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It was not William and Mary, nor Harvard: The Establishment of the College of Henrico, May 1619

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The first educational institution to officially be chartered and founded was the College Lands or College of Henrico, May 1619. King James I gave his approval for officers at the Virginia Company of London to build a school for young Powhatan Indian boys to be classically educated as English scholars would be – literacy and arithmetic, etc. In addition to that classic education would be planting technologies and those scholars would be offered Christianity as well. Approximately 10,000 acres were granted, and a company of workers began work that year. Eventually, influential George Thorpe would be appointed to head it, but men like John Rolfe would become designated advisors and teachers for those students.

It would have become America’s first permanent college if it were not destroyed in the Powhatan Indian military offensive on March 22, 1622. This college was an attempt to merge the English and Powhatan cultures, thus continuing the steps taken by the Pocahontas conversion and marriage in 1614.

Editor’s note: Want to learn more about how the 2019 Commemoration is highlighting the contributions of the three founding cultures? Save the date for the 1619: Making of America Summit.


  1. AE Curator October 24, 2018

    Thank you so much for sharing this story about Virginia’s early history of education and diversity!


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