The Naming of Hampden-Sydney College


1775 - The Naming Of The College

John Hampden
John Hampden
(1594-1643)
The founders of the College adopted the name Hampden-Sydney to symbolize their devotion to the principles of representative government and full civil and religious freedom which John Hampden (1594-1643) and Algernon Sydney (1622-1683) had outspokenly supported, and for which they had given their lives, in England's two great constitutional crises of the previous century. They were widely invoked as hero-martyrs by American colonial patriots, and their names immediately associated the College with the cause of independence championed by James Madison, Patrick Henry, and other less well-known, but equally vigorous, patriots.

Sydney was a famous political theoretician. His book Discourses on Government (a copy of the third edition (1751) of which we have in the Museum) became the handbook for those who loved civil and religious liberty. Sydney's ancestral home is Penshurst in Kent, England; our "Penshurst" is now named for it.

Algernon Sydney
Algernon Sydney
(1622-1683)
John Hampden was killed at Chalgrove Field (hence the name of our lake), and Algernon Sydney was beheaded at the Tower of London. Note that Sydney was only 20 years old when Hampden died, and it is unlikely that they ever met each other.

One will see "Sydney" spelled both with an "i" and a "y" in various documents and on different plaques about the campus. Algernon Sydney himself spelled it both ways but more often with a "y." On the diplomas in Latin an "i" is used - there is no "y" in the Latin alphabet. Dr. Eggleston, President 1919-1939, finally standardized the spelling of the name with a "y" in October 1927.

Pokeberries
Pokeberries
Our original students eagerly committed themselves to the founding philosophy of the College, and thus to America's revolutionary effort, by organizing a militia-company which drilled regularly and went off to the defenses of Williamsburg and of Petersburg, in 1777 and 1778 respectively. Their uniform of grey trousers and hunting shirts, dyed purple with the juice of pokeberries, are said to be the source of the College's traditional colors, garnet and grey, adopted officially in 1892.

There are pokeweed plants throughout the campus. In addition to dyeing cloth with the juice of the berry, one can also make wine. The top leaves of the plant can be steamed in butter and eaten like spinach. The root is poisonous. Therefore, one can dye, drink, eat, or die from the pokeweed plant!