As America’s first research university, Johns Hopkins is committed to the pursuit of knowledge and to using the tools of academic research to understand and examine our own past. Under the auspices of Hopkins Retrospective and through our libraries and museums, Johns Hopkins University has undertaken several efforts to do so to date.

Through this initiative, we seek to explore and publicly present archival evidence related to Johns Hopkins University and the legacy of slavery. Our research is ongoing.

We are in the midst of a multi-year, university-wide process of discovery and investigation about our university’s history. This work will help us better understand the world in which Johns Hopkins University was founded and to develop a more nuanced and complete picture of our inception and trajectory. This thorough examination, as historian Martha S. Jones suggests, will attempt to assemble the shards of history, sharing stories and discoveries along the way.

Our charge has been and will continue to be two-fold: to engage in the historic research process by uncovering and sharing archival records with our community and to support the rigorous efforts undertaken by our faculty, students, and staff to illuminate the inequities of the past. Our efforts will be documented here on the Hopkins Retrospective website, and we hope to share our findings through public programming and our online exhibition, the Johns Hopkins Biographical Archive.

Research Efforts

Our aim is to publicly present archival material that helps to inform the story of our founder, Johns Hopkins, and his family, including recently discovered information about their relationship to the institution of slavery. Faculty, students, and archivists from across the university are contributing to this effort through the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project, the History Lab, the Hopkins Retrospective program, and historians of race, racism, and medicine affiliated with the Institute of the History of Medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, and Peabody Institute research.

As our work progresses, please check back for periodic updates and highlights.

  • Johns Hopkins and Slaveholding Preliminary Findings

    In December 2020, Society of Black Alumni Presidential Professor Martha S. Jones, who directs Johns Hopkins University’s Hard Histories project, reported “preliminary but important” observations [pdf] stemming from newly discovered and validated census documents listing one enslaved man in Johns Hopkins’ household in 1840 and four enslaved men in 1850, with the latter document denoting Johns Hopkins as the slaveholder. Other research found a number of additional links between the Hopkins family and slavery. Dr. Jones shared, “This evidence ran counter to the long-told story about Johns Hopkins, one that posited him as the son of a man, Samuel Hopkins, who had manumitted the family’s slaves in 1807,” and who “himself was said to have been an abolitionist and Quaker, the implication being that he opposed slavery and never owned enslaved people.”

    During the past several years, our faculty, students, and archivists have focused on several areas of inquiry in an attempt to answer questions raised by the newly discovered documents linking Johns Hopkins and his family to the institution of slavery. Below is a summary of some of those areas under exploration, as well as what evidence has and has not been found so far.

  • James Jones

    One of the lines of inquiry that Hopkins Retrospective is pursuing is looking into the history of James Jones. In his will, Johns Hopkins provided money and a house for his “servant man,” James, stating “I give and bequeath unto my servant man, James, the house in which he now resides, on French street, in the City of Baltimore, and the sum of five thousand dollars.” The Hopkins Retrospective team looked for records of James or James Jones in numerous archival sources. Throughout the records consulted, we have followed the sources associated with a James Jones whose age is consistent with that of one of the four enslaved individuals listed as owned by Hopkins in the 1850 slave schedule, but we do not know if James Jones was the 25-year-old enslaved man living in Johns’ Hopkins house at that time, because federal censuses did not list the names of enslaved individuals. Even after James attained his freedom, tracing his family in census records is complex

    due, in part, to the challenges of inconsistency in name spellings and assessment of race by enumerators in the 19th century. Census enumerators generally wrote down the name according to his or her idea of how the name was spelled. Similarly, enumerators often wrote down people’s race based on their visual assessment of the person they were documenting, and racial descriptors like “Black” or “Mulatto” were often inconsistently applied based on the individual enumerators assessment of skin tone. These spelling variations are present in the Jones family census records, so Hopkins Retrospective uses context like family members, social networks, and ages to determine whether it is likely that a given record is referencing the family of the James Jones who worked for Johns Hopkins.

