Colonial colleges

Map of the nine colonial colleges

The colonial colleges are nine institutions of higher education chartered in the Thirteen Colonies before the founding of the United States of America during the American Revolution.[1] These nine have long been considered together, notably since the survey of their origins in the 1907 The Cambridge History of English and American Literature.[2]

Seven of the nine colonial colleges became seven of the eight Ivy League universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, and Dartmouth. (The remaining Ivy League institution, Cornell University, was founded in 1865). These are all private universities.

The two colonial colleges not in the Ivy League are now both public universities—the College of William & Mary in Virginia and Rutgers University in New Jersey. William & Mary was a royal institution from 1693 until the American Revolution. Between the Revolution and the American Civil War, it was a private institution, but it suffered significant damage during the Civil War and began to receive public support in the 1880s. William & Mary officially became a public college in 1906.

Rutgers was founded in 1766 as Queen's College, named for Queen Charlotte, and was for much of its history privately affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. It changed its name to Rutgers College in 1825 and was designated as the State University of New Jersey after World War II.

The nine colonial colleges[edit]

Seven of the nine colonial colleges began their histories as institutions of higher learning, while two were developed by existing preparatory schools. 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.

Image Colonial college
(present name, if different)
Colony Founded Chartered First instruction First degrees Primary religious influence Ivy League
New College[nb 1]
(Harvard University)
Massachusetts Bay Colony 1636 1650[3] 1642 1642 Puritan (Congregational) Yes
College of William & Mary Colony of Virginia 1693[nb 2] 1693[6] 1694[7] 1694 Church of England[nb 3]
Collegiate School
(Yale University)
Connecticut Colony 1701 1701[8] 1702 1702 honorary MA

1703 BA[9]

Puritan (Congregational) Yes
College of New Jersey
(Princeton University)
Province of New Jersey 1746 1746[10] 1747 1748 Presbyterian but officially nonsectarian Yes
King's College
(Columbia University)
Province of New York 1754 1754[11] 1754 1758[12] Church of England with a commitment to "religious liberty."[13] Yes
College of Philadelphia
(University of Pennsylvania)
Province of Pennsylvania 1740 (college)[nb 4] 1755[18] 1755 1757 Church of England but officially nonsectarian[19][nb 5] Yes
College of Rhode Island[24]
(Brown University)
Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations 1764 1764[25] 1765[26] 1765 Baptist (but no religious requirement for admissions)[nb 6] Yes
Queen's College
(Rutgers University)
Province of New Jersey 1766 1766[27] 1771 1774 Dutch Reformed (Calvinist) No
Dartmouth College Province of New Hampshire 1769 1769[28] 1768 1771[nb 7] Puritan (Congregational) Yes

Other colonial-era foundations[edit]

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 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 Founded Chartered Religious influence
King William's School
(absorbed by St. John's College when the latter was founded)
Province of Maryland 1696 1784 Church of England
Kent County Free School
(absorbed by Washington College when the latter was founded)
Province of Maryland 1723 1782 Non-sectarian
Bethlehem Female Seminary
(Moravian University)
Province of Pennsylvania 1742 1863 Moravian Church
Newark Academy
(University of Delaware)
Delaware Colony 1743 1833 Presbyterian, but officially non-sectarian after 1769
Augusta Academy
(Washington and Lee University)
Colony of Virginia 1749 1782 Presbyterian, but officially non-sectarian
College of Charleston Province of South Carolina 1770 1785 Church of England
Pittsburgh Academy
(University of Pittsburgh)
Province of Pennsylvania[nb 8] 1770?[29] 1787 Non-sectarian
Little Girls' School
(Salem College)
Province of North Carolina 1772 1866 Moravian Church
Dickinson College Province of Pennsylvania 1773 1783 Presbyterian
Hampden–Sydney College Colony of Virginia 1775 1783 Presbyterian

See also[edit]


  1. ^ 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.
  2. ^ 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."[4] 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.".[5][failed verification]) William & Mary has a published list of its early graduates by its Swem Library.
  3. ^ 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.
  4. ^ 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 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.[14][15][16] 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.[17] 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.[17]
  5. ^ 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.".[20] 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",[21] 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".[22] 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."[23]
  6. ^ 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."[22] 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"[citation needed]
  7. ^ 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.
  8. ^ 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,[29] or at some point in the 1780s.[30][31] Presumably starting its life in a log cabin[32] 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.


