The College will celebrate the 300th birthday of founder Ephraim Williams on Saturday.
The Office of Alumni Relations is sponsoring a number of events in honor of the occasion. On Saturday at 6:15 p.m., there will be a birthday party with a three-layer cake in Paresky, where the Marching Band will play “Happy Birthday Ephraim” as President Adam Falk cuts the cake. Free Purple Cow and birthday cake gelato will also be served at Lee Snack Bar. Afterwards, there will be a purple and gold fireworks display at Poker Flats at 8:00 p.m. On Sunday, the Chaplain’s Office will hold an Interfaith Service titled “Glad to Be Here” in Thompson Memorial Chapel at 11:30 a.m. in honor of Ephraim Williams to celebrate and reflect on his legacy and the importance of thankfulness and giving.
The Office of Alumni Relations will also host birthday celebrations for alumni around the country, as well as in Beijing, according to the office’s website.
Sarah Currie, director of the Williamstown Historical Museum, believes that, “Ephraim’s 300th birthday is certainly worthy of a celebration!”
“Typically the college celebrates Ephraim’s birthday, recognizing his significance to the naming of the College and town,” Currie said. “Ephraim’s legacy can be uncovered through a reading of his will. I highly recommend visiting the College Archives website to discover more about the man for whom the College and town is named. He led a rich and well traveled life but actually never settled or built a home in Williamstown.”
Although no photographs exist of Ephraim Williams, we can get an idea of the man he was from his will as well as from written accounts of his life. Ebenezer Fitch, the first President of the College, wrote in 1802 that Williams was “very generally esteemed, respected, and beloved.”
In his biography of Williams, Fitch wrote that the College’s founder “had a taste for books, and often lamented his want of a liberal education.”
Indeed, his lack of higher education likely contributed to his desire to establish a “free school” in western Massachusetts for the sons of the New England gentry. At the time of its founding, Williams College was one of only two institutions of higher learning in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.
Col. Ephraim Williams Jr.’s gift provided the foundation of the College and led the town to be named in his honor. Born to a prestigious Massachusetts family in 1715, he became a commissioned officer in King George’s War (1745-48) and the French and Indian War (1754-63), according to the College archives. He died in the line of duty at age 40 near Lake George, NY. His will, now kept at the New York Historical Society, bequeathed his estate of approximately $11,277 to support and maintain a “free school in the township west of Fort Massachusetts” and to change the name of that township. In 1791, the Williamstown Free School opened in the building that is now West College. Williams College opened its doors in 1793.
The Office of Alumni Relations launched a Tumblr page to keep students and alumni informed about details of the celebration. The website also provides historical information about the College’s life and contributions. The Eph Alum Facebook page has used hashtags such as #Keepit300, #Eph300, #GoEphraimItsYourBirthday, #Ephpride and #CeleEPHbration to promote the celebration.