Oakland College (Mississippi)

Coordinates: 31°52′33.5″N 91°08′24.1″W / 31.875972°N 91.140028°W / 31.875972; -91.140028
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Oakland College
Main façade of Belles Lettres, 1972
TypePrivate college
Active1830 (1830)–1871 (1871)
FounderDr. Jeremiah Chamberlain
Religious affiliation
Near Rodney
31°52′33.5″N 91°08′24.1″W / 31.875972°N 91.140028°W / 31.875972; -91.140028
CampusRural town, 250 acres (0.39 sq mi; 101.17 ha)

Oakland College was a private college near Rodney, Mississippi. Founded by Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain in 1830, the school was affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. It closed during Reconstruction, and some of its former campus is now part of the Alcorn State University Historic District.



Oakland College was founded as a college for young men by the Presbyterian Church in 1830.[1][2] They hired Dr. Jeremiah Chamberlain, a Presbyterian minister educated at Dickinson College and the Princeton Theological Seminary, as the first President.[1][3] Chamberlain had served as the president of Centre College and Louisiana College.[1][3] More recently, he had served as the pastor of Bethel Presbyterian Church in nearby Alcorn, Mississippi.[4]

Antebellum period[edit]

The college was endowed by planters such as Rush Nutt of the Laurel Hill Plantation, Smith Daniell of the Windsor Plantation, and Isaac Ross of Prospect Hill Plantation, as well as David Hunt.[1][5][6] Moreover, John Ker donated US$25,000 (equivalent to US$687,000 in 2022) for a Professorship in Theology.[6] The land, spanning 250 acres (0.39 sq mi; 101.17 ha), was donated by planter Robert Cochran.[7] The Oakland Memorial Chapel was built in 1838.[8] (The wrought iron staircase was moved from the Windsor Plantation to the chapel in 1890.[1][8]) It served not only as a chapel, but also as a library, with additional space for classrooms and offices.[1] The chapel became a National Historic Landmark in 1976.[8] Over the years, more buildings were erected, such as a president's house, three professor's houses, and 15 cottages, which served as dormitories for students.[1][6]

The first class took place on May 14, 1830, at the private residence of Mrs John E. Dromgoole, the wife of a slave trader,[1] with three students attending.[1] Six months later, 22 students were enrolled.[1] Over the years, more than 1000 students were educated at the college.[1] According to historian Mary Carol Miller, its alumni pool included "twenty-one ministers, thirty-nine attorneys, and nineteen physicians."[1] John Chamberlain taught English and Mathematics.[6] In 1837, Rev. Zebulon Butler became Professor of Theology.[6] He was later replaced by Rev. S. Beach Jones.[6]

The first student to graduate in 1833 was James M. Smiley; he went on to serve as Vice Chancellor of the state of Mississippi.[1] Notable alumni include Henry Hughes, who developed the economic notion of "warrantism".[9] Another notable alumni was James S. Johnston, later a bishop of the Episcopal Church and the founder of West Texas Military Academy, a private school in San Antonio, Texas.[10] Hiram B. Granbury, an attorney who served as a Brigadier General in the Confederate States Army during the Civil War, was also an alumni.[11]

Tensions arose regarding slavery in the early 1850s. President Chamberlain was a Unionist and an abolitionist.[12] He was stabbed to death by George Briscoe, a pro-slavery local planter. Briscoe apparently felt remorse and committed suicide a week later.[13][12][14]

American Civil War[edit]

Oakland College Cemetery, 2009.

