It’s not often that we come across famous individuals in the everyday life at the College. However, we can say that we are sitting in some of the same classrooms and walking the same grounds as some incredibly important figures of United States history.
Honorary graduates include Benjamin Franklin, who received an honorary Master of Arts degree from the College in 1756, and George Washington, who received his surveyor’s license at the College at 17 years of age.
Peyton Randolph attended the College and studied law, along with his protege and nephew Edmund Randolph — the first attorney general of the United States.
James McClurg was an alumnus of the College who also later became the first professor of medicine. George Wythe was the first professor of law and police, and the namesake of the Marshall-Wythe School of Law. John Marshall also attended while taking a break from the war.
The Rev. James Madison — not the president of the same name, but his cousin — entered the College around 1770 and left a huge mark on the College. He was a writing master, a math professor, a minister of the James City Parish and head of the College militia company. In 1779, he became the president of the College. The other James Madison, the fourth president of the United States, served as a Board of Visitors member.
Numerous other presidents have graced the College during its long, winding history, according to Historic Campus Director Louise Kale. Woodrow Wilson, Warren G. Harding, Calvin Coolidge, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, and Harry Truman all visited as presidents. Dwight Eisenhower came as a president to attend the inauguration of College president Alvin Duke Chandler. Lyndon B. Johnson toured Colonial Williamsburg three times during his presidency — not once stopping by the campus. Gerald Ford arrived before his presidency as minority leader of the House, gave a commencement speech, and arrived here for the presidential debate against Jimmy Carter in 1976. Richard Nixon and Ronald Reagan visited before their presidencies, while George H. W. Bush only came after his presidential term. Bill Clinton was rumored to have prepared for his debate in nearby Richmond, but never visited campus.