QUEEN'S MUSEUM in the American Revolution History Facts

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Excerpts from Sketches of Western North Carolina, Historical and Biographical by C.L. Hunter

One of the most useful institutions of the Revolutionary period, and around which cluster many patriotic associations, was the College in Charlotte, known as Queen's Museum. As the early fount of educational training in Mecklenburg, and the _nursery of freemen_, as well as of scholars, it should ever claim our warmest regard and veneration. A brief notice of its origin, progress and termination may be acceptable to the general reader.

The counties of Mecklenburg, Rowan and other portions of the State of North Carolina, lying in the track of the southern tide of emigration from more northern colonies, were principally settled by the Scotch-Irish, who, inheriting an independence of character and free thought from their earliest training, soon became the controlling element of society, and directed its leading religious and political movements. They were not only the friends of a liberal education, but the early and unflinching advocates of civil and religious liberty. The "school-master was abroad in the land," and as duly encouraged as in our own day. Wherever a preacher was established among them, to proclaim the gospel of salvation, there, with rare exceptions, soon sprang up into lively existence a good school, both of a common and classical order. Prominently among these seminaries of learning may be named Sugar Creek, Poplar Tent, Center, Bethany, Thyatira, Rocky River, and Providence, all located in Mecklenburg and Rowan counties. Of all these, Sugar Creek was probably the oldest. The time of its commencement is not certainly known.

After the death of the Rev. Alexander Craighead, in 1766, the first settled pastor of Sugar Creek, the Rev. Joseph Alexander (a nephew of John McKnitt Alexander) became his successor for a short time, previous to his removal to Bullock's Creek, S.C., where he ended his days. Mr. Alexander was a fine scholar, having graduated at Princeton College, and through his influence, confirmed by that of the Alexanders and Polks, Waightstill Avery, Dr. Ephraim Brevard and others, residing in or near Charlotte, vigorous efforts were made to elevate the Sugar Creek school to the rank and usefulness of a college; nor were their efforts in vain. The Colonial Legislature which met at Newbern, in December, 1770, passed an Act entitled "An Act for founding, establishing and endowing of Queen's College, in the town of Charlotte" This charter, not suiting the intolerant notions of royalty, was set aside by the King and council; afterward amended; a second time granted by the Colonial Legislature, in 1771, and a second time repealed by royal proclamation.

"And," enquires a writer in the "University Magazine," of North Carolina, "why was this?" An easy answer is found in the third section of the act for incorporating the school at Newbern, and afterward engrafted upon the act incorporating the Edenton Academy (which were the only two schools incorporated before Queen's College), compared with the character of the leading men of Mecklenburg, and the fact that several of the Trustees of the new College were Presbyterian ministers. No compliments to his queen could render _Whigs_ in politics, and _Presbyterians_ in religion, acceptable to George III.

A College, under such auspices, was too well calculated to insure the growth of the "_numerous democracy_."

The section referred to in the charter of the Newbern school, is in these words:

"Provided always, that no person shall be permitted to be master of said school, but who is of the Established Church of England, and who, at the recommendation of the trustees or directors, or a majority of them, shall be duly licensed by the Governor! or Commander-in-Chief for the time being."

"The Presbyterians," says Lossing, "who were very numerous, resolved to have a seminary of their own, and applied for an unrestricted charter for a college. It was granted; but notwithstanding it was called Queen's College, in compliment to the consort of the King, and was located in a town called by her name, and in a county of the same name as her birth-place, the charter was repealed in 1771 by royal decree. The triple compliment was of no avail."[K]

But Queen's Museum, or College, flourished without a charter for several years, in spite of the intolerance of the King and Council. Its hall became the general meeting-place of literary societies and political clubs preceding the Revolution. The King's fears that the College would prove to be a fountain of Republicanism, and calculated to ensure the growth of the "numerous Democracy," were happily, for the cause of freedom, realized in the characters of its instructors and pupils. The debates, preceding the adoption of the Mecklenburg Declaration, were held in its hall, and every reader can judge of the patriotic sentiments which pervade that famous document. After the American Revolution commenced, the Legislature of North Carolina granted a charter, in 1777, to this institution, under the name of "Liberty Hall Academy." The following persons were named as trustees, viz.: Isaac

Alexander, M.D., president; Thomas Polk, Abraham Alexander, Thomas Neal, Waightstill Avery, Ephraim Brevard, John Simpson, John McKnitt

Alexander, Adlai Osborn, and the Rev. Messrs. David Caldwell, James

Edmonds, Thomas Reese, Samuel E. McCorkle, Thomas H. McCaule and James Hall.

