Union is 221 years old. There are only 18 other colleges in the nation that can claim an older age. Within the state of New York, Union is the oldest school to be given a charter by the Board of Regents.
What I am getting at is no one alive today remembers a day without a Union. Union, on its “birthday” owes a large thanks to Pastor Dirck Romeyn.
Romeyn was born in New Barbados (now Hackensack), New Jersey on Jan. 12, 1744, to Claes Romeyn and Rachel Vreelandt.
There is very little written on his early life, but it is known that in 1765, he attended the College of New Jersey, which is known today as Princeton University, and was admitted into the Dutch Reformed ministry in 1766.
During the American Revolution, it was rumored that Romeyn was known as the “rebel parson” among British soldiers. Romeyn was invited to Schenectady, N.Y., early in 1778 to become an assistant pastor. He rejected the initial offer because he wanted to be in the full office. His request was met six years later in 1784.
Prior his arrival in Schenectady, there were plans being made to erect a school, which would be under the supervision of the First Dutch Reformed Church.
This coincided nicely because Romeyn considered opening a seminary in New Brunswick while still in Hackensack and was offered a job as president at Queens College, now Rutgers. Romeyn rejected the later and the former never came to fruition. He was extremely eager to help form a new institution of higher learning within the state of New York.
A year after the Board of Regents of the University of the State of New York was formed, Romeyn was made a member.
Schenectady had been trying for years prior to the arrival of Romeyn to open a college. The first attempt to erect a college in Schenectady was made by John C. Cuyler.
In 1779, this Senior Elder of Schenectady’s Dutch Reformed Church gathered signatures for a petition to have an academy created and funded by the city of Schenectady. This unfortunately failed because Schenectady turned their attention to a more pressing issue, the American Revolutionary War. After the first petition fell short, the governor of New York, George Clinton, attempted to issue an executive order requiring a college to be created in Schenectady.
He cited the fact that there was a “loud call … for men of learning to fill the several offices of church.” The best answer to this “loud call” was a college.
Unfortunately, the majority of the legislature did not agree, and the prospects of Clinton College appeared to vanish. Luckily, many devoted members of the legislature thought a college was exactly what the city needed.
By 1782, even though still failing to gain approval, the original Cuyler petition gained 200 signatures and a promise of 8,000 pounds by the people of Schenectady to open a college.
Romeyn understood the best chances of opening a school would be through practical measures.
Being a master orator, Romeyn emphasized that the city should have at least one place dedicated to the advancement of the minds of its young men.
On Feb. 21, 1785, the Dutch Reformed Church agreed to open an academy. A new two-story academy was erected on the corner of Union and Ferry streets and became known as the Old Academy Building.
A group of private citizens in the city, who were interested in advancing the academic interests for young men, formed the ‘Academy and Library Company.’ This newly-formed group agreed to manage the academics and the Reformed Church was to oversee the building. Both were under the guidance of Romeyn.
The Academy and Library Company were able to find teachers within the city and quickly developed an academic initiative.
In September of 1785, the Company called for a charter from the Board of Regents, but were rejected. The Academy flourished during its first few years thanks to Romeyn’s leadership and financial responsibility.
Romeyn quickly realized that the Academy would require more economic support than just donations. He went to work getting a charter for the school. An attempt was made in early 1792, but like previous attempts, was rejected.
Romeyn remained confident that the Academy would eventually get a charter — Schenectady had promised funds and land for the school.
Romeyn and the citizens of Schenectady sent a proposal on Dec. 18, 1794, which put forth $8,000 and a total of 800 acres for a new college.
The proposal of Romeyn was accepted and his hard work was rewarded on Feb. 25, 1795, when he received the charter to form a new college in Schenectady.
A week after receiving the charter, famous General Philip Schuyler wrote to Romeyn saying, “may indulgent Heaven protect and cherish an Institution calculated to promote virtue and the weal of the people.”