King’s College Tract

On September 8, 2013 · 4 Comments

I came across a tiny, minor footnote as I researched Yankee Doodle Dunce, an account of allegedly independent nations that joined the United States. With the case of Vermont specifically, within the confusion of overlapping New York royal decrees and New Hampshire Grants and compounded by turmoil during the American Revolutionary War, stood the King’s College Tract.

First, let’s start in the present-day Morningside Heights neighborhood of New York City at Columbia University.

Columbia University

Columbia is an Ivy League institution and one of only nine "colonial colleges" in the United States, a select group tracing their foundation to a date before the American Revolution. Columbia came sixth on that prestigious list and the first one in New York, established by a royal charter from King George II in 1754. Why does any of that matter? Because Columbia was originally named King’s College and the tract now located in Vermont had been set aside for its expansion.

Evolution of the Tract

Within the King’s College Tract

I could not find the exact boundaries of the King’s College Tract, however many sources mentioned that it covered about 20,000 acres in the vicinity of the current towns of Cambridge and Johnson, Vermont. That would place it east of Lake Champlain and north of a stretch of Interstate 89 from Burlington to Montpelier. It was set aside at the instigation of New York’s then-Lieutenant Governor, Cadwallader Colden (who should get a special award simply for his name), who granted this tract to the trustees of King’s College for an educational institution in 1764.

Colden was a powerful politician who strongly supported a college in New York. He fell on the wrong side of a debate leading up to the establishment of King’s College, part of a group that "railed against the corruption of New York City, its tippling houses, and other base entertainments." He wanted a rural college.

Colden hadn’t given up, however. He was keenly aware of the overlap between New York and the New Hampshire Grants. He sold numerous patents under his authority to individual New Yorkers within the disputed area and threw-in land for King’s College to boot. This would bolster New York’s claims while creating an avenue for pushing King’s College out of the city.

Today Columbia has a global presence with centers "in Amman, Beijing, Mumbai, Paris, Istanbul, Nairobi, Santiago, and Rio de Janeiro." It does not, however, maintain a campus in a rural corner of northern Vermont. Obviously something happened.

The Revolution and the Vermont Republic

Flag of Vermont Republic
SOURCE: Wikimedia Commons released into the public domain

Cadwallader Colden found himself on the wrong side of the equation, again. New York’s authority and governance dissipated with the establishment of the Vermont Republic in 1777. Colden probably wasn’t too concerned about it though. He died in 1776.

King’s College, meanwhile, hit difficult times. Loyalists controlled the college upon the outbreak of the revolution, and it suspended operations for several years. People in the new nation were still sensitive to things named after English royalty after the war. King’s College had to change its name. It became Columbia College, and later Columbia University. Don’t cry too much for the Loyalists that ran King’s College, though. One member of the college’s board of governors, Charles Inglis, relocated to Nova Scotia and founded a new King’s College in 1789. Today it’s known as the University of King’s College with a campus in Halifax (map).

The Final Word

Johnson State College

Nascent Vermont found a handful friends in the Continental Congress who represented its interests even if it wasn’t officially one of the 13 Original Colonies. William Samuel Johnson of Connecticut, later a signatory of the U.S. Constitution, was one reliable supporter so the Vermont Republic gave him the former King’s College Grant as a gift in 1785. The Town of Johnson, located within the original grant, bears his name as does Johnson State College.

Here’s another interesting turn of events: Johnson’s father, Samuel Johnson was the first president of King’s College in NYC, and Samuel himself became president of Columbia College in 1787. The King’s College Tract retained an odd connection to what later became Columbia University via the Johnson name long after the physical tie had been severed.

On September 8, 2013 · 4 Comments

4 Responses to “King’s College Tract”

  1. wangi says:

    You can make it out on the map on page 526 of The Documentary History of the State of New-York, Vol 1.

  2. Peter says:

    Columbia’s campus has been in the present location on Morningside Heights only since around 1900. It originally was on Park Place in lower Manhattan, and then on Madison Avenue in Midtown.

  3. Joshua says:

    The elementary school in Flushing, Queens, P.S.214 that I attended is subnamed the Cadwallader Colden School.

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