Seven of the nine colonial colleges began their histories as institutions of higher learning de novo (i.e., with no predecessor parent organization). Dartmouth College began operating in 1768 as the collegiate department of Moor's Charity School, a secondary school started in 1754 by Dartmouth founder Eleazar Wheelock. Dartmouth considers its founding date to be 1769, when it was granted a collegiate charter. The University of Pennsylvania began operating in 1751 as a secondary school, the Academy of Philadelphia, and added an institution of higher education in 1755 with the granting of a charter to the College of Philadelphia.
Several other colleges and universities can be traced to colonial-era "academies" or "schools", but are not considered colonial colleges because they were not formally chartered as colleges with degree-granting powers until after the formation of the United States of America in 1776. Listed below are the founding dates of the schools which served as predecessor entities and the years in which they were chartered to operate an institution of higher learning.
Institution (present name, where different)
Colony or state
King William's School, Annapolis
(absorbed by St. John's College when the latter was founded )
^The institution was founded in 1636 by a vote of the legislature of the colony to provide money for "a school or college" at Newtowne (the present Cambridge.) Nothing further was done about actually creating a school until 1638, when in his will John Harvard bequeathed money and books to the yet-uncreated college. Construction began shortly thereafter on a school that was given the name of its first benefactor.
^The College of William & Mary sometimes asserts a connection with an attempt to found a "University of Henrico" at Henricopolis (also known as Henricus) in the Colony of Virginia, which received a charter in 1618; but only a small school for Native Americans had begun operation by 1622, when the town was destroyed in a Native American raid. A page on their website says "The College of William & Mary [...] was the first college planned for the United States. Its roots go back to the College proposed at Henrico in 1619." However, it immediately proceeds to note that "The College is second only to Harvard University in actual operation." Since William & Mary describes itself as "America's second-oldest college" and gives its year of founding as 1693, it does not seem to be suggesting institutional continuity with the University of Henrico, rather, W&M is providing historical perspective.[original research?] However, this depends upon the orientation and competitiveness of the administration at any given time, for instance, when a Harvard grad is President, Wm & M is presented as "second college", but when Va grad is president, it is "the first college in its roots"..[original research?] (This original college has been revived, in 1992, as "Henricus Colledge (1619), America's 1st College.".[not in citation given]) William & Mary has a published list of its early graduates by its Swem Library.
^In the wake of the American Civil War, the College ceased to enroll students in 1882 due to attendant financial pressures. Students returned in 1888 after the Commonwealth of Virginia authorized $10,000 for it to become a "State normal" school for men. In 1906 it became a public, non-sectarian school with the college's royal charter still in effect, except where superseded by state or federal laws.
^There is some disagreement about Penn's date of founding as the university has never used its legal charter date for this purpose and, in addition, took the unusual step of changing its official founding date approximately 150 years after the fact. The first meeting of the founding trustees of the secondary school which eventually became the University of Pennsylvania took place in November 1749. Secondary instruction for boys at the Academy of Philadelphia began in August 1751. Undergraduate education for men began after a collegiate charter for the College of Philadelphia was granted in 1755. Penn initially designated 1750 as its founding date. Sometime later in its early history, Penn began to refer to 1749 instead. The school considered 1749 to be its founding date for more than a century until, in 1895, elite universities in the United States agreed that formal academic processions would place visiting dignitaries and other officials in the order of their institution's founding dates. Four years later in 1899, Penn's board of trustees voted to retroactively revise the university's founding date from 1749 to 1740 in order to become older than Princeton, which had been chartered in 1746. The premise for this revised founding date was the fact that the Academy of Philadelphia purchased the building and assumed the educational mandate of an inactive trust which had originally hoped to open a charity school for indigent children. This was part of a 1740 project that had been planned to comprise both a church and school though, due to insufficient funding, only the church was built and even it was never put into use. The dormant church building was conveyed to the Academy of Philadelphia in 1750. To further complicate the comparison of founding dates, Princeton University has historical ties to an older college. Five of the twelve members of Princeton's first board of trustees were very closely associated with a "Log College" operated by Presbyterian minister William Tennent and his son Gilbert in Bucks County, Pennsylvania from 1726 until 1746. Because the College of New Jersey and the Log College shared the same religious affiliation (a moderate element within the "New Side" or "New Light" wing of the Presbyterian Church) and there was a considerable overlap in their boards of trustees, some historians suggest that there is sufficient connection between this school and the College of New Jersey which would enable Princeton to claim a founding date of 1726. However, Princeton does not officially do so and a university historian says that the "facts do not warrant" such a claim.
^Penn's website, like other sources, makes an important point of Penn's heritage being nonsectarian, associated with Benjamin Franklin and the Academy of Philadelphia's nonsectarian board of trustees: "The goal of Franklin's nonsectarian, practical plan would be the education of a business and governing class rather than of clergymen.". Jencks and Riesman (2001) write: "The Anglicans who founded the University of Pennsylvania, however, were evidently anxious not to alienate Philadelphia's Quakers, and they made their new college officially nonsectarian." Franklin himself was a self-described "thorough Deist." Starting in 1751, the same trustees also operated a Charity School for Boys, whose curriculum combined "general principles of Christianity" with practical instruction leading toward careers in business and the "mechanical arts", and thus might be described as "non-denominational Christian." The charity school was originally planned and a trust was organized on paper in 1740 by followers of traveling evangelist George Whitefield. The school was to have operated inside a church supported by the same group of adherents. But the organizers ran short of financing and, although the frame of the building was raised, the interior was left unfinished. The founders of the Academy of Philadelphia purchased the unused building in 1750 for their new venture and, in the process, assumed the original trust. Since 1899, Penn has claimed a founding date of 1740, based on the organizational date of the charity school and the premise that it had institutional identity with the Academy of Philadelphia. Whitefield was a firebrand Methodist associated with the Great Awakening; since the Methodists did not formally break from the Church of England until 1784, Whitefield in 1740 would be labelled Episcopalian, and in fact Brown University, emphasizing its own pioneering nonsectarianism, refers to Penn's origin as "Episcopalian" ). Penn is sometimes assumed to have Quaker ties (its athletic teams are called "Quakers," and the cross-registration alliance between Penn, Haverford, Swarthmore and Bryn Mawr is known as the "Quaker Consortium.") But Penn's website does not assert any formal affiliation with Quakerism, historic or otherwise, and Haverford College implicitly asserts a non-Quaker origin for Penn when it states that "Founded in 1833, Haverford is the oldest institution of higher learning with Quaker roots in North America."
