An army of good men

The celebration of Dr. Christopher B. Howard as the 24th president of Hampden-Sydney College includes many programs throughout the academic year that recognize the College as a national treasure with a regional foundation and a global outlook. This first part in a series examines Hampden-Sydney as a national treasure. As the year progresses, future issues of The Record will feature articles that illustrate the position of this storied college in the community and the greater world. Our effect on the people and events around us may surprise you.

Just as our great nation was being formed, so too was Hampden-Sydney College. As our founding fathers assembled to form a more perfect nation from among the colonies of the British dynasty, Reverend Samuel Leake called a special meeting in February 1775 at Prince Edward County’s Slate Hill Plantation to formally organize the educational institution that has faithfully served the young men of this land for 235 years.

Among the first Trustees were Presbyterian ministers and prominent Prince Edward County citizens, many of whom where related by blood or marriage. College historian (and a personal treasure to many alumni) John L. Brinkley ’59 points out in his definitive history of Hampden-Sydney College, On This Hill, that all but one of these trustees were “stalwarts of the Revolutionary cause.” The philosophy of the Independence movement has been woven into the fabric of this institution.

Samuel Stanhope Smith, founding president
Samuel Stanhope Smith, the first president of Hampden-Sydney College and a driving force in establishing the school, had graduated from Princeton University where he was greatly influenced by its president, Dr. John Witherspoon, whose daughter he married. An immigrant from Scotland, Dr. Witherspoon was a supporter of the Independence movement and attended the Second Continental Congress in May 1775. That same summer, Smith returned from Prince Edward County to New Jersey, where it is believed that Dr. Witherspoon recommended Hampden-Sydney as the new college’s name. Mr. Brinkley notes that Dr. Witherspoon had “recently chartered a privateer with the joint name [Hampden-Sydney], and Revolutionary patriotic societies in several cities bore it.”

Charles William Dabney 1873 says of the Scotch and Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of the South, from which Hampden-­Sydney was born: “Their church had trained them in the methods of representative government. They were devoted to their church and to their school. They were thus ready to become citizens of a republic.”

Many already know that American patriot Patrick Henry was among the original trustees of Hampden-Sydney College and that many of his sons attended the school. Fewer, however, know of the rivalry between the Anti-Federalist Henry and the Federalist Reverend John Blair Smith, which had consequences far beyond Prince Edward County. Smith (Samuel’s younger brother and his successor as president of Hampden-Sydney College from 1779 to 1789)regularly attended public speeches at “courthouse days” at what is now nearby Worsham. Author Robert Meade recounts in his book Patrick Henry: ­Practical Revolutionary that Smith did not attend the February 1788 speech in which Henry announced his candidacy as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention, but in his absence had someone take down Henry’s speech in shorthand. Later that week before a crowd of students—and Patrick Henry—one Hampden-Sydney student recited Henry’s speech, then another student delivered Smith’s rebuttal. Meade writes: “The young man delivering the shorthand account of Henry’s speech was described as one of the best student speakers. Yet there was a comic touch. Henry, however modest, was not likely to think that the student offered an adequate substitution for himself. In complaining to the Reverend Smith, Henry complimented the correctness of the stenographer but objected to the ‘tautness’ of the reply and the attempt to ridicule him before a large audience. Smith defended his action and Henry stopped attending his sermons.”

It must have been remarkable for students to witness the intellectual duel between their own highly educated and eloquent President Smith and Patrick Henry, an equally eloquent and nationally known statesman who played a significant role in the development of the state of Virginia and the United States. After Smith’s falling-out with Henry, he began a letter-writing crusade lambasting his Anti-Federalist rival. Among the recipients of these letters was his friend and Princeton classmate, later President of the United States, James Madison.

Public Service
Probably the most famous student from The Hill is William Henry Harrison 1791, the ninth President of the United States. Although Harrison, like many students of his day, did not complete his ­Hampden-Sydney education, one could still argue that being a student here put him on the path to success. According to Freeman Cleaves’ Old Tippecanoe, Harrison, “whose sympathies for the weak and suffering were marked, was persuaded to prepare for the study of medicine. And so, in the fall of 1787 … [he] took the stagecoach for Hampden Sidney College in far-off Prince Edward County.”

Once here, Harrison’s interest turned from medicine to military history; he claimed to have read Charles Rollin’s 3,000-page Ancient History three times before the age of 17. He led a remarkable life leading up to the White House (Tommy Shomo ’69 gives a summary on page 11), as a soldier and elected official.

Sterling Price 1830, Governor of Missouri
Of course, Hampden-Sydney’s effect on U.S. politics is not limited to William Henry Harri­son. The list of distinguished alumni in public service is both long and varied. Beginning with the Class of 1779, William Giles served in both the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives before becoming Governor of Virginia. Edward Coles 1805 was the private secretary of President James Madison and later the Governor of Illinois. William Cabell Rives 1811 served in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives before assuming the role of Minister to France. Hamil­ton Gamble 1812 went west and was elected Governor of Missouri before becoming Chief Justice of the Missouri Supreme Court. Andrew Hunter 1822 was the prosecuting attorney in the case against John Brown and then served on the staff of Confederate General Robert E. Lee. Thomas W. Ligon 1830 served in the U.S. House of Representatives and was elected Governor of Maryland. His classmate Sterling Price was also elected Governor of Missouri and to the U.S. Senate (the citizens of the Show Me state likely do not know how much they owe to Hampden-Sydney College). John W. Stevenson, Class of 1831, was a U.S. Senator and Governor of Kentucky. Filling more governors’ seats were Philip W. McKinney 1851 and E. Lee Trinkle 1896, both of whom served as Governor of Virginia.
Lest anyone worry that the tide of public service has turned, we can point to Monroe Leigh ’40, principal legal counsel of the U.S. State Department under Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. William B. Spong ’41 was elected to both the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate before joining the U.S. Senate. From the Class of 1968, Paul S. Trible, Jr., has served in the U.S. House of Representatives, in the U.S. Senate, on the U.S. Delegation to the United Nations, and now as President of Christopher Newport University.

