Category Archives: Student Letters

“The faculty don’t furnish towels . . .”

by Rick Teller '70. Williston Northampton Archivist

The waning days of summer: faculty are preparing for meetings and fall classes while students are finishing their shopping and summer reading — or in a few instances, starting it.  School opens in less than two weeks, with all the joy, angst, and tradition associated with the event.  Once upon a time the tradition included a tea for new students, hosted by the Headmaster’s spouse and a phalanx of faculty wives.  In 1966, a well-scrubbed and tightly necktied “newboy” myself (yes, it was one word then), I was present at this event.  A woman of extraordinary warmth and empathy, Mrs. Stevens really did help to take the edge off of the noisy and sometimes impersonal first week of school.  On the other hand, many of her guests had never tasted tea, and when offered cream or lemon, took both.  Having lived in England the previous year, I knew better, but after 49 years I’ve never learned to like the stuff.

new boys tea 1966
Mrs. Phillips Stevens at the New Boys’ Tea, September 1966 (Dorothy Potter Associates)

These days we have student arrival and orientation organized and personalized down to the last detail.  It was not always so.  There is certainly no suggestion of the gentility evoked by Mrs. Stevens’ tea-party in the following letter, by Charles Carroll Carpenter, class of 1856, to his father.  Carpenter, of Bernardston, Mass., was a new student in the spring of 1854.  (Original spelling and punctuation have been retained.)

Williston Seminary, No. 39
Easthampton, Ms. April 20 1854 . P.M.

Dear Father,
The bell has rung for evening study hours, and I will improve the signal by penning a few hasty lines homeward.To speak of events, historically, I arrived safely at No. H. on Tuesday morning.  On the way, met (in the cars) with a young fellow, like myself, Williston-bound; Leavitt, of Charlemont,1 son of Roger H. Leavitt, Esq.  Had to wait in No. H. all day—crowds of students came up in the train—and several stages and teams were in readiness to convey them over.2  Ten of us got into a three seated wagon, with my distinguished townsman, Mr. Moore, for a driver.  It was most terrific going—mud and melted snow formed a horrible coalition—Could hardly get out of a walk, a single step.  We suffered the greatest trouble, however, in fear that other students would get ahead of us and engage the rooms; but after two hours we arrived—“put” for the “Sem.”  The Chief Boss of the Institution, Mr. Marsh,3 is absent, on account of dangerous family sickness— and everything went hurly-burly.  I engaged however of the pro tem. janitor, a room, for safety—and then went to President Hubbard’s.4  That official is very pleasant and courteous; and when I informed him that I had written to Mr. Warner,5 he called me by name, and said he had engaged me a room, and gave me other useful information.  Then returned and found Pres. H. had bespoken me an excellent room, in the Brick Seminary—I obtained the keys to it, and at once, with young Leavitt, moved in “bag and baggage.” Continue reading

F. A. Cannon

By Rick Teller '70, Archivist

Sometimes a document raises as many questions as it answers.  The letter below was found in a file that otherwise contained Samuel Williston’s business receipts from several years surrounding 1870.  We are not even sure of the writer’s name.  My best guess is F. A. Cannon, but it could also be Gannon.  As can be seen in the facsimiles at the bottom of the page, the C or G in the author’s signature is drawn differently than any other capital C or G in the document.  If any reader is expert at handwriting analysis, please feel free to jump in.

Principal Marshall Henshaw (served 1863-1876)
Principal Marshall Henshaw (served 1863-1876)

One surmises that the writer might be a former slave.  He is a railroad worker in Georgia; he has had some education, until the “Legislature countermanded the order.”  In the post-Reconstruction period, many Southern States, including Georgia, actively sought to end the federally mandated programs benefiting African Americans that were imposed following the Civil War.  But we don’t know for sure.  A small number of African Americans enrolled at Williston Seminary as early as the 1870s (see The Center of All Days).  We do not have Principal Marshall Henshaw’s response to the letter.  The fact that it was saved with some of Samuel Williston’s financial records suggests that Henshaw might have referred the request to Williston, who sometimes assisted needy students out of his own pocket. Continue reading

Bad Behavior

The document below recently came to light.  What prompted Silas Holman to write Principal William Gallagher (served 1886-1896) and confess his misdemeanors of forty-two years earlier is unknown — except that as every alumnus knows, the statute of limitations rarely extends beyond graduation.  We will leave it to others’ historical perspectives to determine whether, at the most fundamental level, things have changed much.