    This line of inquiry has led us to find a Black man named James H. Jones who was listed as a coachman in Johns Hopkins’ house on 81 Saratoga St. in the 1858-59 edition of the Woods’ Baltimore Directory. James Jones was also listed on the 1860 census as a free servant in Johns Hopkins’ household; his age was recorded as 35 years old. Jones was listed on the 1870 census twice. He was first listed as a waiter in Johns’ household and the enumerator recorded his age as 50 years. He was also listed at his family residence in Baltimore’s 8th Ward alongside his wife and three children.

    There is another reference to a “James,” in Mr. Hopkins’ life, mentioned in a newspaper record. An 1873 Baltimore Sun obituary, “The Late Johns Hopkins” stated: “Three colored servants, who had lived with Mr. Hopkins for many years, it is understood, are duly remembered in his will…The man James was once the slave of Mr. Hopkins, he having purchased him of a Mr. Tayloe in Virginia, at whose house he observed such qualities in the then colored youth as induced him to bring him to Baltimore, where subsequently he gave him his freedom years ago.” A Baltimore American newspaper article in 1873 stated that Mr. Hopkins “purchased a slave to make him free” and went on to explain that the man worked for him until Hopkins died.

    The Tayloe family referenced in the Baltimore Sun obituary is one of the wealthiest families in the antebellum American South, whose wealth derived from commercial agriculture and a variety of business enterprises built with the labor of hundreds of enslaved people. Historians Laura Croghan Kamoie and Richard S. Dunn have documented the extensive history of slaveholding in the Tayloe family that stretched from the colonial era to the abolition of slavery in 1865. According to Dunn, at the time of John Tayloe III’s death in 1828, he enslaved over 700 people and owned twenty-three plantations spread across Virginia, Maryland, Washington, D.C., and Kentucky. The majority of his property was divided between his six surviving sons, and it is possible any of these men could be the “Mr. Tayloe” referred to in the Sun obituary.

    Hopkins Retrospective Historian and Educator Monica Kristin Blair reviewed the Tayloe Family Papers at the Virginia Museum of History and Culture and the Tayloe Family Papers at the University of Virginia. Unfortunately, the Tayloes generally did not include the last names of enslaved individuals in their account books. However, there is evidence of multiple enslaved men named James at the Tayloe family plantations who were of a similar age to James Jones of Baltimore. The records also show that the Tayloe family regularly sold goods in Baltimore and maintained connections with family members who lived in the state, including the Ogles of Maryland. John Tayloe III’s wife was Anne Ogle Tayloe, daughter of Benjamin Ogle, a Governor of Maryland. The Ogles, a wealthy family who owned enslaved people had homes in both Anne Arundel County and Prince George’s County. Anne Arundel County is where Johns Hopkins was born and where he resided until the age of 17. The connections between these wealthy white families and the city in which James Jones ultimately makes his home are not dispositive, but they point to the many intersections between the Tayloe family and the city and business milieu in which Johns Hopkins lived and worked.

    Additional historical records in which James Jones of Baltimore appears reveal more about his family life. According to his death certificate and census records, James Jones was born in Winchester, Virginia sometime between 1817 and 1825. A clerk recorded a marriage license for James H. Jones and Elizabeth Curtis in the City of Baltimore on December 16, 1857. This record of a marriage license likely belongs to the James H. Jones who worked for Johns Hopkins, because census records and the family’s gravesite in Laurel Cemetery confirm that he married a woman named Elizabeth and their oldest child, Mary, was born in 1858.

    A census record from 1870 indicates that James and Elizabeth had three living children at that time, Mary J. (11), William A. (10), and Johnsey H. (4). In 1870, James and Elizabeth could not read and write, but their two oldest children were listed as “at school,” and were therefore taking advantage of limited, but new educational opportunities for Black Baltimoreans available after the Civil War. On the census of 1880, James Jones is listed as a 60-year-old waiter (born circa 1820). On this census, the Jones couple has a fourth child, an adopted son named Joseph More (14). By 1880, every member of the Jones family could read and write, and Joseph More was working as an “office boy.” We have also located a second census record for a Joseph Moore, 14, in the 1880 census. He was listed as a servant in the household of Alan P. Smith. Alan P. Smith was Johns Hopkins’ personal physician and one of the original trustees of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Given the Hopkins connection, it is possible that Joseph More was doing office work in the Smith household.

