Reverend William Dawson became the second president of William & Mary following the death of James Blair in 1743. A graduate of the Queen's College, Oxford, Anglican clergyman, and master of moral philosophy at William & Mary, Dawson's ascension to presidency followed a letter by John Blair to the Bishop of London reporting his uncle's desire for Dawson to succeed him in the office. Although his brother Thomas Dawson received the rectorship of Bruton Parish Church, William gained the other myriad appointments previously held by James Blair.
By all accounts a devout and mild man, as president William Dawson fostered harmony between the College and the provincial as well as royal authorities. Due to this goodwill, the Burgesses were particularly generous to the College during Dawson's tenure. After fire burned the first capitol in 1747, the offices of the government and the College of William & Mary shared the Main Building for five years. Without the ecclesiastical and political reach of James Blair, Dawson governed a college relative free of controversies. Dawson died on July 20, 1752 and is buried in Williamsburg. The notice in the Virginia Gazette read: "On Monday last died, and this Evening was interr'd here, the Rev. and Hon. Doctor William Dawson, one of His Majesty's Council of this Colony, President of the College of William & Mary, and the Lord Bishop of London's Commissary for Virginia..." (Virginia Gazette, 24 July 1752)
His death, only a few months after royal governor Gooch, signaled an end of peaceful times for the college. The new royal governor Robert Dinwiddie, stirred the first of a series of controversies which embroiled the faculty, presidents, and the Board of Visitors for the remainder of the colonial period.
Material in the Special Collections Research Center
- Rev. William Dawson, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library
- Virginia Gazette, No. 20, 24 July 1752 (Available in Swem Library).