The Academy received no funds or endowment from the State, and no further patronage than this charter. At the time the charter was obtained the institution was under the care of Dr. Isaac V. Alexander, who continued to preside until some time in the year 1778. From a manuscript in the University of North Carolina, drawn up by Adlai Osborne, one of the trustees, it appears, the first meeting of the board of trustees was held in Charlotte, on the 3rd day of January, 1778. At this meeting Isaac Alexander, M.D., Ephraim Brevard, M.D., and the Rev. Thomas H. McCaule, were appointed a committee to frame a system of laws for the government of the Academy. They were also empowered to purchase the lots and improvements belonging to Colonel Thomas Polk, for which they were to pay him L920. The salary of the president was fixed at L195, to be occasionally increased, according to the prices of provisions, then greatly fluctuating in consequence of the war.

In the month of April, 1778, the system of laws, drawn up by the committee, was adopted without any material alteration. The course of studies marked out was similar to that prescribed for the University of North Carolina, though more limited. Shortly before these transactions, overtures were made to the Rev. Alexander McWhorter, of New Jersey, so favorably known to the churches by his missionary visit in 1764 and 1765, with the Rev. Elihu Spencer; and also by a more recent visit to the Southern country, to encourage the inhabitants in the cause of independence, soliciting him to succeed Dr. Alexander in the presidency of the Academy.

Dr. McWhorter having declined accepting the presidency on account of the deranged state of his affairs at that time, Mr. Robert Brownfield, a good scholar, and belonging to a patriotic family of Mecklenburg, agreed to assume the duties of the office for one year. During the next year, the invitation to Dr. McWhorter was renewed, and a committee consisting of the Rev. Samuel E. McCorkle, and Dr. Ephraim Brevard was sent to New Jersey to wait upon him; and in the event of his still declining, to consult Dr. Witherspoon and Professor Houston, of Princeton College (the latter, a distinguished son of old Mecklenburg,) respecting some other fit person to whom the presidency should be offered. In compliance with this second invitation, Dr. McWhorter removed to Charlotte and immediately entered upon the duties of his office with flattering evidences of success. Many youths from Mecklenburg and adjoining counties, yet too young to engage in the battles of their country, and others of older years, whose services were not imperiously needed on the tented field, flocked to an institution where a useful and thorough education could be imparted.

But, owing to the invasion of the Carolinas by Cornwallis in the fall of 1780, the operations of the Academy were suspended and not resumed during the remainder of the war. After a short service in the Presidency of the Academy, Dr. McWhorter, to the great regret of the patrons of learning in the South, returned to New Jersey.

During the occupation of Charlotte by the British army under Lord Cornwallis, Liberty Hall Academy, which stood upon the lot now owned by A.B. Davidson, Esq., was used as a hospital, and greatly defaced and injured. The numerous graves in the rear of the Academy, visible upon the departure of the British army, after a stay of eighteen days, bore ample evidence of their great loss in this "rebellious county"--the "Hornet's Nest" of America.

After the close of the war, Dr. Thomas Henderson, who had been educated at the Academy, and who frequently represented Mecklenburg in the Legislature near the beginning of the present century, set up a High School, and carried it on with great reputation for a number of years. Classical schools of a high order were numerous after the Revolutionary war, principally under the direction of Presbyterian clergymen. These early efforts in the cause of a sound and liberal education, constantly mingled with patriotic teachings, made a telling impress upon the Revolutionary period, and greatly assisted in achieving our independence.