A.B. South Carolina College (now the University of South Carolina), 1841.
Headmaster, priv. sch. (Charleston, SC) 1841-56; prof. Gk. South Carolina Coll., 1856-61; prof. anc. langs. U. South Carolina, 1865-73; pres. Washington Coll. (Chestertown, MD), 1873-87; founder, South Carolina Historical Society, 1855.
Topics in the History of South Carolina (Charleston, SC, 1850); A Sketch of the History of South Carolina to the Close of the Proprietary Government by the Revolution of 1719 (Charleston, SC 1856); The Study of Greek Literature (inaugural address, 1857) (Columbia, SC, 1858); Addresses and Other Occasional Pieces (Baltimore, 1893).
W. J. Rivers was one of the three founders of the South Carolina Historical Society in 1855 and in 1858-59 he contributed several articles and poems on historical subjects to Russell's Magazine, a leading Southern literary magazine published in Charleston. During the Civil War he began to compile the South Carolina "Roll of Honor" and by the time he completed the list in 1886, he had recorded over 12,000 South Carolinians who had fallen in the conflict. He felt keenly the need to deliver his love of learning and particularly antiquity to those in his state and he even addressed the South Carolina House of Representatives on "The Study of Greek Literature." From 1865-73 he held the professorship in ancient languages and literatures, but resigned his post in 1873 when the Radical government of reconstruction South Carolina obliged the university to admit blacks. He became president of Washington College in Chestertown, MD, where he served with distinction until 1887.Rivers' most lasting contribution is his historical work on pre-Revolutionary South Carolina, written in 1856 and significant for drawing on original research primarily done in England. He also wrote and lectured on the classics, collecting his most important essays, such as "English and Classical in Our Literature, and Some Distinctions Between Them in Thought and Imagery" and "On Napoleon's History of Julius Caesar" in 1893. He was greatly loved by his students wherever he taught, particularly at South Carolina, where he was known as "Hoi Potamoi."
E. L. Green, DAB 15:633-4; A. S. Salley, William J. Rivers (Charleston, 1906); J. W. Davidson, The Living Writers of the South (New York 1869), 479-82; Baltimore American (24 June, 1909); Charleston News and Courier (24 June 1909).
AUTHORWard W. Briggs, Jr.