Driven by a need for educated clergy in the American colonies, the Reverend Dr. Francis Alison, a Presbyterian minister, founded a free school in New London, Pennsylvania in 1743. Alison's New London Academy was a success and continued to operate even after Alison moved to Philadelphia. The school relocated to Newark, Delaware in the 1760s, and was chartered in 1769 as the Academy of Newark.
The Academy of Newark served as a preparatory school, and students from throughout the region boarded in the Academy's two buildings. While the Academy received support from the Presbyterian Synod of Philadelphia, it accepted students of all denominations. By the 1770s, Synod contributions were no longer enough to support the school's activities, and its Board of Trustees made calls to the public for subscriptions.