Principal William Gallagher

Los Angeles Cal.
Feb. 18th 1891

Mr. Wm. Gallagher
          Dear Sir: Yours of the 11th is received.  Well do I remember the happy school days at East Hampton, when we irreverently nick named Mr. Wright the Principal “Boss Wright.”  Post Master Ferry once caught me as I was climbing up the inside of the tower of the old Town House to ring the bell, or rather to attach a chord to the tongue.  I remember getting a string through the ventilator of a fellow student’s room, attaching it to his door key, opening the door and putting eggs in his boots while he was asleep.  I was not a bad boy but loved fun.  Please call to see me when you come to Los Angeles.  Truly yours, Silas Holman.

Silas Holman was a member of the Williston Seminary class of 1849, enrolled in the English (i.e. Scientific) curriculum.  After Williston he returned to farming in his home town of Bolton, Mass., and also served as an Internal Revenue assessor and Deputy Sherriff.  In 1879 he emigrated to California, where he became a fruit grower.  He died around 1904.

Utterly off-topic: Holman’s papers at Williston also include an 1847 receipt for one term’s tuition.  Any comment one might make would merely restate the obvious.“Bad Behavior” will undoubtedly be an ongoing series on this blog.  What’s the worst thing you ever did?  Keeping in mind that we really can’t revoke your diploma, consider confessing to rteller@williston.com.

We welcome your comments and questions.  Please use the link below.

Not homesick in the least . . .

The campus in 1841, from an old engraving. The single school building, the “White Seminary,” is at right. Next to it is the “Town Hall,” formerly the Meeting House, but no longer functioning as such since the construction of the First Congregational Church, at left, in 1836.

Among the Archives’ collection of student letters are three by Albert Montague, class of 1843.  Albert was born in the village of Sunderland, Mass., in 1822, to a large and reasonably prosperous farming family.  Having attended the Amherst Academy, Albert enrolled in newly-founded Williston Seminary at the start of its second academic year, in September 1842.  Typically of many students at the time, he interrupted his education during the 1843 farming season, then returned for one term the following fall.  At the time he first enrolled he was nearly twenty years old,  This was not unusual in the Seminary’s early years.  He was enrolled in the “English” (i.e. Scientific, as opposed to Classical) curriculum.  Since at this time the students were not grouped into annual classes, and academic transcripts were not yet kept, it cannot be determined whether Albert completed his studies.

The three letters, dated September 5 and December 22, 1842, and October 26, 1843, are addressed to Albert’s younger sister Phila (1828-1869). They are the oldest student documents we possess and, sadly, are in such fragile condition that they should not be handled.  Fortunately someone — we don’t know who — produced an accurate transcription many years ago.  The first letter has unique qualities.  Written on both sides of a very large (ca. 17 x 21 inches) single sheet of paper, much of it comprises Albert’s daily diary of his first days at Williston Seminary.

The first and third of the letters are reproduced here.  Some punctuation and spelling idiosyncrasies have been corrected, but by and large the syntax is Montague’s own.

Letter no. 1

Easthampton, Sept. 5 1842

Dear Sister

Although it is but a short time since I left home I thought I would commence writing as I want to give you the substance of my proceedings for awhile to come in the shape of a diary and not knowing but that I might have a chance to send as I wish to before long for the class in Astronomy was organized last Thursday I found I had not the right book as it was the small work that I needed and I had the large one.  So I wish you to tell Father to say to Mr. Adams that it is not the right one.  And that I wish to return it as soon as I can get it to home as he said I could exchange it if it is not the right one as I presume Father recollects and I also wish him to tell Mr. Adams that if he has sold so many books to come here to Williston Seminary as he tells for it must have been to those that come from that way and not to those that lived near Northampton for we can obtain books here much cheaper than at Amherst, viz.Grays Chemistry which we gave .75 cts. for in Amherst can be obtained here for .55 cts., for it is so that Father must speak to Mr. Adams about it the first chance he can get.

Of the teachers Albert names, David S. Kimball (1813-1857), a Union College graduate, taught Mathematics, Natural Philosophy, and Astronomy at Williston Seminary, 1841-1848. Richard Salter Storrs (pictured above), Amherst ’39, taught Mental and Moral Philosophy, Rhetoric, and Chemistry, 1841-1843. He went on to a distinguished career in the Congregational ministry. William D. Clapp (1820-1884) professed Arithmetic, English Grammar, and Geography, 1842-1843, and taught at various times in several neighboring towns.

I like it here very much and wish my father was of such means so that I could stay 3 years which is the time required to fit one for College I believe.  3 of my lessons I recite to Mr. Kimball the best teacher I ever saw.  He is always good natured, mild, pleasant and sociable and in fact he has numberless good traits of character about him and one in particular which shows a very sound mind, vis. he has just got Married.

