Syms Free School Site
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The Syms School was established in 1634. The first free public school in America, it predates John Harvard's bequest of his estate to the college near Boston. Benjamin Syms, by his will dated February 12, 1634, gave two hundred acres on the Poquoson, a small river which enters the Chesapeake Bay, a mile or less below the mouth of York river, with the milk and increase of eight cows for the education and instruction of the children of the adjoining parishes of Elizabeth City and Kiquotan, “from Mary’s Mount downward to the Poquoson river.” The money arising from the first increase of the cattle was to be used to build a school-house, and the profits from the subsequent sales of cattle to support the poor scholars.
In 1642, the Virginia Assembly sanctioned the will with: “Be it enacted and confirmed, upon consideration had of the godly disposition and good intent of Benjamin Syms deceased, in founding by his last will and testament a free school in Elizabeth county, for the encouragement of all others in like pious performances, that the said will and testament with all donations therein contained concerning the free school and the situation thereof in the said county, and the land appertaining to the same, shall be confirmed according to the godly intent of the said testator, without any alienation or conversion thereof to any place or county.” A few years later, there is written documentation that the school-house had been erected.
Syms school was combined with the Thomas Eaton Charity School, founded in 1659, in 1803. The Eaton school was on the Back River, a few miles below the mouth of the Poquoson River. The combined school was moved to Hampton sometime between 1803 and 1805.
The school became the Hampton Academy in 1845 and made into a 'district school' by the school commissioners in 1855. High school classes were introduced in 1887 and its first commencement was held in 1896 with the graduation of two students. Hampton High separated from the Academy in 1921 to devote itself exclusively to the education of high school grades. The trust fund created by Syms and Eaton has remained intact since the 17th century.
See the Plantations Timeline.