For the students of Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School, or any students for that matter, the name of their school serves as a symbol of school pride. It is that proud gut feeling you get when your sports team triumphs over that of another school—Churchill, for example—or when your school earns respect from others for academic or artistic excellence. That’s what makes our students proud to be a Wootton Patriot.
But how did the school come to be called Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School? People easily recognize Winston Churchill or John F. Kennedy, but “Wootton” is identified with the high school more than it is with the person. So, who really is Dr. Thomas Sprigg Wootton? Few truly know.
“I feel weird, because I go to the school, and I should know who he is,” senior Adam Erat said.
Though Dr. Thomas Sprigg Wootton may not be as well known as the aforementioned English Prime Minister or U.S. President, he certainly played a vital part in writing the history of the United States.
Wootton was born around 1740 in the Poolesville area of Maryland. He was a physician and most notably the founder of Montgomery County (according to the Montgmery County Circuit Court).
While serving as a member of the Maryland Constitutional Convention, Wootton successfully introduced a bill to divide the preexisting Frederick County into three separate counties. The county was created on September 6, 1776, just over two months after the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
The Montgomery County Historical Society states that delegates wanted to send a sharp message to the British by naming the two new counties after American generals of the Revolutionary War, George Washington and Richard Montgomery.
Prior to this prominent achievement, Wootton was an ardent Revolutionary during the war against the British Crown. When George III of the British Empire tightened his control over Boston after the Boston Tea Party, Wootton was one of the ten men to present a resolution to Annapolis to cut off all commercial ties with Britain.
Throughout the Revolutionary War, he collaborated with Colonel Zadok Magruder in organizing neighborhoods for the war effort. Magruder High School in Rockville is named after the Revolutionary Magruder.
Beyond his contributions to the fight for independence, Wootton continued to play an active role in the development of the new country, helping to draft Maryland’s Constitution and the state’s Bill of Rights.
During the very same constitutional convention where Montgomery County was created, Wootton and the delegates drafted a brand new constitution for the infant state of Maryland.
After the creation of Montgomery County, he served in judicial positions within the county’s circuit court.
According to great-great-niece Ms. Dorothy Wootton Dawson, Wootton was a slave owner, as were many, if not most, whites of the time period. In his will, Wootton requested that certain slaves be freed and that those who remained be treated well.
Traces of Wootton’s ancestors can be found decades before the Revolutionary War. Citing the Baltimore Sun daily newspaper, Dawson also said that the Woottons came to the New World in 1607 from Kent County, England.
Before the Revolutionary Dr. Wootton, there was an earlier physician named Dr. Thomas Wootton from the 1600’s who looked after Captain John Smith during the first Jamestown expedition.
In the late 1960’s, when the Montgomery County School Board was to assign the names of two new high schools, they agreed upon two local Revolutionaries: Colonel Zadok Magruder and Dr. Thomas Sprigg Wootton.
And that is how the high school that is our second home came to be known as Thomas S. Wootton High School.
“I like the idea of the school being named after [Wootton],” Principal Dr. Michael Doran said. “It gives the school an identity.”
Our school contains almost as much history as its namesake. 40 years have passed since the front doors of Wootton first opened. The school started out as a premature high school with students from the seventh grade freshman class to the 10th grade senior class with around 1,200 students.
Now, the ninth graders preside as the freshmen and the 12th graders as the seniors, totaling around 2,500 students. Over the four decades, nearly everything has changed—a bigger building, more students, more classes, new teachers, more programs, more sports teams, more honors–the list goes on.
The one feature that the school has kept close to its heart is its name and identity: Thomas Sprigg Wootton High School.
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