Original Randolph-Macon College, Boydton Virginia
The original Randolph-Macon College was chartered by the Virginia General Assembly in 1830 in Boydton Virginia. This is the original site of the oldest Methodist-affiliated college, still operating in the United States. The college was named for Congressman John Randolph of Charlotte County, Virginia, and Nathaniel Macon of Warren County, North Carolina. It opened on October 9, 1832; however, in 1868, largely due to economic difficulties caused by the Civil War, the college was moved to Ashland, where it operates today.
The vacated buildings later housed a freedman’s school to educate recently emancipated slaves and later the Boydton Academy and Bible Institute that operated from 1879 until the mid-1930s. Dr. Charles Cullis, a humanitarian from Boston, purchased the vacant property in 1878 and opened Boydton Academic and Bible Institute with the partial purpose of training African-American preachers and teachers. The school consisted 425 acres of land and the four-story brick former Randolph Macon Main Hall and Chapel; later a two-story house was added to serve as the headmaster’s home. Notables that attended Boydton Institute include Mozella Jordan Price, E.L. Baskervill, Kirke Smith, Vernon Johns, and the first Kenyan Maasai student in the United States, Molonket ole Sempele, from 1909-1912.
Remains of the Main Building located .1 mile east of the intersection of U.S. Route 58 and Jefferson Street (at Triangle Grocery). Entrance between two brick pillars on the north side of Jefferson Street. Historical markers are nearby on U.S. Route 58.
Open visitors: dawn to dusk
In order to preserve this historic site, The Old Brunswick Circuit Foundation purchased 12.5 acres of the original nearly 400-acre college campus containing the remains of the four-story “Main Building” and the headmaster’s cottage of the later Boydton Institute. Only the walls of the old Main Building remain and are deteriorated beyond restoration for occupation. Plans are to remove the brick wall height down to the top of the first story which will show the heart of the building’s use including its chapel and will allow for historical interpretation.
Interpretation will explain the history as a nineteenth century college in the South, its evolution pre Civil War through wartime to Reconstruction into the early 20th century. Exhibits will explore effects of slavery on the institution and vice versa; life in 18th century college; college’s impact on education in US by following alumni’s careers; explore college/school’ impact on the life of African-Americans post war.
Ebenezer Academy was established sometime between 1783-1793 by Bishop Francis Asbury, head of the Methodist church in 18th century America, and is thought to be the first Methodist school established in America. It passed out of the hands of the church but remained an important school for many years.
The first building on the 57-acre site was a 20’ by 40’ two-story building. The ground story was of native stone with a second story enclosed within a gambrel roof. The two end walls were each centered with an integral stone chimney. At the second story level the end walls were of wood frame sheathed with weatherboards. Bishop Asbury was pleased with the appearance of the school, writing in his journal that it was “well set out with windows and doors.” An 1835 petition to the Virginia General Assembly for funding (after it had passed to non-Methodist ownership) describes the academy as “a good, plain, substantial building of stone, having four rooms, with a fire-place in each; a few mathematical instruments, globes, and a small library.” In the early years it was a day-school, but in later years teachers’ cabins were added, along with two student boarding houses.
The rural setting with sparse population, coupled with widespread poverty and a lack of demand for an educated clergy, were primary reasons the Methodist efforts at Ebenezer Academy were fraught with problems. Though it passed out of Methodist hands around 1800, the building was used for academic purposes until the mid-nineteenth century. The school building was razed in the twentieth century and a memorial obelisk was erected from stones salvaged from the walls.
Entrance driveway is on the east side of U.S. Route 1 in Warfield, Virginia, 6.8 miles north of its intersection with Route 46 (Christanna Highway).
Ebenezer Academy Park is open visitors 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.
The school building no longer stands; the site is a quiet commemorative interpretive park. The school building outline is marked by the foundation stones with a memorial obelisk at its center. Plans are to provide more extensive interpretive signage. Funds and information are needed. Further research is desired on former students, the building appearance, and additional information on the Ebenezer Greys a local infantry unit of the Confederate Army.
Edward Dromgoole House, circa 1786.
Edward Dromgoole (1751-1835) had emigrated from Ireland to America in 1770 and had been converted from Catholicism to Methodism. By all accounts Dromgoole an inspiring and dedicated minister. While preaching on the Brunswick Circuit, Dromgoole met, converted, and married Rebecca Walton, daughter of wealthy planter, John Walton. Rebecca and Edward initially established their home in southern Brunswick County on property near her father’s home near Quarrel’s Swamp shortly after their marriage in 1777. In the late 1790s Edward acquired property further south in the county on which they built “Canaan” their home and the home of their family for generations.
Through the years Dromgoole acquired extensive lands in the Valentines area and operated a thriving plantation and a store, named “Sligo,” which was the name of his home town in Ireland. He was also a magistrate and a member of the County Court for 45 years. He rode the circuit until about 1784, then located and preaching at Dromgoole’s Chapel (his home), Woolsey’s Barn, Mason’s Chapel, and Olive Branch Methodist Chapel, which was established about 1801 near the Dromgoole home. Dromgoole was devoted to the cause of freedom. During the Revolutionary War, Dromgoole read the Declaration of Independence from the courthouse steps in Halifax, NC for the benefit of those who could not read.
The Dromgoole home was frequently visited by the American Bishop Francis Asbury. Asbury recorded in his journal on February 12, 1815: “I preached at Dromgoole’s house. … I ordained Edward Dromgoole an elder in the Church of God. Edward Dromgoole was born in Sligo; joined the Methodists in 1770; began to exhort in 1774; travelled in America from 1774 until 1785; since then he has been a faithful local preacher, respected and beloved: he has six children living, two of whom, Edward and Thomas, are local deacons.” [Note: There was no provision for Methodist ordination when he entered the ministry. (Journal and Letters of Francis Asbury, Vol. 2; page 774 and notes)]
It was at Canaan that Bishop Asbury, Reverend Peter Pelham and Dromgoole met to organize Ebenezer Academy, which was the first Methodist school in America. Canaan was also the birthplace and home of Edward’s youngest son, George Coke Dromgoole, who served in the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate; in the US Congress for nine years where he was serving at the time of his death in 1843.
2772 Christanna Hwy, Valentines, VA
The site is located .5 mile east of Route 46 (Christanna Hwy) and .8 mile north of its intersection with Route 626 (Gasburg Road).
Open by appointment only.
In 2008, in order to preserve this architectural and historical gem, the Foundation purchased the Rev. Dromgoole house and 16 acres The long term goal is to preserve and restore the house and grounds and to add a structure for meetings and retreats in this quiet natural setting. The house will serve as the focal point and visitors will be able to watch progress as the house slowly undergoes restoration. The house reconstruction and research into the life and times of the Dromgoole family can serve as a tool for teaching and study.