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Tuesday, November 19, 2013


The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia is known for many “firsts”.

Here are just a few:

  •  In 1693 ― The first American college to receive its charter from King & Queen of England under the Seal of the Privy Council, thereby making it the “Royal College of William & Mary”.
  • In 1776 – The first college to establish an intercollegiate fraternity – Phi Beta Kappa.
  • In 1779 ― The first college to become a university and to have an Honor System.

While plans for a college in Virginia originated in 1618, Indian uprisings postponed the project. In 1693 King William III and Queen Mary II of England chartered a “perpetual College of Divinity, Philosophy and Languages, and other good Arts and Sciences” to be established in the Virginia Colony. William & Mary is the second oldest University in America; Harvard being the oldest.

While the capital of the colony of Virginia was still located at Jamestown, work began on the College Building in 1695 in what was then known as Middle Plantation. Christopher Wren, architect of many notable places in England including St. Paul’s Cathedral designed the building. It is interesting that he never traveled here to see the result of his design. The building completed in 1699 included classrooms, dining hall, library, and a chapel. That same year the capitol of the colony was moved from Jamestown to Middle Plantation which was renamed Williamsburg. The College Building was the temporary seat of government until the Capitol was sufficiently completed for use at the opposite end of Duke of Gloucester Street.
The Wren Building    (front)
Statue of Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt

The Wren Building    (back)

In 1775, during the Revolutionary War, some of the William & Mary students and faculty joined various Virginia militia companies. Two years later, a College company was formed under the leadership of college President, the Rev. James Madison. Between January of 1781 and fall of the following year classes were suspended due to the invasion of the British army.

The alter in
The Wren Chapel
The Wren Building, as the College Building came to be known, is the oldest academic building that has been in continuous use in the United States. This imposing brick building burned three times—in 1705, 1859 and 1862, and each time the interior of the building was re-constructed within its original walls.

Many historical figures are buried in the crypt beneath the Wren Chapel, including Sir John Randolph, speaker of the House of Burgesses, his sons, Peyton, first president of the Continental Congress, and John “the Tory” whose body was returned from England. Norborne Berkeley, Baron de Botetourt, governor of Virginia and the Right Reverend James Madison, president of the College and first Bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church in Virginia are also interred here.
Typical W& M building

In the late 1920’s, when John D. Rockefeller, Jr. set about to restore Williamsburg to its 18th century appearance, the Wren Building was the first building to be restored.

For additional information about the Randolph family:

For additional information about William & Mary


  1. Love William and Mary's campus, Janet, and I have it in a couple of my manuscripts. Would love to go on a walking tour with you sometime now that my feet are doing better. Thanks for this lovely post!

    1. It is a beautiful campus. Christopher Wren's architectural creations are amazing. It's a pity he never crossed the pond to see the culmination of his work here.

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  3. Janet, this was very interesting. Now if I can just remember it. And, I'm not teasing.
    :) It would be neat to go here and visit all of these places. Maxie

  4. I'm glad you enjoyed the post, Maxie.Thanks for stopping by.

  5. I love this history! We have an older neighborly couple named William and Mary who often joke that it's their summer home.

    1. Well, Susan, they have a lovely summer home.


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