Society of 1791 History


In the spring of 1791, Hampden-Sydney College was just over sixteen years old. The official recognition of the College's status had been delayed by The American Revolution until 1783 when a charter was granted by the Commonwealth of Virginia, and the first diplomas were awarded in 1786. Eight men were members of the Class of 1791; five were destined for high public office and three for less public lives.

  • William Henry Harrison, Major General in the United States Army, Governor of the Indiana Territory, Minister to Columbia, United States Representative and Senator, and Ninth President of the United States
  • George M. Bibb, Chief Justice of Kentucky, United States Senator, and Secretary of the Treasury under President John Tyler
  • James A. Jones, physician, Virginia State Delegate, United States Representative, and Surgeon General of the United States Army during the War of 1812
  • Moses Waddell, minister, principal of Willington Academy in South Carolina - where he taught John C. Calhoun - and founding president of the University of Georgia
  • William M. Watkins, lawyer, Virginia State Senator
  • John A. Morton, Captain in the War of 1812, went into business in Bordeaux, France, and served as American Counsel in Bordeaux
  • John M. Wilson, minister and principal of a boys academy in North Carolina
  • Andrew Brown, shortly after graduation, died

In the lives of the members of the Class of 1791 are examples of greatness, leadership, and service. Leadership may be marked by the attainment of high office, but the reality of high office is a call to greater service, and the importance of one's service is not truly measured by titles. Can we with certainty say that the men who commanded armies or balanced the finances of the Nation or deliberated in the United States Senate rendered a quality of leadership greater than the men who gave their lives to the service of their God and the education of young men? Is a life unrecorded by history of any less value to a man's family, friends, and community?

These eight men shared during a highly formative period of their lives an educational and social experience centered on a few brick and clapboard buildings "at the head of Hudson's Branch." They did not know who was destined for greatness and who would live only a few more years. We can assume that they studied together and ate together, that some pushed the limits of the patience of their teachers in the classroom and of President Lacy's tolerance outside the classroom. In their college years, they represented not greatness, but the potential for greatness founded on the belief that those who would be great are those who are schooled to serve.

From this rich heritage lies the challenge to all members of the Society of '91.