The Willington Academy of Doctor Moses Waddel, a log-constructed classical school for boys, was perhaps the most prestigious preparatory school in antebellum South Carolina. Waddel, a Presbyterian minister, moved his academy from Vienna on the Georgia side of the Savannah River to Willington (near the modern town of McCormick) around 1804 at the urging of Huguenot settlers who desired rigorous Calvinist teaching.
The school was a collection of student-built study cabins arrayed on a dirt street with a log-constructed recitation hall that doubled as a chapel. Boys boarded with nearby planters or in small cabins near the school. Ambitious youths, from the red hills of the upcountry to the tidelands of the coast, flocked to Willington, so named because the Huguenot worshipers in the region were “willing to” merge their Calvinist worship with the local Scots-Irish Presbyterians at Waddel’s urging.
Waddel’s teaching of the classics, especially by the recitation method, attracted the attention of educators throughout the nation. Students learned to read ancient Greek and Latin and studied the great classical works. They also honed their oratorical skills, which were vital to politically ambitious members of society. Students were called to class by Waddel’s hunting horn, and recitations were not complete until he was satisfied. With such thorough preparation, Willington graduates entered colleges such as Yale and Princeton as juniors. The academy’s distinguished graduates included John C. Calhoun, Augustus B. Longstreet, Hugh Swinton Legaré, George McDuffie, and James Louis Petigru.
Waddel ran Willington from 1804 to 1819, when he left to become president of Franklin College (later the University of Georgia). With Waddel’s departure, the school closed until 1830, when his sons James and John Waddel revived the institution and recaptured much of its earlier prestige. With the arrival of the Civil War, Willington Academy closed in 1861.
Horton, Thomas B. “Moses Waddel: Nineteenth-Century South Carolina Educator.” Ph.D. diss., University of South Carolina, 1992.
Lyon, Ralph M. “Moses Waddel and the Willington Academy.” North Carolina Historical Review 8 (July 1931): 284–99.
Waddel, John N. Memorials of Academic Life: Being an Historical Sketch of the Waddel Family. Richmond, Va.: Presbyterian Committee of Publication, 1891.