Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)




This dissertation is a study of the life and career of Benjamin Stoddert Ewell (1810-1894). A grandson of the first United States Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin Stoddert, and son of an old Virginia family, Benjamin Ewell grew up in Prince William County, Virginia, during the early days of the American republic. Although educated at the United States Military Academy, Ewell rejected the military life for a career in college teaching and administration. After holding faculty chairs at Hampden-Sydney College (1839-46) and Washington College (1846-48), Ewell became, in 1848, president pro-tempore of the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia. For the next forty years he served William and Mary as professor (1849-54) and president (1848-49; 1854-88).;Ewell's years were troubled ones for the colonial college. In the ante-bellum period, financial difficulties and a dearth of students--problems common to almost all nineteenth century college presidents--constantly threatened the college's existence. In 1859 fire destroyed the main building, and Ewell faced the difficult problems of rebuilding. During the Civil War, in which Colonel Ewell served as adjutant to Confederate general Joseph E. Johnston, the college was burned again, this time by Union troops. Rebuilding after 1865 depleted the school's endowment, and its location in the inaccessible and economically depressed Tidewater region of Virginia discouraged student enrollment. Ewell's efforts to obtain reparations from Congress came to naught. In 1882, William and Mary was forced to close.;Ewell always considered the college a living monument to Virginia's years of glory during the period of the Revolution and Early Republic. On the basis of this belief, his dedication to William and Mary was so complete that his biography necessarily becomes a history of the college. In all its adversity Ewell kept the faith that William and Mary would survive and fought unrelentingly to prevent the institution's removal from Williamsburg. After William and Mary closed, he remained as president to protect both its charter and its buildings. Finally, in 1888, he led a successful campaign to make the colonial college a normal school for white males, thereby assuring its continued existence, its financial stability, and its location in Virginia's colonial capital.



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