Their roots are even closer than that—a lesson I learned while poking around a bluff north of the Savannah River that is the highest point in lowly McCormick County, SC.
|Prof. Moses Waddel|
Willington Academy was a melting-pot of older boys from Lowcountry plantations and backwoods farms—sons of proud families who knew dearly the price of freedom and believed that a classical education was essential for success in the new United States. Boys left home and boarded with local families for years while they prepped for college in a wooden schoolhouse that was little more than a barn.
Dr. Waddel (pronounced "waddle") was a taskmaster who spoke four languages, inspired self-reliance, preached the Gospel, and taught the classics. Students were required to memorize and translate long passages of Greek and Latin every day. One of them, George McDuffie, set Willington's one-day record by reciting 1,212 lines from the Roman poet Horace.
The loquacious McDuffie, not surprisingly, went on to become governor of South Carolina—one of 11 governors of three states who were taught by Waddel. Almost 40 of his graduates were elected to the U.S. Congress. Dozens became judges, including James Petigru, who famously declared on the eve of Secession that South Carolina was too small to be a republic and too large to be an insane asylum. President Andrew Jackson admired Dr. Waddel.
I doubt that any high school in America can match all that (and that's not all*).
Obscure, rough-hewn Willington was acclaimed as "the American Eton"—compared to the exclusive school that refined statesmen for the British empire. In fact, Dr. Tom Horton has written a book entitled "The American Eton" in his series "History's Lost Moments: The Stories Your Teacher Never Told You."
My teachers never told me. I never heard of Waddel or Willington Academy** in all the years I lived in South Carolina, canvassing the state for the sake of high school football and occasionally driving through the ghost town of Willington on my way to Augusta to cover the Masters. I stumbled across them one brisk morning in December 2012, when I drove down from Anderson to look for the highest point in McCormick County—a peculiar obsession that I'll explain in another blog—and found archaeological excavations atop Cherry Hill, plus a couple of historical markers nearby.
But what does Dr. Waddel have to do with Clemson and Georgia?
One of Dr. Waddel's early students was John C. Calhoun. Waddel married Calhoun's sister Catherine, and John studied under Waddell in 1795 at Appling, Ga., and 1800-2 at Willington. Calhoun graduated from Yale in 1804, was elected vice president under John Quincy Adams and Andrew Jackson, and settled in 1825 on the Fort Hill plantation in the newly formed Pickens County. Calhoun's daughter married Thomas Clemson, and when he outlived the family, he left the Calhoun estate to form a college to teach scientific agriculture and the mechanical arts—Clemson A&M.
Dr. Waddel was hired away from Willington in 1819 to revive Franklin College in Athens, Georgia, which at the time had only seven students and three professors. He served as school president for 10 years, secured state funding, and built the heart of the campus that became the University of Georgia. Waddel Hall on the historic North Quadrangle is named for him.
Saturday night, when it comes time to run down the hill in Clemson, it's worth remembering that these two fine universities (or football factories, if you prefer) sprang from the same humble hill in McCormick—exactly 53 miles from Clemson and 53 miles from Athens.
* There are at least 43 U.S. counties/parishes/etc named after men Dr. Waddel taught or influenced. That includes 21 counties named for Jackson, 11 for Calhoun, and 6 or 7 for Sen. William Crawford (who was a candidate for president along with Calhoun and Jackson in 1824).
** There was a latter-day Willington Academy in Orangeburg, which later became part of Orangeburg Prep after a merger with Wade Hampton Academy (named for another Willington graduate, Gen. Wade Hampton III, who married Gov. McDuffie's daughter).
*** Dr. Waddel's son, John Newton Waddel, was the first president of the University of Misssissippi following the Civil War. So we could call the Georgia-Ole Miss game the Waddel Bowl.