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University of Mississippi Slavery Research Group
The University of Mississippi

Harrison Stearns

Harrison Stearns was an enslaved man owned by University of Mississippi law professor William Forbes Stearns. It is not clear what if any work he did for the University specifically, rather than for Professor Stearns, or whether he resided on campus.

When Professor Stearns left the University of Mississippi at the start of the Civil War, he entrusted Harrison Stearns with the maintenance of his property. In 1865, after it became clear that Professor Stearns would not return to Oxford, he promised to convey at least some of this land to Harrison. Two years later, upon Professor Stearns’ suicide, Harrison wrote two letters to Professor Stearns’ widow to ensure the property would be legally transferred to him.

At least a portion of the land Harrison Stearns obtained from his former master was deeded to the Methodist Episcopal Church of Oxford in 1869, and became home to one of the city’s first black churches. The building that was constructed on this land in 1910 is today the Burns-Belfry Museum & Multicultural Center dedicated to African American history.

We know little about Harrison Stearns after this episode, but it seems that he also served as an alderman in Oxford at some point during Reconstruction.

See Harrison Stearns to Mary Jane Ferris Stearns, 16 November 1867, The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1860-1945, GLC08945.01; Harrison Stearns to Mary Jane Ferris Stearns, 14 January 1868, The Gilder Lehrman Collection, 1860-1945, GLC08945.02.

Profile written by Anne Twitty