Liberty Hall Academy
The Charter of 1782
In November 1782, Graham petitioned the Virginia General Assembly for an Act of Incorporation, which was, in everything but name, a college charter. On December 28, it was signed into law. The incorporation authorized the institution to confer degrees and appoint professors, and constituted the first formal recognition that Liberty Hall Academy offered a college-level education.
Sometime during 1783, the little frame schoolhouse burned. The minutes of the Board of Trustees indicate that arson was suspected. A new wood frame building was erected shortly afterward, but this also burned in 1790, apparently as the result of an accident.
In response to the need for a new home for the academy, the trustees undertook an ambitious plan to construct a three-story stone building which could house forty students as well as the school’s library, classrooms, and scientific apparatus. The Synod of Virginia wished to establish a theological seminary in connection with Liberty Hall. This close relationship with the Presbyterian Church disturbed some who feared that the Academy would be effectively placed under the control of the church. However, as the religious fervor of the 1790s subsided, the theological character of the institution declined.
Although Lexington’s townspeople expressed interest in having the academy relocate inside the town, the trustees decided against moving. Construction of the school building and a steward’s house where the students would take their meals was completed in late 1793.
Over the next ten years other buildings were erected in the area including a smokehouse (1793), a spring house (1795), a Rector’s House (1799), a brick kiln (1799), and a horse stable (1800).
An Academic Reorganization
In 1803, the trustees first began to recognize academic distinctions among students. The student body was divided into five groups, a grammar school and four upper classes. Students advanced from one group into the next by successfully completing a set of semiannual examinations administered by Graham and his assistants. In the grammar school, students began their studies by learning to read and write Latin and Greek. Having received high marks on examinations of Virgil and the Greek Testament, students proceeded in their study of the classics. At the college level, the successful completion of classes in Roman, Grecian, and French antiquities was followed by studies in mathematics, which included arithmetic, surveying, navigation, trigonometry, and algebra. During their last two years at Liberty Hall, students pursued topics such as philosophy, chemistry, astronomy, geography, politics, and English grammar and literature.