Thomas Roderick Dew

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Thomas Roderick Dew
Thomas Roderick Dew.jpg
13th President of the
College of William & Mary
In office
Preceded by Adam Empie
Succeeded by Robert Saunders, Jr.
Personal details
Born 1802
King and Queen County, Virginia
Died 1846
Education The College of William & Mary
Occupation Professor of History, Metaphysics, and Political Economy

Thomas Roderick Dew (1802–1846) was an American apologist for slavery through his work as an educator and writer. He was the thirteenth president of The College of William & Mary from 1836 until his death in 1846.[1]


Early life

Thomas Dew was born in King and Queen County, Virginia in 1802, son of Captain Thomas Dew and Lucy Gatewood Dew. His father was a Revolutionary War soldier and founder of Dewsville, a prosperous plantation near Newtown, King and Queen County. He attended The College of William & Mary, graduating in 1820.


He was a professor of history, metaphysics, and political economy at William & Mary from 1827 to 1836.

In 1832, he 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.[2] The Virginia legislature's debate was a response to Nat Turner's slave rebellion of August 1831.[3] While his position was convincing to many southern readers, Jesse Burton Harrison of Lynchburg, Virginia, wrote a robust response that argued that colonization was possible and that slavery was economically inefficient. Dew's largest work was Digest of the Laws, Customs, Manners, and Institutions of Ancient and Modern Nations (1853).[4] It drew in some ways on works like P. Austin Nuttall's A classical and archaeological dictionary of the manners, customs, laws, institutions, arts, etc. of the celebrated nations of antiquity, and of the middle ages

Dew was well respected in the South; his widely distributed writings helped to confirm pro-slavery public opinion. His work has been compared to that of the southern surgeon and medical authority Samuel A. Cartwright, who defended slavery and advocated the beating of slaves who absconded from their duties or became idle. He co-authored The Pro-Slavery Argument with Harper, Hammond and Simms.[5]

He described the hardships faced by men in the marketplace and the almost brutal strength needed to survive in such a competitive atmosphere. He stated courage and boldness are man's attributes. Dew also described women as passive (not active), emblematic of divinity, dependent and weak, but a spring of irresistible power. His family papers[6] and papers from his time as president of the College of William and Mary[7] can be found at the Special Collections Research Center at the College of William and Mary.

Death and legacy

He died of bronchitis in 1846.[1] His descendant Charles B. Dew is a professor of Southern history at Williams College, and wrote in The Making of a Racist (2016) of his Southern family tradition of racism.[8]

Commentary on Dew

Kirby Page writes in Jesus or Christianity (1929):

Professor Thomas R. Dew, of William and Mary College, based a long argument on the proposition that "slaves are entirely unfit for a state of freedom among the whites."


  1. ^ a b Ely, Melvin Patrick; Loux, Jennifer R. "Thomas R. Dew (1802–1846)". Encyclopedia Virginia/Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Retrieved 9 March 2015.
  2. ^ Alfred L. Brophy, University, Court, and Slave: Prolsavery Thought in Southern Courts and Colleges and the Coming of Civil War (2016): 21-47 (discussing Thomas Dew's response to Virginia debates).
  3. ^ Alfred L. Brophy, "The Nat Turner Trials", North Carolina Law Review (June 2013), volume 91: 1817-80.
  4. ^ "Considering William and Mary's History with Slavery: The Case of President Thomas R. Dew" (PDF). Retrieved 1 July 2012.
  5. ^ William Harper, Thomas Roderick Dew, James Henry Hammond, William Gilmore Simms, The Pro-Slavery Argument Lippincott, Grambo, & Co., (1853) p.35
  6. ^ "Dew Family Papers". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  7. ^ "Office of the President. Thomas Roderick Dew". Special Collections Research Center, Earl Gregg Swem Library, College of William and Mary. Retrieved 25 January 2011.
  8. ^ Pitts, Leonard (September 2, 2016). "A white Southerner searches for the source of his family's racism". Washington Post. Retrieved June 10, 2018.

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