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Thad W. Tate papers

Identifier: MS 00356

  • Staff Only
  • No requestable containers

Content Description

This collection contains the papers relating to Thad W. Tate including transcriptions of oral histories and certificates of accomplishments from Phi Beta Kappa, the College of William and Mary, and the United States Naval Reserve Midshipmen's School. The collection also includes correspondence with the African American Episcopal Historical Collection. Also included are photographs of Tate and colleagues.


  • Creation: 1949-2009

Conditions Governing Access

The collection is open to all researchers. Manuscript collections and archival records may contain materials with sensitive or confidential information that is protected under federal or state right to privacy laws and regulations, such as the Virginia Public Records Act (Code of Virginia. § 42.1-76-91); and the Virginia Freedom of Information Act (Code of Virginia § 2.2-3705.5). Confidential material may include, but is not limited to, educational, medical, and personnel records. If sensitive material is found in this collection, please contact a staff member immediately. The disclosure of personally identifiable information pertaining to a living individual may have legal consequences for which the College of William and Mary assumes no responsibility.

Conditions Governing Use

Before reproducing or quoting from any materials, in whole or in part, permission must be obtained from the Special Collections Research Center, and the holder of the copyright, if not Swem Library.

Biographical / Historical

Thaddeus Wilbur Tate, Jr.(Thad) was a scholar of colonial Virginia who taught in William & Mary’s history department and served in many capacities at the Institute of Early American History and Culture (later the Omohundro Institute) Thad Tate was born on May 27, 1924, in Winston Salem, North Carolina, to Thaddeus W. Tate, Sr., and Elizabeth Llewellyn Tate. He attended the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and graduated Phi Beta Kappa with a BA in 1947, followed by an MA in 1948. During college, he completed a tour of service as a Navy cryptographer in the Pacific in World War II.

Following the completion of his Master’s degree, Thad worked for the National Park Service at Colonial National Historical Park at Yorktown, moving next to Independence National Historical Park in Philadelphia, and finally to Colonial Williamsburg. He was a Research Associate (1954–57) and then Assistant Director of Research (1957–61) for Colonial Williamsburg, authoring reports on such subjects as “Funerals in Eighteenth-Century Virginia.” He also served as the research historian for The Story of a Patriot, the 1957 Hollywood production, and had an appearance in the film.

After earning his PhD from Brown University in 1960, he joined the faculty at William & Mary, where he was promoted to Associate Professor (1964) and Professor (1969). During these years, he taught early Virginia and early American history while also serving as Book Review Editor (1961–66) and Editor (1966–1972) of the WMQ and holding a variety of positions in the College, including that of Faculty Marshall. In 1972 he became Director of the Institute of Early American History and Culture. His leadership expanded and solidified important aspects of the Institute, including its financial and governing structures and its commitment to a fellowship program that enlarged its outreach to early career scholars and to the field of early American studies.

Tate’s scholarly focus on early Virginia included published articles in the WMQ and elsewhere about Virginia in the American Revolution. His monograph, The Negro in Eighteenth-Century Williamsburg (Colonial Williamsburg Research Studies, 1966) formed the basis for the integration of the African American experience into the Foundation’s programming. During a period of intensifying scholarly interest in the early Chesapeake, he co-edited (with David Ammerman) and contributed to a collection of essays summarizing the field, The Chesapeake in the Seventeenth Century: Essays in Anglo-American Society (1979). He subsequently joined fellow students of Edmund Morgan at Brown, David D. Hall and John Murrin, in co-editing and contributing to Saints and Revolutionaries: Essays on Early American History (1984). In 1990 he published Colonial Virginia: A History with his student-turned-colleague and friend Warren Billings and another W&M and Institute colleague, John E. Selby. A number of Tate’s early scholarly interests broadened during his lifetime into vital areas of inquiry; a lifelong love of hiking and the outdoors, for example, spurred his interest in environmental history. During his academic career, he held fellowships from the American Council of Learned Societies and the National Endowment for the Humanities and was a Visiting Scholar at the University of Virginia.

He chaired William & Mary’s Tercentenary Committee to mark the College’s charter in 1689, and was an author of the two-volume history published to celebrate the three-hundredth anniversary. After retiring from William & Mary and the Institute in 1989, Tate served for the next three years as the founding Director of the Commonwealth Center for the Study of American Culture at William & Mary. In recognition of his distinguished service, William & Mary awarded him an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters at Charter Day 2011.

Tate was a longtime member of the Bruton Parish congregation, and had served on the vestry. He participated actively in the Episcopal Church Historical Society, served as president of that organization, and received an honorary doctorate from the General Theological Seminary of the Episcopal Church. His many friends and colleagues remember him as an avid traveler who enjoyed long train trips, in particular a journey by rail across Australia.

Biography taken from the Omohundro Institute website.


1.92 Linear Feet (2 Hollinger boxes (1 oversized))




Collection is arranged into one series: Series I. Personal papers.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Collection transferred from the Omohundro Institute.

Guide to the Thad W. Tate papers
William and Mary Special Collections Research staff
2023 July
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Script of description

Repository Details

Part of the Special Collections Research Center Repository