VIRGINIA’S 1776 COLLEGE
Hampden-Sydney College, founded on January 1, 1776, in Prince Edward County, Virginia, was named for two great English patriots, John Hampden (1595-1643) and Algernon Sydney (1622-1683). Patrick Henry and James Madison, two great Virginia patriots, were members of Hampden-Sydney’s first Board of Trustees.
The college’s founders, faculty and students were all of a patriotic bent, and in the school’s first year students and faculty alike were actively involved in the war effort. In the spring of 1776 Governor Patrick Henry sent a requisition to Prince Edward County for a company of militia. That requisition was followed shortly by word that a Declaration of Independence from Great Britain had been issued by a group meeting in Philadelphia.
Upon hearing that a Declaration of Independence had been issued, Samuel Stanhope Smith, the first president of Hampden-Sydney, many faculty members and 65 students formed a company of their own and joined the cause. The Company’s uniforms were simple modifications of regular dress: gray trousers and hunting shirts that were dyed garnet – a color achieved by using the juice from pokeberries.
While there were some Hampden-Sydney men who fought at Yorktown in 1781, none were members of the company formed in 1776. The Company apparently did march out, offering themselves as soldiers to General Washington and the Marquis de Lafayette, but Lafayette is said to have replied that they should return to their college, as America needed scholars as well as soldiers.
Garnet and gray are still the official colors of Hampden-Sydney College.