Syms-Eaton Academy

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The Syms-Eaton Academy was America's first free public school. Also known as Syms-Eaton Free School, the school was established in Hampton, Virginia in 1634. It began as the Syms School, through the donation of 200 acres (0.81 km2) of land and eight cows for "a free school to educate and teach the children of the adjoining parishes of Elizabeth City and Poquoson from Marie's Mount downward to the Poquoson River", by Benjamin Syms on February 12, 1634. Twenty-five years later, in 1659, Thomas Eaton donated 500 acres (2.0 km2), buildings, livestock, and two slaves for the Eaton Charity School to serve the poor of Elizabeth City County. The schools were so popular that in 1759 a statute was passed to provide for the attendance of only poor children at Eaton School.

In 1805 the schools were merged by act of the Virginia General Assembly and called Hampton Academy, which in 1851 became part of the public school system. The school was burned during the Civil War and rebuilt after the war using money from the original trust fund. The rebuilt school became Hampton High School in 1896. The trust fund created from the Syms and Eaton donations has remained intact since the 17th century and was incorporated into support for the Hampton public school system.

A number of schools are successors in name or location, including:


  • Armstrong, F. M. (1950). The Syms-Eaton Free School: Benjamin Syms, 1634. Thomas Eaton, 1659. Houston Print. and Pub. House. 
  • Davis, J.E. (1903). Hampton Schools Between 1850 and 1870, The Southern Workman, vol. 32,. Hampton Institute.