Captain James Harvey French, the First Principal, is known as the "Father of Concord College". He was to fulfill Emersonīs suggestion that "an institution is the lengthening shadow of one man". French was a native of Giles County Virginia, where he was born on October 20, 1818. He was educated at Georgetown University and the University of Virginia, where he received the B.A. and L. L. D. degrees.
Captain French fought in the Confederate forces, but he was not able to return to the army after the first battle of Manassas. His reputation for learning caused him to be the logical candidate for the job of principal when the Concord Normal School was established. His long and devoted service to the school has become a legend. He was not only a leader, but also possessed warmth, great understanding and charm, which gave the students a sense of loyalty and trust. From taking office in 1875 until his death 17 years later, his entire life was dedicated to Concord. French memorial statue
Under the administration of Captain French, there was a constant growth and improvement in the college. A new building was constructed, an active alumni organization, literary societies and other groups were organized. Music, both instrumental and vocal, were offered, though not a part of the curriculum. At that time, tuition was $20, with board, lodging, fuel and laundry costing about $7 a month.
French served until his death in 1891. His resting place near the entrance to the campus is marked by an imposing shaft. His work made a lasting impression on the educational development of the state, but the greatest tribute of all, to man and scholar, is the love and reverence with which the students regarded his memory.