Thinking About Slavery at the College of William and Mary

William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 21:4 (May 2013), 1215-1257.

43 Pages Posted: 3 Apr 2012 Last revised: 12 Jun 2013

Date Written: September 25, 2012


In looking at how the College of William and Mary has recalled its past involvement with slavery, one sees things forgotten -- some bad (its 18th C. tobacco plantation), but some seemingly more benign (its founding affiliation with a school for black children in 1760, its awarding an honorary degree in 1791 to the abolitionist Granville Sharp).

This essay posits that in the years after the Civil War and Reconstruction, the College confronted a need for a new narrative of its history, one that would largely avoid mention of Thomas Roderick Dew, its ante-bellum pro-slavery president and his faculty, including Beverley Tucker. The result was a narrative that was silent on slavery into the 21st century or, for a short period, one that fantasized a delusional world of slavery as benign. Both narratives suppressed a history where William and Mary before Dew was more skeptical about slavery than has been generally recognized. This essay documents extensively that unease about slavery by looking beyond George Wythe, St. George Tucker, and Thomas Jefferson, with special attention to students today largely forgotten at William and Mary who studied with William Small and Bishop James Madison. Those students and others included William Short, Edward Cole, and Winfield Scott.

Keywords: slavery, anti-slavery, College of William and Mary, abolition, emancipation, colonization, Granville Sharp, Thomas Roderick Dew, Beverley Tucker, APVA, Virginia history, history of American higher education, Thomas Jefferson, George Wythe, St. George Tucker, Bishop James Madison, William Short

Suggested Citation

Meyers, Terry L., Thinking About Slavery at the College of William and Mary (September 25, 2012). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal, 21:4 (May 2013), 1215-1257.. Available at SSRN:

Terry L. Meyers (Contact Author)

College of William and Mary ( email )

P.O. Box 8795
Williamsburg, VA 23185
United States

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