First To Be Free
Syms-Eaton School in Hampton
The city of Hampton is a historic center for Hampton Roads education, rich in “firsts.”
The Syms-Eaton School in Hampton was the first in the United States to offer free public education. The school thrived and enrichedmany of its students until it was tragically burned down in 1862 during the Civil War. The school was later rebuilt and is known today as Hampton High School. A large portion of the money from the Syms-Eaton School donations was saved and turned into a trust fund, which has been intact since the 17th century. This trust fund can be used today to support the Hampton City Public School system.
Hampton also houses Hampton University, a historically African-American and Native American college originally established in 1861 to educate freed slaves. Mary Peake, daughter of a freed colonial woman and a Frenchman, taught her first class of about 20 students under a simple oak tree.