Home > Amherst > History > A History of Amherst College (1894) > Table of Contents >
Chapter 1
from A History of Amherst College by William S. Tyler 1830

The Queen's College Project --- First Associated Action in Regard to Amherst College --- Amherst Academy the Mother of Amherst College --- The Charity Fund --- Question of the Removal of Williams College.

The want of a college in the valley of the Connecticut was felt previous to the Revolution.  Sixty years before the establishment of the Charity Institution at Amherst, and thirty years before the incorporation of Williams College, measures were taken for founding an educational institution in Hampshire County.  Some of the inhabitants of that county presented to the General Court, January 20, 1762, a memorial asking for a charter for this purpose, and a bill was brought in, which, though passed to be engrossed, was finally defeated.

But shortly after, Francis Bernard, by virtue of his position as "Governor of the Province of 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 26, 1762, and the proposed college was to be in Northampton, Hatfield, or Hadley.

Nothing further ever came of this commendable act of Governor Bernard.  Sympathy for Harvard College, at the time suffering from the loss by fire of its library and philosophical apparatus, opposed the establishment of another like institution in the province, and the exciting times preceding the Revolutionary War soon absorbed public attention to the exclusion of other more peaceful matters.

It was not, therefore, until a number of years later that Williams College was founded, and still later that we find on record the first associated action looking toward the establishment of a college at Amberst.  It was at a meeting of the Franklin County Association of Ministers, held in Shelburne, in 1815.  This was six years before the college came into existence, and one year after the opening of [Amherst Academy.]Amherst Academy, out of which the college grew.  The association, on mature deliberation, were of the opinion that knowledge and virtue might be greatly subserved by an advanced literary institution situated in their important section of the Commonwealth.  They were unanimously agreed that, all things considered, the town of Amherst appeared to them the most eligible place for locating it.

This decision is particularly worthy of notice because it was reached at a meeting held, not in Hampshire County or even in the Connecticut Valley, but among the mountains west of the valley, in which so many great and good men have had their origin.  Indeed many of the members of the association represented churches which were very friendly to Williams College, and one of the most prominent participators in the discussion in favor of Amherst was himself a trustee of Williams College.

Rev. Theophilus Packard, who was the prime mover in this first associated action, and several others of the earliest and most efficient friends of Amherst College, were residents of Franklin County.  Rev. James Taylor of Sunderland became a member of the corporation as it was first chosen and organized, and was a constant attendant of all its meetings so long as he lived, a wise counsellor and a firm supporter of the college in all the trials of the first eleven years of its existence.  Col. Rufus Graves, its indefatigable agent, and Nathaniel Smith, its most liberal donor in those early days, were both members of Mr. Taylor's church, born in Sunderland and residing there when the establishment of such an institution first began to be agitated.  Deacon Elisha Billings of Conway, an educated man of great zeal, wisdom and influence, threw himself into the enterprise, and contributed largely to its success, as will be seen very clearly a little later.

Amherst Academy was the mother of Amherst College.  The trustees of the academy became also trustees of the college, and the records of the academy are the records of the college during the first four years of its existence.  The founding and erecting of Amherst Academy kept pace with the origin and progress of the last war with Great Britain.  The subscription was started in 1812, when that war was declared; the academy went into operation in December, 1814, the same year and the same month in which the peace was signed; and it was fully dedicated with illuminations and public rejoicings in 1815, when the return of peace was known and hailed with joy in this country, especially in New England.  The charter was not obtained, however, till 1816, having been delayed by opposition in Amherst, and in the neighboring towns, of the same kind and partly from the very same sources as that which the college encountered in later years.

It opened with more students than any other academy in Western Massachusetts, and soon attracted pupils from every part of New England.  It had at one time ninety pupils in the young women's department, and quite as many, usually more, in the young men's.  It was the Williston Seminary and the Mount Holyoke of that day united.  Mary Lyon, the founder of Mount Holyoke Seminary, was a member of Amberst Academy in 1821.  There were usually from seventy-five to one hundred students in the classical department, and in the first year of Simeon Colton's administration, the writer, who was his assistant, well remembers that we sent about thirty to college, the larger part of whom entered at Amherst.  Prior to the existence of Williston Seminary, and during the depression of Phillips Academy at Andover, in the declining years of Principal Adams, if not still earlier, Amherst Academy, without dispute, held the first position among the academies of Massachusetts.

