Beaufort College 1795
A HISTORICAL NOTE:
Beaufort College is one of few American institutions of higher education with an unbroken 200-year commitment to education. Established in 1795 to provide education along European models to the sons of wealthy planters, it was the second college founded in South Carolina. The founding trustees envisioned a primary school to teach the rudiments of education, a grammar school (high school) and Beaufort College.
South Carolina natural scientist Stephen Elliott developed the college’s first curriculum, which emphasized theoretical science or “natural philosophy.” When the original college building was constructed on Bay Street in 1802, the trustees approved the motto “dedicated to Virtue, Liberty and Science.” The school adopted a non-sectarian, 18th-century Enlightenment Philosophy.
Beaufort was one of America’s wealthiest towns before the Civil War and its leaders’ educational expectations were high. Although never achieving baccalaureate status, the college was a highly ranked junior college. In 1854, the trustees specified that students graduating from Beaufort College would have all the courses necessary to enter the South Carolina College in Columbia. Four valedictorians of the South Carolina College (University of South Carolina) and two valedictorians at Harvard before the Civil War were educated at Beaufort College.
In 1817, yellow fever closed the college and forced the building’s destruction. A smaller Beaufort College building opened in 1852; within less than a decade, the college’s students were wearing CSA military uniforms and its buildings were under federal control. The library collection was taken to Washington and the facility served as a hospital. From 1865 to 1873, Beaufort College served as a school for freed slaves run by the Freedmen’s Bureau.
For nearly the next one hundred years, the college was overcome by war, reconstruction, hurricanes, the boll weevil, the Great Depression and a lack of political power. The Trustees continued to meet, but no longer had a faculty, student body, library, or at times, even a building to oversee.
In 1873, the federal government closed the Freedmen’s Bureau and the Beaufort College building reverted to the trustees. Seven years later, it reopened as the Beaufort College Graded School, a grammar and junior high school for white students. Black students attended a school just across the street.
In 1909, the trustees conveyed the building to the public school system. An addition at the rear of the college building became the city high school. When a new high school was built on Bay Street in 1925, the building served as an elementary school until 1957.
In 1959, the University of South Carolina committed to bring a regional campus to the community. Beaufort College was returned to the trustees who deeded it to Beaufort County for use by USC Beaufort in 1963. The Beaufort County Higher Education Commission renovated the building and campus in 1966. Financial support from the trustees and community restored the college building as an administrative center in 2000. The trustees continue to meet in the building, represent Beaufort College on Carolina Day and support higher education in the Lowcountry.