Address Delivered at the Memorial for the 13th President of William and Mary, Essay

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THOMAS RODERICK DEW: An Address delivered April 3, 1 939, at the Memorial Service for the Thirteenth President of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, who died in Paris, France, August 6, 1846

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We are gathered here to pay a grateful tribute to Thomas Roderick Dew. Though this solemn service brings us together, the real cause of our meeting is not the death but the life of him whom we honor; for it is not of the dreadful finality of death that President Dew’s name and memory speak, but of life piled on life.

This will to offer a safe retreat and sacred resting place within the walls of the College Chapel has been thought of in another instance. On November 6, 1860, the Faculty, fearing that his grave might fall into disrepair, or into the hands of unsympathetic owners, offered through Hugh Blair Grigsby to move the body of John Randolph of Roanoke so that it might “repose near those of his ancestors in the Chapel of the College, in which those ancestors, as well as himself, were educated.” This offer was not accepted.

Even at that date the body of Thomas Roderick Dew had lain for fourteen years in Montmartre cemetery in Paris, and it remained for the generous impulse of one of his kinswomen to make possible the ceremonies we hold today.

The date of the birth of President Dew, December 5, 1802, has already become a distinctive memorial (dies honorabilis) in the long annals of the College of William and Mary, for that was the beginning of Phi Beta Kappa, twenty-six years before.

An Address delivered April 3, 1939, at the Memorial Service for the Thirteenth President of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, who died in Paris, France, August 6, 1846.

General Waller, Colonel Kemper, members of the Board of Visitors of the College of William and Mary, Senior Members of the Faculty, Representatives of the Student Body, Members of the Family of President Dew, distinguished Guests.

We are gathered here to pay a grateful tribute to Thomas Roderick Dew. Though this solemn service brings us together, the real cause of our meeting is not the death but the life of him whom we honor; for it is not of the dreadful finality of death that President Dew’s name and memory speak, but of life piled on life.
This will to offer a safe retreat and sacred resting place within the walls of the College Chapel has been thought of in another instance. On November 6, 1860, the Faculty, fearing that his grave might fall into disrepair, or into the hands of unsympathetic owners, offered through Hugh Blair Grigsby to move the body of John Randolph of Roanoke so that it might “repose near those of his ancestors in the Chapel of the College, in which those ancestors, as well as himself, were educated.” This offer was not
accepted.

Even at that date the body of Thomas Roderick Dew had lain for fourteen years in Montmartre cemetery in Paris, and it remained for the generous impulse of one of his kinswomen to make possible the ceremonies we hold today.

The date of the birth of President Dew, December 5, 1802, has already become a distinctive memorial (dies honorabilis) in the long annals of the College of William and Mary, for that was the beginning of Phi Beta Kappa, twenty-six years before.

In the year when President Dew was born, Archibald Stuart, William Short and John Marshall, sons and early members of Phi Beta Kappa, were still alive, and though Alpha Chapter was temporarily suspended, its fame and name were brilliantly manifested in the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.

The family from which Thomas Roderick Dew sprang originally came from Maryland, where Thomas Dew, father of President Dew, was born May 28, 1763; he died in King and Queen County, Virginia, April 23, 1849. When a young man he moved to Virginia, and by successful farming and financial operations, he came to own the great plantation of Dewsville.

Before the age of seventeen Thomas Dew entered the Revolutionary War; continuing his military record, he was made captain in the War of 1812.

In June, 1793, Thomas Dew, of Dewsville, married Lucy E. Gatewood, daughter of Cheney Gatewood and Elizabeth Leamon.

They had six sons to reach maturity, and all of them came to William and Mary. They were:

William Dew, entered 1814?,
Thomas R. Dew, entered 1818,
Philip Dew, entered 1827
John Wesley Dew, entered 1831,
Benjamin Franklin Dew, entered 1836,
Luther Calvin Dew, entered 1840.

The eldest son, William, attended William and Mary and graduated with distinction from the University of Pennsylvania as a physician.