But the subsequent prosperity of Phillips Academy, the establishment of Williston Seminary, and the rise of normal schools and high schools in all the large towns, gradually drew off their students and thus their support from Amherst and other comparatively unendowed academies, till one after another of them became extinct.  Amherst Academy did a great and good work in and of itself, for which many who were educated there and not a few who were spiritually "born" there, will bless God forever.  But the best work which it did, and which, it is believed, will perpetuate its memory and its influence, was the founding of Amherst College.

In view of the elevated literary and Christian character of Amherst Academy, and its extraordinary success as already described, it is not surprising that its founders soon felt themselves called upon to make higher and larger provision for educational purposes.  At the annual meeting of the board of trustees, on the 18th of November, 1817, a project formed by Rufus Graves, Esq., was adopted for increasing the usefulness of the academy, by raising a fund for the gratuitous instruction of "indigent young men of promising talents and hopeful piety, who shall manifest a desire to obtain a liberal education with a sole view to the Christian ministry."

A committee appointed for the purpose entered with zeal and alacrity upon the effort to raise money for the endowment of a professorship of languages, and prosecuted it for several months.  Their ardent and indefatigable chairman, Colonel Graves, went to Boston and other large towns, and labored day and night to accomplish the object.  But "they found," in the language of Mr. Webster's narrative of the proceedings, "that the establishment of a single professorship was too limited an object to induce men to subscribe.  To engage public patronage, it was found necessary to form a plan for the education of young men for the ministry on a more extensive scale."

These considerations determined the committee to enlarge their plan, and to aim not merely at the endowment of a professorship in the academy, but at the raising of a fund which should be the basis of a separate institution of a higher grade.  They accordingly framed and reported a "constitution and system of by-laws for raising and managing a permanent charity fund as the basis of an institution in Amherst, in the county of Hampshire, for the classical education of indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry."  The board of trustees at their meeting on the 18th of August, 1818, unanimously accepted this report, approved the doings of the committee, and authorized them to take such measures and communicate with such persons and corporations as they might judge expedient.

The fund which was thus inaugurated became the corner-stone of the Charity Institution and "the sheet-anchor" of the college---as it was often called by the professors and friends of the college amid the storms which it afterward encountered.  No document sheds so much light on the motives of the founders of the institution as this constitution of the charity fund.  It therefore merits careful consideration.

The constitution is drawn up in due form as a legal document, with much minuteness of detail, and with every possible safeguard against the loss or perversion of the fund, or the neglect of duty on the part of those who are charged with the care and management of it.  The first article fixes the location of the Institution at Amherst, and provides for the incorporation of Williams College with it, should it continue to be thought expedient to remove that institution to the county of Hampshire and to locate it in the town of Amherst.  The second article contains a promise of the subscribers to pay the sums annexed to their names for the purpose of raising a permanent fund, to the amount of at least fifty thousand dollars, as the basis of a fund for the proposed institution, provided that, in case the sums subscribed in the course of one year shall not amount to the full sum of fifty thousand dollars, then the whole, or any part, shall be void according to the will of any subscriber on giving three months' notice.  The third provides that five-sixths of the interest of the fund shall be forever appropriated to the classical education in the institution of indigent pious young men for the ministry, and the other sixth shall be added to the principal for its perpetual increase, while the principal itself shall be secured intact and perpetually augmenting.  Article fourth directs that the property of the fund shall be secured by real estate or invested in funds of Massachusetts, or the United States, or some other safe public stocks.  Article fifth vests the management and appropriation of the fund, according to the provisions of the constitution and by-laws, in the trustees of Amherst Academy, until the contemplated classical institution is established and incorporated, and then in the board of trustees of said institution and their successors forever.  Article sixth provides for the appointment of a board of overseers of the fund, a skilful financier, and an auditor.  Article seventh requires the trustees to appoint a financier who shall be sworn to the faithful discharge of his duty, under sufficient bonds, and subject to be removed at their discretion.  This financier, however, shall not be their own treasurer, that is, the treasurer of the Institution, who shall be ineligible to that office.  This article also prescribes the duties of the trustees in regard to the fund, such as examining candidates for its charities, keeping a correct record of the amount of the fund, the manner in which it is invested and secured, their receipts and disbursements from it, and all their proceedings in reference to it.  Article eighth prescribes minutely the duties of the financier in receiving and investing moneys, managing and guarding the fund, paying over the interest, as provided in article third, into the treasury of the Institution, taking triplicate receipts, one to keep for his own security, one to deposit with the secretary of the board of trustees, and the third with the auditor; keeping an accurate account of the whole fund and every part of it, and reporting the same annually to the board of trustees.  The ninth article provides that the financier shall be paid from the avails of the fund a reasonable sum for his services and responsibility.  The tenth prescribes the manner in which the overseers of the fund shall be appointed and perpetuated, viz.:  the four highest subscribers to the fund shall appoint each of them one, and the other three shall be elected by a majority of the votes of the other subscribers who may assemble for that purpose.  Then the board shall perpetuate their existence as such by filling their own vacancies.  In case the board shall at any future time become extinct, the Governor and Council of this Commonwealth are expressly authorized to appoint a new board.  Article eleventh provides for the appointment of an auditor by the board of overseers, and prescribes at great length the duties of that board.  They are required to visit the institution at its annual commencement, to receive and examine the reports of the trustees and the auditor, and to inspect the records, files and vouchers of the trustees and the financier, and in view of all the facts, to decide whether the fund has been skilfully managed, and its avails faithfully applied according to the will of the donors.  Article twelfth prescribes the duties of the auditor.  Article thirteenth provides for the amendment of the constitution and system of by-laws by the concurrent action of the board of trustees and the board of overseers, "so, however, as not to deviate from the original object of civilizing and evangelizing the world by the classical education of indigent young men of piety and talents," "nor without the majority of two-thirds of the members of the said board of trustees, and five-sevenths of the said board of overseers."