There are about 130 scholars connected with the Seminary and nearly 40 of them are handsome missesIn my grammar class there are nearly 40, Chemistry class nearly 25, Astronomy class about 15 and geometry class 7.  There is 20 in the club of which 2 of them are teachers viz. Mr. Storrs & Mr. Clapp.  We do not live quite so well as I did at Amherst but it does very well to study upon.

Last Saturday afternoon as there was no school 8 of us went on to the top of Mount Tom but it was a hard afternoons work but I think I got paid for it as I could see Cabbot (Holyoke), Springfield South Hadley Belchertown and various other cities too numerous to mention.

I have had 5 papers from H. W. Taft, Esq. done up in 2 wrappers so that I saved 3 cts postage.  But I am getting off my subject as well as writing up hill.  When I commenced I did not intend to write but 6 or 8 lines before commencing my diary.  Well then to commence.  Arose this morning about 20 minutes before the bell rang.  The bell rings at 5 for the students to get up.  Study until breakfast time which is 20 minutes before 7.  Had griddle cakes with molasses to put on them.  At ¼ before 9 went into prayers.  After prayers came into my room and studied until noon.  At noon or about 25 minutes past 12 went to dinner.  Had fish for the rest of them which smelt as strong as the fish cellars in Boston.  I made out with wheat bread and butter.  Recited almost all the afternoon.  Had warm wheat bread and well salted butter (but no molasses) and apple pie sweetened with —.  In the evening had the the headache so that it troubled me a little.  About 9¼ o’clock commenced writing and at ¼ after 10 am about ready to get into bed.  In Haste.  Must close for this night.

Tuesday, Sept. 6.  Arose this morning about 4 o’clock.  And after lighting a lamp went to studying until it was light enough to do the chores.  Went to breakfast when the bell rang.  Had griddle cakes for breakfast, beef steak for dinner and bread and butter for supper and the remainder of the day was spent nearly as yesterday.  Every day I like better [so] that the longer I stay I shall be more loth to [leave] when I am compelled to.  I dreamed a night or 2 ago that I had returned to Amherst to school which I did not like much but soon awoke and found myself in Williston Seminary.  It has been a good hay day today: wonder if our folks are haying, wonder if they have got out the rest of the manure; wonder if Austin has took his stint [?]; wonder if the water mellons are all gone and last though not least wonder if the folks are all well and if Phila helps mother all she can and tries to improve her manners and mind daily.

Sept 7   As it is Wednesday today the school closed about half past 2 and I went over to the Town Hall to hear a Black Abolition lecture.  I thought he did very well.  There is going to be another one on Friday evening next by the same gentleman.  Had a boiled pat for dinner but there was was wheat bread and decent butter on the table.

Sept 8   Some 2 or 3 scholars have come in today so that the exact number is 142 that daily assemble here.  There are 10 lessons recited in the forenoon each day and about the same number or perhaps a little less in the afternoon.  Apple sauce for supper tonight which was not so wholey prepared for the table as Father would call if it  was not wholey mashed.  Here pains is taken to hash, warm apple pie, warm baked apple and warm everything which I have not been use to at home but do not have any warm tea, no warm biscuit or warm molasses.  We met today to form a Lyceum but adjourned until tomorrow afternoon at ½ past 4 as no Constitution was prepared.  I expect if I join I shall have to pay 25 cts as admittance fee to defray expenses.  I have not heard from home yet.  I should like to.  I wish I had some of Mother’s tea.  I live well enough though and feel well.  Have not been homesick in the least.

The Rev. Luther Wright was Williston Seminary’s first Principal, 1841-1849. Of “Boss Wright,” as he was called when not nearby, it has been said that he managed the school in the same way that Samuel Williston expected his foremen to run the factories.

Friday Sept 9   Have just returned from the Town Hall where I went and heard another Negro lecture and a pretty fair one too.  There has been one scholar (Smith) expelled here today for High Crimes and other misdemeanors.  He is a pretty fair little fellow but full of the —  His offense was in the first place bad conduct at prayers upon which Mr. Wright obtained raw hide and he (Smith) told Mr. Wright he was not to be whipped by him and consequently he was ordered to leave the premises in one hour.

Saturday Sept 10   Nothing occurred worth relating today and as I have not much more room to write and do not intend to send until Tuesday I must save it so that if any extraordinary event takes place I can record it.  I should like to hear from home.  How do you get along there?  Give my love to Grandmother and ask her for an apple for me but do not pick one from under the tree.

