Historian Seeks Information on the First Black Applicant to the College of William and Mary

The Lemon Project, established in 2009 at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Virginia, is an ongoing effort to examine the college’s ties to slavery and explore its history regarding African Americans. The project is named for a slave that was owned by the educational institution in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.

In the summer of 1951 Hulon Willis became the first Black student at the College of William and Mary. Another Black student, Edward Augustus Travis, enrolled in the law school that fall. But it appears that more than a century earlier, a free Black man had sought to attend the college.

allenJody Allen, a visiting assistant professor of history and managing director of The Lemon Project, is now conducting research on John Wallace De Rozaro, a 20-year-old African American man who sought to take classes at the college in 1807. A letter in the William and Mary archives from the college’s president to the governor of Virginia stated that De Rozaro “has been his own master in reading, writing, arithmetic, and he has taught himself a little of the Latin language and had evinced this in strongest Solicitude to attend the Lectures in College.” The college president urged De Rozaro to work in a local armory instead of pursuing higher education.

De Rozaro was born free in Virginia and owned land. He worked as a gunsmith. Dr. Allen is conducting research to see what more can be found out about this young Black man who sought to attend the College of William and Mary.

Dr. Allen earned a Ph.D. in history at the College of William and Mary in 2007.

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