The Yule Log at America’s Two Colonial Colleges Turned Public Universities

By Paul Soltis ’16

William & Mary and Rutgers are the only two of the nine “Colonial colleges” founded in British North America before the American Revolution to eschew the Ivy League and instead take on the roles of state universities. As a William & Mary alumnus working for the State Park Service of New Jersey, I enjoy a special place connecting and sharing the long histories of both Colonial colleges turned public universities.

Greetings from the Garden State. I’m Paul Soltis ’16 from Lawrence Township, New Jersey, more famously the hometown of my William & Mary predecessor Jon Stewart ’84. I grew up with an interest in the American Revolution, and even more important, our public stewardship of state parks and historic sites in this corridor of the “Crossroads of the American Revolution” that includes Washington Crossing State Park, Trenton Battle Monument and Princeton Battlefield State Park. For me, it’s not Fourth of July fireworks or autumn leaves on battlefields but the shorter days, longer nights and colder temperatures of the festive season that evoke the Revolutionary War. In New Jersey, we remember the “Ten Crucial Days” when George Washington (holder of a surveyor’s license from William & Mary and the college’s first American Chancellor, even if not a full alumnus) and a small but diverse band of soldiers and camp followers crossed the Delaware River on Christmas night and engaged British forces including Hessians and Highlanders at Trenton and Princeton from Dec. 26, 1776, to Jan. 3, 1777.

I work for the State Park Service of New Jersey as historian for Wallace House & Old Dutch Parsonage State Historic Sites. Wallace House served as George Washington’s winter headquarters during the Revolutionary War’s 1778-79 Middlebrook Cantonment. Old Dutch Parsonage is the historic home of the founder and first president of Queen’s College — today Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey . At William & Mary, I worked in the Spotswood Society as a proctor of the Wren Building and in Campus Recreation as a patron services assistant for the Student Recreation Center. Serving students, faculty, staff and guests at these two facilities at opposite ends of our campus and centuries apart in our history, I valued this unique perspective on the whole stretch of our university life. Now, as historian for 18th-century historic houses that today belong to New Jersey’s State Parks, Forests & Historic Sites as part of our Department of Environmental Protection, I enjoy working again in public service where the diverse needs of natural and historic resources come together for the benefit of the people of New Jersey.

The first of New Jersey’s “Colonial colleges” was the College of New Jersey, today Princeton University. They proposed to name their college building in honor of the Royal Governor of New Jersey, Jonathan Belcher. Gov. Belcher turned down the honor, fearing the jokes generations of students would make with “Belcher Hall” at the heart of campus — OK, no, that’s my attempt at a joke — but Gov. Belcher did turn down the honor, wishing instead to honor a figure of the recent past, the late King William III of our William & Mary. The College of New Jersey christened their new building Nassau Hall in reference to William III’s Dutch titles Prince of Orange and Count of Nassau, and generations later Princeton University kept the allusion going with the adoption of orange and black as its signature colors. Meanwhile, according to Swem Library’s Special Collections Research Center, William & Mary tried out orange and black for the same reason, as well as orange and white to include the white rose of York for Queen Mary II, but eventually settled on green and gold after the rediscovery of William & Mary’s Coat of Arms.

Unlike Virginia, where the Church of England was established in the Colonial era and as such the government sponsored an Anglican college at William & Mary, 18th-century New Jersey had no established church, allowing for the proliferation of a variety of religious traditions, at least among dissenting Protestant denominations. Rev. Jacob Rutsen Hardenbergh, in residence at today’s Old Dutch Parsonage, led the effort to charter a second college in New Jersey for the specific purpose of educating in the Dutch Reformed tradition. The Royal Governor, by then William Franklin, son of Benjamin Franklin (first recipient of an honorary degree from William & Mary), granted a charter for Queen’s College on Nov. 10, 1766, making New Jersey the only colony of British North America to host more than one college before the American Revolution.

Women’s education came to the Colonial colleges at William & Mary and Rutgers in the momentous fall of 1918, the same season when the Armistice took effect on the Western Front in World War I and the influenza pandemic called the “Spanish Flu” gripped the globe’s public health. That semester, women enrolled at William & Mary for the first time, while the College for Women opened in New Jersey as a sister to Rutgers College. Actor and activist Paul Robeson began his senior year at Rutgers College, and both the College for Women and William & Mary saw campus closures to stop the spread of Spanish Flu. I was surprised to learn that the first students at the College for Women, later renamed Douglass College for their founder and first dean Mabel Smith Douglass, arranged a Yule Log as a festive conclusion to their first semester in 1918, a decade and a half before William & Mary adopted a similar tradition in the 1930s. Like our Yule Log, the College for Women’s Yule Log has grown over the years to include a variety of faith traditions and diverse perspectives, and it remains a cherished tradition of the modern Douglass Residential College, today a residential program of Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.

Drawing from these traditions, I’ve adopted a “Colonial Colleges” Yule Log as a seasonal fixture for our historical interpretation at Old Dutch Parsonage State Historic Site, sharing the long histories of these two Colonial colleges turned public universities with our New Jersey audiences, adding one more flame to the festive fires rising this time of year from Douglass Residential College at Rutgers, the shores of the Delaware River at Washington Crossing State Park, and the Great Hall at William & Mary.

Watch the Colonial Colleges Yule Log 2020.

Connect with Paul on LinkedIn.

