Thomas Jefferson Papers

Form the Rhode Island Delegates in Congress, 14 October 1786

Form the Rhode Island Delegates in Congress

New York 14th: of October 1786.


In compliance with the request of the Honourable the Corporation of the College at Providence in the State of Rhode Island, transmitted in their vote of the 7th. of September last. we take the liberty to inform your Excellency that the College under their direction was founded in the year 1764, and received the small endowments of which it is now possessed, solely, from the beneficence and contributions of individuals, the Government not being sufficiently impressed with an idea of the importance of Literature to afford its Patronage, or lend it any further assistance than that of granting it a Charter. With these small beginnings, however, at the commencement of the late war, the Corporation had the pleasure to see that beautiful Edifice, erected on the hill at Providence, and upwards of forty students matriculated, together with a large Latin School, as a necessary to supply it with Scholars.

The whole of the College endowments consisted of one Thousand Pounds Lawful money as a fund, with six Acres of Land adjoining it. At that period the young Institution was rapidly growing in reputation, as well as in number of Scholars, but on the arrival of the enemy in that State, in the year 1776 it was seized by the public for the use of Barracks and an Hospital for the American Army, and continued to be so occupied until a little before the arrival of the Armaments of his Most Christian Majesty at Rhode Island when it was again taken out of the hands of the Corporation by an order of government, and delivered up to our Allies for the same uses to which it had been applied by the American Army; and they held it till their Army marched for the Chesepeak. To accommodate the Building to their wishes they made great alterations, highly injurious to the designs of its founders. This with the damages done to it by the Armies of both nations, while so occupied, subjected the Corporation to great expence to repair it; and that when the deranged state of our finances prevented us from making scarcely any advantage of the Interest of our little fund, in the State Treasury. Having, at their own expence made these repairs they applied first to the Legislature of the State, and afterwards repeatedly to Congress for some compensation, but have not been able to obtain the least. Thus circumstanced they think it their duty to solicit the patronage of his Most Christian Majesty, in the manner they have done in the memorial which accompanies this letter.

We have the pleasure to inform your Excellency that there are now upwards of fifty students belonging to the College, with flattering prospects of an increase. The aforegoing is a brief account of the origin and present state of the College at Providence. We only beg leave to add, that this Institution embraces in its bosom, and holds out equal priviledges to all denominations of Protestants. And its Corporation, agreeably to Charter, is, and must forever be composed of some of all Denominations of Christians.

We have the Honour to be Sir Your very Humble and most obedient Servants,

James Manning
Nathan Miller

RC (DLC); endorsed by TJ: “Rhode island Delegates Rhode island college.” Noted in SJL as received 24 Jan. 1787. Enclosures (DLC): (1) Extract of the minutes of a meeting “of the Corporation of Rhode Island College, in Providence, Sept. 6, 1786,” directing that “the Subject of an address to His Most Christian Majesty, ordered in the year 1784, be resumed” that TJ be requested to present the address and “support the same with his interest at that Court” and that a committee, consisting of Benjamin Waterhouse, Solomon Drown, and David Howell, prepare the memorial and forward it to the delegates in Congress with the request that they transmit it “with such remarks as, in their opinion, may prove advantageous: Noting the rise, progress and actual Circumstances of the College.” (2) Letter from the committee, named in the preceding extract, to the Rhode Island delegates in Congress, 9 Sep. 1786, stating that a memorial to the King of France, “soliciting his royal patronage,” had been sent to Benjamin Franklin in 1784, but the College was never informed that the memorial reached him; requesting that the renewed address be sent to TJ, “in whose abilities, candor and readiness to promote the Interest of Learning in General and of this Seminary in particular, the Corporation repose perfect confidence‥‥ . It is with peculiar satisfaction that this Negotiation is now committed to a Character not only Dear to the Citizens of America in general but particularly so to some of the Friends of this College, to a Gentleman who has honour’d this Town and College with a personal Visit and left impressions on the minds of many here highly favorable to his Character as a Philosopher and Gentleman as well as a Politician.” (3) Tr of a memorial to the King of France, dated 9 Jan. 1784, signed by Stephen Hopkins, Chancellor, and James Manning, President; certified and signed, 8 Sep. 1786, by Jabez Bowen, Chancellor, James Manning, President, and David Howell, Secretary; soliciting the King’s aid in establishing a collection of French books and a professorship of the French language in the college (printed in R. A. Guild, Early History of Brown University, Providence, 1897, p. 350–1). See TJ to Rhode Island Delegates, 22 July 1787.

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