The college stayed open until the American Civil War of 1861–1865, despite financial difficulties.[1] The second President was Robert L. Stanton, from 1851 to 1854.[6] The third President was James Purviance (1807–1871).[6] In 1860, William L. Breckinridge (1803–1876) became the fourth President, serving until the Civil War.[6] The college closed during the war, as students and faculty either joined the Confederate States Army, or were slain for their pro-Unionist views.[1] The campus was used as a military camp and its infrastructure was badly damaged.[1] Shortly after the war, Rev. John Calvin became the fifth President.[6] He died shortly after being appointed, and the college again fell into abeyance.[6]

Reconstruction period[edit]

In 1871 the campus was sold to the state of Mississippi for US$40,000 (equivalent to US$977,000 in 2022).[15][16]

Buildings and sites[edit]

A cemetery and historical marker are located on the western end of the site.[17] Burials include Jeremiah Chamberlain, his wife, and his four daughters. His tombstone reads, "the beloved father of Oakland College."[1] A memorial obelisk was erected in honor of Chamberlain.


The Reconstruction legislature purchased the campus and used it as the location of Alcorn University in honor of Republican governor James L. Alcorn.[14][16] It established this as a land grant institution and historically black college. It was the first black land grant college in the nation. Congress required states with segregated educational systems to establish black land grant colleges so that all students had opportunities in order for the state to qualify for gaining land grant benefits.[18]

After Reconstruction, the Presbyterian Church established Chamberlain-Hunt Academy in 1879, a military private school located in Port Gibson, Mississippi. It was named in honor of minister and educator Jeremiah Chamberlain and planter David Hunt.[10][15]

Two reports about Oakland College from the faculty, the trustees, and the Presbyterian synod of Mississippi are preserved at the Louis Round Wilson Special Collections Library on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at Chapel Hill.[2] The college curriculum is preserved at the Mississippi Department of Archives & History at Jackson.


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Mary Carol Miller, Must See Mississippi: 50 Favorite Places, Oxford, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2007, pp. 41-44 [1]
  2. ^ a b University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill: Special Collections
  3. ^ a b "Centre College: Jeremiah Chamberlain". Archived from the original on 2014-10-14. Retrieved 2014-10-26.
  4. ^ Natchez Trace Travel
  5. ^ Dunbar Hunt, "Sketch of David Hunt," Fayette, Mississippi: The Fayette Chronicle, 29 May 1908, Volume XLI, Number 35 [2]
  6. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Biographical and Historical Memoirs of Mississippi, Gretna, Louisiana: Pelican Publishing, 1999, Part 1, p. 310 [3]
  7. ^ John A. Limerick, A History of Rodney MS and Oakland College, August 16, 1901
  8. ^ a b c Oakland Chapel, Alcorn State University, Preservation in Mississippi
  9. ^ Drew Gilpin Faust, The Ideology of Slavery: Proslavery Thought in the Antebellum South, 1830—1860, Baton Rouge, Louisiana: Louisiana State University Press, 1981 [4]
  10. ^ a b Founder of TMI: Bishop James Steptoe Johnston Archived 2014-10-26 at the Wayback Machine
  11. ^ Ezra J. Warner, Generals in Gray, Baton Rouge: Louisiana State University Press, 1959, p. 114. ISBN 0-8071-0823-5
  12. ^ a b Gordon L. Olson, The Notorious Isaac Earl and His Scouts: Union Soldiers, Prisoners, Spies, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2014, p. 166 [5]
  13. ^ "Jeremiah Chamberlain", Dickinson College Archives
  14. ^ a b Mary Carol Miller, Lost Landmarks of Mississippi, Oxford, Mississippi: University Press of Mississippi, 2002, p. 11 [6]
  15. ^ a b Samuel J. Rogal, The American Pre-College Military School: A History and Comprehensive Catalog of Institutions, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2009, p. 63 [7]
  16. ^ a b John C. Cothran, A Search of African American Life, Achievement and Culture: First Search, Texas: Stardate Publishing, 2006, p. 109 [8]
  17. ^ William L. Sanders, Carved in Stone: Cemeteries of Claiborne County, Mississippi, Dorrance Publishing, 2014, pp. 11-13 [9]
  18. ^ Alcorn State University: The History of Alcorn State University