Historic Jefferson College
Historic Jefferson College is the birthplace of Mississippi’s statehood in 1817. Established in 1802, the school was the first institution of higher learning chartered in the Mississippi Territory.
Historic Jefferson College is currently closed.
As governor of the Mississippi Territory, William C. C. Claiborne proposed that an institution of higher learning be established. In 1802, at its first meeting, the Mississippi Territorial General Assembly approved a bill to construct Jefferson College in Washington, Mississippi. The college was named in honor of Thomas Jefferson, then president of the United States. William Dunbar, noted scientist and early explorer of the Louisiana Purchase, was a member of the college’s first board of trustees, and Governor Claiborne served as president.
Jefferson College opened its doors on January 7, 1811, as a preparatory school with 15 students. Funds from Congress, the state legislature, and private citizens allowed Jefferson College to become a full-fledged institution by 1817. Famous students and faculty include 10-year-old Jefferson Davis, president of the Confederate States of America; Albert Gallatin Brown, governor of Mississippi; and Benjamin L. C. Wailes, a distinguished geologist, who was both a student and instructor.
In 1830, the college purchased the Methodist church building that had housed the 1817 Mississippi Statehood Convention. The building was later destroyed in a storm.
Jefferson College quickly became the intellectual center of the Natchez region. Several associations dedicated to learning met in the college rooms; around 1837, the Washington Lyceum was formed, the first such group allied with Jefferson College. The Washington Lyceum had standing committees dedicated to studying law, theology, philosophy, history, and the physical sciences. The Lyceum published a notable literary journal and examined local Native American mounds.
Local horticulturalist Thomas Affleck hosted agricultural fairs on campus and organized the Agricultural, Horticultural, and Botanical Society of Jefferson College. Benjamin L. C. Wailes became its president in 1843. Wailes traveled the state collecting fossils, exploring Native American mounds, and studying plantations to gather and publish information on crop production.
The Civil War forced Jefferson College to close in 1863. From that time until it permanently closed in 1964, Jefferson College remained a preparatory school. By the beginning of the twentieth century, the school had become known as Jefferson Military College.
In 1971, Jefferson College was placed under the administrative control of the Mississippi Department of Archives and History and listed on the National Register of Historic Places.