Sunday Sept 11   Attended church both parts of the day and a Sabbath School concert at ½ past 5.  Rev. Mr. Lord of Williamsburg preached here in the afternoon.  Mr. Bement preached in the forenoon and as he is very slow I got almost asleep once.  Mr. Kimball gave his class in Arithmetic a sum in addition which I should like to have you do and as you have been half through the book I suppose you will have the answer by the time I come home.  The sum is – A tree came up in the spring and grew the first year without any sprouts.  The next year there was a sprout and every year succeeding it there was a new sprout to the old tree and likewise a new sprout to each of the sprouts that was a year old.  How many trees was there at the end of 20 years?  I will give you the answer when I get home.  How does Francis get along: does he have the ordering of the business?  If I thought he did I should rest contented here and think the work would be done to the best advantage or at least in the easiest way.  Do you have to hire much?  Often do I imagine Father and Francis and perhaps some 2 or 3 hired men at work on a fair day and puttering around on a rainy one.  Do not hire more than you can help.

Is business any more lively in Great Swamp since the President has signed the tariff bill?  Heard it was in Boston.  Mr. Temple our teacher in Euclid at Amherst Academy is here on a visit to Mr. Storrs.  I think he does not recognize my countenance as he has not spoken to me and I think he would if he knew me.  Give my best respects to brother and sister Hubbard, to Grandmother and Aunt Lucy.  My respects to Uncle Moses’s family.  I wish you would write me a letter.  If you cannot let Father & Mother or Harriet write.  I want to hear how you get along.

Letter no. 3

Albert Montague later in life. He managed the family farm and became a leading citizen of Sunderland. He died in 1885.

Nearly thirteen months have passed since Albert’s first letter.  He has been home for the summer, and now lives in an Easthampton boarding (“boring”) house instead of the Seminary dormitory.  He is preparing to leave school in December and hopes to do some teaching.

Easthampton, Oct. 26
Sister Phila,

As an opportunity presents itself I will write a few lines and state a piece of the leading events that have occurred since I left home.  The first day after I came I felt rather dizzy but did not study much but the next day I felt as bright as a new cent and have felt well ever since.  We have lectures in Chemistry now so that I do not have to study quite as hard as I did before I went home.  And we also have writing schools or take lessons of about half or three quarters of an hour long daily.  The rest goes along in about the same old track as it did before I went home.  We have our food provided for us at the boring house as usual but of all the butter that was ever made I think this must be the poorest.  The next day after we got down here we had some butter of which I eat one mouthful at a meal which was quite sufficient for me.  Such frowy [frowzy] butter as that Phila you never tasted of and I hope you never may for I veryly believe it was some that Noah’s wife put up and had left over after the Ark rested on Mount Ararat.  We had it on the table 3 or 4 meals and all began to grow uneasy and Kingsley made a motion that we use it for boot grease.  After supper that night the teachers staid and probably gave word not to have it set on as we had no more of it.  Then we had good butter for a day or two when I we had salt mixed with a little butter and buttermilk but not enough to hurt it much and tonight we had butter that was not quite as frowy as that last week probably made in the time of the revolution.  So you see I have not eaten much butter of late and shall eat my bread butterless rather than eat such butter.

Well about what I am to do this winter I should like to have Father get me a school if he can but I suppose that the schools are all taken up before this time.  If not I wish he would try and if I do not not get a school this winter I suppose that Father is intending I shall go to school.  If not I would like to have you inform him that such are my intentions.

I was exceedingly glad to see Martha tonight.  Dexter and I had got started to go down to Mr. Shoals and met her with Diana and Lucretia Shoals coming up here.  Some how Martha seems like our folks than Diana does or any of Aunt Rhoda’s folks do.

I was very glad also to get that letter and I wish you would give my respects to Harriet and thank her for filling out that letter after you had got through.  But I suppose she has family cares to attend to that she has no time to write the days she has got her carpet out.  Tell her to cut it big enough so that she will not have to work so hard to get it down as Martin and I did to get one down on Friday before the ever memorable 9 of June and tell her to get it down and I am of opinion that I shall be there in three weeks to tread upon it.

Is A. N. Smith going to teach our district school this winter?  Who is going to the Meadow School and Plumtree School?  I wish you would write and tell me all the news not forgetting the sick hog and Francis or any other folks in which I am interested and give my best respects to Grandmother and Aunt Lucy and tell her we had a rainy day when the moon was in the right place proving to all minds or at least I think it does that we are liable to have rainy days when the moon is in certain parts of the heavens (be sure if it is cloudy).  I must now close.  Give my respects to all inquiring friends and to Uncle Moses whether they inquire or not and if they inquire give them a double portion.  Remember me to Francis and ask him how much 5 dollars less 62½ cts is and remember me to your brother.

A. Montague

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