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Chapter 1
of William S. Tyler's History of Amherst College During Its First Half Century



The want of a College in the valley of the Connecticut was felt previous to the Revolution, and sixty years before the establishment of the Collegiate Institution at Amherst, thirty years before the incorporation of Williams College, measures were taken for the founding of such an Institution in Hampshire County. Some of the inhabitants of that County presented to the General Court, January 20, 1762, a memorial showing that "there are a great number of people in this County of Hampshire, and places adjacent, disposed to promote learning, and by reason of their great distance from the Colleges and the great expense of their education there, many, of good natural genius are prevented a liberal education, and a large country filling up at the north-west of them which will send a great number of men of letters." "They therefore pray for an act of the government constituting a Corporation with power to receive moneys and improve them for setting up a Seminary for learning, and that a charter may be granted to the Corporation for the said Seminary endowing it with power to manage all the affairs relative to the same, and confer the honors of learning upon the students of the same when qualified therefor."

A bill was accordingly brought in for establishing "an Academy in the western parts of this Province," which passed to be engrossed but was finally lost. But Francis Bernard, "Governor of the Province of the Massachusetts Bay," made out a charter incorporating Israel Williams and eleven others "a body politic by the name of the President and Fellows of Queen's College." This charter bears the date of February 27, 1762. The proposed College was to be in Northampton, Hatfield or Hadley. It was to be on a footing with Harvard College in regard to means of instruction, though some of its officers were to have different names, and it was proposed to withhold from it the power of conferring degrees. It met with opposition from the eastern part of the Province, scarcely less strenuous than that which Amherst College encountered half a century later. The Board of Overseers of Harvard College, as soon as they heard of it, appointed a committee to wait immediately on the Governor and request him not to grant the said charter, another committee to draw up and present a "fuller statement of reasons against founding a College or Collegiate School in Hampshire County,"1 and a third "to guard against the influence of any application at home [that is, in England,] by the Hampshire petitioners, for a charter from home or else-where." Such a pressure was brought to bear upon the Gov-ernor that he promised not to give out the charter until the next session of the Legislature. He desired the corporators, however, to take a copy of the charter, and organize the body so far as to be in readiness to act as soon as the charter should receive the necessary confirmation. Accordingly the Corporation met March 17, 1762, at the house of Rev. John Hooker, in Northampton, and adjourned to meet again on the 18th of May, in Hadley, at the house of Rev. Samuel Hopkins.2 But two causes seem to have operated effectually to prevent further action. Sympathy for Harvard College, much increased by a fire which consumed its library and philosophical apparatus, withstood the establishment of another College in the Province. And the excitement which preceded the American Revolution soon absorbed the public attention. Thus it is that "coming events cast their shadows before," and history repeats itself in the origin of institutions as well as in the rise of states and the progress of nations. For who can fail to see in the incorporation of this Institution so early in the centre of Hampshire County and in the arguments and influences that were brought to bear against it, a foreshadowing of the origin and early history of Amherst College.

In their strong desire thus early to have a College of their own, the good people of old Hampshire, or which was then the same thing, of Western Massachusetts, showed themselves to be the genuine offspring of the first settlers on the Massachusetts Bay, who founded Harvard College in the wilderness less than twenty years after the first landing on these shores. Educated for the most part in old Cambridge, and deeply impressed with the inseparable connection between sound learning and pure religion, the early colonists of New England could not rest till they could see the walls and breathe the atmosphere of a Cambridge here. Animated by strong Christian faith and hope, and excited by the experience of persecution in the Old World, they were further quickened by the invigorating and stimulating atmosphere of New England. "For here," so Rev. John Higginson, the first minister of Salem, wrote home to his friends after he had been a few months in this country, "here is an extraordinary cleer and dry aire that is of a most healing nature to all such as are of a cold, melancholy, flegmatick, rheumatick temper of body.... And therefore I think it a wise course for all cold complections to come to take physick in New England, for a sup of New England aire is better than a whole draught of Old England's ale."

