by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
From the Archivist’s Bookshelf

Laurie RebelsIn the half-century prior to the Civil War, antislavery sentiment was strong up and down the Connecticut Valley.  Yet there was an essential conflict between two schools of Abolitionists: the high-minded movement inspired by reformer and The Liberator editor William Lloyd Garrison (1805-1879), and a number of rabble-rousers who advocated more direct action.

Five of the latter, all residing in Northampton, are treated in a new book by Bruce Laurie, Rebels in Paradise: Sketches of Northampton Abolitionists (Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 2015).  Dr. Laurie (Professor Emeritus of History, UMass Amherst) has selected the scholarly Sylvester Judd, African-American Underground Railroad conductor David Ruggles, newspaper editor Henry S. Gere, and preacher-turned-entrepreneur Erastus Hopkins.  Not least among them was Samuel Williston’s brother, manufacturer John Payson Williston.  All were local business, religious, and political leaders; none was especially subtle in advocacy of favorite causes, be they temperance, political reform, or the abolition of slavery.

Like his elder brother Samuel, John Payson Williston (1803-1872) broke with several generations of Williston male tradition by choosing a manufacturing career over the Congregational ministry.  Again similar to Samuel’s experience, the decision was driven by circumstance: neither was able to complete a university education because of poor eyesight.  From there, their paths diverged.  Samuel, largely through prescient investment, became one of Western Massachusetts’ leading industrial barons and philanthropists, but one whose public advocacy of reformist concerns, however passionately he believed in them, was often held in check by a need to protect his Southern business interests and, perhaps, the desire to project a certain patrician reticence. Continue reading


by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

WNS15ALM10_175l small lr“Bad orthography, bad penmanship, or bad grammar— bad habits in any of the rudiments— if they be not corrected in the preparatory school, will probably be carried through College and not unlikely extend themselves to other studies and pursuits; whereas the habit of doing every thing well, so far as he goes, will likewise follow the student as long as he lives, and give completeness to whatever he does.”

So wrote Samuel Williston, in his 1845 Constitution of Williston Seminary.  Surviving examples of Sam’s handwriting suggest a measure of hypocrisy where penmanship was concerned.  In fairness, Sam had poor vision and hadn’t enjoyed the benefits of a Williston education.

An especially egregious example of Samuel Williston's handwriting: a log of charitable contributions from the 1840s.
An especially egregious example of Samuel Williston’s handwriting: a log of charitable contributions from the 1840s. (Click all images to enlarge.)

A course in penmanship was an option, sometimes a requirement, at Williston Seminary from the very beginning until late in the 19th century.  There are suggestions that ducking out of it could have serious consequences.

alvord memo
Memorandum to Principal Marshall Henshaw, 1875. Henry Alvord taught drawing, penmanship, and gymnastics, and occasionally “commercial arithmetic” and surveying, 1873-1881. While the signature is Alvord’s, the text appears to have been written by someone else.

The Archives have a few examples of penmanship workbooks.  Instruction appears to have largely consisted of students being asked to write the same thing over and over again, in the hope that practice would eventually lead to success.  Pupils also appear to have been encouraged to try different handwriting styles.

anon 1
A page from an anonymous penmanship notebook, probably from the 1840s or 1850s.

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