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derful mental and physical endowments, an early pupil of Isaac Eaton at Hopewell, James Manning, of Elizabethtown, New Jersey. To him the enterprise of the college was by common consent intrusted. The story of his arrival at Newport in the summer of 1763, on the mission of the association, of his efforts to enlist the leading men of the place in the new movement, and of his final success, I need not here detail. It has long since passed into history; and it now forms a part of the permanent record.
The first commencement of the college, which was held in the then new Baptist meeting-house of the town of Warren, on the 7th of September, 1769, has always been regarded as a Red Letter Day in its history. Five years previous, the General Assembly, “begum and holden by adjournment at East Greenwich, on the last Monday in February, 1764," after various difficulties and delays, in consequence of the determined opposition of those who were unfriendly to the movement, had granted a charter for a “«(College or University in the English Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, in New England in America."
Such is the language of the act of incorporation. But though Rhode Island had been selected for its home by the original projectors of the institution, and a liberal and ample charter had thus been secured, the college itself was still in embryo. Without funds, without students, and with no present prospect of support, a beginning must be made where the president could be the pastor of a church, and thus obtain an adequate compensation for his services. Warren, then as now, a delightful and fourishing inland town, situated ten miles from Providence, seemed to meet the requisite requirements, and thither, accordingly, Manning removed with his family in the spring of 1764. He at once commenced a Latin School, as the first step preparatory to the work of college instruction. Before the close of the year a church was organized, over which he was duly installed as pastor. The following year, at the second annual meeting of the corporation, held
in Newport, Wednesday, September 3d, he was formally elected, in the language of the records, “President of the College, Professor of Languages and other branches of learning, with full power to act in these capacities at Warren or elsewhere.” On that same day, as appears from a paper now on file in the archives of the Library, the president matriculated his first student, William Rogers, a lad of fourteen, the son of Captain William Rogers, of Newport. Not only was this lad the first student of the college, but he was also the first freshman class. Indeed, for a period of nine months and seventeen days, as appears from the paper already referred to, he constituted the entire body of STUDENTS. From such feeble beginnings has the University spring. Truly it is an insignificant acorn that has become the mighty oak, with sturdy trunk and wide spreading branches.
On the 20th of June, 1776, the freshuman class, which had now become the sophomore, was enlarged by the addition of a second student, Richard Stites, of New Jersey, a brotherin-law of the president. Four more joined the class in November following, viz: Joseph Belton, of Connecticut, and Joseph Eaton, William Williams and Charles Thompson, from Isaac Eaton's Academy in Hopewell, New Jersey. The seventh and last member of this first graduating class, was James Mitchel Varnum, who was admitted on the 230 of May, 1768. Why he should have left the venerated halls of Harvard to connect himself with the infant seminary at Warren, has always seemed to me a mystery. Perhaps the solution of it may be found in President Quincy's history. In April, 1768, the writer states, there were serious disturbances at Harvard. Tutors' windows were broken in, other outrages were committed, and lives were endangered. Three undergraduates were expelled, others were rusticated, and several ring-leaders gave up their chambers and severed their connections with the college. Mr. Varnum may have been implicated in these disturbances. Doubtless he was, for his biographer states that he was wild and somewhat dissipated in his youth. The date of his admission to Rhode Island College certainly favors this supposition. Furthermore, he may have become dissatisfied with his senior instruction at Harvard. President Holyoke, who had been in office since 1737, was now an old man, in his eightieth year, and in feeble health. Indeed he died the year following. On the other hand, he had probably heard through Hezekiah Smith, who was then preaching at Haverhill with wonderful power and success, and who was a welcome visitor at his father's house in Dracut, of the remarkable gists of the youthful President Manning, and of his associate instructor, Tutor Howell, better known in Providence annals as Hon. Judge Howell.
