Adam Empie

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Reverend Adam Empie became the College of William and Mary’s eleventh president following the unexpected death of Rev. William Holland Wilmer. Born in 1785 in Schenectady, N.Y. he attended Union College. Prior to his presidency, Empie was a chaplain and professor at the United States Military Academy, and rector at parishes in New York and North Carolina. He served as president of William and Mary from 1827 until his 1836 resignation to become rector of St. James Episcopal Church in Richmond.

Empie became president through the efforts of Bishop of Virginia Richard Channing Moore, who hoped to replace Rev. Wilmer with another clergyman. The Board of Visitors hoped for a quick replacement, and elected Empie despite knowing very little about the man beyond Bishop Moore’s descriptions. The College continued to experience difficulty during Empie’s nine year tenure, particularly in retaining faculty members during the first few years. To curb continuing discipline problems, the Board of Visitors passed a new code of behavior. The most pressing issue, however, continued to be low enrollment. After a cholera epidemic, only eighteen students matriculated in 1833, so only a bare quorum of staff and students supported the institution. To raise enrollment and update antiquated practices, the Board of Visitors offered testimonials to students who worked hard, behaved themselves, but did not achieve the degree. Additionally, the Board created from the ancient languages requirement a classics department. By the end of the 1830s, despite panics, enrollment rose to the all time high of 140, which would not be exceeded until 1889.

As President, however, Empie never fully adjusted to life in Williamsburg. Records indicate that as head of his large family, Empie struggled to make ends meet, often borrowing small sums from friends, colleagues, and even $800 from the College. His family were plagued by illnesses, so when St. James Church in Richmond offered him the rectorship, he resigned the presidency. President Empie left William and Mary in much the same financial and material straights as before: deficits, unpaid salaries, dwindling landholdings, and deteriorating buildings. In terms of enrollment and quality of faculty, Empie left a better institution. His presidency was followed by a man well known far beyond Virginia, Thomas Roderick Dew.

Material in SCRC

  • Adam Empie, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library:

Preceded by College of William and Mary President Succeeded by
William Holland Wilmer

1826 - 1827

Rev. Adam Empie

1827 - 1836

Thomas Roderick Dew

1836 - 1846

A note about the information in this wiki
Unfortunately, many of the early original records of the College of William and Mary were destroyed by fire, 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 SCRC's collections and elsewhere. Researchers are strongly encouraged to use the SCRC's access tools for their research as the information contained in this wiki is by no means comprehensive.