SNSigma Nu FraternityHistory & Insignia

Stephen Morrow


Sigma Nu's History

The Virginia Fraternities & The Lexington Triad

             The influence of the Civil War was significant upon the founding of several fraternities, and this can be seen in the rituals of the fraternities founded in Virginia after the war. They are SN, ATW, KA Order, KS, and PKA, with the first three forming the Lexington Triad since they were founded in Lexington, VA at approximately the same time. All had similar values and missions, and a strong concern for religious faith. These fraternities also seemed more concerned with the well-being of their fellow collegians and the surrounding community. Sigma Nu though


Sigma Nu’s Founders















James Frank Hopkins - Alpha I

James Frank Hopkins was born in Ripley, Mississippi in 1845 to John W. Hopkins and Elizabeth Craig. In 1864, he was accepted as a private in a cavalry troop attached to Anderson’s Battalion of Fagan’s Division. Due to his expertise as a horsemen, he was assigned courier duty in several battles. In 1866, at the age of 21 James Frank Hopkins entered the Virginia Military Institute. While at VMI, he served as Sigma Nu’s first Lieutenant Commander. On December 15th, 1913 Hopkins entered Chapter Eternal and was laid to rest in Mabelvale, Arkansas.


Greenfield Quarles – Alpha II

Greenfield Quarles was born in Christian County, Kentucky on April 1st, 1847.  He entered Confederate service at the age of 16 as an aid to General William A. Quarles. He was captured at the Battle of Franklin, November 30th, 1864, and taken to Camp Douglass near Chicago, Illinois. In 1866, he entered VMI and due to his maturity gained in prison became a 1st Lieutenant. On January 14th, 1921, Quarles entered Chapter Eternal, and his body laid to rest in Helena, Arkansas.


James McIlvaine Riley – Alpha III

James McIlvaine Riley was born in St. Louis, Missouri on May 16th, 1849, to a wealthy wholesale merchant. He attended St. Louis University School, until entering VMI in 1866. Charming and athletic alpha three was a member of VMI’s first baseball team, playing second base and only lost one game out of the 23 played. He served as the first Commander of the Alpha Chapter at VMI. On May 6th, 1911, Riley entered Chapter Eternal and his body laid to rest at Bellefontaine Cemetery in St. Louis, Missouri.


Virginia Military Institute

In November of 1839, the General Assembly of Virginia passed legislation to make a munitions arsenal into an institute of military education modeled after West Point. General Francis H. Smith, the former professor of mathematics at Hampden-Sydney was chosen to be the first Superintendent of the institute. Smith was also a devoted Episcopalian, but was troubled to see that only church in Lexington at the time was Presbyterian. Shortly after opening VMI, Smith founded Grace Memorial Episcopal Church. From its conception to 1861, VMI was a military academy solely for Virginians, but after the Civil War VMI disbanded this policy. 


Troubles at VMI

The dissolving of this policy allowed non-Virginian Students to attend VMI. This pitted the Presbyterian, Virginian Cadets against the multi-religious, non-Virginian Cadets. Before the Founders arrived to VMI, a system of hazing had been laid down and controlled now by a band of older Virginian Cadets, who saw the lower non-Virginian Cadets as being inferior and undeserving. When the Founders arrived at VMI, the system of hazing on the fourth class (freshmen) had reached a dangerous level.


Sigma Nu’s Founders Enter VMI

One man though stood in defiance of this system. He would challenge his would be hazers to duel him on a terrain known then and now as Bloody Island to keep his Honor. Through his compassion towards his fellow classmates, and his valiant battle against the unjust system; James Frank Hopkins became the leader of these non-Virginian Cadets, who called themselves “Hopkins’ Rats” as well the respect of many of his professors and upper classmen. At the end of his first year, Founder Hopkins was awarded the highest rank in his class, First Corporeal. This appointment set him on a course that would forever change not only his life but hundreds of thousands of men.


The Vision Of Sigma Nu

By the end of his third year Hopkins began to envision an organization based on Love, Truth, and Honor that would promote the dignity of man. He turned to his closest friend Greenfield Quarles, and they in turn approached and explained the design of this organization to James McIlvaine Riley.


The Spiritual Founding

Lost to history are the precise circumstances of the Spiritual Founding of Sigma Nu. What is known is that cadets were required to attend a church as part of their training, but since the only Episcopal Church was under renovation; General Francis H. “Specs” Smith opened his house to our three Founders for a Bible Study. After one such Bible Study on an October night in 1868, the Founders, under the cover of darkness and next to the great limestone boulder at the edge of VMI parade grounds, clasped their hands on a Bible and took oaths of membership that bound them to be Knights of Sigma Nu.


The Formal Founding Of Sigma Nu

In the remaining months of 1868, a few cadets were chosen to be brought into the Order, yet its existence was kept secret. On January 1st, 1869, Sigma Nu publicly established itself as a fraternity. Hopkins devised the first Ritual of the new order based off of Freemasonry and Episcoplianism. The first symbol was created; the Badge, patterned after the French Legion of Honor Cross was also fashioned by Hopkins. By commencement of 1870, Sigma Nu had 51 members, and had become a force to reckon with at VMI.

                 Alpha I                             Alpha II                            Alpha III


The Book

The Sword

The Rock

The White Rose

The Coat of Arms

The Badge

The Baldinger Oak

The Crossed Swords

The Creed

Click the Creed to see the full Creed

“The Founding”

James B. Settles

“A Serpent, A Rose, and A Star”

Elmer Paul Catts