HISTORY OF THE COLLEGE
The chartering of Williams College in 1793 was an act of faith and certainly an act surpassing the modest intentions of Colonel Ephraim
Williams, for whom the college is named.
Colonel Williams had not intended to found a college. Enroute with his regiment of Massachusetts militia to join the battle with the French
and Indians at Lake George, the Colonel had tarried long enough in Albany to write his last will and testament on July 22, 1755. In it he
bequeathed his residuary estate for the founding and support of a free school in West Township, where for some years he had commanded a
detachment of militia at Fort Massachusetts, farthest outpost of the province. The will stipulated that West Township, then in dispute between
Massachusetts and New York, must fall within Massachusetts and that the name of the township must be changed to Williamstown, if the free
school was to be established at all.
On September 8, 1755, Colonel Williams was killed at the Battle of Lake George. On October 26, 1791, after many delays, fifteen scholars
were admitted to the free school in Williamstown. Within a year the trustees, not content with the original modest design of the founder, were
captivated by the idea of creating a college where, as they put it, "young gentlemen from every part of the Union" might resort for instruction
" in all the branches of useful and polite literature." The proposal was extremely ambitious, to be sure, but ambition was a common American
ailment. England did not develop a third university until the nineteenth century; Williams was the twentyfirst institution of higher learning
to flower in onetime British colonies, the second in Massachusetts, the sixth in New England. On June 22, 1793, the Commonwealth of
Massachusetts granted a charter to Williams College.
The bold decision to plant a college in the wilderness betrayed the intentions of Colonel Williams; yet the new vision had been fed by the
same sort of dreams that had led Ephraim Williams to see a school and a comfortable community where only a military outpost had stood.