Thomas Dawson

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An alumnus of the College of William and Mary, Anglican clergyman and Bruton Parish Church Rector, Reverend Thomas Dawson became the fourth president of William and Mary six weeks after President William Stith’s death. As he retained his positions as commissary and rector, Dawson continued the tradition of James Blair and his own brother William Dawson holding three important offices. In 1756, President Dawson and the Board of Visitors awarded an honorary degree of master of the arts upon Benjamin Franklin, believed to be the first honorary degree awarded by William and Mary.

During President Dawson’s five year tenure, internal controversies and external pressures plagued the College. In May of 1756, the dismissal of two students from prominent families for “remarkable Idleness & bad Behavior” erupted into a bitter disagreement between faculty and the Board of Visitors. The Visitors dismissal of the Grammer School master who brought the charges and filed formal complaints with Governor Dinwiddie, further cemented their power over the faculty. The records show that Dawson was largely absent from the controversy, particularly when the faculty upheld the dismissal of the two students. In response, the Board of Visitors dismissed the faculty, who refused to vacate their rooms. In the yearlong standoff, Dawson lost any ability to influence either side. The hiring of three new faculty members and a renewed two-penny act controversy, only furthered conflicts over power and influence within the College. When President Dawson passed away on November 29, 1760, he was praised in his obituary for “moderation, meekness, forgiveness, and long suffering.”

Material in the SCRC

  • Thomas Dawson, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library


Preceded by College of William and Mary President Succeeded by
William Stith

13 August 1752 - 10 September 1755

Thomas Dawson

1 November 1755 - 29 November 1760

William Yates

Fall 1760 - December 1764

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A Note About The Contents Of This Wiki
The information available in this wiki is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information available here is the best available from known documents and sources at the time it was written. Information in this wiki is not complete as new information continues to be uncovered in the Swem Library's Special Collections Research Center and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the Special Collections search tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.