Mount Zion College

1777–1960

The all-male Mt. Zion College, which included a great deal of elementary and preparatory learning for youths of all ages, was housed in a more substantial brick building by 1789 and flourished throughout the antebellum period as a strictly disciplined, academically challenging academy whose graduates were well prepared for admission to South Carolina College and other regional institutions.

Established in 1777 by an elite group of South Carolina politicians and businessmen who called themselves the Mount Sion (as it was then spelled) Society, the institution started in a small log building as an all-grades public school in Winnsboro. The school, originally called Mt. Sion Institute, closed in 1780, when British troops occupied Winnsboro. It reopened in 1784 with the Reverend Thomas McCaule, a graduate of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) and Presbyterian minister, as its principal. In 1785, in its first official action to promote the growth of higher education, the South Carolina legislature officially chartered the school as Mt. Zion College, one of three colleges it chartered on the same day. The others were at Cambridge (later Ninety Six) and Charleston, the latter eventually becoming the College of Charleston.

The all-male Mt. Zion College, which included a great deal of elementary and preparatory learning for youths of all ages, was housed in a more substantial brick building by 1789 and flourished throughout the antebellum period as a strictly disciplined, academically challenging academy whose graduates were well prepared for admission to South Carolina College and other regional institutions. James W. Hudson, principal from 1832 to 1858, was credited with insisting on the noted teachers and high-quality students for which the school became known. Later principals would include well-known South Carolina educators such as William Rivers (1862–1864), R. Means Davis (1877–1882), Patterson Wardlaw (1883–1885), and Leonard T. Baker (1902–1906).

Although the Civil War interrupted operations and the main building succumbed to fire in 1867, the school eventually reestablished itself in a new brick building as Mt. Zion Collegiate Institute, the first graded public school in South Carolina outside Charleston. It continued operation throughout the first half of the twentieth century, eventually becoming a public high school. In 1953 the Mt. Zion Society relinquished its title to the school lands, and the school became part of a consolidated county school system. The 183rd and final commencement exercises for graduates of Mt. Zion Institute (formerly College and Collegiate Institute) were held in 1960 for sixty-seven graduates.

LaMotte, Louis C. Colored Light: The Story of the Influence of Columbia Theological Seminary, 1828–1936. Richmond, Va.: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1937.

McMaster, Fitz Hugh. History of Fairfield County, South Carolina: From “Before the White Man Came” to 1942. 1946. Reprint, Spartanburg, S.C.: Reprint Company, 1980.

Thomason, John Furman. The Foundations of the Public Schools of South Carolina. Columbia, S.C.: State Company, 1925.

Citation Information

The following information is provided for citations.

  • Title Mount Zion College
  • Coverage 1777–1960
  • Author
  • Keywords Established in 1777 by an elite group of South Carolina politicians and businessmen who called themselves the Mount Sion (as it was then spelled) Society, all-male, great deal of elementary and preparatory learning for youths of all ages,
  • Website Name South Carolina Encyclopedia
  • Publisher University of South Carolina, Institute for Southern Studies
  • URL
  • Access Date March 3, 2024
  • Original Published Date
  • Date of Last Update August 15, 2022
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