Early Brown Educators 
Charter & Curriculum  
Baptists in Rhode Island


Rhode Island College (renamed Brown University in 1804) owes its founding in 1764 to the support of learning by the Philadelphia Baptist Association, which had opened an academy at Hopewell, New Jersey in 1756 and now aspired to establish a college.James Manning  

James Manning, a graduate of Hopewell and the College of New Jersey (Princeton) arrived in Newport in 1763 on a mission to plant the college in Rhode Island. Here "soul liberty" had flourished since Roger Williams had founded the colony, and a substantial Baptist community had emerged after 1740. No competing college existed. Manning's project was welcomed in Newport by the Reverend Ezra Stiles Ezra Stiles, a learned Congregationalist who was already planning to promote a college in Rhode Island. Stiles became the principal author of the 1764 Charter, though his plan that Baptists and Congregationalists should share control was rejected. The college's bicameral Corporation (Fellows and Trustees) was to be predominantly Baptist, and the president a Baptist, with seats assigned also to Congregationalists, Episcopalians, and Quakers. (These provisions were not removed until the twentieth century.) James Manning was chosen as president, and as the pastor of the Baptist Church in Warren, Rhode Island, led the institution from his parsonage at Warren, then, after 1770, from Providence. He guided its recovery from the disruptions of the Revolutionary War. Ezra Stiles did the same at Yale, where he served as president from 1777 to 1795.

The "unhappy prejudice against learning" noted by Morgan Edwards persisted among Baptists for many decades. Brown and other Baptist colleges became a countervailing force for learning in its denomination whose spurts of growth were often due to unschooled revivalists, and many of whose members scorned the life of the mind as ungodly.

  Early Brown Educators

David HowellDavid Howell was Manning's first faculty colleague, also a graduate of the College of New Jersey, attorney and eminent jurist in Rhode Island, lecturer in law, instructor in French, and Corporation member in his later years.

Solomon DrowneSolomon Drowne (Class of 1773), professor in the early Brown medical program. He studied medicine at the College of Philadelphia, served as a doctor in the Revolution, and joined other veterans of the Revolution in the settling of Marietta, Ohio, before returning to Rhode Island to practice medicine and to teach materia medica and botany to medical students. At his home in Foster, named Mount Hygeia (named for the Greek goddess of health), he had a botanical garden in which he grew exotic trees and plants, some of which he used in preparation of his own medicines.

Jonathan MaxcyJonathan Maxcy (Class of 1787), president of Brown University, 1792-1802, of Union College, 1802-1804, University of South Carolina, 1804-1820. He became president of Brown (then Rhode Island College) after the unexpected death of President Manning, and was named "Acting President" until 1797 because of his young age. He began the emphasis on oratory and eloquence which was central to the educational experience at Brown until Francis Wayland arrived in 1827. In 1802 he became the third president of Union College, the first non-sectarian college in the country, brought there by his former student, Eliphalet Nott. For two years the college under Maxcy prospered academically and struggled financially. He resigned in 1804, seeking a warmer climate because of his health, and moved to South Carolina, where he led the newly organized state-supported South Carolina College through its first crucial years, acquiring a learned faculty and producing a number of distinguished graduates.

Eliphalet NottEliphalet Nott (honorary Master of Arts 1795), president of Union College, 1804-1866. Nott's only collegiate education consisted of a period of less than a year when he studied at Brown under Jonathan Maxcy. He passed all the baccalaureate examinations, but the Board of Fellows, bound by the laws of the College, declined awarding him the degree of Bachelor of Arts "in course," but at the same time decided to recognize his scholarship with an honorary Master of Arts degree. At Union he became the immediate successor of his former teacher, Jonathan Maxcy, and himself became the teacher of future Brown president Francis Wayland. Nott expanded the curriculum with the addition of scientific courses and electives, and in 1845 introduced the first college course in civil engineering. Nott's sixty-two year term set a record for American college presidencies. He was a persuasive promoter but a careless custodian of college funds, many of them derived from lotteries. When he died in office at ninety-three Union College entered upon a long period of financial decline.

  Charter & Curriculum

The 1764 Brown Charter Written by Ezra Stiles

The Stiles Charter

The petition for a Charter presented to the General Assembly of the Colony of Rhode Island in 1764 began, "Whereas Institutions for liberal Education are highly beneficial to Society, by forming the rising Generation to Virtue Knowledge & useful Literature & thus preserving in the Community a Succession of Men duly qualify'd for discharging the Offices of Life with usefulness & reputation they have therefore justly merited & received the attention & Encouragement of every wise and well regulated State, and whereas a Public School or Seminary erected for that purpose with this Colony, to which the Youth may freely resort for Education in the Vernacular & Learned Languages & and in the liberal Arts & Sciences, would be for the general Advantage & Honor of the Government ... " Thus began Rhode Island College, later to be renamed Brown University, the first institution of collegiate education in Rhode Island. Although the college had been founded by Baptists, it was further stated that there would be no religious tests for students. [larger view]

The Laws of Rhode Island College, of 1793 described the early Curriculum -- Latin, Greek, Rhetoric and Oratory, Geography, Moral Philosophy, Mathematics, Surveying, Navigation, and Astronomy. The Laws of Rhode Island College, Page 6
The Laws of Rhode Island College, Title Page

  Baptists in Rhode Island


The Cane of Morgan Edwards

Morgan Edwards, a Welshman and Baptist preacher, at one time the Moderator of the Philadelphia Baptist Association, brought up the need for a Baptist College at a meeting of the Association. He records the reception he received in the Appendix to his manuscript, Materials for a History of the Baptists in Rhode Island, stating, "The first mover for it [himself] in 1762 was laughed at as a projector of a thing impracticable. Nay, many of the Baptists themselves discouraged the design (prophesying evil to the churches in case it should take place) from an unhappy prejudice against learning." As Reverend Isaac Backus noted in his account of the founding of the college, "Ten years ago, there were but two Baptist ministers [Jeremiah Condy of Boston and Edward Upham of Newport] in all of New England who had what is called a liberal education."


Morgan Edwards. Materials for a History of the Baptists in Rhode Island, Appendix III, 1771.  
Photocopy of original ms. in the Rhode Island Historical Society.
Appendix III includes "President Manning's narrative" of the establishment of Rhode Island College (p. 314-321). Reprinted in the Rhode Island Historical Society Collections, v. 6, p.301.

Materials for a History of the Baptists in Rhode Island, Appendix III

Previous Next

exhibits home  | special collections home | library home

Comments to:
Last Updated: Tuesday, 20-Nov-2001 12:54:56 EST
© 2001, Brown University Library. All rights reserved.

You are the 8,878th visitor since November 12, 2001.