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Trustees of the Monongalia Academy

Posted by Jane Metters LaBarbara.
June 16th, 2014

Blog post by Stewart Plein, Rare Book Librarian.

Monongalia Academy

The Monongalia Academy

Chartered in 1814, the Academy’s administration was guided by a group of Morgantown men who served as its trustees.  Three men among this group who served as trustees were instrumental to the life of the Academy, and credited with the civic and business development of Morgantown.  Although many others served as trustees for the Monongalia Academy over time, this look back over the succeeding two hundred years since the Academy’s charter examines the lives of some of the Academy’s leading principals.

Portrait of Mathew Gay

Mathew Gay

According to Earl Core’s The Monongalia Story, Mathew Gay was born in 1780, the eldest son of John and Margaret Gay of Tyrone County, Ireland.

Gay immigrated to America in 1800, sailing from Londonderry to Philadelphia and from there he made his way to Morgantown at the invitation of his uncle, Colonel William McCleery.  Gay’s mother was Margaret, the sister of Colonel McCleery, who had lived in Morgantown for many years.  Immigrating around 1741, McCleery had lived in America for nearly 35 years before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War.  Although Irish by birth, McCleery served his adopted country as a colonel under George Washington.

McCleery married Isabella Stockton who, as a young girl, survived capture by Native Americans at Fort Neally.  The couple had no children.   When Isabella died in 1799, McCleery wrote to his 19 year old nephew Gay and asked him to come to America to live with him. As one of the first attorneys in Morgantown, McCleery played an important role in surveying and registering land patents and pensioner claims in Western Virginia. Upon his arrival in Morgantown, Gay moved in with his uncle and began his legal training with McCleery in his law office.

Gay succeeded McCleery after his death in 1807, becoming one of Morgantown’s most active civic citizens.  In concert with his law office, which he operated for 40 years, Gay served as Director of the Morgantown branch of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank of Wheeling, and President of the Board of Trustees of the Monongalia Academy from his election to that office in 1827 to his death in 1857 at age 78.

Portrait of Thomas Wilson

Thomas Wilson

A native of Eastern Virginia, Wilson was born in 1760.  He read law, apprenticing under Judge Stuart of Staunton, Virginia, until he was judged competent as a lawyer.  After admission to the Bar in Virginia, Wilson married Mary Poage.  After moving to Morgantown, Wilson was admitted to practice law in September 1781 and continued his practice in Morgantown until his death on January 24, 1826.  Wilson’s legal legacy in Morgantown continued when three of his sons followed in their father’s footsteps, becoming lawyers and practicing in Morgantown.

Wilson was among the first men elected as a trustee of the Monongalia Academy.  According to Samuel Wiley’s History of Monongalia County, Wilson advertised in the local newspaper, the Monongalia Spectator, for a tutor in 1816.  As Secretary of Monongalia Academy, Wilson’s advertisement described the need for a tutor to instruct “about twenty-five scholars in the several branches usually taught in schools and Academies” to be paid “four hundred dollars per annum, by quarterly installments.”

While serving as trustee and Secretary for the Monongalia Academy, Wilson was also a member of the Virginia House of Delegates from 1816–1817.  Wilson’s notable political career included two terms in the Virginia State Senate, 1792–1795, two terms as a member of the Virginia House of Delegates, 1799–1800, and one term as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from Virginia’s 1st congressional district, March 4, 1811 – March 3, 1813. Thomas Wilson is noted as the first Monongalian to hold that position.

Portrait of Thomas P. Ray

Thomas P. Ray

Ray was born May 14, 1796 in the Isle of Wight.  Shortly after his birth his parents, Patrick and Mary Ray, left England, sailing for Philadelphia.  After a few years, the family moved on to Wheeling.  At age 15, Ray left home and moved to Morgantown for an apprenticeship in the Monongalia County Clerk’s office, a position in which he excelled.  Ray continued to serve as County Clerk and Superior Court Clerk for many years.

Deeply concerned with the availability of drawing slackwater navigation to Morgantown in order for allow shipping and trade from Pennsylvania, Ray served as a member of the Monongalia Navigation Committee, traveling to a convention in Washington City, as the District of Columbia was called at the time.

The many positions Ray held included President of the Morgantown branch of the Merchants and Mechanics Bank of Wheeling.  Along with Mathew Gay, Ray was instrumental in bringing the bank to Morgantown.

Thomas Ray died young from an unknown illness at age 46.  After his death, Mathew Gay served as Director of the bank until 1841.

According to Wiley’s History of Monongalia County, the Monongalia Academy “owed its existence to the personal exertions of Mr. Ray,” who provided not only his personal property, but also personal endowments for the Academy, laying the foundation for WVU.  Ray held a dual role for the Academy, as both Treasurer and Trustee.

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