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Thomas Roderick Dew

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Thomas Roderick Dew
13th President of the
College of William & Mary
In office
Preceded byAdam Empie
Succeeded byRobert Saunders, Jr.
Personal details
Born(1802-12-05)December 5, 1802
King and Queen County, Virginia, United States
DiedAugust 6, 1846(1846-08-06) (aged 43)
Paris, France
EducationThe College of William & Mary
OccupationProfessor of History, Metaphysics, and Political Economy, College of William & Mary
Known forProslavery writings

Thomas Roderick Dew (December 5, 1802 – August 6, 1846) was a professor and public intellectual, then president of The College of William & Mary (1836-1846).[1] Although he first achieved national stature for opposing protective tariffs, today Dew may be best known for his pro-slavery advocacy.[2][3]

Early life and education[edit]

Thomas Dew was born in King and Queen County, Virginia, in 1802, son of the former Lucy Gatewood and her Maryland-born husband, Captain Thomas Dew (1763-1849). His father had been a Revolutionary War soldier.[4] Settling in Virginia, the elder Thomas Dew established a plantation near Newtown in King and Queen County that he named "Dewsville" and which prospered by the use of enslaved labor (Thomas R. Dew owned 39 slaves in King and Queen County in 1820).[5] The family included five sons. The eldest son, Dr. William Dew (1796-1855), received 500 acres and a new house (now operating as Providence Plantation and Farm) as a wedding present in 1826. The family also included at least one daughter who survived to adulthood, married and had children, Mary Ellen Gresham (1786-1836). The namesake son (this man) received a private education appropriate to his class, and in 1818 began attending The College of William & Mary in Williamsburg. After graduating in 1820, Dew continued his studies and received a master's degree in 1824.[1] Having been diagnosed with a pulmonary illness, Dew traveled and studied in Europe for two years.[6]: 1110 [2]


On October 16, 1826, Dew became a professor of history and political law at William & Mary.[2] He would teach those subjects, as well as metaphysics and political economy at William & Mary from 1827 to 1836. In 1836, Dew became the College President, and enrollment grew during the decade of his presidency, which ended with his death as described below.[1] While Dew's positions on slavery and opposition to women voting are discussed at length below, his opposition to tariffs was also popular with Southern audiences.[2] Dew twice declined invitations to run for political office, as well as invitations to teach at South Carolina College (today the University of South Carolina) and the University of Virginia.[1]

Tariff opponent[edit]

Dew came to national prominence in 1828 when he attacked the tariff that passed that year (also known as the "Tariff of Abominations"). He was a proponent of free trade, arguing that export taxes benefited Northern manufacturers at the expense of Southern planters. He supported state banks over a national bank, stating that centralized banking would give the government too much control over the economy.[1] Dew contributed to the Southern Literary Messenger and the Southern Review as well as gave lectures, but his largest book was the posthumously published Digest of the Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of Ancient and Modern Nations (1853).[6] A source was P. Austin Nuttall's 1840 Classical and Archaeological Dictionary.[7]

Pro-slavery advocate[edit]

In 1832, Dew published a review of the celebrated slavery debate of 1831–32 in the Virginia General Assembly, A Review of the Debates in the Legislature of 1831 and 1832, which went far towards putting a stop to a movement, then assuming considerable proportions, to proclaim the end of slavery in Virginia.[8]: 21–47  The Virginia Legislature's debate was a response to Nat Turner's slave rebellion of August 1831.[9] Dew argued that whites and freed blacks could not live alongside one other in peace, and stated that slavery was established by God while also acknowledging slavery violated the spirit of Christianity.[1] Dew dismissed colonization of freed American blacks in Africa as prohibitively expensive and logistically impractical; that Blacks did not want to go was of no importance to him. He noted also that the deportation of blacks would prevent Virginia from profiting from its breeding and export of negroes, as "a negro raising state for other states" of the South.[1] While many Southern readers were convinced by Dew's pro-slavery arguments, Dew also argued that Virginia was "too far north for slave labor" and personally owned only one slave from the 1830s until his death.[1] Moreover, Jesse Burton Harrison, of Lynchburg, Virginia, wrote a robust response that argued that colonization (sending freed slaves to Africa) was possible and that slavery was economically inefficient.[10] One recent scholar denies the nuances or contradictions in Dew's market-based slavery advocacy.[11]

In his inaugural speech as President at William & Mary, Dew "admonished young planters to resist fanatics who wished to eliminate slavery. Dew emphasized the importance of a broad-based liberal arts education but singled out morals and politics as the most significant subjects of study."[1]

Dew was well respected in the South; his widely distributed writings helped to confirm pro-slavery public opinion. His work resembles Southern surgeon and medical authority Samuel A. Cartwright, who defended slavery and invented the "diseases" of drapetomania (the "madness" that makes slaves want to run away), and dysaesthesia aethiopica ("rascality"), both of which were "cured" with beatings.[citation needed] Dew's 1833 Review was republished in 1849, and collected in The Pro-Slavery Argument, together with writings by Harper, Hammond and Simms.[12]

Contemporaries credited Dew for defeating proposals to end slavery in Virginia in the 1830s. Dew opposed even gradual emancipation. His teaching and his writings influenced later generations, which opposed Reconstruction and created Jim Crow.[13]: 1137–1139 

Dew on men and women[edit]

Dew characterized women as modest, passive, virtuous, and religiously devout, which he attributed to women's physical weakness, and which made them dependent on male goodwill. Dew also asserted that men were intellectually superior to women (across all cultures and historical periods), but blamed the disparity on educational differences rather than unequal natural endowments. Dew advocated denying suffrage to women "because their intense focus on their own families impeded their ability to comprehend broader political developments."[1]

Dew also described the hardships men faced in the marketplace, as well as the almost brutal strength needed to survive in such a competitive atmosphere. He stated that courage and boldness are man's attributes. For Dew, women were dependent and weak, but a spring of irresistible power.

