The colonial colleges are nine institutions of higher education chartered in the Thirteen Colonies before the United States of America became a sovereign nation after the American Revolution. These nine have long been considered together, notably since the survey of their origins in the 1907 The Cambridge History of English and American Literature.
Seven of the nine colonial colleges became seven of the eight Ivy League universities: Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Columbia, University of Pennsylvania, Brown, and Dartmouth. (The remaining Ivy League institution, Cornell University, was founded in 1865). These are all private universities.
The two colonial colleges not in the Ivy League are now both public universities — The College of William & Mary in Virginia and Rutgers University in New Jersey. William & Mary was a royal institution from 1693 until the American Revolution. Between the Revolution and the American Civil War, it was a private institution, but it suffered significant damage during the Civil War and began to receive public support in the 1880s. William & Mary officially became a public college in 1906.
Rutgers was founded in 1766 as Queen's College, named for Queen Charlotte, and was for much of its history privately affiliated with the Dutch Reformed Church. It changed its name to Rutgers University in 1825 and was designated as the State University of New Jersey after World War II.
Seven of the nine colonial colleges began their histories as institutions of higher learning, while two were developed by existing preparatory schools. Dartmouth College began operating in 1768 as the collegiate department of Moor's Charity School, a secondary school started in 1754 by Dartmouth founder Eleazar Wheelock. Dartmouth considers its founding date to be 1769, when it was granted a collegiate charter. The University of Pennsylvania began operating in 1751 as a secondary school, the Academy of Philadelphia, and added an institution of higher education in 1755 with the granting of a charter to the College of Philadelphia.
(present name, if different)
|Colony||Founded||Chartered||First instruction (degrees)||Primary religious influence||Ivy League|
|New College[nb 1]
|Massachusetts Bay Colony||1636||1650||1642 (1642)||Puritan (Congregational)||Yes|
|College of William & Mary||Colony of Virginia||1693[nb 2]||1693||1694||Church of England[nb 3]
|Connecticut Colony||1701||1701||1702 (1702 honorary MA) (1703 BA)||Puritan (Congregational)||Yes|
|College of New Jersey
|Province of New Jersey||1746||1746||1747 (1748)||Presbyterian but officially nonsectarian||Yes|
|Province of New York||1754||1754||1754 (1758) ||Church of England with a commitment to "religious liberty."||Yes|
|College of Philadelphia
(University of Pennsylvania)
|Province of Pennsylvania||1740 (college)[nb 4]||1755||1755 (1757)||Church of England but officially nonsectarian[nb 5]||Yes|
|College of Rhode Island
|Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations||1764||1764||1765||Baptist (but no religious requirement for admissions)[nb 6]||Yes|
|Province of New Jersey||1766||1766||1771 (1774)||Dutch Reformed (Calvinist)||No|
|Dartmouth College||Province of New Hampshire||1769||1769||1768 (1771)[nb 7]||Puritan (Congregational)||Yes|
Several other colleges and universities can be traced to colonial-era "academies" or "schools", but are not considered colonial colleges because they were not formally chartered as colleges with degree-granting powers until after the formation of the United States in 1776. Listed below are the founding dates of the schools which served as predecessor entities and the years in which they were chartered to operate an institution of higher learning.
|Institution (present name, where different)||Colony or state||Founded||Chartered||Religious influence|
|King William's School
(absorbed by St. John's College when the latter was founded)
|Province of Maryland||1696||1784||Church of England|
|Kent County Free School
(absorbed by Washington College when the latter was founded)
|Province of Maryland||1723||1782||Non-sectarian|
|Bethlehem Female Seminary
|Province of Pennsylvania||1742||1863||Moravian Church|
(University of Delaware)
|Delaware Colony||1743||1833||Presbyterian, but officially non-sectarian after 1769|
(Washington and Lee University)
|Colony of Virginia||1749||1782||Presbyterian, but officially non-sectarian|
|College of Charleston||Province of South Carolina||1770||1785||Church of England|
(University of Pittsburgh)
|Province of Pennsylvania[nb 8]||1770?||1787||Non-sectarian|
|Little Girls' School
|Province of North Carolina||1772||1866||Moravian Church|
|Dickinson College||Province of Pennsylvania||1773||1783||Presbyterian|
|Hampden–Sydney College||Colony of Virginia||1775||1783||Presbyterian|
In witness whereof, the Court hath caused the seal of the colony to be hereunto affixed. Dated the one and thirtieth day of the third month, called May, anno 1650.May was referred to as the third month because the year began on March 25.
Witness our-selves, at Westminster, the eighth day of February, in the fourth year of our reign.The first year of William III and Mary II's reign began on February 13, 1689 (N.S.).
By the Govrn, in Council & Representatives of his Majties Colony of Connecticut in Genrll Court Assembled, New-Haven, Octr 9: 1701
A Charter to Incorporate Sundry Persons to found a College pass'd the Great Seal of this Province of New Jersey ... the 22d October, 1746 ... The Charter thus mentioned has been lost ...
Witness our Trusty and well beloved'James De Lancey, Esq., our Lieutenant Governor, and Commander in chief in and over our Province of New York ... this thirty first day of October, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and fifty four, and of our Reign the twenty eighth.
... The Trustees of the Academy and Charitable School in the Province of Pennsylvania ... by these our present letters and charter altered and changed ... shall be one community, corporation, and body politick, to have continuance for ever, by the name of The Trustees of the College, Academy, and Charitable School of Philadelphia, in the Province of Pennsylvania; ... in the year of our Lord, one thousand seven hundred and fifty-five.
Originally located in Warren, Rhode Island, and called the College of Rhode Island, Brown moved to its current spot on College Hill overlooking Providence in 1770 and was renamed in 1804 in recognition of a $5,000 gift from Nicholas Brown, a prominent Providence businessman and alumnus, Class of 1786.
The next copy appears on pages 110-116 of the official records of the February Session, 1764, of the Assembly, known as the Schedules or the Acts, Resolves and Reports, which were printed at Newport by Samuel Hall and authenticated by the signature of the Secretary, Henry Ward, and the seal of the Colony, on March 12, 1764. ... Although the Charter states that it "shall be signed by the Governor and Secretary," this procedure was not ordinarily required to validate an act of the Assembly ... Consequently, the founding of Brown University dates from 1764 and not the time of the signature in 1765.
While neither the original charter of Queen's College, nor any copy of it, is known to be in existence, it is known that it was granted on November 10, 1766, in the name of King George the Third by His Excellency William Franklin, Governor of the Province of New Jersey.
In testimony whereof, we have caused these our letters to be made patent, and the public seal of our said province of New Hampshire to be hereunto affixed. Witness our trusty and well beloved John Wentworth, Esquire, Governor and commander-in-chief in and over our said province, [etc.], this thirteenth day of December, in the tenth year of our reign, and in the year of our Lord 1769.