Paul Trible 1968, U.S. Senator from Virginia
Even after this impressive list of luminaries, we have not touched on the members of the Class of 1791, the namesake class of the ­College’s leader­ship program, The Society of ’91. Members of this class include George M. Bibb, Chief Justice of Kentucky, U.S. Senator, and U.S. Secretary of the Treasury; William Branch Giles, member of the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate and Governor of Virginia; Moses Waddel, President of the University of Georgia; and, of course, William Henry Harrison himself.

It seems Hampden-Sydney College has always been home to young men with political aspirations, or at least young men whose lives have ultimately led them to political office. We are fortunate to have among the ranks of our alumni one who has gone on to our nation’s highest elected office. Beyond these representatives, senators, and governors are countless local board members, town council members, city managers, and more who keep America’s communities—the places we call home—humming along peacefully. Though these men are not in the national spotlight, they efficiently work to keep our streetlights lit.

The Military
In the years before World War II, the U.S. Army and Navy recognized a need for more officers. Throughout much of 1942, the Navy developed and launched a program that utilized the facilities of colleges around the country—including buildings, grounds, faculty, and staff—to train naval officers. The V-12 program, as it was known, allowed young men to take college courses while training for duty in the Navy. John Paul Jones had told the 1775 Maritime Commission that a Naval Officer should be “a gentleman of liberal education, refined manner, punctilious courtesy, and the nicest sense of personal honor.” It seems only logical, then, that Hampden-Sydney College would be chosen to take part in this new program.

Seeing that the U.S. involvement in the growing war in Europe would lead to a devastating drop in enrollment at Hampden-Sydney, as well as at every other college in the country, the school was eager to join the program that would ensure enough students to keep it afloat. The V-12 program could provide those students, if the College met the Navy’s criteria. Not having a pool was a sticking point, but using the one at the nearby teaching college, now Longwood University, was considered adequate. College Historian Brinkley notes in On This Hill that Rear Admiral Luther Sheldon, Class of 1903, who was a friend and schoolmate of then-President Edgar Gammon 1905, was largely (if not completely) responsible for securing a unit for the College.

James Schneider, author of The Navy V-12 Program: Leadership for a Lifetime, says, “The nation needs to understand the vital wartime role shouldered by 131 of its colleges and universities . . . and the success enjoyed in later life and the important contributions made to the country by the V-12 trainees.” He adds, “The Navy, the colleges, and the trainees were not the only beneficiaries of the program. The entire nation has gained from the leadership provided by former V-12s in virtually every field, from education and government to business and industry.”

JackManchLt. Jack Manch 1942

As important as Hampden-Sydney College was as a part of the V-12 program, the program was more important to the fate of the College. Before the war, Mr. P. T. Atkinson 1907, ­financial secretary, treasurer, and business manager, warned of dire consequences if enrollment dropped below 300. The V-12 unit provided enough income from the Navy to offset civilian enrollment that dropped to 36 in June 1944 and to only 28 a year later. Many of the V-12 seamen gladly counted themselves among Hampden-Sydney alumni.

Though many Hampden-Sydney men proved their courage during World War II, the story of one appeared in the July 1942 issue of The Record. Lieutenant Jack E. Manch ’42 piloted one of the planes in General Doolittle’s famous bombing of Tokyo. Lt. Manch was a popular student and promising basketball player at Hampden-Sydney, but left before graduating, like many talented young men during the war years.

Many Hampden-Sydney graduates so highly valued the education they received that they established their own colleges and preparatory schools. William Cabell 1800 worked with Thomas Jefferson to found the University of Virginia, despite Jefferson’s regular disparaging remarks about Hampden-Sydney.  College president from 1796-1801, Archibald Alexander founded Princeton Theological Seminary in 1812 and for the first year served as its only professor. William Henry Harrison founded Vincennes University in 1801 while serving as the governor of the Indiana Territory.

There are many others. The Rev. James Blythe 1788 founded and was president of Transylvania University. Edward Baptist 1813 f

LeightonStuartLeighton Stuart 1895, U.S. ambassador to China and founder of Peking University
ounded Powhatan Classical School, which went through multiple locations and configurations before becoming what is now the University of Richmond. The Rev. Moses Waddel 1791 founded Franklin College, the precursor to the University of Georgia. The Rev. Daniel Baker 1815 founded Austin College in Texas. The Rev. John B. Shearer 1851 founded Stewart College, from which grew what is now Rhodes College. Joseph McMurran 1852 founded Shepherd College in West Virginia. The Rev. R. L. Dabney 1840 founded Austin Theological Seminary. The Rev. R. V. Lancaster 1884 founded Belhaven College in Jackson, Mississippi. In 1857, Drury Lacey and his wife Mary Ritchie Rice Lacey founded Peace Institute in Raleigh, North Carolina, which became Peace College. This penchant for creating educational institutions has stretched overseas as well. In 1898, Leighton Stuart, Class of 1895, founded Yenching University (now Peking University) in Beijing, China. Stuart, by the way, was the United State’s ambassador to China from 1946 through 1952, though the Communist Party had him expelled from China in 1949. He is probably the only Hampden-Sydney alumnus about whom Mao Ze Dong ever wrote an essay.

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