What a Riot – Studying the Happenings of William and Mary During Jefferson’s Student Years.

June 23, 2009 at 12:31 pm 3 comments

This morning, I decided to dig into the last and largest of 5 articles that I had printed out yesterday for background reference. At a whopping 38 pages, Mark Wenger’s 1995 article from the Virginia Magazine of History and Biography — Thomas Jefferson, the College of William and Mary, and the University of Virginia — does not fail to disappoint. As is the norm with a lot of historical writings, the first page or few can be quite dry, as was in this case. However, when the author began to delve into the tensions of the mainly clerical-led faculty and board of visitors (of which TJ mentor Peyton Randolph was a member), it seemed like all colonial hell broke loose.

The article outlines a melee and all-out war over control over the proceedings of the school and clerical outrage over the Two Penny Act. The clerical faculty of William and Mary wanted president Dawson to allow them to convene and make a case to the Archbishop of London in the event of their suffering heavy financial losses due to the Act. Dawson refused, and there was a lot of unrest among the college faculty. There then was a fight involving a faculty member’s student brother which resulted in none of them testifying due to their dissatisfaction with the president’s and the board of visitor’s influences over how campus happenings were run. Most of the faculty were expelled, and within the new crop of professors came William Small, TJ’s much admired academic mentor and Jacob Rowe, who (ironically) was appointed the professor of moral philosophy.

Rowe turned out to be a bad choice for the college, as he was given to bouts of public drunkenness and instigating large fights with the Williamsburg townies. This gem from Wenger’s article gives the reader a tiny, tasty morsel of dirt on what was only a fraction of the debauchery:

“…Rowe had involved himself in the ensuing dispute [as a result of a second wave of the Two Penny Act] and was hauled before the House of Burgesses for publicly suggesting that certain members should be hanged and for vowing that he would deny any burgess (sic?) applying to him for the sacrament. To secure his own release, Rowe had to submit a written apology and pay a fine.”

But wait, it gets better:

“Within a short time… Rowe… became notorious for public drunkeness, outbursts against the authorities, and ‘horrid oaths and execrations in their common conversations…’ [Rowe was] accused of trying to ‘destroy the regular authority of the President of the college, and to create and keep up Differences and Parties between the President and Masters.’ ”

On this incident, then Lieut. Governor Fauquier (who later as Governor was known for his outrageous gambling habits) let Mr. Rowe go. Rowe had promised to be a good egg and reform his behavior, but as is with most “badasses” this pledge didn’t last very long. Rowe incited a large-scale fight between townies and college students which resulted in Visitors’ Board member Peyton Randolph confronting him about the incident. This immediately resulted in Rowe shoving a loaded pistol to Randolph’s chest, and resolving to “[threaten] the lives of all who obstructed his efforts to redeem William and Mary’s honor”.

Then, Wenger gets to Rowe’s fate, in which he apparently “suffered immediate dismissal [from the William and Mary faculty]  for his part in this adventure and returned to England in disgrace”. To add salt to the wound, the man who carried out his censure and expulsion was Lieut. Gov. Fauquier. Awesome.

Pictures of the Day (another two-fer!)

My feet, Monticello, April 2007.

My feet, Monticello, April 2007.

The Reprisal - June 2009.

The Reprisal - June 2009.


Entry filed under: Fun!, Research Findings. Tags: , , , , , , .

Still Buzzing. Ah, Sundays.

3 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Mom  |  June 23, 2009 at 1:43 pm


    I am very proud of your research and commentary of your adventures. Thank you for sharing.

    Love you,

  • 2. scott  |  July 12, 2009 at 10:36 am

    Love those shoe photos!!! (I am not Scott}

  • 3. ohisian319  |  July 12, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Hehe Thanks Lydia! 😉


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