The Spread of Popular Education in America

Henry Jones Ford

Everywhere along the track of Scotch-Irish emigration into the South and West institutions of learning sprang up in the making of which the influence of Princeton was marked since the younger institutions naturally drew upon it for supplies of scholarship. In this way Princeton has had a numerous progeny. The first of the brood was Hampden Sidney College, Virginia. It was founded in 1774, with the active support and approval of Hanover Presbytery and the site was fixed in Prince Edward County at a point convenient for the Scotch-Irish settlements in Virginia and North Carolina. The Rev. Samuel Stanhope Smith of the class of 1769, tutor at Princeton 1770-1773, was the first President of Hampden Sidney. The college was opened during the Revolutionary year, 1776, and soon a military company was organized among the students, John Blair Smith, Jr., being captain. He was a Princeton graduate of the class of 1773, and was a young brother of President Smith. The members of this military company wore purple hunting shirts as a uniform. A number of them became officers in the army and others enlisted as common soldiers. Samuel Stanhope Smith left Hampden Sidney to become Professor of Philosophy at Princeton in 1779. In 1795 he became President of that college, continuing in that office until 1812, when he resigned. His brother succeeded him in the presidency of Hampden Sidney, occupying that position from 1779 to 1789. The influence of Hampden Sidney throughout the South was strongly marked. In the period before the Civil War more teachers were graduated from it than from any other institution in the South.

The selection of a site for Hampden Sidney convenient to the Scotch-Irish settlements in North Carolina established that institution in the southeastern portion of the State. The first academy in the region known as the Valley was founded in 1776 in a log house at Timber Ridge, Rockbridge County, through the efforts of the Hanover Presbytery. The school was named Liberty Hall, and it was conducted by the Rev. William Graham, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1773. This institution, which was chartered in 1772, was endowed by General Washington in 1796. In that year the Legislature of Virginia, as a mark of its appreciation of Washington's public services, voted to him one hundred shares of stock in the James River improvement then in progress. Unwilling to accept the present for his own use, Washington conveyed it to Liberty Hall. To perpetuate the memory of his kindness the trustees by unanimous vote changed the name to Washington Academy; from it the present Washington and Lee University has developed.

In 1768 Joseph Alexander, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1760, was ordained pastor of the Sugar Creek Congregation, a few miles from the present town of Charlotte, N. C. He opened there the first classical school in the upper part of Carolina. He was the founder of Liberty Hall, from which developed Queens College, which eventually became the University of North Carolina. The second classical school in upper North Carolina was founded by David Caldwell, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1761. After serving as a missionary in Virginia and North Carolina he settled as pastor of the congregations in Buffalo Creek and at Alamance. He fixed his residence in what was then Rowan County but is now in Guilford County. It is claimed for his school that it brought more men into the learned professions than any other individually conducted academy in the same period of time, the list including five Governors, about fifty ministers and a large number of physicians and lawyers. Caldwell was a member of the convention of 1776 which framed the State Constitution of North Carolina. He suffered many privations and hardships during the Revolutionary War in the course of which his house was plundered and his library destroyed, while he lay in hiding in the woods. He continued his pastoral labors until 1820 when the infirmities of extreme old age compelled him to retire but he lived until 1824 lacking only about seven months of a century when he died.

Samuel Doak, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1775, was the first minister to settle in Tennessee. His parents emigrated from Ulster to Pennsylvania whence they emigrated to Augusta County, Va. After graduating at Princeton, Doak became a tutor in Hampden Sidney college while he was preparing for the ministry. Being licensed by Hanover Presbytery he preached in Virginia for a short period and then removed to Tennessee, where he eventually settled as pastor of a congregation on Little Limestone, in Washington County. He built a church, put up a log schoolhouse and in 1785 opened a school which was incorporated in 1788 as the Martin Academy. It was the first school of classical learning in the Mississippi Valley. In 1795 the institution was incorporated as Washington College. He continued as President until 1818, when he resigned in favor of his son, the Rev. John M. Doak, M.D., and removed to Bethel. Here he opened an academy to prepare youth for college, and under his son Samuel W. Doak this school grew into Tusculum College.

Hezekiah Balch, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1766, was licensed by Donegal Presbytery, Pa. His ministerial labors took him into Tennessee where he founded a school from which Greenville College developed. Samuel Carrick, who went from Virginia to Tennessee about the same time, organized a church at Knoxville, and founded a school which grew into Blount College.

The educational beginnings of Kentucky were due to Scotch-Irish emigration from Virginia. The Rev. David Rice, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1761, was one of the founders of Transylvania Seminary in 1783, which began operations in 1785, under Mr. Rice's care in his own house, at or near the present site of Danville, Kentucky. This was the first school opened in the State. In 1788 the seminary was removed to Lexington, where it had a troubled career. What was known as free thought or liberalism had an aggressive championship in Kentucky at that period. The leaders managed to get control of the corporate organization of the Seminary, and reorganized it in accord with their views.

In 1794 the Presbytery of Transylvania proceeded to establish another school, Mr. Rice appearing before the Legislature in behalf of the Presbytery. A charter was granted for the Kentucky Academy which was opened at Pisgah. Collections were taken up in its behalf and among the contributors was President Washington. The Kentucky Academy was soon in a sound and prosperous condition. Meanwhile the institution at Lexington suffered so much in reputation and attendance that peace overtures were made from those in control there, and on petition of both boards in 1798 the Legislature passed an act amalgamating the two institutions under the title "Transylvania University." This institution eventually fell under management so obnoxious to its founders that the Synod again took action and in 1824 Centre College was founded at Danville.

