🔴 Stockton University has been concerned about Richard Stockton's slave ownership since 2017

🔴 He was a member of the Continental Congress and signed the Declaration of Independence

🔴 A task force is asking students about a possible name change

GALLOWAY — A committee at Stockton University is polling the campus about changing the name of the school because of Richard Stockton's past as a slave owner  and allegations he was a traitor to his country.

The idea started a few years after the school temporarily removed Stockton's bust from the Richard E. Bjork Library over concern about Stockton being a slave owner. The school's Faculty Assembly passed a resolution in 2020  which led the Board of Trustees to pass its own resolution titled “Commitment to Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Social Justice at Stockton."

The resolution asked the college president to consider creating a committee to decide whether or not a " location-based name of the University, consistent with our founders’ original intentions should be pursued.”

University president Harvey Kesselman chose not to establish a committee. The Faculty Senate then created its own 30-member committee.

The school sent out a digital poll Monday on behalf of the committee asking about a potential name change and said that Richard Stockton, whom the school is named after, was not only a slave owner but also signed a loyalty oath to the King of England in 1776 after signing the Declaration of Independence. The committee said that was "considered an act of treason by many."

The poll asks if Richard Stockton, given his past, deserves to have a university named after him and the impact of a name change on the school. It also asked for location-based name suggestions.  The deadline to complete the survey is April 15.

Stockton's new residency hall in Atlantic City, survey sent to students
Stockton's new residency hall in Atlantic City (Stockton University), survey sent to students (listener submission)

Was Richard Stockton a traitor to the United States?

According to History.com Stockton was taken hostage by the British and jailed. After several months of "harsh treatment and meager rations," he repudiated his signature and swore allegiance to King George III.

Upon his return to New Jersey, he took a new oath of loyalty to New Jersey in Dec. 1777.

If the committee recommends a name change the next step is not clear.

"The Stockton University '50 Years and Beyond' Task Force was established independently by the Faculty Senate. The Board of Trustees receives recommendations on many topics and reviews each one of them based on their merit," the school said in a statement.

According to his biography, Stockton was born in Princeton in 1730 and was a member of the first graduating class at Princeton College (now University). He was a member of the Continental Congress, an unsuccessful candidate for governor and was elected Chief Justice of the New Jersey state Supreme Court. He declined to serve and chose to practice law instead.

As for his bust, it has returned to the library.

"In 2017, the university launched the Stockton Exhibition Project, which explores the history of Stockton University’s naming as well as Richard Stockton. This exhibit is displayed in the entrance to the Bjork Library," the university said in a statement.

Dan Alexander is a reporter for New Jersey 101.5. You can reach him at dan.alexander@townsquaremedia.com

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