The University of Mississippi was not the first institution of higher learning in north Mississippi. Ole Miss was founded in 1848, but in 1840 there was another college established in Lafayette County. In 1835 a group of Presbyterians moved from Greene County in Alabama and Maury County in Tennessee to an area just to the northwest of what would be Oxford in the year of 1837. It was one of the first settlements in the county. When these early settlers purchased the land that would later become College Hill, they had decided to build a church and a school on the site.
Goodloe Warren Buford and his wife Selina deeded the land for the church and the school. A quarter section of land was designated for the college. The college was incorporated by the Legislature of the State of Mississippi on February 6, 1840. This was five short years from the time the settlers had first arrived on their new lands. They had constructed log buildings for the church and the college and were ready to receive students for the college on the first Monday of January 1840.
In a letter to Governor A. G. McNutt, the trustees of the college wrote that they wanted “to make it a permanent institution, its patrons had selected a high and healthy location in a religious neighborhood of substantial citizens, remote from any town or temptation to vice and extravagance”.
“The course of instruction will consist of reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography; the Latin and Greek languages from the beginning to the usual highest limits; mathematics, in all its branches; natural philosophy, including chemistry and astronomy; belles letter, logic and history; and intellectual and moral philosophy. In additional to the usual collegiate course, there will be a department of civil engineering, under the direction of the professor of mathematics; also a department for training teachers, in which young men, wishing to become instructors, may qualify themselves for this important work.”
If you have ever wondered what the cost of higher education was in 1840, the letter to Governor McNutt also outlined the fees for the new North Mississippi College. The college was divided into three different departments; the Primary, Preparatory, and Classical/Scientific Departments.
“Terms:–Primary Department, comprising reading, writing, and elements of arithmetic, $13.00 per session of twenty weeks. Preparatory Department, arithmetic, geography, and grammar, $20.00 per session. Classical and Scientific Department, $25.00 per session. Students can board with the families of the professors, or in the neighborhood, near the college, on moderate terms. Books and stationary can be procured at the college.”
Later brick buildings were constructed for the college and the church. The name of the church was changed from Ebenezer to College Church and it was used for the college chapel. The North Mississippi College flourished for twenty years, but it was overshadowed by the University of Mississippi in Oxford. The hardships of the pending Civil War and the new State University in Oxford forced the school to close. In later years some of the buildings were used as the Lafayette County Agricultural High School. This school would close when consolidation took place.
While the North Mississippi College was the first institution of higher learning started in Lafayette County and north Mississippi, there were other preparatory schools started in and around Oxford. In 1838 the Oxford Female Academy was incorporated. It was the second school of learning to begin in the area known as the Chickasaw Cession. In 1854 it became affiliated with the Cumberland Presbyterian Church and the name was changed to the Union Female College. In August of 1911 the campus burned and caused the school to be permanently closed. There was also the Oxford Male Academy that was incorporated in 1838, which prepared young men for entry into the State University. The town of Wyatt on the Tallahatchie River also had a male and female academy incorporated in 1839. The community of Burgess also had the Sylvan Academy organized in 1845.
These were not the only schools that were organized in Lafayette County. Many of the other communities and Oxford itself had small male and female academies that trained and prepared young men and later young women for the institutions of higher learning. It can readily be deducted that Lafayette County and Oxford was quite well known, even in the earliest days, as a seat of learning for the State of Mississippi and the South.
Jack Lamar Mayfield is a fifth generation Oxonian, whose family came to Oxford shortly after the Chickasaw Cession of 1832, and he is the third generation of his family to graduate from the University of Mississippi. He is a former insurance company executive and history instructor at Marshall Academy in Holly Springs, South Panola High School in Batesvile and the Oxford campus of Northwest Community College.
In addition to his weekly blog in HottyToddy.com Oxford’s Olden Days, Mayfield is also the author of an Images of America series book titled Oxford and Ole Miss published in 2008 for the Oxford-Lafayette County Heritage Foundation. The Foundation is responsible for restoring the post-Civil War home of famed Mississippi statesman, L.Q.C. Lamar and is now restoring the Burns Belfry, the first African American Church in Oxford.