Messenger - Vol. 2, No. 2, Page 16
Winter 1993
Rediscovered 200-year-old Documents add to UD past

     Not all buried treasures are found on uncharted tropical islands,
marked by mysterious maps. Some are discovered buried in forgotten boxes on
closet shelves. That's how an exciting discovery was made recently, and the
"treasure" is a new collection of documents dating back to the time when
the University of Delaware was known as the Academy of New-Ark in the
pre-Revolutionary period.
     According to Jean Brown, director of records management and archival
services, Anna Perera of Kennett Square, Pa., was going through the papers
of her late sister, Ruth Cooch, when she came across some family letters
that had belonged to their father, J. Edgar Rhoads.
     A Newark family, the Rhoadses had owned J. Edgar Rhoads & Sons, a
company that made belts for machinery and was, at one time, one of the
oldest corporations in America with ownership by the same family.
     In the bottom of a dress box containing the family letters, Perera
discovered old documents and letters pertaining to the Academy of New-Ark.
No one knows how the documents were acquired, although her father was known
to be a collector of memorabilia.
     She told a friend who had worked at Winterthur Museum about her find,
and the friend recommended calling the University archives.
     Perera and her husband, George, later showed the documents to Brown,
who was very excited about their significance, and Perera generously
donated them to the University.
     "Although we knew about some of the activities carried out by the
academy, we had no solid documentation. These papers give us specific
information about such things as a trip by Dr. Hugh Williamson (an academy
trustee) to Jamaica to raise funds for the academy," Brown says.
     John A. Munroe, H. Rodney Sharp Professor Emeritus of History and
author of The University of Delaware: A History, has examined the papers
and calls them an extraordinary find.
     Dr. Williamson, a trustee, physician and preacher who never preached
and who later became one of the founding fathers of the fledgling United
States, traveled extensively on the academy's behalf. The newly obtained
documents detail his trip to Jamaica to appeal for funds from rich British
planters on the island. Later, with John Ewing, he visited the other
colonies, England and Scotland for funds, even receiving a gift from the
     According to Munroe, the trustees of the Academy of New-Ark wanted
college status for their school, but this was denied by the Penn
Proprietaries, especially Thomas Penn, because it was thought the College
of Philadelphia, later to become the University of Pennsylvania, was
sufficient. Although not chartered as a college, the academy in
pre-Revolutionary times offered a classical college curriculum, Munroe
said. The academy did not become a college until 1831, and it was chartered
by the state in 1833.
     The Academy of New-Ark papers, donated by Perera, show that
fundraising was a concern of institutions of learning even in the
mid-1700s, and the discovered papers center around efforts to raise money
for the academy. Two similar documents are broadsheets, describing the
Academy of New-Ark, listing donors and the amounts they gave. One is dated
Feb. 2, 1772, and the other is undated.
     In their plea for public funding, the trustees wrote about the
advantages of the New-Ark location, being only "five miles from the
Navigable Waters of Christiana River, and seven Miles from those of the
     They also pointed out that the "Situation of the Town is healthy.
There have been very few Instances of Sickness, not one Instance of
Mortality among the numerous Youth, who have been educated in this Town."
     In describing New-ark, the trustees pointed out that it,"generally
inhabited by sober industrious People, affords no public Amusement, nor any
remarkable Instances of Profligacy, or Vice, which generally draw the
Attention of Youth."
     Moving on to the faculty and administrators, the trustees stated their
determination that "no Rector, Professor, or Tutor, shall ever be supported
there, who is not a Man of decent Deportment and approved Virtue, as well
as accurate Learning."
     The solicitation ended by saying, "The Trustees have only to add, that
whatever Sums of Money may be put into their Hands for the Use of the
Academy of New-Ark, shall be managed with utmost Care and Frugality."
     Other documents give insights into the operation of the Academy of
New-Ark. One was a mortgage held on the property of James Stewart, a
waterman in Philadelphia, and his wife, another means of income for the
     A letter, dated Sept. 30, 1771, to Dr. Francis Alison, founder of the
academy when it was in New London, Pa., and trustee of the school, is
thought to have been written by a James Popham. Apparently, Alison had been
in Newark, and the visit was not entirely successful. In the letter, Popham
wrote that he was "sincerely sorry that you were treated so disrespectfully
here" and not to "condemn the innocent with the guilty." The letter may
have mollified Alison with an offer of two acres upon which to erect
academy buildings.
     There are some records of Dr. Williamson's trip to Jamaica in 1771,
including a speech, as recorded in the Kingston Journal, a record of his
expenses and the funds he generated for the academy.
     The last document is a letter to Williamson from Joseph V. and Eliph
Fitch of Kingston, advising him that they were unable to collect some of
the money that was pledged to the academy but were sending nine puncheons,
or large casks, of rum.
     "These papers are significant," Brown says, "because they are primary
sources, documenting information we have from secondary sources about the
early days of the University. It is amazing that they turned up more than
200 years later."
                                   -Sue Swyers Moncure