Hampden-Sydney College, located in central Virginia, was founded in 1775, on the eve of the American Revolution. Its founders were Presbyterian dissenters who were increasingly dissatisfied with the political and religious leadership of the British crown. Nathaniel Venable, a local planter and enslaver, served as the driving force behind the college’s founding; early trustees of the college include familiar names such as Patrick Henry and James Madison. The first president of the college, Samuel Stanhope Smith, later became president of Princeton and is known for his writings on religion, science, and theories of race.  The namesakes of the college, John Hampden and Algernon Sydney, were martyrs of the English Civil War, and the selection of their names was a deliberate choice to demonstrate the independent spirit of the college. As with many of the nation’s founding figures, there is a profound tension between the rhetoric of freedom they espoused, and their use of enslaved labor. From its inception, the college relied on the use of enslaved people to build the campus and provide the labor needed to operate and sustain it. During the Civil War, numerous students and faculty members served in the Confederate Army, and afterward, several prominent alumni, including Robert Dabney, chief of staff to ‘Stonewall’ Jackson, produced essays and books that contributed to the creation of the Lost Cause ideology.

The Locating Slavery's Legacies entries that can be viewed on this page were created by students in HIST219 (African American History To 1865), taught in the Fall of 2023 by Dr. Caroline Emmons. This project enabled students to engage with the college's historical record to document and reveal the history of slavery  and its legacies on campus. The purpose of this site is to provide historical information resulting from student research activities and does not represent an official history of the college.