Article fourteenth reads as follows:  "In order to prevent the loss or destruction of this constitution by any wicked design, by fire, or by the ravages of time, it shall be the duty of the trustees of said institution, as soon as the aforesaid sum of fifty thousand dollars shall be hereunto subscribed, to cause triplicate copies of the same, together with the names of the subscribers and the sum subscribed annexed to each name, to be taken fairly written on vellum, one of which to be preserved in the archives of said institution, one in the archives of said board of overseers, and the other in the archives of this Commonwealth.  And in case of the loss or destruction of either of said copies, its deficiency shall be immediately supplied by an attested copy from one of the others."

In order to secure the approval and co-operation of the Christian community to an extent commensurate with the magnitude of the undertaking, the trustees of Amherst Academy, at a meeting held on the 10th of September, 1818, resolved to call a convention of "the Congregational and Presbyterian clergy of the several parishes in the counties of Hampshire, Franklin, and Hampden and the western section of the county of Worcester, with their delegates, together with one delegate from each vacant parish, and the subscribers to the fund."

On the 29th of September, 1818, in accordance with this invitation, the convention met in [First Congregational Meeting-House and Parsonage in 1788.]the church in the west parish of Amherst.  Thirty-seven towns were represented, sixteen in Hampshire County, thirteen in Franklin, four in Hampden and four in Worcester.  Most of the parishes were represented by both a pastor and a lay delegate.  Thirty-six clergymen and thirty-two laymen composed the convention.  The constitution and by-laws of the proposed institution were read, and, after some discussion, the whole subject was referred to a committee of twelve.  In the afternoon, a sermon was delivered before the convention by Dr. Lyman.  The next morning, September 30, the committee presented their report.  They express in strong language their approval of the constitution, as the fruit of much judicious reflection, and guarding as a legal instrument, in the most satisfactory and effectual manner, the faithful and appropriate application of the property consecrated by the donors.  They had no hesitation in recommending Hampshire County as one of the most eligible situations for such an institution.  In regard to the particular town in Hampshire County, while they thought favorably of Amherst, the committee were of the opinion that it would be expedient to leave that question to the decision of a disinterested committee appointed by the convention.

The preamble of this report, expressing the general views of the committee, was promptly accepted by the convention.  But on those points in the resolutions which touched the location of the institution an animated debate arose and continued through the morning and afternoon sessions.  Able arguments and eloquent appeals were made for and against fixing the site definitely at Amherst.  Local feelings and interests doubtless influenced the speakers more or less on both sides of the question.  The most violent opposition came from some of the churches and parishes in the immediate vicinity of Amherst.  Several delegates from the west side of the river, including those from Northampton, contended ably and earnestly in favor of locating the institution at Northampton.  The discussion was carried from the convention to the families where the members were entertained, and there are still living those who well remember that the excitement ran so high as to disturb their sleep long after the hour of midnight.

The people of Amherst were deeply moved.  The house was filled with anxious spectators.  Business was almost suspended.  The academy took a recess, and teachers and pupils hung with breathless interest on the debate.  "Until noon of the second day of the convention,"---I use the language of one who was then a student in the academy and an eye-witness,---"the weight of argument was in favor of Northampton, and things looked blue for a location in Amherst.  In the afternoon, Samuel Fowler Dickinson, taking his position in the aisle of the old church, laid himself out, in one of the most powerful and telling speeches which were made on this occasion, gaining the full attention of the whole convention, and no doubt greatly influencing many in their votes.  After which, George Grennell, who was secretary of the convention, left his seat, taking his place in the aisle, and also delivered a very powerful and effective speech, still keeping the full attention of the convention.  These two speeches produced a new and different feeling throughout the house, and the result, when the vote was taken, was in favor of Amherst as a location for the institution."

