William & Mary 1750 - 1799

1750, November 11

The "F.H.C." society was formed at William & Mary. This was the first student secret society in America and the forerunner of the American fraternity system.

1756, April 2

The first honorary degree from William & Mary, a Master of Arts, was conferred upon Benjamin Franklin.

1758, April 9

The president and masters installed the Reverend Goronwy Owen, one of the greatest poets of Wales, as master of the Grammar School, and probably professor of humanity.

1760, March 25-April 25, 1762

Thomas Jefferson attended William & Mary. He afterwards remained in Williamsburg to study law under George Wythe, later first professor of law at William & Mary.

1770, October 15

Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt, governor of Virginia and rector of the William & Mary Board of Visitors, died. He was buried in the crypt beneath The Chapel.

James Monroe1772-1775

With funds previously presented by Lord Botetourt, two gold medals were awarded each year to the best scholars in natural philosophy and in the classics, respectively. William & Mary thus became the first American college to award medallic prizes.


James Monroe, later fifth President of the United States, attended William & Mary.


Although exempt by law from military duty, a number of students and faculty of William & Mary joined militia companies organized in the vicinity of Williamsburg. In 1777 the students formed a College company with the president, the Reverend James Madison, as captain. Classes were maintained throughout this period of the Revolution.


Professors Henley and Gwatkin, in addition to a number of students with Loyalist sympathies, left William & Mary to return to England. The Reverend Samuel Henley took a leave of absence but never returned to America; the Reverend Thomas Gwatkin, personal chaplain of Lord Dunmore, left for England in June with Lady Dunmore and the Dunmore children.

PBK1776, December 5

Students of William & Mary founded Phi Beta Kappa, today the premier academic honor society in America. The last meeting of the society was held on January 6, 1781. In 1779 Elisha Parmele carried the organization to Harvard and Yale from which it spread throughout the North. The William & Mary chapter was revived in 1851, discontinued at the outbreak of the Civil War, and finally reestablished in 1893.


The Loyalist sympathies of the Reverend John Camm, president, brought about his removal from the faculty. The Reverend James Madison succeeded him.


Robert Andrews became the first professor in America to offer an academic course in fine arts.

1779, December 4

Under the leadership of Thomas Jefferson, then governor of Virginia and a member of the Board of Visitors, William & Mary became a university. The grammar and divinity schools were discontinued, and a professorship of anatomy and medicine, and the first American chairs of law and police and modern languages were established. The elective system of studies was introduced at this time, the first such program in the United States. George Wythe, a signer of the Declaration of Independence, became the first professor of law and police, the first chair of law in North America. John Marshall, later Chief Justice of the United States, was briefly one of George Wythe's early students.

John Marshall1781, January

William & Mary classes were suspended when the British army invaded Virginia. Classes were resumed in the fall of 1782.

1781, November 23

While occupied by wounded French officers, the President's House was gutted by fire. From September 15 until June of the following year, William & Mary was used as a hospital for French soldiers.

1782, June 14

The French government paid £1,542 in reparations for damage by fire to the President's House. Rebuilding of the structure was completed by late fall of 1786.


Thomas Jefferson received the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws.

1784, May 8

Title to the public lands in and near Williamsburg and Jamestown not in use by the state was vested by the General Assembly in William & Mary. This property included the grounds of the Governor's Palace and the vineyard tract near Williamsburg.

1784, July 20

Louis XVI, King of France, presented a "well chosen collection" of 200 volumes to the William & Mary library.


The professorship of anatomy and medicine, established in 1773, was discontinued when Dr. James McClurg, professor of medicine, moved to Richmond.


James Madison, second cousin of the Right Reverend James Madison and later fourth President of the United States, was awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Laws in absentia.

1787, December

The General Assembly divested William & Mary of all its surveyor's fees in Kentucky and part of western Virginia, diverting them to Transylvania College. The loss of these fees, customs duties and other revenues reduced the assets of William & Mary to little more than real estate.

1788, April 20

George Washington accepted office as the first American chancellor of William & Mary, serving until his death in 1799. Thus, since the president and masters of William & Mary had appointed Washington surveyor of Culpeper County in 1749, his first and last offices were held under the auspices of the university.

1790, December

The case of the Reverend John Bracken vs. William & Mary was decided by the Court of Appeals of Virginia in favor of William & Mary. John Marshall, attorney for the defendant, argued that in passing the statute of December 4, 1779, the Board of Visitors had not exceeded the powers granted them by the charter in removing Bracken as master of the Grammar School. Bracken was represented by alumnus John Taylor of Caroline County.