Grateful American® Foundation

Who was the first African-American man to graduate from a US college?

April 17th

200px-Francis_williamsApril 17, 1758 — Francis Williams today became the first US black college graduate.

A poet, he was born around 1700 to John and Dorothy Williams, a free black couple in Jamaica. John Williams had been freed by the will of his former master and within 10 years was able to acquire property.

As free blacks, the Williams family were increasingly in the minority as Jamaica’s sugar industry, which relied on the labour of enslaved Africans, grew over the course of the 18th century.

John Williams’ independent wealth also ensured that Francis and his brothers received an education. Read more to see his popular poem, An Ode to George Haldane.

Another fascinating fact about this moment in history: It was suggested that Francis was the subject of a social experiment devised by the Duke of Montagu who wished to show that black individuals — with the right education — could match the intellectual achievements of whites.

The Duke is reported to have sponsored Francis to travel to England to undertake an English education at a grammar school and then at Cambridge University. However, Francis does not appear in the university’s records and his family’s wealth would have probably made the Duke’s support unnecessary.

Words of Wisdom

Rash councils now, with each malignant plan,
Each faction, in that evil hour began,
At your approach are in confusion fled,
Nor while you rule, shall raise their dastard head.
Alike the master and the slave shall see
Their neck reliv'd, the yoke unbound by thee.

— An Ode to George Haldane

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