The enterprise was thus fairly launched, and the raising of money was prosecuted with such zeal and success that, at a special meeting of the trustees of Amherst Academy, in July, 1818, a committee appointed to examine the subscription reported that the money and other property amounted, at a fair estimate, to fifty-one thousand four hundred and four dollars, thus making more than the sum proposed in less than the time allowed by the constitution.

As early as 1815, six years before the opening of Amherst College, the question of removing Williams College to some more central part of Massachusetts was agitated among its friends and in its board of trustees.  At that time Williams College had two buildings and fifty-eight students, with two professors and two tutors.  The library contained fourteen hundred volumes.  The funds were reduced and the income fell short of the expenditures.  Many of the friends and supporters of the college were fully persuaded that it could not be sustained in its present location.  The chief ground of this persuasion was the extreme difficulty of access to it.

At the same meeting of the board of trustees at which Professor Moore was elected president of Williams College, May 2, 1815, Dr. Packard of Shelburne introduced the following motion:  "That a committee of six persons be appointed to take into consideration the removal of the college to some other part of the Commonwealth, to make all necessary inquiries which have a bearing on the subject, and report at the next meeting."  The motion was adopted, and at the next meeting of the board in September, the committee reported that "a removal of Williams College from Williamstown is inexpedient at the present time, and under existing circumstances."

But the question of removal thus raised in the board of trustees and thus negatived only "at the present time and under existing circumstances," continued to be agitated.  And at a meeting on the 10th of November, 1818, influenced more or less doubtless by the action of the Franklin County Association of Congregational Ministers, and the Convention of Congregational and Presbyterian Ministers in Amherst, the board of trustees resolved that it was expedient to remove the college on certain conditions.  President Moore advocated the removal, and even expressed his purpose to resign the office of president unless it could be effected, inasmuch as when he accepted the presidency he had no idea that the college was to remain at Williamstown, but was authorized to expect that it would be removed to Hampshire County.  Nine out of twelve of the trustees voted for the resolutions, which were as follows:

"Resolved, that it is expedient to remove Williams College to some more central part of the State whenever sufficient funds can be obtained to defray the necessary expenses incurred and the losses sustained by removal, and to secure the prosperity of the college, and when a fair prospect shall be presented of obtaining for the institution the united support and patronage of the friends of literature and religion in the western part of the Commonwealth, and when the General Court shall give their assent to the measure."

In November, 1819, the trustees of Williams College voted to petition the Legislature for permission to remove the college to Northampton.  To this application, Mr. Webster says, "the trustees of Amherst Academy made no opposition and took no measures to defeat it."  In February, 1820, the petition was laid before the Legislature.  The committee from both houses, to whom it was referred, after a careful examination of the whole subject, reported that it was neither lawful nor expedient to remove the college, and the Legislature, taking the same view, rejected the petition.  The trustees of Amherst Academy, who had been quietly awaiting the issue of the application, judged that the way was now open for them to proceed with their original design according to the advice of the convention, and at their meeting in March, 1820, they took measures for collecting the subscriptions to the charity fund, raising additional subscriptions, erecting a suitable building, and opening the institution as soon as possible for the reception of students.  Thus the long and exciting discussion touching the removal of Williams College and the location of a college in some more central town of old Hampshire County at length came to an end, and the contending parties now directed all their energies to building up the institutions of their choice.

Few questions have agitated the good people of Western Massachusetts more generally or more deeply than this.  Whether one college would have been better than two for Western Massachusetts, and if there was to be but one, whether that one should have been at Williamstown, Northampton, or Amherst, are questions which we are not now called to answer.  But that these good men had the best interests of learning and religion at heart and were foreseeing and far-seeing beyond most men in their generation we have no doubt.  They certainly did not overestimate the importance of a college in Hampshire County, and their wise plans and persevering efforts have resulted, under the overruling providence of God, in the upbuilding of two colleges, each of which has far exceeded not only the one which then existed, but the most sanguine hopes of the founders of either, in its prosperity and usefulness.


Next chapter...

Back to the table of contents of A History of Amherst College...

Page last updated: 16 August 1999
©1998-2000, Richard J. Yanco