James Bradley

James Bradley was the first African American student enrolled at the Lane Theological Seminary and subsequently at the Sheffield Manual Labor Institute, an outpost of the Oberlin Collegiate Institute.

Bradley was born in Africa and illegally taken as a small child to South Carolina, where he was sold into slavery (the United States had withdrawn from the international slave trade in 1808). There he was bought by a slaveholder in Pendleton County, from whom he derived his last name. According to his own account, Bradley was fed and provided for by his master but also beaten and forced to work long hours. At the age of fourtee, he went with his master to Arkansas. By working in his spare time for a number of years (which often meant sleeping only three hours a night!), Bradley was able to buy his freedom.

During his time as a slave, Bradley regretted his lack of schooling. In his autobiographical writing, he mentions carrying around a spelling book in his hat, from which he taught himself the alphabet whenever he had a few spare moments. He began his studies at Lane shortly after purchasing his own freedom. Lane students, he reported, treated him kindly regardless of his race.

After the rebellion at Lane in 1834, Bradley attended the Sheffield school associated with Oberlin. The Sheffield Institute planned to grow mulberry trees on which to nurture silkworms in order to create silk. The project failed, and the institute only lasted for one year. Unfortunately, nothing is known about Bradley’s life after the school folded.

James Bradley's "Brief Account of an Emancipated Slave Written by Himself"