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The McDonogh's at Lafayette

David McDonogh's Lafayette Experience

David and Washington shared similar experiences while in attendance at Lafayette College, but for the most part their experiences diverged. For example, Washington struggled academically, particularly with his grammar and writing. David, on the other hand, maintained a firm command of his studies and progressed rather quickly. Washington’s struggles academically were overlooked thanks to his well-known devotion to his faith, and humble demeanor. These characteristics made Washington a candidate for missionary work in Liberia. His humble demeanor kept him out of the hair of his professors and other school faculty. The same could not be said about David. David repeatedly had disagreements with faculty, staff, and students. His confidence and conviction often led to him questioning decisions made by the administration, something that Washington seemingly would not do. When the time came for him to depart for Liberia, David manipulated the system to extend his academic progression past deportation, allowing him to remain in America. His academic record and persuasive skills presented a solid case for him to continue his education for an additional term. Meanwhile, Washington sailed to his new home in Liberia.  


A Day in the Life of a Lafayette Student

The following quotations are samples taken from David's correspondence that provide a glimpse into his experience at Lafayette College.


  • June 5th, 1838 - David McDonogh to Daniel Wells -  “Dear sir I take the first opportunity of writing to inform you that we enter in our studies on the 24 of May. We are now studying arithmetic, geography, and catechism and writing.  We recite once a day to the President and then one of the student[s] give us a lesson...”
  • June 12, 1841 - David McDonogh to Walter Lowrie -  “I was certain Sir, when I entered the freshman class that I would continue with it until it was through college.”
  • December 11, 1841 - David McDonogh to Daniel Wells - “Thirdly, to Thomas Lulich for binding wool and for one Dementedness & Aeschines, one Blank Book, one Young’s Analytical Geometry, Ink, Quills at four dollars eighty one cents...”
  • February 12, 1842 - David McDonogh to Walter Lowrie -  “I have frequently heard remarked, by those who have past through the college course that the Sophomore year is the hardest one a student meets with, throughtout his whole collegiate course. And I always had a disposition to doubt the propriety of that remark.”
  • May 10, 1842 - David McDonogh to Walter Lowrie - “...I have, this day the 10th of May, commence the study of Medicine. Doctor H.H. Abernethy was up here, this morning and gave me the book to begin with: the name of it is; Horner;s Special Anatomy. Vol. First.” 
  • August 17, 1841 - Washington McDonogh to Walter Lowrie - “I am still studying arithmetic grammar and history. The examination of the senior class here commenced this morning but it is a very small class to what is was in 1840.”
  • August 2, 1842 - Washington McDonogh to Walter Lowrie - “Our session will commence on the 4[th] of this month and I would like to know whi[e]ther I am to continue at school or not as my time is short….”

David's Journey Toward Medicine

In his desire to be a doctor, David took an extraordinary path from slave in Louisiana to emancipated student. After his studies, he travelled to New York to pursue further training. He took up an internship with Dr. Abernathy, who permitted David to take classes, though as a Black man he was denied the ability to officially matriculate. 

The timeline below shows just one of David's small journeys toward becoming a doctor as he carved out a path for himself and his future. Here he was travelling to New York, and back to campus in Easton, Pennsylvania after a meeting with Dr. Abernathy. He described this voyage in a 1842 letter.