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In 1786, a Balloon Club was formed by students of the College of William & Mary, which is believed to be the first balloon club at any institution of higher learning. The balloon was invented in 1773. The first successful balloon ascension in Virginia was accomplished in May 1801 by Joseph Shelton Watson, a student at the College, from Court House Green. The balloon was constructed by students. A historic marker honoring the ascension is located on the edge of campus near Bryan Hall, which is part of Bryan Complex just off of Richmond Road near Zable Stadium. Watson's account of the ascent is detailed in a letter to his brother David Watson dated May 7, 1801. The transcribed letter is available in The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 29 No. 2 (April 1921), p. 166-169.


  • Flight School, University Archives Subject File, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, William & Mary.

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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.