Chartered as an academy in 1783, when this territory belonged to North Carolina, and as a college in 1795 by the Territory of the United States South of the River Ohio, Washington College was "the first real institution of learning west of the Alleghanies." (Roosevelt's Winning of the West )
Our Scotch-Irish forbears had hardly reared their cabins before they built this "log college" in the wilderness.
General John Sevier, the leader of those sturdy patriots in the battle of King's Mountain, was one of the trustees, and it was on his motion that the College was named in honor of Washington. The territory was still infested by hostile tribes of Indians.
The founder and first President was the Reverend Samuel Doak, of Virginia, whose parents came from the north of Ireland. He graduated from Princeton College in 1775, studied theology, and became the "apostle of learning and religion to this region." The first donation (four hundred acres of land in North Carolina) was from Colonel Waitstill Avery a signer of the Mecklenburg Declaration. The College was within the territory of the Watauga Association, famous as the first attempt at free government on the part of native Americans. Such are but a few facts from a history full of interest throughout. An indigenous product of this section of the mountainous South the interests of the College have ever been identified with those of the people, sharing their struggles and privations, whether amid the perils of frontier life, the vicissitudes of war or the endeavor to restore the losses thereby entailed. Their descendants, being conservative and tenacious of traditions, this venerable Alma Mater has a strong hold on their sympathies. Mr Doak was at the head of the institution for thirty-eight years. It has sent forth numbers of useful men in every generation since its founding, not a few of whom have been eminent in the services of Church and State. There have been twelve presidents one of whom died before entering upon his duties. For a while during the Civil War, and a short period in the early seventies, (1870's) when circumstances and lack of funds rendered it impracticable to keep a sufficient teaching force to do legitimate college work, little more was attempted than an academic course of high grade. Though not organically connected with any ecclesiastical body, the College has always been closely affiliated with the Presbyterian Church. The charter provides that "the advantages of a liberal education and the honors of the College shall be accessible to students of all denominations."
The College is on the Southern Railway in Washington County, ninety miles east of Knoxville. Washington College is the name also of the station and post office. One of the college farms lies adjacent thereto, but the buildings are a mile and a half distant. Free transportation may be had from the station at the beginning of each term if notice be given beforehand.
The small rural village almost wholly a college community, is free from the allurements and distractions of cities and large towns. A more ideal place for study could hardly be found than the primeval grove in which the buildings stand. It is in the midst of an intelligent community, long noted for its Christian culture and sobriety. There are no saloons within forty miles. Salem Church, on the campus, affords excellent church and Sabbath school privileges. Then the neighboring mountains and foothills, flanking the Upper Tennessee Valley, furnish a diversity and picturesqueness of landscape whose ever-varying cast and hue invest it with perennial interest. Such surroundings constitute a wholesome atmosphere for mind and heart alike. (Source: Catalogue of Washington College, East Tennessee:, College Press, 1907, pp 8-10)