William Stith

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Reverend William Stith, third president of the College of William and Mary, began his education at the Grammar School at William and Mary and graduated from Queen’s College, Oxford. A historian and rector of Henrico and York-Hampton parishes, Stith’s brief tenure as president witnessed the beginning of controversies that would engulf the school through the Revolutionary War.

The recent deaths of Governor Gooch and William and Mary President William Dawson heightened competition between the new royal governor Robert Dinwiddie and provincial political leaders. By April 1752, the Pistole Fee controversy political debate spilled into the presidential selection process. When Governor Dinwiddie learned that a chief political critic, Stith, was among names considered for the presidency, he and supporter John Blair began advocating for Rev. Thomas Dawson to succeed his brother as president. Rector of Bruton Parish, master of the Indian School, and senior faculty member, Rev. Thomas Dawson posed a threat to the election of Stith (former Grammar school master). At the Board of Visitors meeting on August 13, 1752, after a second count of votes, Rector Dudley Digges cast the tie breaking vote in favor of his former teacher, William Stith. Unwilling to accept defeat, John Blair and Governor Dinwiddie maneuvered to prevent Stith from the traditional appointment of commissary, which went to Thomas Dawson.

President Stith’s victory was short lived, he presided over a divided faculty until his death September 10, 1755. The adoption of a stricter disciplinary code - which included warnings against horse racing- was among one of the only accomplishments of Stith’s presidency. Stith’s presidency began a period of seemingly unending controversy over the question of the influence of the empire versus the colony in College leadership and policy.

Material in the SCRC

  • "William Stith", Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library:

External Links

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

18 July 1743 - July 1752

William Stith

13 August 1752 - 10 September 1755

Thomas Dawson

1 November 1755- 29 November 1760

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