Tag Archives: Samuel Williston

The Quotable Sammy

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

WNS15ALM10_175l small lrRecently 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

The Constitution of Williston Seminary

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

It was one small item from a legislative day filled with similar minutiae.  But 175 years ago, Easthampton manufacturer Samuel Williston and a few associates petitioned the General Court to form a corporation “devoted exclusively to the purposes of education.”  On February 22, 1841, the legislature approved the petition, Governor John Davis signed it into law, and Williston Seminary came into being.

incorporation 1

incorporation 2
Acts and Resolves Passed by the Legislature of Massachusetts in the year 1841. Boston: Dutton and Wentworth, Printers to the State, 1841.

WNS15ALM10_175l small lrSamuel Williston, like Governor Davis, was an influential member of the Whig Party — and Williston, perhaps conveniently, was a month into his only term as Easthampton’s Representative.  Of the other incorporators, Heman Humphrey was President of Amherst College; Emerson Davis, Minister of the First Congregational Church in Westfield, Mass.,  John Mitchell, Pastor of the Edwards Church, Northampton; William Bement, Pastor of the Easthampton Congregational Church.  Luther Wright (see 1848: Responding to the World) was Samuel’s boyhood friend, lately the Principal at Leicester Academy, and would serve as the Seminary’s first Principal.  The only non-clergyman in the group was Samuel’s younger brother John Payson Williston (see Firebrand).  These men would become the core of Williston Seminary’s first Board of Trustees.

Samuel Williston in the 1840s (Emily Williston Memorial Library and Museum)
Samuel Williston in the 1840s (Emily Williston Memorial Library and Museum)

There was much to be done — indeed, it seems remarkable that ground would be broken for the first seminary building the following June 17, and that classes would meet in December.  But consistent with their times, Williston and friends believed in action, sometimes at the expense of deliberation.  Thus, it should perhaps be no surprise that Samuel Williston, who had strong feelings about education, took his time putting his thoughts to paper.  But it needed to be done.  Samuel expected his vision to provide direction to the Board and, as shall be seen, not only during his lifetime.  A statement of mission was required.  It took three years, but in 1845 Samuel Williston published The Constitution of Williston Seminary. 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

Nashawannuck

by Rick Teller '70, Williston Northampton Archivist

(Wish you were here, part II)

Postcard, ca. 1910, of Nashawannuck Pond by moonlight. (Click all images to enlarge.)
Postcard, ca. 1910, of Nashawannuck Pond by moonlight. (Click all images to enlarge.)

Nashawannuck.  The name is apparently Algonquian for “Valley of the Little River.”  The “Little River” was probably the Manhan — another local Native American appellation.  Ironically, the Manhan doesn’t feed Nashawannuck Pond, that large body of water that dominates the Cottage Street district of Easthampton.  Scenic it may be, but its original purpose was industrial.  Over the course of several decades of the 19th century, Samuel Williston and his associates dammed a small stream to create a power source for the complex of textile mills that sprung up around Williston’s button and elastic factories.  In what was surely an unusual idea for its time, the sluice that drove the water wheels passed directly under the factory buildings and fed a collection pond behind them, on Pleasant and Ferry Streets.

In 1847 and 1848 Samuel Williston attempted to calculate the volume of water coming over the spillway.
In 1847 and 1848 Samuel Williston attempted to calculate the volume of water coming over the spillway.

The work was accomplished in stages.  This 1873 map shows a single body of water — the “Upper Mill Pond” had not yet been named “Nashawannuck” — divided only by a railroad causeway.  A few years later a small dam was built just above the railroad, creating Williston Pond.  Williston Avenue, incorporating another dam, was built, extending across the pond from the intersection of Village Street (now Payson Avenue), Union Street, and Cottage Street, thus isolating what became known as the Rubber Thread Pond, which remains behind the modern-day City Offices.  The result was a system comprising four ponds at descending levels.  (Click for a current map.)

1873 map nashawannuck detail

The entrance to to the spillway is clearly visible right of center, in the postcard image below.

Postcard, ca. 1910. The image originated from the same photograph as a night view further down the page, with different coloring applied in the printing process.
Postcard, ca. 1910. The image originated from the same photograph as a night view further down the page, with different coloring applied in the printing process.

While Samuel Williston’s intentions in creating the pond may have been practical, recreational and scenic implications soon came to the fore.  Samuel and Emily Williston donated a large tract of land known as “Brookside” to the town.  It was mostly wooded, and abutted Nonotuck Park.  Eventually it was developed as a cemetery, but remains a lovely spot.  Boaters, including a short-lived Williston Seminary rowing team, swimmers, and fishermen used the pond.  In a town dominated by textile mills, whose employees typically worked six 12-hour days or more, it became an essential part of community culture. Continue reading