The air of Western Massachusetts is even more dry and stimulating than that of the sea-shore, and the people have always been even more remarkable for their mental activity, and their universal thirst for education, than their fellow-citizens in the eastern part of the Commonwealth. "Old Hampshire County, extending originally from the uncertain eastern line of New York, on the west, into the present territory of Worcester County, on the east, and occupying throughout that distance the entire width of the Massachusetts patent, was, at first, in almost everything but the name, a colony of itself. The settlements were planted in the wilderness, and the waste of woods that lay between them and the seat of authority of the Massachusetts Bay was hardly less to be dreaded or easier of passage, than the waste of waters that interposed between the Bay and the Mother Country. Its interests have been developed by themselves. Its institutions, habits, and customs, have sprung out of its own peculiar wants, circumstances and spirit, and the history of Western Massachusetts is but the history of the old Mother Country and her children."3

"No county in the State," says Dr. Dwight, "has uniformly discovered so firm an adherence to good order and good government, or a higher regard to learning, morals, and religion. As a body, the inhabitants possess that middle state of property, which so long and so often has been termed golden; few are poor, and few are rich. They are almost independent in this high sense, that they live in houses and on lands which are their own, and which they hold in fee simple. The number of persons in a family in the County of Hampshire, exceeds that in the eastern counties, and marriages are more universal. Since these journeys were made, this noble county, after having existed as a fine doric column of industry, good order, morals, learning, and religion, in Massachusetts, for more than a century, was by an unwise Legislature, broken into three parts."4

The valley of the Connecticut, from the time of its first settlement by the whites, has had a population and a history as peculiar as its soil, climate, surface, and natural scenery. Dear to the natives as the "Quonecticut," or "Long River," in whose waters they delighted to ply their light bark canoes, and to fish for the bass, salmon, and shad, and on whose banks they built their most beautiful villages, and raised their richest fields of corn, this "famous river," or "little Nilus," as Cotton Mather quaintly calls it, began to attract settlers almost immediately after the first towns were planted about Massachusetts Bay. And this beautiful river is interwoven with the whole character, history, and associations of the people whom it has attracted, and whose character it has formed, even as it wanders to and fro through the broad valley, shaping the picturesque outlines, forming the intervales, and enriching the meadows by its annual overflow. President Dwight in those travels to which we have already alluded, lingers in the valley of the Connecticut, devoting several letters to a description of its physical features, and the characteristics of its inhabitants, and dwells with peculiar fondness on the variety and richness of the landscape, the rare beauty of the villages, and the remarkable industry, intelligence, virtue, and piety of the people. The breadth of the "intervales," the meandering of the stream, the graceful curving of the banks fringed with shrubs and trees, the terraced outlines and gentle undulations of the meadows, "interspersed in parallelograms," and "not divided by enclosures," making them to appear not as artificially fruitful, but as a field of nature, originally furnished by the hand of the Creator, with all its beauties, with large and thrifty orchards in many places, and everywhere forest trees standing singly, of great height and graceful figure; all these characteristic features which have been so enthusiastically admired by residents and visitors from foreign lands at the present day, are noted and appreciated by this distinguished traveler, scholar, and divine of a former generation. Perhaps, then, the writer will not be charged with partiality or extravagance when he says, that although he has seen the Old World pretty thoroughly, from Windsor Park and Richmond Hill to the plain of Damascus, he has nowhere found such wide and varied fields of vegetable mosaic as stretch out, for instance, from the base of Mount Holyoke, nor anywhere shade trees of any kind that can be compared for mingled gracefulness and magnifi-cence with the elms that adorn the streets in either of the towns that were contemplated as the possible site of "Queen's College."

The beauty of New England villages is universally recognized, whether by visitors from other sections, or travelers from foreign lands. Dr. Dwight finds this beauty in its highest perfection in the towns on or near the Connecticut River, and expatiates with much satisfaction on the plan of the villages, as it is there car-ried out, and the excellence of the social, intellectual, and moral results as they are there realized. The selection of the site, not like a village or large town in the Middle States, where trade, commerce or manufactures demand, but wherever beauty or convenience, pleasure or moral uses may invite the bringing of the whole farming population into the village, to live side by side with the merchants, mechanics, and professional men, clustering the church or churches, and the school-houses as a nucleus and common centre, the distribution of the town plat into lots containing from two to ten acres, and the erection of the house, usually of wood painted white, and of ample dimensions, "at the bottom of the court-yard," with the singularly broad street in front, and the out-buildings, the garden, orchard, and home-lot succeeding each other at convenient distances in the rear; these are the characteristic features which have made the rural villages of the Connecticut famous the world over, for beauty and convenience. And these are partly the cause and partly the effect of the industry, thrift, intelligence, good order, good morals and religion, which are remarked by Dr. Dwight and observed by so many other travelers, as characteristic of the people in the valley of the Connecticut. Such villages with such schools and churches, and such society, would naturally and inevitably blossom out into a College in due season, and isolated as they were in their early history, would surely seek a College in their neighborhood, that their schools and churches might find a sure supply of well educated teachers and preachers, and their children might grow up under its elevating and inspiring influence.