The first Wednesday in September, 1769, was a day long to be remembered. Through toils, and difficulties, and opposition even, the president, instructor and pastor, had quietly persevered in his work, until the seminary under his care had won its way to the public favor. And now his first pupils were about to take their Bachelor's degree in the arts, and to go forth to the duties of life. They were young men of promise. Some of them were destined to fill conspicuous places in the approaching struggle for independence; others were to be leaders in the church, and distinguished educators of youth. Probably no class that has been graduated from the University in her palmiest days of prosperity, has exerted so widely an extended and so beneficial an influence, the times and circumstances taken into consideration, as this class of seven, that was graduated at Warren. The occasion drew together a large concourse of people from all parts of the colony, inaugurating, says Arnold, the earliest state holiday in the history of Rhode Island. “And as each recurring anniversary,” continues the historian, "of this time honored institution of learning calls together from distant places the widely scattered alumni of Brown University, we do but renew, on a more extended scale, the congratulations that crowned this earliest festival.” A full account of the exercises? was published in the Providence (1)The printed order of exercises, which was a folio slieet, in Latin, has been
preserved in the archives of the Library, together with the exercises from
Gazette. As an illustration of the spirit of the times, and of the feelings of the people in regard to unjust taxes and imported goods, it is added in conclusion, that “not only the candidates but even the president, were dressed in American manufactures."
The usual Latin salutatory was pronounced by Mr. Stites, a copy of which is preserved in the archives of the College Library. It is a carefully written and scholarly production, one that would not be discreditable, even at the present day, to a pupil of the accomplished editor of Horace and Livy. A contemporary states that it was delivered with much spirit, and that it procured the author great applause from the learned part of the assembly. After a suitable introduction, he speaks of liberty and learning, dwelling upon the advantages of each, and their mutual dependence, and concluding with proper salutations to the governor of the colony, Joseph Wanton ; the chancellor of the college, Stephen Hopkins ; the corporation of the college; President Manning; Tutor Ilowell; and especially the Rev. Morgan Edwards, who had just returned from England, where he had procured books for the Library and funds for the endowment of the College. “Sed precipue tibi, Reverando honestissimoque viro Domino Edwards, permaximae grates sunt habendae, ob meritum tuum erga hanc academiam in maria terrasque transcendo causa donatores solicitandi.” It is a singular fact, and it may perhaps be stated in this connection, that the first funds of the College were obtained from Ireland, in guineas and half-guineas, from Mary Murphy, Susanna Pilson, Joseph Fowke, and other members of protestant churches and societies in Cork, Waterford, Belfast, Ballymony, Coleraine, Londonderry and Dublin. This may be accounted for, when we learn that Mr. Edwards' first settlement in the ministry, before coming to this country was in Cork, where he married his wife, (Mary Nunn). The original subscription book, with genuine signatures, is one of the most interesting documents on file in connection with the early history of the University. In regard to the first Latin salutatory, candor compels me to state that it very closely resembles the one delivered by President Manning, upon his graduation at Princeton in 1762, a copy of which in the original hand-writing has been preserved. Mr. Stites, it may be added, studied medicine after leaving college, and become a successful practitioner in his native state. The Rev. Dr. Gano, for so many years the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Providence, studied with him, it is said, with the · original intention of entering the medical profession.
year to year, down to the present time. They form a valuable and
instructive portion of the college history. (1) A time worn and faded manuscript, containing all the orations and discus
sions delivered at this mieniorable first Commencement. It is in the handwriting of Charles Thompson, the Valedictorian. It came into my pog. session many years ago, soon after the publication of my life of Presi. dent Manning.
The first oration in the afternoon, together with the valadictory addresses, was given by Mr. Thompson. I hold in my hands the original manuscript. It was obtained years ago, from a descendant' then living at Warren. Before graduating, the author had already commenced preaching. Upon the removal of the college to Providence, in 1770, he succeeded Manning as pastor of the church. During the war of the Revolution he served as brigade chaplain. While on a visit to his home in Warren, on the morning of May 25, 1778, the English troops from Newport burned the meeting-house, parsonage, arsenal, and several private dwellings, and carried away Mr. Thompson as a prisoner. After the war he preached in several places with great power and success. He died in Charlton, Massachusetts, in the year 1803, at the age of fifty-five. As a preacher he undoubtedly ranked among the first. He was very successful in the instruction of youth, and was fully master of whatever he attempted to teach. In truth he may be regarded, says his biographer, as an accomplished scholar, a devout Christian and an able minister of the gospel. An oration on
(1) Miss Louisa II. Thompson, a daughter of Dr. William Thompson, of
Warren, and granddaughter of Rev. Charles Thompson. She died in 1875, at an advanced age.