^Brown's website characterizes it as "the Baptist answer to Congregationalist Yale and Harvard; Presbyterian Princeton; and Episcopalian Penn and Columbia," but adds that at the time it was "the only one that welcomed students of all religious persuasions." Brown's charter stated that "into this liberal and catholic institution shall never be admitted any religious tests, but on the contrary, all the members hereof shall forever enjoy full, free, absolute, and uninterrupted liberty of conscience." The charter further required that its president and twenty-two of the thirty-six trustees be Baptists, and that the remainder consist of "five Friends, four Congregationalists, and five Episcopalians"
^Dartmouth College began operating during 1768 as the collegiate department of Moor's School (1754) in Columbia, Connecticut. The collegiate department was being described in writing as "Dartmouth College" by January of 1769, when the Township of Hanover, New Hampshire voted to offer it a grant of land. The institution received a royal charter on December 13, 1769 and its students moved from Columbia to Hanover during October 1770. The first degrees were awarded in August 1771. Queen's College, although granted a charter earlier, began operation during 1771, after Dartmouth College began awarding degrees.
^Although most early records of the university were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1845 as well as a subsequent fire in 1849, it is known that the school began its life as a preparatory academy, possibly as early as 1770, or at some point in the 1780s. Presumably starting its life in a log cabin on what was then the nation's frontier, Hugh Henry Brackenridge sought and obtained a charter for the school from the state legislature of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania that was passed by the assembly on February 28, 1787. The school's charter was altered in 1819 to grant it university status and conferring on it the name of the Western University of Pennsylvania. The university received its current name, the University of Pittsburgh, with a subsequent alteration to its charter in 1908.
^"The Charter of 1650". In witness whereof, the Court hath caused the seal of the colony to be hereunto affixed. Dated the one and thirtieth day of the third month, called May, anno 1650. May was referred to as the third month because the year began on March 25.
^"Royal Charter". Swem Library Special Collections Research Center Wiki. Witness our-selves, at Westminster, the eighth day of February, in the fourth year of our reign. The first year of William III and Mary II's reign began on February 13, 1689 (N.S.).
^Hall, David D., Cultures of Print: Essays in the History of the Book, Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1996, p. 131
^Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College: with annals of the college history, Holt, 1885, Volume 1, p.6, p.9, p.13. Nathaniel Chauncey, a Harvard BA Graduate, was awarded an honorary MA in 1702 (p. 9); John Hart was awarded a earned BA as "the first actual student in the College" (p. 13).
^<Johnson, Samuel, Samuel Johnson, President of King's College; His Career and Writings, edited by Herbert and Carol Schneider, New York: Columbia University Press, 1929, Volume 4, p. 244 and p. 246 Nine students matriculated this year.
^Additional Charter of the College, &c.(PDF). 1791. pp. 1–7. ... The Trustees of the Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania ... by these our present letters and charter altered and changed ... shall be one community, corporation, and body politick, to have continuance for ever, by the name of The Trustees of the College, Academy, and Charitable School of Philadelphia, in the Province of Pennsylvania; ... in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-five.
^Jencks, Christopher; David Riesman (2001). The Academic Revolution. Transaction Publishers. ISBN0-7658-0115-9. pp. 314–5, " "The Anglicans who founded the University of Pennsylvania, however, were evidently anxious not to alienate Philadelphia's Quakers, and they made their new college officially nonsectarian."
^"Two and a half centuries of history". Brown University. Originally located in Warren, Rhode Island, and called the College of Rhode Island, Brown moved to its current spot on College Hill overlooking Providence in 1770 and was renamed in 1804 in recognition of a $5,000 gift from Nicholas Brown, a prominent Providence businessman and alumnus, Class of 1786.
^The Charter of Brown University(PDF). 1945. p. 30. The next copy appears on pages 110-116 of the official records of the February Session, 1764, of the Assembly, known as the Schedules or the Acts, Resolves and Reports, which were printed at Newport by Samuel Hall and authenticated by the signature of the Secretary, Henry Ward, and the seal of the Colony, on March 12, 1764. ... Although the Charter states that it "shall be signed by the Governor and Secretary," this procedure was not ordinarily required to validate an act of the Assembly ... Consequently, the founding of Brown University dates from 1764 and not the time of the signature in 1765.
^Hoeveler, David J., Creating the American Mind: Intellect and Politics in the Colonial Colleges, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, p. 192
^"Dartmouth College Charter". In testimony whereof, we have caused these our letters to be made patent, and the public seal of our said province of New Hampshire to be hereunto affixed. Witness our trusty and well beloved John Wentworth, Esquire, Governor and commander-in-chief in and over our said province, [etc.], this thirteenth day of December, in the tenth year of our reign, and in the year of our Lord 1769.
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