Presidents of the College of William & Mary Exhibit, October 2011

Presidents of the College of William & Mary Exhibit, October 2011
Colleges In Virginia
Image by Special Collections Research Center, Swem Library
Shown here is an image from the Presidents of the College of William & Mary exhibit series located on the third floor of Swem Library just outside the Brown Board Room. The exhibit provides a history of the College as seen through the eyes of its presidents. This exhibit case features the presidencies of James Blair, William Dawson, William Stith, and Thomas Dawson and will be on display from October 13, 2011 through April 20, 2012.

The following is taken from the label text presented in this case:

This exhibit is part of a continuing series about the presidents of the College of William & Mary. The items selected here are from the Special Collections Research Center. The Center’s University Archives contains records from a number of William & Mary presidents.

For more information about the Office of the President records in the Special Collections Research Center, please visit…

James Blair, 1693-1743

As the first president of the College of William & Mary, James Blair oversaw the reconstruction of the Wren Building after a fire in 1705; the transfer of the Charter from the founders to the president and masters of the College; the construction of the President’s House and the Brafferton; and the hiring of capable members of the faculty. Blair was head of the Church of England in Virginia; rector of Henrico, Jamestown, and Bruton Parish churches; as well as a member and president of the Virginia Governor’s Council. These positions made Blair one of the most powerful men in the colony, resulting in periodic clashes over power between him and three royal governors: Sir Edmund Andros, Sir Francis Nicholson, and Alexander Spotswood.

For more information about James Blair, please visit

James Hargrove. James Blair, 1705 Reproduction of Oil Painting , University Archives Photograph Collection (UA 8).

James Blair Our Saviour’s Divine Sermon on the Mount London, 1740, Rare Books: BT 380.B55 1740 V. 1

William Dawson, 1743-1752

Educated at Queen’s College, Oxford, William Dawson came to the College of William & Mary in 1729 as master of moral and intellectual philosophy. After the death of James Blair in 1743, Dawson became the second president of William & Mary and inherited all of Blair’s appointments apart from rector of Bruton Parish. During his tenure as president, Dawson maintained a harmonious relationship with the royal government and the faculty of the College.

For more information about William Dawson, please visit

Surveyor’s License of John West, Jr., 1749. William Dawson signed this surveyor’s license on behalf of the College of William & Mary. University Archives Subject File Collection, UA 9

A letter from the Rev. Mr. Dawson, Commisary to the Lord Bishop of London, and President of William and Mary College, to the clergy of Virginia in America London, 1745. Rare Books: E97.D3

William Stith, 1752-1755

William Stith, third president of the College of William & Mary, attended the Grammar School around 1720 and then returned to Williamsburg as master of the grammar school from 1731-1732. When William Dawson died in 1752, there was a bitter fight between provincial leaders and Governor Robert Dinwiddie as to who would be the next president. In the end, the provincial leaders’ candidate, William Stith, was elected president. As a result, William & Mary’s faculty and the Board of Visitors became embroiled in a power struggle over the governance of the College that would last until the American Revolution.

For more information about William Stith, please visit

William Stith Deed, 1738. In this deed, William Stith gave two lots in the city of Williamsburg to the College of William & Mary. University Archives Subject File Collection, UA 9

Marcus Minucius Felix M. Minucii Felicis Octavius cum integris observationibus Nic. Rigaltii, et selectis aliorum. Recensuit, suasque notas adjecit Joannes Davisius. Praemittitur Franc. Balduini Dissertatio, rerumque & Latinitatis Indices subnectuntur London, 1707. Stith’s signature and bookplate appear on the inside cover of this volume. Rare Books: BT1116 .M6 1707

Thomas Dawson, 1755-1760

The presidency of Thomas Dawson, a 1737 graduate and brother of William Dawson, was filled with controversy as the conflict between the faculty and the Board of Visitors continued to grow. During the fourth president’s tenure, the faculty and the local government disputed over the right to try clergy as well as over the Two Penny Act in 1758, which lowered salaries for clergy by two-thirds. In addition, the Board of Visitors and the faculty clashed over who had the authority to expel students and dismiss members of the faculty. In the end, Thomas Dawson’s presidency was ineffective in repairing those rifts.

For more information about Thomas Dawson, please visit

Thomas Dawson, Williamsburg, Virginia to Lady Gooch, widow of Sir William Gooch, Governor of Virginia (1727-1749) January 1758 William and Thomas Dawson Papers, Mss. 65 Pst D32

From the Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library at the College of William and Mary. See for further information and assistance.

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