Vision of Syms
Benjamin Syms Middle School: The Standard of Educational Excellence for Every Student
Mission of Syms
Benjamin Syms Middle School is a safe, collaborative, learning environment, where unique learners strive to meet high expectations. We promote the academic, emotional, and social growth of all learners.
History of Syms
The school is named in honor of Benjamin Syms, America’s first benefactor of free education. Little is actually known about Benjamin Syms, but it is known that his great concern was that the indigent receive an education. He established a school on his own property for the free education of the indigent. This seems to have been the reason behind the first free school in America.
America’s first charity school was created in Elizabeth City County by the will of Benjamin Syms, February 12, 1635. The bequest consisted of 200 acres of land and eight cows for the purpose of “a free school to educate and teach the children of the adjoining parishes of Elizabeth City and Poquoson from Mary’s Mount downward to the Poquoson River.” As a charity school, the school was operated from the benefits of the bequest and no tuition was charged.
The General Assembly of 1643 confirmed the will and a letter written to England in 1647 revealed “---a free school, with two hundred acres of land, a fine house upon it, forty milch kine and other accommodations.” The exact date of the opening of this school is not known, but it had been in operation for some years prior to 1647.
The administration of the Syms Free School was placed under trustees and governors by an act of the General Assembly. The lands of the original grants were rented to various tenants, George Wythe being one of these.
An interesting sidelight to this history must be given in conclusion. In 1805 the sale of the school lands brought $10,000. The money was then invested in mortgage bonds. During the Civil War, Mrs. Jefferson Curle Phillips carried these to Richmond and kept them safely until after the war. The bonds were returned to Hampton and reinvested. Today, this money is in government bonds, the interest of which is applied to the costs of educating Hampton’s youth. This might well be America’s oldest continuous trust fund, dating back to the 1635 bequest of Benjamin Syms.