The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles
The following excerpt comes from The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles. Stiles (1727 – 1795), an eighteenth-century educator and theologian, served as seventh president of Yale College and helped establish present-day Brown University. While Stiles was president of Yale, Thomas Jefferson visited the college as Stiles's guest. During this visit, Jefferson described recent changes to the faculty and mission of William & Mary, as well as specifics regarding faculty salaries and number of students. Stiles recorded the conversation in his diary including a brief description of George Wythe as professor of law.
Excerpt from Volume III
His Excellency Gov. Jefferson of Virginia visited me with a Letter from Mr. Sherman1 at Congress. He is appointed by Congress Ambassador from the United States or Minister plenipotentiary with Dr Franklin & Dr Adams, for settling Treaties of Commerce with G. Britain & other foreign Nations. He is on his way with Col. Humphrys, Secy to the Commissioners, to Rh. Isld, Bo & Piscataqua to survey these Eastern States, & take passage at Bo for France. He was educated at and entered Wm & Mary Coll.
1This letter now in possession of Dr Stiles's great grandson the Rev William C. Gannett is in part as follows:—
ANNAPOLIS, 11th May, 1784.
I take the liberty to introduce to you the Honorable Thomas Jefferson Esq’r. . . . He is a Gentleman of much Philosophical as well as political knowledge—and I doubt not you will be very agreeably entertained with his conversation. You will be pleased to introduce him to such other gentlemen in the City of New Haven as you may think proper.
I am, Sir, with great esteem and respect,
Your humble Servant
1761 where he studied five years & left in 1766. Then became a Lawyer. He was one of the 24 Visitors of Wm & Mary College. He tells me President Maddison's Saly & Perquisites are about £400 per ann. The Salaries of the other professors were £80 in Tobacco, now worth £150 or £160 as the Price of Tobacco has doubled. The Professors besides their Salys have about £8 in Tobacco, now £12 or £15 from each Scholar per ann for Instruction. There are Eighty Undergraduate Students at present ; and they study under such Professor or Professors as they chuse. The Professor of Law is the Atto Gen of the State and he makes more by his Professorship than as Attorney.2 The Presidt as Professor of Math. & Phil. has about 20 students at a time under his Tuition. A Majority of the Visitors petitioned the Assembly of Virginia about 1777 to alter the Constitution of the College ; & it was proposed to appoint a Chancellor & three of the first Literary Characters at the Supremacy in the Institution. But the other Visitors opposed it, & nothing has been done by the Assembly. The Visitors themselves however then made great Altera. They abolished the Professorship of Divy—Commons—they separated the Bracton Grammar School from the College (and the College consisted of but sixteen Undergrad. Scholars besides Grammar Scholars), which almost broke up the apparent ostensible College, for these Grammar Scholars lived & dieted in the College House—they made it unnecessary to learn any Latin or Greek in order to admission into the College.
President Maddison was born in Virginia, educated in Wm & Mary College 3 or 4 years after Gov. Jefferson, went to Engld & received Episco Ordination and is now æt 37.
Gov. Jeff says the Tot. Inhab. in the State of Virginia is nearly 380 Thousd souls Whites & 250 Th. Blacks, Total about six hundred Thousd:—that property is so diffused thro’ the State that five sixths of the Whites possess 100 acres Land & upwds to large Landholders, & that the plebeian Interest will prevail over the old aristocratical Interest in that State .
The Gov. is a most ingenous Naturalist & Philosopher—a truly scientific & learned Man—& every way excellent. He visited the College Liby & our Apparatus. He told us of a new simple apparatus for Electricity left by a British Officer in Philada. It consisted of a Plate or Discus of phps. 15 Inc. Diam. & 2 Inc. thro made of an unknown Composition or Cement being an Electric per se, yet
2 On June 8, 1784, the date of this entry, George Wythe was a Judge on High Court of Chancery of Virginia. Wythe was the Attorney General of Virginia in 1754.
not so hard as Glass, but of more easy Attrition : another plate of Metal. The electric plate must be gently rubbed with a Catskin or Leather—then the metal plate is to be put flat upon it, & instantly taken off & the phial applied, & readily filled. One pson in Philada had the secret, & sells the cake or Amber-like plate at Eight Dollars. Gov. Jefferson has seen many of the great Bones dug up on the Ohio. He has a thigh-bone Three Feet long—& a Tooth weighing sixteen Pounds. —Blacston the Basis of Law Lect. in Wm & Mary Coll. Philosophy, Medicine & Law seem to be their Object.
- Ezra Stiles, The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles (New York: Charles Scribner's Sons, 1901), 3:124-126.
- "Ezra Stiles Captured 18th-Century Life on Paper," ConnecticutHistory.org, accessed September 11, 2020, https://connecticuthistory.org/ezra-stiles-captured-18th-century-life-on-paper/.
- Richard Conniff, "When Thomas Jefferson visited Yale," Yale Alumni Magazine (May/June 2009), accessed September 11, 2020, https://yalealumnimagazine.com/articles/3159-object-lesson.
- Stiles, The Literary Diary of Ezra Stiles, 125. Stiles erroneously describes the professor of law saying, "The Professor of Law is the Atto Gen. of the State." Wythe served as attorney general in 1754.
- Read this book in Google Books.