Happy 225th, Samuel Wait!

samuelwaitToday is the 225th birthday of the founder of Wake Forest, Samuel Wait.  One of my intrepid colleagues in our Communications and External Relations department did some research and found these fun facts in honor of his 225th birthday.  We even have a video about it!

Enjoy your WFU history lesson on this Black and Gold Friday (you did remember to wear black and gold, right?)


Our first leader has ties to another Founding Father of some prominence. He grew up in a house in Granville, N.Y., that was later to be owned by Nathaniel Gorham Folger, whose distant ancestors included Benjamin Franklin. Among Folger’s descendants was James A. Folger, founder of the coffee company that bears the family name.

Rev. Wait would insist on proper spelling and word usage if he were grading papers today. His wife, Sally Merriam Wait, the de facto chief administrator of the College in its earliest days, was a sixth cousin of the co-founders of the Merriam-Webster dictionary, George and Charles Merriam.

Samuel Wait attended Columbian College, now known as George Washington University. While he was a student, the College encountered financial difficulties and lost the accreditation necessary to award degrees. Through an accepted arrangement, however, Wait was allowed to graduate officially from Waterville College, now known as Colby College, in Waterville, Maine. In another curious twist, when the Trustees of Wake Forest College were looking for an architect for the Reynolda Campus, they hired Jens Larsen, who had developed the master plan for Colby’s new campus 20 years earlier.

Those financial difficulties at Columbian led Wait to Wake Forest. He was traveling on a fund-raising mission on behalf of the college when, on Feb. 9, 1827, his horse liberated itself from the carriage, leaving the Reverend 10 miles south of New Bern, N.C. Wait hitched a ride back into the town, where he became a pastor just as the Baptist State Convention was beginning plans to create a college in the region. Six years later, Wait accepted the position as Principal of the fledgling Wake Forest Manual Labor Institute.

Wait was born eight months after and 27 miles away from another person with ties to a current top National University: Stephen van Rensselaer IV, whose father founded Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1824.

Wait was born four days after Edward Bishop Dudley, who would become Governor of North Carolina and who, in 1840, would approve a $2,000 loan to cash-strapped Wake Forest College upon the pleas of Wait and others.


— Intro by Betsy Chapman; factoids by Rob Daniels

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