    According to his death certificate, James Jones passed away on December 10, 1893, at his home on Pearl Street at the stated age of 76 (born circa 1817). James Jones was buried at Laurel Cemetery, a prominent African American burial site in Baltimore, alongside his wife and three of their children, Mary (1858-1881), Hannah (1861-1863), and James (1863-1864). The Jones family census for 1900 indicates that his widow Elizabeth was working as a dress maker, and that only two out of her six children were still living. Eldest William H. Jones was working as day laborer, while their younger son John H. Jones was working as a photographer. John H. Jones was married to Hattie E. Jones and the couple had one son, James A. Jones. John H. Jones was also listed as a photographer in Baltimore city directories, and he advertised his photography business in The Afro. In 1902 John’s photography office was located at 609 N. Eutaw St., and in 1906 John moved his photography business to 754 W. Baltimore.

    Hopkins Retrospective and the Hard Histories project are seeking additional details about the reported purchase of James Jones in Virginia as well as any evidence that indicates he was freed prior to the emancipation of all enslaved individuals in Maryland. A search of extant government and public records has not revealed any documented manumissions by Johns Hopkins. We are currently conducting research at additional archival repositories with collections that may help us trace James Jones’s life while he was held in bondage and add additional details to understand what his life was like post-emancipation, when he was free. We are also seeking to learn more about the lives of two other people who worked in Johns Hopkins’ household and were named in his will, Chloe and Charles. We will also undertake efforts to identify any possible descendants of people enslaved by Johns Hopkins.

  • Manumissions

    Ongoing research includes an investigation of whether, when, and how members of the Hopkins family manumitted, or set free, their enslaved laborers. For many years, the chief source of biographical information about Johns Hopkins was a book by his grand-niece, Helen Thom, which asserted that Johns Hopkins’ parents manumitted their enslaved persons in 1807. There are no extant manumission records in Maryland that show Johns’ parents, Hannah and Samuel, freed enslaved individuals in that year.

    Rather, a search of land records from Anne Arundel County indicates that Johns Hopkins the elder (the founder’s grandfather) manumitted nine enslaved individuals in 1778, while converting 33 others to term slaves, meaning they would remain enslaved until the age of 21 for girls and 25 for boys. The records indicate that one of these enslaved individuals, a woman named Affy, received a certificate of freedom in 1814 and in that record she was listed as about “thirty eight years of age.” This record shows that her manumission was carried out legally and she had been living as a free woman since the age of 21. When the elder Johns Hopkins died, he still held 14 enslaved people, whom he bequeathed to his children through his last will and testament. One of these enslaved individuals, a boy named John, was given to Samuel Hopkins, the founder’s father. If Samuel followed the terms of his father’s will, John, who was born in 1771, would have become free only in 1796.

    Additional records show that slavery and freedom co-existed within the Hopkins family. Records show that other members of the Hopkins family manumitted enslaved individuals in the 1830s. Joseph J. Hopkins, Johns Hopkins’ the founder’s elder brother, manumitted two enslaved women in 1832 after being paid $100. These women, Minta (sometimes in records as Minty) and Louisa (sometimes with the last name Wells or Wills) received their certificates of freedom from the Anne Arundel County Court in 1832 and 1838. They were required by Maryland law to obtain these “freedom papers” after being manumitted.

  • Contemporary Accounts

    Ongoing research includes investigations of contemporary writing about Mr. Hopkins; some of the records located so far include articles and obituaries found in newspapers, and one account from a diary entry of a peer.

