In 1837, 18 months after beginning construction of the college's buildings, Creed Fulton began searching for a president by reaching to established schools in the Northeast. The schools of that region, particularly Yale and Princeton were the principal sources of faculty members for the proliferating western colleges. In a letter to Wesleyan University president Wilbur Fisk, Fulton stated the new president "must be a man of energy indeed, or we can only expect mortification after all our labor."
Fisk replied a man might be found, provided Emory & Henry authorities would permit his nominee a controlling voice in the organization of the faculty and internal arrangements of the school. Fulton replied the condition was acceptable if Fisk’s nominee was one in whom the trustees could place their confidence. Fisk nominated Wesleyan graduate Charles Collins for the position.
Charles Collins was born in 1813 in Yarmouth, Maine. In 1837, Collins graduated Phi Beta Kappa and first in his class from Wesleyan University in Connecticut. He was serving as principal of the high school in Augusta, Maine, when Fisk offered him the presidency of Emory & Henry College. In February 1838, Collins accepted the job and travelled to Virginia. At the age of 24, Collins became the first president of Emory & Henry College and served as the only faculty member for the sixty students who had enrolled that spring. He even operated the bookstore. When Collins left in 1852, there were 178 students enrolled at Emory & Henry1.