The school was founded in 1886 in the New Brunswick house of the Rev. Raymond Rice, a minister of the African Methodist Episcopal Church and former slave from Laurens, South Carolina. Born in 1845, Rice had fought as a volunteer with the Union Army during theAmerican Civil War and went to New Jersey to get an education, after completing his military service. When it was first founded, it was known as “The Ironsides Normal School”. The school’s mission was to train African-American students “in such industries as shall enable them to become self-supporting”. The state passed legislation in 1894 to designate the school as the state’s instructional institution forvocational education. With this legislation, the school was placed under the aegis of a board of trustees composed of state and county officials. The school came under the direct auspices of the New Jersey Board of Education in 1903, with its capital expenditures, curriculum and staffing under state approval. In 1886, the school moved to Bordentown and moved in 1896 to a 400-acre (1.6 km2) tract there that had been owned by United States Navy Admiral Charles Stewart and known as the Parnell Estate. The state originally leased the land, and purchased it in 1901.