The westward movement of Scotch-Irish settlement, like the southward, was marked by the erection of schools. In 1781 the population in the region of Pennsylvania west of the mountains was still small and scattered but Redstone Presbytery was organized and the founding of schools began. Three of the early clergymen, Thaddeus Dod, John McMillan and Joseph Smith opened schools in their own houses or in the immediate neighborhood, in the usual fashion of which Tennent's Log College on the Neshaminy was the prototype. Dod was a Princeton graduate of the class of 1773. In 1782 he put up a building on his own farm in which he opened a school. It continued in operation for three years and a half, during which time a number of students were prepared for the ministry. The sale of the farm led to the closing of the school, which occurrence transferred a number of pupils to a school opened in 1785 by Joseph Smith, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1764, pastor of the Buffalo and Cross Creek congregations. Owing to failing health, Mr. Smith was able to conduct the school only a few years, and most of the pupils then went to the "Log Cabin" school of Dr. John McMillan, at Chartiers. McMillan was a Princeton graduate of the class of 1772. He first visited the Western country as a missionary in 1775, but he did not settle until 1778, when he took charge of the congregations of Chartiers and Pigeon Creek, in Washington County.

It is in dispute whether Dod's school or Smith's or McMillan's was prior in point of time, but they were all nearly coeval, and it is certain that the Log Cabin Academy was the only pioneer school that survived. From it issued a progeny of famous educational institutions. In 1787 a charter was obtained for Washington Academy, mainly through the influence of Dr. McMillan and his two elders, Judges Allison and McDowell, then members of the Legislature. The original list of trustees embraced all of the settled Presbyterian ministers west of the Monongahela. It was not until 1789, that the Academy went into operation at Washington, Pa., under the presidency of Thaddeus Dod, who had agreed to take the position temporarily. The institution lacked equipment and eventually the burning of the court house, in which classes met, caused a suspension of operations. In 1791 another academy was founded in Canons-burg, Dr. McMillan taking a leading part in the movement. In later years, Dr. McMillan in giving an account of his own school at Chartiers said: "I collected a few who gave evidence of piety, and taught them the Latin and Greek languages some of whom became useful and others eminent ministers of the Gospel. I had still a few with me when the academy was opened at Canonsburg, and finding I could not teach and do justice to my congregation, I immediately gave it up and sent them there." The Canonsburg school was incorporated in 1794, and in 1802 it was chartered as Jefferson College, under the presidency of John Watson, a Princeton graduate of the class of 1797. Washington Academy, which was suspended in 1791, was shortly afterward reopened, and after struggling along for years under difficulties it developed such strength that on March 28, 1806, it received a charter as Washington College. There were then two colleges occupying the same field and appealing to the same sources of support. Neither was able to make satisfactory progress and in 1865 they were united under one management as Washington and Jefferson College. A few years later the operations of the college were all concentrated at Washington, Pennsylvania.

Dickinson College at Carlisle, Pa., was founded in great measure by the Scotch-Irish Presbyterians of Cumberland and neighboring counties in Pennsylvania. Chartered in 1783, it was named after John Dickinson, President of the Executive Council of the State. Its first President was the Rev. Charles Nesbit of Montrose, Scotland, and the other members of the faculty were of Scotch-Irish ancestry. After Dr. Nesbit's death in 1804 the institution languished through lack of means and in 1833 the Methodist Episcopal Church obtained control of the institution, which has prospered under the patronage of that great denomination.

The early educational foundations in Western Pennsylvania have had an illustrious progeny, among them being Western University at Pittsburgh, Allegheny College at Meadville, Franklin College at New Athens, Ohio, which got its first President from Jefferson College; Western Reserve College at Hudson, Ohio; Wooster University, Wayne Co., Ohio; besides numerous academies. Throughout the middle West as in South and Southwest the course of Scotch-Irish settlement is marked by educational foundations.

Although the influence of Princeton was most strongly manifested in the South and West, it is distinctly marked in one great northern institution, Brown University, originally Rhode Island College. The college was the outcome of a movement started by the Philadelphia Baptist Association, whose agent was James Manning, a Princeton graduate, born in Elizabethtown, N. J., October 22, 1738. He made a tour of the Southern colonies, but finally decided in favor of a Rhode Island location. He was the first President of the college, which was opened at Warren in 1764, but was removed to Providence six years later. The first of the college buildings erected in Providence was University Hall, which was in general a copy of Nassau Hall at Princeton.

With the growth of the country in population and the blending of the Scotch-Irish with the general mass of American citizenship the influence of that particular element while still strongly operative becomes less distinctly traceable. In the early period the influence of Princeton is as strongly marked as the fertilizing effects of the rise of the Nile, but progress is now sustained by so many influences and is carried on through so many channels that it is no longer possible to distinguish particular sources in American education. It is however clear enough that Scotch-Irish emigration carried with it a scholarly activity that laid the foundations of popular education throughout the South and West. Ample recognition of Princeton influence is given in the histories of education in the various States issued by the United States Bureau of Education.