  1. ^ Stoeckel, Althea (1976). "Presidents, professors, and politics: the colonial colleges and the American revolution". Conspectus of History. 1 (3): 45.
  2. ^ "XXIII. Education. § 13. Colonial Colleges.". The Cambridge History of English and American Literature.
  3. ^ "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.
  4. ^ [1] Archived February 20, 2006, at the Wayback Machine
  5. ^ The College of William & Mary. "William & Mary – About". Archived from the original on May 18, 2012. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  6. ^ "Royal Charter". Swem Library Special Collections Research Center Wiki. Archived from the original on May 29, 2012. 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.).
  7. ^ Hall, David D., Cultures of Print: Essays in the History of the Book, Univ of Massachusetts Press, 1996, p. 131
  8. ^ "The Yale Corporation: Charter and Legislation" (PDF). 1976. By the Govrn, in Council & Representatives of his Majties Colony of Connecticut in Genrll Court Assembled, New-Haven, Octr 9: 1701
  9. ^ Dexter, Franklin Bowditch, Biographical Sketches of the Graduates of Yale College: with annals of the college history, Holt, 1885, Volume 1, pp. 6, 9, 13. Nathaniel Chauncey, a Harvard BA Graduate, was awarded an honorary MA in 1702 (p. 9); John Hart was awarded an earned BA as "the first actual student in the College" (p. 13).
  10. ^ The Charters and By-Laws of the Trustees of Princeton University. Princeton, NJ: The Princeton University Press. 1906. pp. 11–20. A Charter to Incorporate Sundry Persons to found a College pass'd the Great Seal of this Province of New Jersey ... the 22d October, 1746 ... The Charter thus mentioned has been lost ...
  11. ^ Charters, acts and official documents together with the lease and re-lease by Trinity church of a portion of the King's farm. New York, Printed for the College. June 1895. pp. 10–24. Witness our Trusty and well beloved'James De Lancey, Esq., our Lieutenant Governor, and Commander in chief in and over our Province of New York ... this thirty first day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty four, and of our Reign the twenty eighth.
  12. ^ 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, pp. 244, 246 Nine students matriculated this year.
  13. ^ A Brief History of Columbia, Columbia University. Referenced 05.10.2011
  14. ^ "Table of Contents, Penn History, University of Pennsylvania University Archives". Archived from the original on February 25, 2012. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  15. ^ "Gazette: Building Penn's Brand (Sept/Oct 2002)". Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  16. ^ "Seeley G. Mudd Manuscript Library : FAQ Princeton University vs. University of Pennsylvania: Which is the older institution?". November 6, 2007. Archived from the original on March 19, 2003. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  17. ^ a b "Log College". Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  18. ^ Additional Charter of the College, &c (PDF). 1791. pp. 1–7. Archived from the original (PDF) on March 4, 2016. Retrieved September 24, 2014. ... 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.
  19. ^ Jencks, Christopher; Riesman, David (2001). The Academic Revolution. Transaction Publishers. ISBN 978-0-7658-0115-9. pp. 314–315, " "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."
  20. ^ "Overview of holdings, University Archives, University of Pennsylvania University Archives". Archived from the original on April 28, 2006. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  21. ^ "The Charity School in the 18th century, University of Pennsylvania University Archives". Archived from the original on June 20, 2006. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  22. ^ a b "Welcome to the Office of College Admission | Undergraduate Admission". Brown University. Archived from the original on February 8, 2011. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  23. ^ "About Haverford College". Archived from the original on February 4, 2012. Retrieved February 19, 2012.
  24. ^ "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.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Hoeveler, David J., Creating the American Mind: Intellect and Politics in the Colonial Colleges, Rowman & Littlefield, 2007, p. 192
  27. ^ Rutgers College: The celebration of the one hundred and fiftieth anniversary of its founding as Queens College, 1766–1916. [New Brunswick] : The College. May 1917. p. 66. While neither the original charter of Queen's College, nor any copy of it, is known to be in existence, it is known that it was granted on November 10, 1766, in the name of King George the Third by His Excellency William Franklin, Governor of the Province of New Jersey.
  28. ^ "Dartmouth College Charter". Archived from the original on September 27, 2015. Retrieved September 24, 2014. 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.
  29. ^ a b Annual catalog of the Western University of Pennsylvania, Year Ending 1905. Western University of Pennsylvania. 1905. p. 27. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  30. ^ "Early Schools". Pittsburgh School Bulletin. Pittsburgh, PA: Pittsburgh Teachers Association, Inc.: 25 May 1928. Retrieved December 22, 2009.
  31. ^ Holland, William Jacob (1893). First Alumni Year Book: Our University. Pittsburgh, PA: Alumni Association of the Western University of Pennsylvania. p. 36. Retrieved December 21, 2009.
  32. ^ Starrett, Agnes Lynch (1937). Through one hundred and fifty years: the University of Pittsburgh. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press. p. 26.