Tag Archives: Luther Wright

The Rules, 1846

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist
Principal Luther Wright, who believed in law, order, and quiet.

Williston Seminary’s first Principal, Luther Wright (served 1841-1849), was reputedly a great believer in the order of things.  Early on, he had printed placards, posted in every student room, which quickly became known as the “23 commandments.”  This set of regulations was considered so comprehensive, of such educational and moral impact, that they remained on the walls, contents unaltered, five Principals and four decades later.  Professor Henry Alford, who had strong opinions about most things, had cause to comment in the 1880s.

In his History of Williston Seminary (1917) Principal Joseph Henry Sawyer (taught from 1866; Principal, 1896-1919) commented that “they are rules which all schools must have,” but even Sawyer, a master of tact, marveled at the level of what adolescent boys must have considered petty detail.   One of Wright’s placards survives to this day:Here are the two sides, in more readable detail.  (Click on images to enlarge.)One can imagine the students’ attitude toward the prohibition of gathering in groups on Saturday night, or might wonder whether most sixteen-year-olds could sit without tipping their chairs.It should be no surprise, then, that by 1846 Mr. Wright’s “young gentlemen” had produced a wickedly funny parody of the school catalogue.  (This, incidentally, gives us a “no later than” date for the Regulations placard.)  Not only did the parody capture and inflate the moralizing and rather effusive marketingese of its model, but the typography and layout were such that the fake could easily have been mistaken for the real thing.Wright’s 23 commandments had expanded to 25.  Together, they suggest aspects of day-to-day Williston that he probably preferred had gone unrecorded.For further exploration of administrative attempts to regulate student lives, please see “Thou shalt not . . .” (Because, boys and girls, it’s good for you, and you’ll thank us later.)

The Quotable Sammy

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

WNS15ALM10_175l small lr

[Looking for links to the posts cited in the Spring 2017 Williston Northampton Bulletin?  Please click “Ford Hall Turns 100” and “Worms.”]

Recently one of our better students asked me whether I knew of any good quotes from Samuel Williston that he could insert into a term paper.  “Don’t know,” I responded.  “What’s the paper about?”  “Doesn’t matter,” he said; “I’ll work them in.”  Suppressing my instinct to initiate a conversation about such pedantries as relevance, context, and provenance — the kid was, after all, in a hurry — I dug out a document prepared at the request of former Head of School Brian Wright back in 1991, and in reviewing it, realized that it was good blog fodder.  So . . . here is Samuel Williston (the fodder of us all), in his own words.

415_1125b LR“Whereas God in His Providence has bestowed upon me a goodly portion of this world’s possessions, which I ought to use for His glory, for the dissemination of the Gospel of the blessed Redeemer, and for the greatest good of my fellow-men — and, whereas, I desire to be instrumental in promoting the cause of correct and thorough literary and Christian education, and for that purpose have lately followed an Institution which is established at Easthampton, Massachusetts, and incorporated by the name ‘Williston Seminary’ […]”  Preamble, Constitution of Williston Seminary, 1845

(Williston founded his Seminary in 1841, but it took him four more years to publish his thoughts about what he was attempting.  See “The Constitution of Williston Seminary” for more detail.)

“Believing, that the image and glory of an all-wise and holy God are most brightly reflected in the knowledge and holiness of his rational creatures, and that the best interests of our country, the church, and the world are all involved in the intelligence, virtue, and piety of the rising generation; desiring also, if possible, to bring into existence some permanent agency, that shall live, when I am dead, and extend my usefulness to remote ages, I have thought I could in no other way more effectually serve God or my fellow-men, than by devoting a portion of the property which he has given me, to the establishment and ample endowment of an Institution, for the intellectual, moral and religious education of youth.” Continue reading

1848: Responding to the World

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

WNS15ALM10_175l small lr“Youth ought to be in a course of preparation for that field of great interest now opened to us in the providence of God. . . . What say you? Shall I not resign my situation and enter at once into the work of getting some in a course of training for Africa?”

It is April of 1848. Williston Seminary’s first Principal, the Rev. Luther Wright, has returned from a public meeting, full of excitement over the news of Liberia’s declaration of independence. Liberia, in West Africa, had been created in 1821 by American Abolitionists, specifically the American Colonization Society, as a haven for Free Blacks.   Over the next decades thousands of African Americans, most of them free-born, emigrated to Liberia.  Perhaps the Society’s motives ranged from naïve to unsavory – there was a suggestion that White New Englanders, while hating slavery, were nonetheless happier in a monochrome society.  But in 1847, Liberia declared its independence.  It would no longer be a subsidiary client of the ACS, but Africa’s first republic, governed by Africans.

A map of Liberia and environs, from the 1830s (Library of Congress)
An 1830 map of Liberia and environs (Library of Congress)  (Click images to enlarge)

Writing to his friend, the Rev. Lavius Hyde of Becket, Mass., Wright declared his desire to embark upon a program to train young free Blacks to be educators and leaders in the new country.  He also commented on the United States’ war with Mexico, and on the rise of the Second Republic in France.  He shared his concern over the health of friends, and even told a story about his boyhood friend and current employer, Samuel Williston.  Wright’s personality resonates through the letter. Such documents provide students of history not only with contemporary references to world and national issues, but with the immediacy of one man’s response to the world in which he lived.  (The full text of the letter is transcribed below.)

The first page of Luther Wright's letter.
The first page of Luther Wright’s letter.

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.

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