Discussions regarding the founding of a college in the Province of New York began as early as 1704, when Colonel Lewis Morris wrote to the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, the missionary arm of the Church of England, persuading the society that New York City was an ideal community in which to establish a college; however, not until the founding of Princeton University across the Hudson River in New Jersey did the City of New York seriously consider founding a college. In 1746 an act was passed by the general assembly of New York to raise funds for the foundation of a new college. In 1751, the assembly appointed a commission of ten New York residents, seven of whom were members of the Church of England, to direct the funds accrued by the state lottery towards the foundation of a college.
Classes were initially held in July 1754 and were presided over by the college’s first president, Dr. Samuel Johnson. Dr. Johnson was the only instructor of the college’s first class, which consisted of a mere eight students. Instruction was held in a new schoolhouse adjoining Trinity Church, located on what is now lower Broadway in Manhattan. The college was officially founded on October 31, 1754, as King’s College by royal charter of King George II, making it the oldest institution of higher learning in the state of New York and the fifth oldest in the United States.
In 1763, Dr. Johnson was succeeded in the presidency by Myles Cooper, a graduate of The Queen’s College, Oxford, and an ardent Tory. In the charged political climate of the American Revolution, his chief opponent in discussions at the College was an undergraduate of the class of 1777, Alexander Hamilton. The American Revolutionary War broke out in 1776, and was catastrophic for the operation of King’s College, which suspended instruction for eight years beginning in 1776 with the arrival of the Continental Army. The suspension continued through the military occupation of New York City by British troops until their departure in 1783. The college’s library was looted and its sole building requisitioned for use as a military hospital first by American and then British forces. Loyalists were forced to abandon their King’s College in New York, which was seized by the rebels and renamed Columbia University. The Loyalists, led by Bishop Charles Inglis fled to Windsor, Nova Scotia, where they founded what is now the University of King’s College.