The historical associations of this portion of the Connecticut Valley, here deserve a passing notice. There is scarcely a town in the valley whose soil was not sprinkled with blood in the early wars with the Indians. In King Philip's War, Hadley was the head-quarters of the English troops in the river campaign. Detachments were also stationed in garrisons at Northamption, Hatfield, Deerfield, and Northfield. A hot engagement took place near the base of Sugar-loaf Mountain, in which the Indians lost twenty-six killed, and the English ten. A company sent to convoy provisions from Hadley to the garrison at Northfield, fell into an ambuscade within two miles of their destination, and of thirty-seven men who engaged in the expedition, only sixteen returned to tell of the disaster. Hatfield was attacked by seven or eight hundred savages and bravely and successfully defended. Springfield was invaded by Philip's warriors when its garrison had been chiefly drawn off to the defence of other towns, and burned to the ground; and its inhabitants, left houseless and penniless, were so disheartened that they came near abandoning the settlement. And South Deerfield is memorable as the scene of the most terrible massacre of the whites by the Indians, recorded In the annals of New England. Capt. Lathrop was detached from Hadley with eighty young men, "the very flower of the County of Essex," and a large number of teams, to bring off the grain which was stacked in large quantities on the Deerfield meadows. They had threshed and loaded the grain, and had advanced on their return, as they thought, beyond the reach of danger, when, as they were crossing a sluggish stream which flowed through a swamp, and the teamsters, if not some of the soldiers, also, were eagerly plucking the grapes which hung in ripe and tempting clusters from the overhanging trees, the savage foe discharged a murderous fire upon them from behind every bush and tree, and then bursting from their hiding places, pursued the work of destruction, slaughtering the fleeing, and butchering the wounded, until ninety men, soldiers and teamsters, lay weltering in their own blood. But while they were still engaged in massacring the living and stripping the dead, they, in turn, were suddenly attacked by Capt. Moseley with his little band of heroes from the garrison at Deerfield, and ninety-six of them were slain in swift retaliation for the dreadful massacre which has conferred on its scene the befitting name of "Bloody Brook." A suitable monument, erected in 1835, marks the spot, and the oration then and there pronounced by the prince of our American panegyrical orators and listened to with so much interest by so many of the officers and students of Amherst College, will probably live as long as the monument itself will last, to commemorate the sufferings and sacrifices by which our fathers won this valley to civilization, learning and religion.

The next campaign of King Philip's War, that of 1766, was remarkable for the great slaughter of the Indians by Capt. Turner, near the Falls in the Connecticut, which have ever since borne his name, and the subsequent disastrous retreat of his men, and the fall of their commander. In the same year occurred also that attack upon Hadley, in which seven hundred Indians came upon the town early in the morning, and had already broken through the palisades and were spreading alarm and terror among the whole population, when suddenly a mysterious stranger, of remarkable form, and long flowing hair and beard, appeared among the affrighted villagers, rallied the soldiers, routed the enemy and put them to flight, and then disappeared as mysteriously as he had manifested himself unto them. The people then regarded him as an angel of God sent for their deliverance. They afterwards learned that their guardian angel was Goffe, "the regicide," and that Whalley, his father-in-law and fellow exile, resided at the same time in the family of the minister, Mr. Russell, and, with Goffe, had been there for nearly twelve years.

In the wars which bear the names of King William and Queen Anne, Old Deerfield became famous for those sieges and captivities which have ever since been as familiar to New England children as nursery tales; almost as familiar as the catechism, and the New England Primer. The story of the captive, Eunice Williams, who became a savage and refused to return to civilized life, is quite a romance, and the question, "Have we a Bourbon among us," which has excited such a romantic interest in our own day, and which seemed likely enough at one time to grow into historical importance, is connected with a descendant of this "Deerfield Captive."

