A Lively Experiment

Notes on collections at the RIHS

Object Thursday: Brunoniana

This week in Providence there is music in the air. That and tens of thousands of parents and alumni of Brown University, the first college established in the Colony of Rhode Island. It is almost Commencement Weekend (May 24-26).

Rhode Island College was established at Warren, R.I. in 1764. It moved to its current location in Providence in 1770 and the college was renamed in 1804 in recognition of a $5,000 gift from Nicholas Brown (1769-1841), class of 1786.  Its first graduating class was of seven men on 7 September 1769.

First Graduating Class Theses, 1769 (Newport: Solomon Southwick)

First Graduating Class Theses, 1769 (Newport: Solomon Southwick)
[G1157 Broadsides 1769]

The Rhode Island Historical Society collects material from all schools in Rhode Island, but our materials relating to Brown were some of our earliest gifts. There is no formal relationship between the R.I.H.S. and the university, but 11 of the 12 charter members of the R.I.H.S. in 1822 were Brown graduates and even our beloved longtime librarian Howard M. Chapin (1887-1940) graduated in the class of 1908. [See: Chapin, Howard M. “The Rhode Island Historical Society and its close relationship to Brown University,” Brown Alumni Monthly, Vol. XIII, No. 7, Feb 1913).]

The following manuscript copy of the first exercises of the first commencement was given to the Society in 1827 by David Benedict.

Copy of the First Exercises

Copy of the First Exercises of the First Class of Rhode island College, 1769.
[MSS 9004, v.XIII, p.1]

These first exercises started with a Forensic Dispute between graduates James Mitchel Varnum and William Williams entitled “The Americans in their present circumstances cannot consistent with good policy affect to become an independent state.”  Varnum (1748-1789) was the future the Revolutionary War General and Rhode Island jurist.

But back to that music. Commencement Weekend at Brown is a time of honors and revelry when Providence is in its full Spring bloom.  Enjoy and congratulations to all Rhode Island graduates this season!

~Phoebe Bean


One comment on “Object Thursday: Brunoniana

  1. gedcarbone.com
    16 May 2013

    I had no idea they would even argue an “affect to become an independent state” in 1769. Mind blowing!

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