The Reverend Robert Hall Morrison, D. D. was a leading Presbyterian minister in North Carolina in the first half of the 19th century. He was also the founder of Davidson College, selecting the land, raising the money, planning the campus and curriculum and presiding as the first President and one of the first two professors.
Robert Morrison was born in the Rocky River section of Cabarrus County in 1798. He graduated with honors from the University of North Carolina at the age of 19, attended the College of New Jersey in Princeton, and was ordained and installed as minister at Providence Presbyterian Church just south of Charlotte. He was called to Fayetteville for three years and then to Sugar Creek Church and as the founding minister of First Presbyterian Church in Charlotte, in 1827.
In March 1835 he conceived the idea of establishing a Presbyterian College in Mecklenburg County. Appointed Chairman of the founding committee, he purchased a large tract of land at a very good price from William Lee Davidson, son of the Revolutionary War General. He worked with Rev. Patrick Sparrow and in two months raised the $30,000 needed to get the college started. Morrison raised two-thirds of that money. He helped plan the construction of the college and selected the curriculum. They enrolled 64 students and searched for a president and faculty. This was a difficult task for a new college and in the end Morrison resigned from Sugar Creek and First Presbyterian to serve as president and professor. Rev. Sparrow was appointed professor to teach Latin and Greek and Morrison taught of all other subjects. The college opened in March 1837, just two years after Morrison first proposed the idea.
Then personal tragedy struck. Morrison’s two youngest daughters, ages one and four, died within days of each other from diphtheria. This was a heavy blow to him and soon after he contracted a severe case of bronchitis which affected his throat. He took a leave of absence and went to Philadelphia for a cure which was not successful. By this time he had lost his voice, making it impossible for him to teach classes or maintain discipline. He retired in 1839, but his illness did not keep him from completing one final and essential task. He went to Raleigh in December and convinced the Assembly to incorporate the college under a liberal charter which gave it the freedom to grow and prosper.
In retirement he moved to Lincoln County where he became a prosperous planter. Eventually he regained his voice and became the minister of Unity Presbyterian Church and founded two others. His ten remaining children all accomplished great things and the college he founded survived, as so many did not at that time. Because of the foundation he had established it grew to be the leading national college it is today.
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