray, and Marisa J. Fuentes. Scarlet and Black. Volume 1, Slavery and Dispossession in Rutgers History. New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 2016.
Wilder, Craig Steven. Ebony & Ivy: Race, Slavery, and the Troubled History of America’s Universities. New York: Bloomsbury Press, 2013.