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John Brown White Papers

Finding Aid & Inventory

John Brown White was an educator, enslaver, and the third president of Wake Forest College (1848-1853). This collection contains photocopies of biographical and family genealogy information and correspondence, as well as a photograph of White.

Biographical and Historical Note

John Brown White was an educator and Wake Forest College president. He was born in New Hampshire to David and Betsey Carter White on March 10, 1810. Brown attended Pembroke Academy and Brown University, where he graduated with B.A. and M.A. degrees (1832).

In 1838, he became a Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy at Wake Forest College, where he also served as Secretary of the Board of Trustees and later as Treasurer of the Board. He was appointed interm president of the college in 1838 and later became acting president from 1848 to 1853. White owned and enslaved people of Africa descent during the period he lived in the South. According to 1840 Wake County tax records, 1 enslaved person was held captive by Brown at that time. In the 1850 federal census, White is shown to have held six Black people in slavery altogether: three women, ages 33, 48, and 50; two men, ages 25 and 34; and one girl, age 4. At this time, their names are unknown.

After leaving Wake Forest College, White became president of a girls seminary in Tennessee (1853-1855). He then helped found and became first president of Almira College, now Greenville College, in Illinois (1855-1864). He served as Chaplain of the 117th Illinois Volunteer Infantry Regiment (1864-1865), part of the Union Army, before returning to his position as Almira College president for the remainder of his career (1865-1878).

White married Mary Powers Merriam in 1838 and they had seven children. He married his second wife Elizabeth Richardson Wright in 1857 and they had no children. White died in Illinois in 1887.

Thank you to Ed Morris, Executive Director, Wake Forest Historical Museum, for his research assistance. See also: Canady, Andrew McNeill, "From the Forest of Wake to Wake Forest College," To Stand with and for Humanity: Essays from the Wake Forest University Slavery, Race, and Memory Project, 2020

Collection Overview

This collection contains biographical information about John Brown White as well as genealogical information about the White family. Also present is a photograph of White and correspondence (1835-1869), most of which are also transcribed. With the exception of the photograph, everything in the collection is a photocopy.

Collection Inventory

Summary Information

Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives
John Brown White Papers
Date [inclusive]
1835-1895, 1996, undated
0.21 Linear Feet  1 half-document box

Administrative Information

Publication Information
Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives
Revision Description
 Revised by Stephanie Bennett, Stephanie Bennett 2020, 2021
Conditions Governing Access
This collection is open for use. 
Conditions Governing Use
The nature of the WFU Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives means that copyright or other information about restrictions may be difficult or even impossible to determine despite reasonable efforts. The Archives and Special Collections of ZSR Library claims only physical ownership of most materials. The materials from our collections are made available for use in research, teaching, and private study, pursuant to the U.S. Copyright Law. The user must assume full responsibility for any use of the materials, including but not limited to, infringement of copyright and publication rights of reproduced materials. Any materials used for academic research or otherwise should be fully credited with the source. 
Preferred Citation
John Brown White Papers (MS164), Z. Smith Reynolds Library Special Collections and Archives, Wake Forest University, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, USA. 

John Brown White materials and primary sources are also housed at Greenville University, Greenville, Illinois.

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