    A newspaper article in the Baltimore Sun from April 1873,“The Johns Hopkins Charity” reported on a meeting of Black civic leaders (local Baltimoreans and others) at the Douglass Institute. The meeting was described by the writer as an opportunity for attendees to speak about Johns Hopkins’ charitable gifts – a hospital, an orphans’ asylum, and a college. The speeches included references to Hopkins’ philanthropy and support for Black Baltimoreans. According to the report, one speaker was quoted as saying Johns Hopkins “will ever be regarded as the friend of the colored race.” Further research is needed to discern how or whether the event was covered by other local newspapers and to fully identify the  speakers and their relationships or interactions with Johns Hopkins prior to his death.

    A diary entry from President Lincoln’s Secretary of Treasury, Salmon P. Chase, in 1863 discussed Mr. Hopkins’ support for the Union during the Civil War. In September 1863 Chase traveled to Baltimore and he reflected in his personal writings on what it was like to walk the grounds of Clifton and to dine with Johns Hopkins. Chase wrote, “The guests were intelligent and substantial men, consisting, as Mr. Hopkins said, the best part of the Baltimore merchants and capitalists. And all of them earnest Union men. And nearly all, if not all, decided Emancipationists.”

    Later, one obituary from the Baltimore Commercial and Advertiser also noted Johns Hopkins’ support for the Union: “We shall only allude to the late civil war to say that Mr. Hopkins was a firm supporter of the Government. In founding the charitable institution with which his name is inseparably connected, he took pains to have the charters framed in accordance with his humane and liberal views concerning the common brotherhood of man. There can be no discrimination on account of color in the Johns Hopkins Hospital.” We continue to seek reflections from other individuals at the time on Johns Hopkins’ actions and characteristics.

  • Indentured Contracts

    Two specific records show the Hopkins family’s reliance on an additional form of the unfree labor of Black people. Samuel Hopkins, Johns’ father, entered into an indenture contract in 1807 with a woman named Phillis for the labor of her children, Jeremiah and Thomas (ages 10 and 7). Samuel contracted to teach them the “art of planting” and provide food, clothing, and lodging for the duration of their apprenticeship. After Samuel’s death, his wife Hannah, our founder’s mother, and Samuel’s older brother Joseph J. Hopkins entered into an indenture contract in 1821 with an unnamed mother to teach the “art of planting” to her 5 children – Henry, John, Arch, William, and Lydia (all between the ages of 7 and 11). Ongoing research seeks to illuminate how the Hopkins family, writ large, depended on indentured labor given the context of the spectrum of slavery and freedom in 19th century Maryland and the parameters of Quaker beliefs about slavery.

  • Tax Records

    In a Baltimore County tax record from 1841, Johns Hopkins was taxed for his Clifton property (166 acres), horses, and cows. He was not taxed for owning enslaved people in this 1841 record, nor was his grocer business, Hopkins & Brothers, taxed for ownership of enslaved people in 1842. Johns’ neighbors and other nearby businesses were taxed for enslaved people during these years. To date, county tax records have not been found and may not exist for any taxes paid by Johns Hopkins for the remaining years between the 1840 census and the 1850 census that lists Johns Hopkins as a slave owner on the slave schedule. Efforts to locate additional tax records are ongoing.

  • Other Links to Slavery

    Archival documents provide additional clues about Johns Hopkins’ relationship with the institution of slavery. Records from the 1830s document two instances in which his business, Hopkins & Brothers, indicated they would accept enslaved people (property) as collateral for loans. One such record from St. Mary’s County Court in 1831 made reference to Johns Hopkins and his brother, Mahlon, looking to take possession of an enslaved person from one of their debtors, the Keech family. As detailed in a letter from the Hopkins Brothers to William B. Stone in 1838, the brothers’ firm agreed to accept an enslaved person as collateral for a debt and wrote: “the lien on the negroes is ample security for our debt.” Efforts to locate additional information about each of these scenarios are ongoing.

Research highlights last updated on 01/09/2022

Portrait of Johns Hopkins

Johns Hopkins Biographical Archive

We are actively building a growing collection of documentary evidence about the life of our founder, Johns Hopkins and his family, and their relationship with the institution of slavery. We continually update this website as we gather and process material.

