Archibald Alexander

H-SC President, 1797-1806

Archibald Alexander A graduate of Liberty Hall Academy (later Washington College, now Washington and Lee University), Archibald Alexander had been on the Hampden-Sydney periphery from his conversion by John Blair Smith at a revival in 1789 till his election to the Board in 1795. Something of a prodigy, Alexander soon qualified for ordination and at age 19 became pastor of Cub Creek Church, where the elder Smith had started his ministry. He had twice been offered a position on the faculty; in Spring 1797, 24 years old, after Acting President Lacy's second four-year contract had not been renewed ( he spent an imprudent amount of time on pastoral and evangelical work) and the Smiths' first cousin had declined the post, he was elected President. A bachelor when he arrived, he ate with the students in the Steward's Hall and became quite a popular figure, ironically, given the circumstances of his resignation. He was astonishingly learned and was abreast of academic trends: he revamped the College's class-structure for students, increased science instruction ( a move he later regretted), and won from the Board a considerable degree of faculty autonomy; he increased the enrollment, and more students pursued the full degree course. After three years things started to go sour, and Alexander left - he threatened for good - on an extensive Northern tour. The Trustees, so far from accepting his resignation, after negotiation increased his salary and made other adjustments that made him the College's first strong executive. But the general unruliness that afflicted American college students around 1800 infected Hampden-Sydney and led to constant vexation for "Little Archie" (he was only 5'4"); fed up, in 1806 he left for John Blair Smith's old church in Philadelphia. Alexander was also involved in the formation of another organization that is still in existance today, the Pennsylvania Bible Society.  Alexander was one of the original 24 managers pulled together to form this society in Philadelphia in late fall 1808.  Alexander was involved with the organization until his departure to Princeton four years later.  In 1812 he founded Princeton Theological Seminary, where his intellectual talents fully blossomed in a thirty-nine-year career that saw him hailed as " the Immanuel Kant of America" and "the Gamaliel of the Church."