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Seated three-quarter portrait of Thomas Dew, dressed in black and white suit and holding a cane

William & Mary President: Thomas Roderick Dew
Term Served: October 1, 1836 - August 5, 1846
Preceded by: Adam Empie 1827 - 1836
Succeeded by: Robert Saunders Jr. 1847 - 1848

Thomas Roderick Dew, twelfth president of William & Mary, was born to a wealthy tidewater plantation family on on December 5, 1802, the son of Thomas Dew and Lucy E. Gatewood Dew. Dew graduated from William & Mary in 1820, and returned as a professor of history, metaphysics, and political economy in 1826. Dew gained national recognition as a pro-slavery advocate following the 1831 - 32 debates on slavery in the General Assembly. In his writing, particularly An Essay in Favor of Slavery, Dew rejected Enlightenment beliefs in human rights and equality while expanding on the civilizing effects of slavery.

After his election as president of the College in 1836, Dew stressed the increasing importance of studying politics and morals as a way for Southern students to respond to Northern attacks. With a pro-slavery president and legal scholar Nathaniel Beverley Tucker, William & Mary became regarded as an intellectual bastion of the Southern world view. During his ten year tenure, President Dew oversaw a period of success for the college. While still struggling financially, the quality of the faculty rose significantly. A rise in tobacco prices corresponded with rising enrollment into the early 1840s. To combat chronic financial woes, the Board of Visitors and President Dew approached the state legislature for public funding and repayment of Revolutionary War debts. While political wrangling resulted in no real financial commitment, the state legislature severed William & Mary's connection with Hampden-Sydney to establish the Medical College of Virginia. Presiding over the traditional "golden era" of the school, when questions of survival appeared answered; President Dew was widely popular on campus and in the community. In 1845, at age 43, Dew married Miss Natalia Hay, but died while on their honeymoon in Paris. He was buried in France. In 1939, his body was brought back to Virginia and he was entombed in the crypt under the Wren Building in March 1939. At an elaborate ceremony in April 1939, the President of the College praised Dew's life and work.

Thomas R. Dew published a number of works in his lifetime, including: "The Policy of Government (1829)," "An Essay in Favor of Slavery (1833)," "A Digest of the Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of Ancient and Modern Nations (1853)," "Lectures on Usury," "The Characteristic Difference of Man and Woman," in addition to a number of other works. Thomas R. Dew was born on December 5, 1802, the son of Thomas Dew and Lucy E. Gatewood Dew. Dew graduated from William & Mary in 1820. He was appointed to teach political law in 1826 and in 1836 was made president of the college. He died in 1846, shortly after his marriage to Natalia Hay. A free-trader and a pro-slavery advocate, Dew's works included Lectures on the Restrictive System, Review of the Debate in the Virginia Legislature of 1831 and 1832 (later incorporated into the Pro-Slavery Argument) and Digests of Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of the Ancient and Modern Nations.

Material in the SCRC

  • All results for Thomas Dew from the Special Collections database and the results where he is listed only as a creator:
  • Photographs of the reburial of Dew in 1939 are available in the University Archives Photograph Collection.
  • Various books, dissertations, etc. by and about Dew. Search the Library catalog for titles. Including:
    • "Thomas Roderick Dew: defender of the southern faith," Stephen S. Mansfield, dissertation.
  • Abstract: Thomas Roderick Dew: Founder of the Positive Good Thesis by Erik S. Root, Ph. D Paper Presented for the Mid-West Political Science Association 65 th Annual Conference Panel: Social Movements and Political Change Chicago, Il. April 14, 2007.
  • "Thomas Roderick Dew: Philosopher of the Old South" by Lowell Harrison, Link to JSTOR - The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography, Vol. 57, No. 4 (Oct., 1949), pp. 390 - 404.


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A note about the contents of this site

This website contains the best available information from known sources at the time it was written. Unfortunately, many of the early original records of William & Mary were destroyed by fires, military occupation, and the normal effects of time. The information in this website is not complete, and it changes as we continue to research and uncover new sources.