The second son, Thomas Roderick Dew, whose name and memory we venerate today, was born December 5, 1802, at Dewsville. At the time of his birth George Washington, the first citizen of the United States to be Chancellor of this College, had been dead not quite three years; Thomas Jefferson, an alumnus of William and Mary, was in his second year as President of the United States; James Monroe, another alumnus, only a few months before had been succeeded as Governor of Virginia by John Page, and the great era of the Virginia rule, which remained unbroken until 1825, was in full swing. In influence, population and territorial expansion Virginia, in 1802, far exceeded any other state in the Union. The census of 1800 shows that 880,000 people were in this Commonwealth—278,000 more than in Pennsylvania, and 300,000 more than in New York state.

But it required no gifts of prophecy to foretell what the moving finger would soon write upon the walls of history. In 1800, Virginia had twenty times as many people as Ohio; in 1840, Ohio had a million and a half to Virginia’s million and a quarter. In 1790 the population of Virginia had been more than twice that of New York, and in 1840 New York’s population was twice that of Virginia.

No less disturbing was the trend in manufactures, that new and vastly expanding field for the creation of wealth. In 1840, for example, the annual products of industry for Virginia and Massachusetts were practically the same. Each state produced a total of about seventy-five million dollars. But Virginia produced fifty-nine millions of agriculture and only eight millions of manufactures, while Massachusetts produced forty-five millions of manufactures and only sixteen millions of agricultural products.
In education, however, the Old Dominion still held her own, and Virginia had thirteen colleges and universities, with a total enrollment of ten hundred and ninety-seven students, while Massachusetts and Connecticut had four each with an enrollment of seven hundred and sixty-nine and eight hundred and thirty-two students, respectively.

Thus, as a resident of King and Queen County, and as a younger brother of William Dew, it was natural for Thomas Roderick Dew to seek at William and Mary an opportunity for instruction and development. To this College he came, most probably in 1818, and graduated with the A. B. degree in 1820. The Faculty Minutes record that he had been found “very diligent, correct and attentive, and made the most flattering improvement.”

He took his M. A. in 1824, after two years of travel in Europe, with profound advantage to himself.
October 16, 1826, he was appointed to one of the six chairs in the College; as professor of Political Law, his assignment included lectures on natural and national law, political economy, metaphysics, government and history. The textbook on natural and national law was to be Vattel, with reference to Rutherford’s Institutes; in political economy, Smith’s Wealth of Nations; in metaphysics, Browne abridged; in government, Locke on Government and Rousseau’s Social Contract, a strange choice for Virginia, just three decades after the French Revolution.

This was strenuous work for the young professor, but he was vigorous, indefatigable and enthusiastic, and, as he said a little later to the Board of Visitors: “My profession affords me my sole occupation, and whether the duties attached to it be great or light, and the emoluments considerable or inconsiderable, still ’tis my only profession, and I can with truth say under all circumstances I would much prefer to have my time fully occupied,” and occupied he was.

William Boulware records in a letter to Henry A. Washington: “Mr. Dew considered this position preferable to a place in the Cabinet.” And so, with characteristic vigor the novice professor attacked his work. The prospect which confronted him, however, was far from engaging. Only forty-one students were enrolled at William and Mary in 1820, and that number had shrunk to thirty-one in 1824. In 1827-1828 fifty-four were enrolled; while at the University of Virginia for the same year there were only one hundred and twenty-eight students. But some malevolent spirit seemed to be working at William and Mary, for in 1832-33 the enrollment was twenty-three. The enrollment dropped to eighteen, almost the vanishing point, the following year, and we find Professor Dew writing to William Barton Rogers, who had been his classmate in 1820, and who had been appointed professor of natural philosophy at William and Mary in 1828.

Source Citation:

Bryan, John S. 1939. “Thomas Roderick Dew: An Address delivered April 3, 1939, at the Memorial Service for the Thirteenth President of the College of William and Mary in Virginia, who died in Paris, France, August 6, 1846.” Bulletin of The College of William and Mary in Virginia 33 (5): 1-15. William and Mary Digital Archive. https://digitalarchive.wm.edu/bitstream/handle/10288/16541/thomasroderickde335coll.pdf?sequence=2

Cite this page:

Bryan, John Stewart. 1939. "Address Delivered at the Memorial for the 13th President of William and Mary, Essay." History of Higher Education. https://higheredhistory.gmu.edu/primary-sources/address-delivered-at-the-memorial-for-the-13th-president-of-william-and-mary-essay/