Early UVA students were not allowed to bring their slaves from home, unlike students at many other Southern schools in the early 1800s. This didn’t stop members of UVA’s wealthy, white, all-male population from bringing their own slaves and housing them on the border of the University where they could easily be reached if needed.
It’s difficult to imagine what life was like for these slaves, within an arm’s reach of an institution dedicated to intellectual advancement while they themselves remained in bondage. In addition to tension between students and slaves, tensions arose between students and professors in the early years of the University.
The student body, coming from Southern plantations, largely consisted of young slaveholders — men who grew up with absolute power over the lives of other humans. This led to complete rebellion against any form of authority that tried to impose order on them, like professors or University policies. Another source of conflict was that many professors were from Europe where slavery had already been abolished. They were not accustomed to the institution of slavery, which was the true backbone of the Southern economy until the Civil War.