Maxcy College was built in 1937 by architects Lafaye and Lafaye as part of an extensive building program partially funded by the Works Progress Administration. Originally planned as a student union building, it once housed a popular student lounge and canteen in the basement.1 The Board of Trustees approved the name Maxcy, after first president of South Carolina College Jonathan Maxcy (1768-1820), in 1940.2 Maxcy did not have a direct connection to the purpose of the building.
Maxcy’s ties to South Carolina College, now the University of South Carolina:
- First president of South Carolina College, 1804-1820
- Member of the Board of Trustees
- Longest serving president in school history
- Founder and honorary member of the Clariosophic Society
- Clariosophic Society raised funds, hired well-known architect Robert Mills, to design Maxcy Monument in his honor on the historic Horseshoe.
- Was very popular with the students
- Maxcy’s sermons were read alongside theologians such as Jonathan Edwards, extremely popular during the First Great Awakening
- Helped expand campus significantly during his tenure as president
- Became the second president of Brown University at the age of 24
- Was the third president of Union College in Schenectady, New York
- Does not show evidence of owning slaves
- Sermons do not justify or defend slavery
Jonathan Maxcy was born to Levi Maxcy and Ruth Newell in Attleboro, Massachusetts, on September 2, 1768.3 At 19, he graduated from Rhode Island College, now Brown University. Maxcy became licensed to preach by the Baptist Church in 1790 and was ordained in 1791, after which he became the pastor of First Baptist Church in Providence, Rhode Island. Simultaneously, Maxcy was a tutor for Rhode Island College beginning in 1787, and in 1791 became the first professor of divinity as well as a trustee for the college.
Maxcy married Susannah Hopkins of Providence, Rhode Island, on August 22, 1791. Six of their ten children survived infancy: Cornelia Manning, who married James Gregg; Amy Hopkins; Stephen Hopkins; Jonathan, Hart, and Ezekiel Hopkins.4 Their grandson was Confederate General Maxcy Gregg.5 Maxcy’s brother, Virgil Maxcy, was a Maryland state legislator, solicitor of the treasury under Andrew Jackson, and diplomat who died aboard an accidental explosion of the USS Princeton in 1844.
On September 7, 1792, Maxcy was elected president pro tempore of Rhode Island College upon the death of his successor, James Manning, the first president of Brown. Maxcy was only twenty-four. Shortly after, he resigned his pastoral charge, though received an honorary doctorate in divinity from Harvard in 1801. In 1797, Maxcy formally became Brown University’s second president.
In 1802, Maxcy left Brown to serve as the third president of Union College in Schenectady, New York. At Union, Maxcy was particularly concerned with rhetoric, and required that students read their own compositions every Saturday.6
In 1804, Maxcy’s ill health led him to resign from Union and become the first president of South Carolina College, where he would remain until his death in 1820. His initial salary at the college was $2,500 a year, a generous sum for the period. Maxcy’s election was not unanimous: Chancellor William D. James objected to Maxcy’s federalism and supported Dr. Daniel McCalla, a South Carolina native and Democratic Republican. By April 28, 1804, however, Maxcy was elected and became a trustee of the college in December of that year.7
When the college opened in January 1805, the school had nine students and two professors. Maxcy was the professor of belles lettres, criticism, and metaphysics in addition to his presidency.8 He made no effort to insist that theology be part of the curriculum, despite his occupation, and in 1817 even requested that his former students in the South Carolina legislature introduce a bill to prevent a college professor from serving as a pastor or rector of a church.9 For the first two years, Maxcy and his family lived at the home of Elizabeth Brown, with expenses paid by the College. After the erection of the on-campus President’s House, the Maxcy family moved in 1807.10
Maxcy’s years as president were plagued with ill health and student misconduct. For the first ten years, he dealt with high faculty turnover as well as student insubordination. It is likely that some of these student issues were due to a culture clash between Maxcy’s puritanical upbringing in the north and the more lax lifestyles of young southern men. It was Maxcy who first suggested a brick wall surrounding campus to contain its students.11 In 1812, an investigative committee formed by the Board of Trustees reported that the college was in a “dilapidated and filthy state” and claimed that the “president of the college has been guilty of many and great derelictions of duty, by which the discipline of the college had become almost totally relaxed…deeply dissatisfied with the conduct of Dr. Maxcy.”12 Trustee Henry DeSaussure went as far as to claim that some of Maxcy’s illnesses were imagined, and that he was a hypochondriac. Maxcy replied that he found this censure undeserved and unexpected. When he asked for clarification, the board responded that he was too lenient when granting leaves of absence, allowed students to leave without permission, was too lax with the seniors, and allowed the school to become unclean. Ironically, it was the Board of Trustees who had the power to expel students for their behavior, and did not often do so.13
Student disobedience took a turn for the worse when the faculty, led by disciplinarian Professor George Blackburn, suspended three students for their attempt to steal the college bell. In retaliation, on February 4, 1814, intoxicated students burned Blackburn in effigy, damaged the library, carried off the college bell, and stormed the homes of Blackburn and another tutor until the town militia was called. The trustees forced Blackburn to resign and expelled the students responsible. The next spring, President Maxcy was too ill to attend half of the faculty meetings, garnering further dissent. The trustees again asked professors to look into Maxcy’s conduct, hoping to dismiss him. The record does not show why the resolution for Maxcy’s dismissal was tabled until November 1816, and then never reconsidered.14 Apparently, by 1816 the college had much improved, as Maxcy reported that “I never knew an instance in which a college was conducted with such order, peace, and industry.”15 He was never again investigated by the board and was even elected to the Board of Trustees in 1817.
