An alumnus of William & Mary, Anglican clergyman and Bruton Parish Church Rector, Reverend Thomas Dawson became the fourth president of William & Mary six weeks after President William Stith's death. As he retained his positions as commissary and rector, Dawson continued the tradition of James Blair and his own brother William Dawson in holding three important offices. In 1756, President Dawson and the Board of Visitors awarded an honorary degree of master of the arts upon Benjamin Franklin, believed to be the first honorary degree awarded by William & Mary.
During President Dawson's five year tenure, internal controversies and external pressures plagued the College. In May of 1756, the dismissal of two students from prominent families for "remarkable Idleness & bad Behavior" erupted into a bitter disagreement between faculty and the Board of Visitors. The Board of Visitors' dismissal of the Grammar School master who brought the charges and filed formal complaints with Governor Dinwiddie further cemented their power over the faculty. The records show that Dawson was largely absent from the controversy, particularly when the faculty upheld the dismissal of the two students. In response, the Board of Visitors dismissed the faculty, who refused to vacate their rooms. In the yearlong standoff, Dawson lost any ability to influence either side. The hiring of three new faculty members and a renewed two-penny act controversy only furthered conflicts over power and influence within the College. When President Dawson passed away on November 29, 1760, he was praised in his obituary for "moderation, meekness, forgiveness, and long suffering."
Material in the SCRC
- Thomas Dawson, Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library