Colonial colleges

From Academic Kids

Nine institutions of higher education, sometimes called colonial colleges, were founded and chartered in the American Colonies prior to the American Revolution (17751783). These nine have long been considered together, notably in the survey of their origins in the 1907 Cambridge History of English and American Literature ( Although today most of these institutions refer to themselves as "universities", they are called "colonial colleges" partly because, at the time of the revolution, only one (Pennsylvania) had begun to call itself a "university"; each of the nine had assumed the power, in Europe only held by universities, of granting degrees, and several were offering some graduate instruction. (See college for more on American usage of that word.)

The nine colonial colleges are listed below in order of antiquity, along with the religious groups which were instrumental in each college's foundation and early history. All this information, however, should be taken as approximate: the dates often refer to a very sketchy theoretical "foundation" which may have preceded actual instruction by several years. Likewise, in most cases the listed religious links, albeit often very strong, were de facto rather than official. (At any rate, all have long since affirmed their secularity.) In addition to the religious/secular boundary, the line between state and private control was also far blurrier than today: as the distinction crystalized over time, some schools became fully independent and others part of their state's higher-education system.

Institution Colony Year
Primary Religious Influence
Harvard University
(at first simply the New College)
Province of Massachusetts Bay 1636 1650 Puritan
College of William and Mary1 Colony and Dominion of Virginia 1693 1693 Anglican
Yale University
(at first simply the Collegiate School)
Connecticut Colony 1701 1701 Puritan (Congregational)
Princeton University
(then the College of New Jersey)
Province of New Jersey 1746 1746 Presbyterian
University of Pennsylvania
(as the Publick Academy of Philadelphia)
Province of Pennsylvania 17492 1755 Explicity non-sectarian, with strong Quaker influence
Columbia University
(then King's College)
Province of New York 1754 1754 Anglican
Brown University
(then Rhode Island College)
Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations 1764 1764 Baptist - first to welcome students of all religious traditions
Rutgers University
(then Queen's College)
Province of New Jersey 1766 1766 Dutch Reformed
Dartmouth College Province of New Hampshire 17693 1769 Puritan

Seven of the nine colonial colleges are part of the Ivy League: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, UPenn, Columbia, Brown, and Dartmouth. The eighth member of the Ivy League, Cornell University, was founded in 1865.

Conversely, the two colonial colleges not in the Ivy League are both public universities—the College of William and Mary (today a liberal arts university, nonetheless retaining the historical appellation "college" in its name) and Rutgers University (today the state university of New Jersey).


Note 1: An earlier attempt to found a "University of Henrico" at Henricopolis in the Colony of Virginia received a charter in 1618; but only a small school for Indians had begun operation by 1622, when the town was destroyed in an Indian raid. Some have regarded the College of William and Mary as a resumption of the unfortunate plan.
Note 2: The University of Pennsylvania was established in 1749 as the Publick Academy of Philadelphia (instruction began in 1751), continuing the work of the shortlived Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania which was established in 1740.
Note 3: Dartmouth College was established in 1769, succeeding Moor's Charity School which was established in 1754 in Lebanon, Connecticut.

Other colonial-era foundations

In addition, the history of several other colleges and universities can be traced to prerevolutionary origin. Founded as "academies" or "schools" in the colonial era, these institutions only later (subsequent to the American Declaration of Independence in 1776) were chartered as "colleges" and assumed the power to grant degrees. These institutions are not generally included within the traditional Colonial Colleges, however; they are listed below.

Institution Colony Year
Religious Influence
St. John's College, Annapolis
(as King William's School)
Province of Maryland 1696 1784 many Christian sects
Moravian College Province of Pennsylvania 1742 1863 Moravian Church
University of Delaware
(as the Free School)
Delaware Colony 1743 1833 Non-sectarian
Washington and Lee University
(then Augusta Academy)
Colony and Dominion of Virginia 1749 1782 Non-sectarian
College of Charleston Province of South Carolina 1770 1785 Non-sectarian
Salem College Province of North Carolina 1772 1866 Moravian Church
Hampden-Sydney College Colony and Dominion of Virginia 1775 1783 Non-sectarian

See also


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