St. Cloud State social historian Christopher Lehman has published four articles this year about slaves in Minnesota.
Among Lehman’s discoveries is a connection between a slave-holding southern governor and the University of Minnesota.
Lehman’s research documents that “Capital earned by the labor of hundreds of African American slaves on William Aiken Jr.’s plantation comprised a significant portion of the university’s finances in the late 1850s and early 1860s.”
His “Brought to Light” article on Aiken is published in “Hennepin History,” the magazine of the Hennepin County Historical Society, and reported in the June 20 Minneapolis Star Tribune.
A former South Carolina governor, Aiken in 1857 loaned the University of Minnesota between $15,000-$20,000 and purchased $8,000 in university bonds. The university was debt-ridden and had been closed for three years.
Lehman also documents that flour magnate John S. Pillsbury — long lauded as the financial savior of the University of Minnesota — covered up Aiken’s largess.
Aiken was a businessman and planter who owned 878 slaves in 1850, according to the South Carolina Encyclopedia. Slavery has been illegal in Minnesota since the territory was founded in 1849.
Lehman published two articles in “Crossings,” the magazine of the Stearns County Historical Society. “The Slaveholders in Lowry’s Addition” discusses southern slaveowners who speculated in St. Cloud land, including a town founder, Sylvanus Lowry. “The Longest Emancipation” discusses the journey to freedom of Chloe Butler, a slave held in captivity in LeSauk Township, between St. Cloud and Sartell.
In the newsletter of the Morrison County Historical Society, Lehman discusses the Jodon House, the oldest home in Little Falls and a rare relic of Minnesota’s ties to slavery.
A professor ethnic studies, Lehman has taught at St. Cloud State since 2002. He is the author of five history books, notably his 2011 volume, “Slavery in the Upper Mississippi Valley, 1787-1865,” which documents the persistence of slavery in Illinois, Iowa, Minnesota and Wisconsin through the end of the Civil War.