There are comparatively few monuments of the "Revolutionary War" in the valley of the Connecticut. The scene of that conflict lay chiefly on the sea-coast. Yet the people of Western Massachusetts were not a whit behind their fellow-citizens in Boston and vicinity in offering first unarmed and then armed resistance to the encroachments of the Mother Country. There is scarcely a town in old Hampshire County whose records do not contain strong resolutions of sympathy and succor for their suffering brethren who had to bear the brunt of the struggle, or record the appointment of Committees of Vigilance and Public Safety, and the choice of delegates to act in concert with those of other towns in a Congress of the County, the Province, or the United Colonies. And when the war opened and as it progressed, we find them sending out men, arms and supplies year after year, with a liberality altogether beyond their wealth and population, till their resources were exhausted, and pouring out their treasure and their blood like water, for the common cause. A Congress of Committees from the several towns in the old County of Hampshire met in Northampton on the 22d and 23d of September, 1774, and passed with great unanimity resolutions that had in them the ring of resistance to the Stamp Act and to Taxation without Representation, and helped to prepare the way for the Declaration of Independence. When the news of the battle of Lexington reached Greenfield, the people of the town assembled "instanter," and the next morning, a volunteer company was on the march for the scene of action. Springfield, at first a recruiting post and rendezvous for soldiers, was afterwards fixed upon as a depot for military stores and a place for repairing arms, manufacturing cartridges and at length casting a few cannon, and in the "barn" which was used for these purposes in the war of the Revolution, we see the germ of the National Armory which during our late war furnished arms on so magnificent a scale for an army of a million of men and thereby saved "the Great Republic." "The late Gen. Mattoon of Amherst, one of Hampshire's bravest and most energetic spirits in the Revolution, used to tell of in order that he received from Gen. Gates to proceed to Springfield, and convey a number of cannon from that point to the field of operations in New York. The General rode from Amherst to Springfield on Sunday, and with a small body of men accomplished the task, and 'these cannon told at Saratoga.'"5 In the lectures which Prof. Fiske used to deliver on American history, when he came to the lecture on the battle of Saratoga, he sometimes sent for the then aged and blind General to illustrate the lecture, which he did, both by lively anecdotes and by his living presence.

Accident has attached to this section more than its due share of credit in another and less honorable history, viz., that of "the Shays Rebellion." Shays who happened to give his name to a movement which he did not originate and was incapable of leading, chanced to be a resident of Pelham when the discontent arising from a depreciated currency and the partly real and partly fancied sufferings of the people, together with the demoralization consequent upon the Revolutionary War, broke out into insurrection against the government. To prevent the collection of debts and then to screen themselves from deserved punishment, the rebels who were only the offscouring of the army and never represented the real sentiments of the people, interrupted the sessions of the Courts repeatedly in Worcester and Berkshire, as well as Hampshire County. But gathering courage at length to attack the arsenal at Springfield, they were routed, and the division under Shays fled through Hadley and Amherst to Pelham where they soon scattered, the followers seeking their homes, and the leaders taking refuge in the neighboring States till, through the clemency of the government, they were all allowed to return under a general amnesty. Overruled for good, the Shays Rebellion strengthened the State government which it threatened to subvert, and was one of the causes or occasions that led to our present federal constitution.

Among the great and good men who have shed lustre on the old County of Hampshire, one name towers above all others not only in influence and reputation at home, but ranks among the brightest ornaments of mankind. Jonathan Edwards wrote most of those great works which have perpetuated his fame and influence at Stockbridge, and his body rests at Princeton, N. J., where he died in the prime of life as he was just entering upon the presidency of Nassau Hall College. But before he left Northampton he had already stamped his impress upon that and the neighboring towns, changed the religious character and history of New England, and originated influences without which Amherst College would have been quite another institution from what it now is. His name, once cast out as evil, is now honored above all others at Northampton, and strangers who visit the place, are pointed to the church which bears his name, admire the magnificent elms which he is said to have planted, and even seek out the spot in the cemetery where a slab, inscribed to his memory, stands by the side of those which mark the graves of his daughter Jerusha, and David Brainerd to whom she was betrothed.

Among many other illustrious names which have adorned the history of this section, it will not be deemed invidious to mention those of Col. John Stoddard, Maj. Joseph Hawley, and Gov. Caleb Strong, of Northampton, Dr. Joseph Lyman, of Hatfield, and Judge Simeon Strong, and Gen. Ebenezer Mattoon, of Amherst.

But there were foundations for a College in the Connecticut Valley laid earlier than its earliest wars, and deeper than any events that were transacted on its surface. Long before the valley had any human inhabitants, there were "foot-prints on the sands of time," not so easily effaced as those of heroes, statesmen or divines, which hardened into stone, were to constitute the ichnological cabinets at Amherst; there were antiquities, histories, literatures, sciences, in comparison with which those of Greece and Rome are recent, written in the solid rocks in characters which a Hitchcock would begin to decipher, and other geologists would continue to read, which would make the Connecticut Valley beyond any portion of the Old World, a classic, almost a holy land to savans of every country through succeeding generations. For these foot-prints exist at Turner's Falls, at the base of Mount Tom and Mount Holyoke, in the Portland quarries and in the sandstone all through this valley, in unrivaled perfection and in such inexhaustible supplies as are found nowhere else.

Such are some of the characteristics of the soil out of which Amherst College sprung, and into which it has struck its roots; such some of the surroundings that impress themselves on the mind and character of its students; and such the associations clustering about it, which, even to casual visitors and strangers, constitute some of its incidental attractions.


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