Jonathan Peter Cushing

H-SC President, 1821-1835

Jonathan Peter Cushing Jonathan Cushing was almost everything that his predecessors were not: He was of English, not Scotch-Irish, descent; he was a layman and was confirmed in his ancestral Episcopal church while President; he was a New Englander; his chief teaching interest was chemistry; and he landed at Hampden-Sydney entirely by accident. An orphan at ten, he had worked on his uncle's farm but during his meager first schooling developed a passion for learning which led him to work his way through Phillips Exeter Academy as a saddler's apprentice; he then worked his way through Dartmouth, graduating at age 24 in 1817. In Richmond on his way South for his health, Cushing was asked by a Dartmouth classmate, who had been hired to teach at the College but had fallen sick, to take his place; Cushing, who had never heard of the place, did so. After two years he was made librarian and when Moses Hoge died in 1820, Cushing was made Acting President; the next year he was elected President. Finding the campus a virtual wreck, he launched a project to replace almost all the College buildings with one big structure: the new College Building, known since about 1908 as Cushing Hall (his own pledge of money was one of the largest). He married a Trustee's daughter, was a fine teacher, and unlike his predecessors, devoted full energy to College business. He was a leading organizer of the forerunner of the Virginia Historical Society. His host on his Richmond stopover, Rev. John Holt Rice, established Union Seminary as an independent entity in 1823 at the South end of the campus, and the two men and their schools maintained mostly cordial relations. Cushing's old ailment returned in Fall 1834 and the following April, having resigned the presidency, he died in Raleigh en route to the West Indies. His remains were reburied at Hampden-Sydney in 1954.