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Hard Histories at Hopkins

Dr. Martha S. Jones directs the Hard Histories at Hopkins Project, which examines the role that racism and discrimination have played at Johns Hopkins. Blending research, teaching, public engagement, and the creative arts, and collaborating with students, faculty, and community members at Hopkins and beyond, Hard Histories aims to engage our broadest communities in a frank and informed exploration of how racism has been produced and permitted to persist as part of our structure and our practice.

Get Involved

We are at the beginning of a multi-year process of historical investigation to learn more about Johns Hopkins’ life as we develop a deeper, more extensive archival record. We hope that others – our students, faculty, and staff as well as our neighbors in Baltimore – will help contribute to this work by helping us gather and share documents. Please reach out if you know of or have found relevant archival collections and documents. Please send comments and suggestions to

Additional Information

  • President Ron Daniels' Community Message

    In a message on December 9, 2020, Johns Hopkins University President Ron Daniels, Dean of the Medical Faculty and CEO of Johns Hopkins Medicine Paul D. Rothman and President of the Johns Hopkins Health System Kevin W. Sowers shared with the Hopkins community the discovery of government census records listing enslaved persons in Johns Hopkins’ home in 1840 and 1850, and in the latter year, indicating that he was the owner of four enslaved men. Referring to the findings as “early and provisional,” Daniels, Rothman and Sowers committed to “continuing this research wherever it may lead and to illuminating a path that we hope will bring us closer to the truth, which is an indispensable foundation for all of our education, research, and service activities.”

  • President Ron Daniels' Baltimore Sun op-ed

    In an op-ed published in The Baltimore Sun on June 7, 2021, President Daniels described JHU’s ongoing commitment to engage historians and researchers at the institution and beyond to delve deeply into the record and draw their own conclusions about the complicated nature of Johns Hopkins’ life and legacy. “Through this, we make manifest our enduring commitment to the rigorous research and free exchange of ideas that lie at the core of our university — a privilege bequeathed to us by the visionary generosity of a man who seems to have been both of, and beyond, his times.”

  • Hopkins history advisory committee

    A group of senior colleagues—including Dr. Martha Jones, Sheridan Libraries Dean Winston Tabb, Krieger School of Arts and Sciences Dean Chris Celenza, and Director of the Institute of the History of Medicine Jeremy Greene are advising on how best to explore the historical connections to slavery of Johns Hopkins, the Hopkins family, and other important figures associated with our institution’s founding. Their guidance will inform this multi-year initiative, closely linked to the Hopkins Retrospective, encompassing a broad range of scholarly activities and opportunities for direct participation and engagement, such as lectures and forums, academic courses, community conversations, commemorative events, and public art.

  • Universities Studying Slavery

    Johns Hopkins University joined the Universities Studying Slavery (USS) consortium in 2020 to collaborate with and learn from peer institutions.

  • George Peabody Research

    In a message on June 10, 2024, Peabody Institute Dean Fred Bronstein shared with the Peabody community an independent research report examining the life and work of merchant banker, philanthropist, and institute founder George Peabody.  The primary aim of the research was to investigate any personal relationship George Peabody had to slaveholding and to confirm and better understand possible connections to slavery in his extensive business interests. In his message, Bronstein announced the establishment of a research fellowship to continue studying the legacy of the institute’s early connections to slavery and its impact on Peabody’s history well into the 20th century.

  • Frequently asked questions
  • Resources

Past Events

Conversations on Slavery, Racism, and the University

Friday, December 3, 2021, 12:15pm EST – 5pm ET

Watch the archived livestream videos by expanding the tabs below.

1619 to 2019: Confronting the Legacy of Slavery for Health Equity in Baltimore and Across the United States, Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

December 19, 2019
Learn about the project

Perspectives on Slavery in Early Baltimore Symposium, Johns Hopkins University, Homewood Museum.

May 11, 2015