Tips Uncategorized Undergraduate Experience

W&M Learnings

By Jena Araojo ’19

Hello members of the Tribe! My name is Jena Araojo and I graduated in 2019 with a BBA in Marketing, a concentration in Consulting, and a minor in Sociology. I work in Washington DC at Deloitte Consulting and I am currently traveling the country while teleworking! When I was in college I was part of the business fraternity Alpha Kappa Psi, a member of Students for University Advancement, and I was the HR Director for Agency 1693. I also had the coolest job working in Sadler Center & Campus Center as one of the Building Managers. Most importantly and probably the highlight of my time in college, I studied abroad at the University of Limerick in Ireland for a semester. To those considering studying abroad – do it! When else will you spend 4 months integrated in another culture with the opportunity to travel to different countries each weekend?

My relationship with W&M started at a young age. At ages 3 and 8 I was on campus for summer programs, only to tell my mom “when I get bigger, I am going to go here for real.” Fast-forward to 2015 and my family and I were the first 2 cars parked outside my dorm ready to move in! I look back and laugh to think that I was certain I would need every dorm decoration and piece of clothing with me on campus, even my winter coats in August. Note to my younger self and current freshmen, cycle out your clothing when you go home for breaks. Your closet is but so big!

I wish I had a conventional freshman experience with funny anecdotes to share, but on the second day of classes I tripped up the steps in Millington, a since torn down building, where I shattered my foot. Now back home for 6 weeks for surgery and recovery, I was trying to catch up virtually at home and I missed out on the bonding experiences that most freshmen have to assimilate to college. I wanted to take a leave of absence, however, my network from the PLUS program, the Dean of Students Office, and my professors provided accommodations and resources that allowed me to push through and stay on campus. During that period of frustration and assimilation I learned my first life lesson, the importance of asking for help. Whether it was needing additional tutoring support, attending a lot of office hours and TA sessions, or reaching out to friends for support when I was down, W&M created an environment for me to thrive if I advocated for myself.

Second, I learned the power of pivoting and persevering. Throughout college I faced many uphill battles where I was close to giving up. I applied to the business school as a major 4 times before getting in and I spent many hours preparing for my dream job interview post college. I have to give my mom credit in reminding me to pivot when things went awry so I could persevere towards what I wanted, even if it would take longer to get there than I planned.

The last lesson I learned in college is how important the friendships I made would be. There is nothing like living a 5-minute walk from your friends or heading down to Sadler for Late Night together. So my best piece of advice for current students is to enjoy every minute of your time on campus, especially during your senior year. Do as many activities as possible and spend time with your friends because once you graduate you will miss those moments. Although bittersweet, is it always comforting to know that regardless of where you go after college, there is a W&M alumni community waiting to welcome you!

My friends know I am a walking advertisement for W&M and so it surprised no one when I became a Class Ambassador and then a W&M DC Alumni Chapter Board Member in 2021! On the board, I get to plan and host events for the thousands of alumni and their families who live across the DMV area. From celebrating Yule Log and Charter Day, to throwing social events like trivia nights or picnics on the National Mall, to community service and educational events, there are a lot of opportunities for alumni to reconnect or make new friends. Staying involved as an alumna has allowed me to welcome the newest graduates to the W&M DMV alumni community as they look to find a new group of friends in the city! It is really special to see new alumni say they are glad they have a community to reach out to as their first network once they move to DC.

Needless to say, being a member of the Tribe was meant to be and I could not see myself attending a different university and I am excited to continue my time as an involved alumna. To all the current students, know that when you graduate, there will be a W&M alumni community in your area ready to welcome you home.

Connect with Jena on LinkedIn.

Maintaining Connections Tribe Athletics Uncategorized

Embracing Every Opportunity

By Kristie Wei ’15

When I began college in the Fall of 2011, I never expected my experience would end up the way that it did. Unlike most William & Mary students, my journey to the ‘Burg didn’t begin until the end of my freshman year (of college). Being a student-athlete, I was recruited by schools around the country and initially landed at a school 3,000 miles away in California. After a brief health scare, leading to a suboptimal freshman year, I knew I needed to put myself first and began seeking new opportunities closer to home.

The transfer process was challenging for many reasons, but ultimately I found my way to the small, quaint town of Williamsburg, VA – funny story, I actually committed and submitted my deposit to attend before I even had a chance to visit in person. Luckily, it all worked out – I was welcomed with open arms by the entire community and never looked back.

My three years at the College absolutely flew by – from early morning cardio workouts during pre-season, to the many, many late nights at Swem (and the Delis, too), I completely immersed myself in this new college experience and didn’t take a single day for granted. Sure, there were some trying times throughout – but I can confidently say that I have absolutely no regrets.

William & Mary not only offered me a second chance to live out my childhood dreams of competing as a Division I athlete, it also helped shape me into the person I am today and gave me some pretty cool lifelong friends in the process.

Fast forward to today, although it’s been seven years since I walked across the Crim Dell with the class of 2015, the experiences I had at W&M still guide me in my journey post-college. It has been through the connections that I’ve built and lessons that I’ve learned that have propelled me into a successful career spanning multiple industries including finance, consulting and now cybersecurity.
The most valuable lessons I learned at W&M are ones that can’t be found on my transcript or resume – work hard, don’t be afraid to take risks and embrace every opportunity that comes your way. In life, every ending may just be the best new beginning. I’m forever grateful for my time at W&M and am looking forward to connecting with more of the Tribe in years to come!

One Tribe, One Family.

Follow along with Kristie on Instagram and connect with her on LinkedIn.