Personal life, and death and legacy[edit]

Dew died of bronchitis in Paris on his honeymoon, a day after completing his transatlantic voyage.[2][1] He had married Natalia Burwell Hay, daughter of Dr. Hay of Clarke County. He was buried at Montmartre cemetery, but in 1939 his remains were moved to the crypt under the Wren Chapel on the William & Mary campus.[1][14] A compilation of his history lectures was published posthumously as A Digest of the Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of the Ancient and Modern Nations (1853).[1] Providence Plantation and Farm, his eldest brother's house was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2009, although still in private hands.

At least four of his nephews fought as Confederate soldiers in the American Civil War: Sylvanius Gresham having participated in thwarting Dahlgren's Raid and his namesake Thomas R. Dew rising from corporal to captain and his two brothers also were CSA officers.[15][16] Although Dew had no children and thus no direct descendants, a collateral relative, Charles B. Dew, a professor of Southern history at Williams College, wrote in The Making of a Racist (2016) of his Southern family's tradition of racism.[17]

Works by Thomas R. Dew[edit]

Briefer pieces, letters, speeches[edit]

Archival material[edit]

Dew's family papers[18] and papers from his time as president of the College of William and Mary[19] can be found at the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary.


  • A non-existent book by Dew, Inequality Is the Basis of Society, appears in the Spaghetti Western Sabata (1969) starring Lee Van Cleef, in which the book is read by the villain. Stengel reads a quotation from it: "All men gifted with superior talent and thus with superior powers must command and use inferior men."


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Ely, Melvin Patrick; Loux, Jennifer R. (2006). "Thomas R. Dew (1802–1846)". Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Virginia Humanities in partnership with the Library of Virginia. available at https://encyclopediavirginia.org/entries/bennett-richard-bap-1609-ca-1675/%7Cpublisher=Encyclopedia Virginia/Dictionary of Virginia Biography|accessdate=15 July 2023|
  2. ^ a b c d e Tyler, Lyon Gardiner (1915). Encyclopedia of Virginia Biography. Vol. 2. p. 218.
  3. ^ Appleton's Cyclopedia, vol. 11, pp. 157-158
  4. ^ Although Tyler p. 217 cites the father's service during the War of 1812, that appears to be the elder brother
  5. ^ 1820 U.S. Federal Census of Drysdale parish,King and Queen County, Virginia p. 9 of 12
  6. ^ a b Brophy, Alfred L. (2008). "Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas R. Dew" (PDF). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. 16: 1091–1139. Archived (PDF) from the original on February 9, 2014. Retrieved November 22, 2018.
  7. ^ Nuttall, P. Austin (1840). A classical and archaeological dictionary of the manners, customs, laws, institutions, arts, etc. of the celebrated nations of antiquity, and of the middle ages. To which is prefixed A synoptical and chronological view of ancient history. London: Whittaker. OCLC 2667864.
  8. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (2016). University, Court, and Slave: Prolsavery Thought in Southern Courts and Colleges and the Coming of Civil War. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0190625931.
  9. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (June 2013). "The Nat Turner Trials". North Carolina Law Review. 91: 1817–80. SSRN 2281519.
  10. ^ Harrison, Jesse Burton (1832). Review of the slave question : extracted from the American Quarterly Review, Dec. 1832, based on the speech of Th. Marshall, of Fauquier, showing that slavery is the essential hindrance to the prosperity of the slave-holding states : with particular reference to Virginia, though applicable to other states where slavery exists. By a Virginian. Richmond, Printed by T.W. White. {{cite book}}: |magazine= ignored (help)
  11. ^ Eastland-Underwood, Jessica (2022). "The whiteness of markets: Anglo-American colonialism, white supremacy and free market rhetoric". New Political Economy. 28 (4): 662–676. doi:10.1080/13563467.2022.2159354. ISSN 1356-3467. S2CID 255247565.
  12. ^ Harper, William; Hammond, James Henry; Dew, Thomas Roderick; Simms, William Gilmore (1853). The Pro-Slavery Argument. Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo, & Co. Archived from the original on July 7, 2014. Retrieved April 14, 2016.
  13. ^ Brophy, Alfred L. (2008). "Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas Roderick Dew" (PDF). William & Mary Bill of Rights Journal. Vol. 16. pp. 1091–1139. Archived (PDF) from the original on July 9, 2020. Retrieved December 12, 2018.
  14. ^ Swem Library Special Collections Research Center Archives. "Papers, ca. 1830-1967". Archived from the original on July 20, 2021. Retrieved November 15, 2018.
  15. ^ NRIS p. 12 available at https://www.dhr.virginia.gov/VLR_to_transfer/PDFNoms/049-0063_Providence_Plantation_Farm_2009_NR_FINAL.pdf
  16. ^ Lee A Wallace, Jr., A Guide to Virginia Military Organizations: 1861-1865 (Lynchburg: H.E. Howard, Inc. 1986) p. 128
  17. ^ Pitts, Leonard (September 2, 2016). "A white Southerner searches for the source of his family's racism". Washington Post. Archived from the original on November 25, 2018. Retrieved June 10, 2018.
  18. ^ "Dew Family Papers". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Archived from the original on June 27, 2010. Retrieved January 25, 2011.
  19. ^ "Office of the President. Thomas Roderick Dew". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Archived from the original on June 26, 2010. Retrieved January 25, 2011.

Further reading (arranged by date)[edit]