Though Maxcy gave many sermons throughout his career, he prioritized teaching over scholarly publishing. His Discourses on the Doctrine of Atonement (1796), however, were read alongside Great Awakening theologians such as Jonathan Edwards; and his Principles of Rhetorick and Criticism (1817) advocated for rhetoric in the college curriculum.16 Seven buildings were erected on South Carolina College’s campus during Maxcy’s tenure.17
Maxcy’s health, never robust, was in rapid decline by late 1819, and he died at the age of 52 on June 4, 1820. He is buried at First Presbyterian Church in Columbia, South Carolina.
In 1827, the Clariosophic Literary Society successfully petitioned for a monument to be built in honor of Maxcy as the first College president and founder and honorary member of the Society.18 Robert Mills, South Carolina native and architect of the Washington Monument, designed the monument. It is one of the nation’s earliest examples of the Egyptian Revival Style.19 The monument was dedicated with Masonic Honors on December 15, 1827. The president of the Clariosophic Society announced that the society wished to “do honor to the memory of one highly venerated for his virtues and usefulness, and animated with a desire of promoting the fine arts in this State.”20
1 Faithful Index: The University of South Carolina Campus, University of South Carolina Office of Information Services (Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina, 1976), 33.
2 The Board of Trustee minutes reveal that many buildings were named in a single meeting, and the only reason given for the name Maxcy is “in honor of the first president of the University.” Minutes of the Board of Trustees, 10 Jul. 1940, University Archives, South Caroliniana Library.
3 Maxcy’s father Levi owned at least one enslaved man in Attleborough. Upon his death, Levi wrote an epitaph: “Here lies the best of salves/Now turning into dust;/Caesar, the Ethiopian craves/A place among the just....And, by the Blood of Jesus shed,/Is chang’d from black to white.” The Literary Remains of the Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, D.D. edited by Romeo Elton (New York: A.V. Blake, 1844), 30.
4 Genealogy by Eleanor M. Richardson, Jonathan Maxcy Papers, South Caroliniana Library.
5 There is not evidence of Maxcy owning slaves in his lifetime, but his son, Hart Maxcy, was a planter who lived in Columbia. Maxcy’s wife Susanna lived into her eighties with Hart, who owned twenty-nine enslaved people in the census of 1850. 1850 U.S. Federal Census, South Carolina, Richland County, p.397.
7 Daniel Walker Hollis, University of South Carolina Volume I (Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1951), 34-5. He was not re-elected to the Board of Trustees in 1809. Hollis surmises that Governor Drayton may have have been displeased with him,(52).
9 A collection of his sermons can be found in full here: The Literary Remains of the Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, D.D. edited by Romeo Elton (New York: A.V. Blake, 1844)
10 Hollis, University of South Carolina, 49
11 The wall was not constructed until 1835.
12 Cited in Hollis, 59. Maxcy was charged with “derelictions of duty” on April 21, 1813.
13 Synott, “Maxcy, Jonathan;” Minutes of the Board of Trustees of South Carolina College, 24 Apr. 1813, quoted in Hollis, 60.
14 Hollis, 62, 64.
15 Minutes of the Board of Trustees of South Carolina College, 28 Nov. 1816, quoted in Hollis, 64.
16 The Literary Remains of the Rev. Jonathan Maxcy, D.D., 17; Synott, “Maxcy, Jonathan.”
17 Hollis, 48
18 Hollis, 48; Synott, “Maxcy, Jonathan.”
19 “Maxcy Monument” Historic Columbia https://www.historiccolumbia.org/tour-locations/maxcy-monument
20 Newspaper clipping, 28 Dec 1827, Jonathan Maxcy Papers, South Caroliniana Library.