Elijah Frink Rockwell 25 November 1850 Letter

Back to College Letters Collection | Back to Elijah Frink Rockwell Letters
Jump to Original | Jump to Annotations | Jump to Works Cited

From: DC0152, Rockwell, Elijah Frink, 1809-1888. Papers, 1783, 1848-1869 (Finding Aid)


Davidson College N. Car Nov. 25th 1850. [1]
Prof. Benjamin Silliman, [2]

Dear Sir,

You will doubtfully excuse me for troubling you with this line, when I state to you a few facts. You will perhaps remember a young man commended to you notice in 1829 by your friend W. T. Williams Esq. of Lebanon, [3] in whom you kindly befriended in the college course, by the name of E. F. Rockwell. I was graduated in the Class of 1834. Came to Fayetteville N. Ca. and taught school two years from ’35 to ’37. [4] I studied Theology at Princeton [5] and at Colombia. S. Ca. [6] and entered the ministry in the Pres. Church. I married in Fayetteville and have been a settled pastor in this vicinity 150 miles west of F. about 10 years. Last Augt. a convention that met here for the purpose of Electing a Prof. of Chemistry, Geology, etc to my great surprise appointed me to that chair by a great majority. [7] This is a Pres. Institution, in its infancy: it has not over 60 students at present. There are three other Profs. besides myself. [8] Many of those who are interested in it know but little about what a College should be. We have some Buildings, and about $35000 in funds: a small library, few minerals, and little apparatus. [9] We are about a 150 miles from C. Hill, and about the same distance from Colombia S. Car. Divine Providence seemed to indicate that it was my

[page 2]

duty to accept the place thus tendered to me. There is great need of advancing the cause of Education in this region. If I had time I could detail facts to show this. But every movement must be made with great caution. I have been here about one month, and am able to see something of what needs to be done. The Text Books in use, in the Course, and almost the only ones on the ground, are Furnas Chemistry Roger Edition, Hitchcock’s Geology, and Comstock’s Mineralogy. [10] It seems to have been regarded as sufficient to read and recite these Books, without reference to any other in these departments of science. The Chemistry, though good of itself, does not seem to me adapted to our use. Now as I have been for 10 or 12 years occupied in other studies mostly, I should be glad to know what works on all these Branches will afford me the most assistance, and what would be best to recommend to the Trustees [11] to adopt as Text Books, in case we could change for the better.

In the multitudes of works, I might purchase many, and not obtain what would be of the greatest advantage to me. This is the immediate object of my writing at this time. I want to put this department on a better footing: the country west of us is an interesting mineral region, and I wish to excite a deeper interest in the study of Geology. I hope you will not consider the time lost or regard it as too troublesome to reply to my communication. Your Associate Mr. Olmsted [12] has been in this region: I think you will find in the hands of Mr. Hamrick [13] a copy of the last Catalogue

[page 3]

of our College. And I should be glad to receive from him a copy of the Triennial, and also of the last annual Catalogue of Yale College, with that of the Phi Beta Kappa Society. [14]

If I knew the terms I would forward the money for the journal of science, for the coming year: It is so long since I have seen a no. of it that I have forgotten the subscription price. If I could learn the terms, or receive a no. I would forward the sum. [15]
There is one other point about which I want information, and with regard to which I hardly know to which of the faculty to write; and that is with regard to the Pronunciations of the Latin Language. It has been neglected here, and it is a matter of complaint among literary men. What system is in use in Yale College? A small pamphlet was published and in use when I was there, which I have followed: attention to this will help to give character to this Institution. By kindly answering my inquires, so far as you find it convenient, you will do me a favor, and aid in the promotion of that cause for which you have so long labored. I remember with pleasure the time I spent at Yale: and feel grateful for the friendship of those who assisted me in my course: and especially do I entertain a grateful remembrance of the favors bestowed on me by Pres. Woolsey, to whom I would thank you to present my best regard. [16] My address is “Rev. E. F. Rockwell, Davidson College N. Ca.” Most Respectfully,

Your Ob-servt

E. F. Rockwell [17]

Jump to top

Jump to top

[1] Davidson College was founded in 1837 as a Presbyterian, agrarian, and all male institution. The college is located in Davidson, NC about 22 miles north of Charlotte, NC. The town was incorporated as Davidson College in 1879 and in 1891 the town’s name was officially changed to Davidson. In 1850, E. F. Rockwell was added to the faculty of Davidson College as Professor of Chemistry, Geology, Latin, and Modern History. 1850 was Davidson’s 13th year as an institution of higher learning and Rockwell was trying to build its credibility and help improve students’ learning experience by writing this letter, and asking for new textbooks. Rockwell wrote this letter during the end of the fall semester of the 1850-1851 academic year. At the time there were only 4 faculty member, a fact that he mentions later in the letter, and 61 students. The head of the college at the time was Rev. Samuel Williamson. (Stats; Rockwell; Town of Davidson Site)

[2] Benjamin Silliman, the recipient of Rockwell’s letter, was an American chemist and educator in the sciences. Silliman was one of first American professors of science at Yale College (now University) and the first person to distill petroleum. He is also the founder of the American Journal of Science, the oldest scientific journal in the United States, which focuses on natural sciences, geology, and related subjects. The journal was often referred to as “Silliman’s Journal,” and the publication became associated with Yale because of the lasting affect he had on the college after his long tenure there. (Benjamin Silliman Archives)

Professor of Yale (Yale Archives)
Professor of Yale (Yale Archives)

[3] Presumably, W. T. Williams Esq. of Lebanon was an acquaintance and co-worker of Pro. Benjamin Silliman. There is no written documentations in catalogues or online of who he is and his importance.

[4] Fayetteville is a city in Cumberland County, NC, approximately 115 miles from Davidson NC. Fayetteville is located in the southeastern region of North Carolina and has grown since this letter was written. In 1850, Fayetteville was still developing and since then the population has blossomed from approximately 5,000 to over 200,000 people according to the 2010 census. (TCOF)

[5] The Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) is located in Princeton, New Jersey, and is the largest of ten seminaries associated with the Presbyterian Church. It was founded in 1812 by Reverend Dr. Archibald Alexander and is the second-oldest seminary in the United States. The educational intention was to go beyond the liberal arts course by setting up a postgraduate, professional school in theology. (PTS)

[6] Several Presbyterian ministers founded the Columbia Theological Seminary in 1828 in Lexington, Georgia. The seminary was moved to Colombia, South Carolina in 1830, and that is why Rockwell references it as being in Colombia, S.C. Currently, it is located in suburban Atlanta, Georgia. (CTS)

[7] Rev. Samuel Williamson was elected as the professor of Chemistry in 1849 and was also serving as the college’s President during this time. In the fall of 1849, a convention was held to elect a new Professor of Chemistry in which Rockwell was elected. During this convention, Rockwell was also elected professor of Geology and Natural Science. (DCB 1849, p. 4)

[8] The professor at Davidson and their teaching field in 1850 are listed as followed: Rev. Samuel Williamson, D.D.—President, and professor of Mental and Moral Philosophy and Rhetoric, Rev. Samuel B. O. Wilson, A.M—Professor of Languages, Mortimer D. Johnson, A.M—Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, and Rev. E. F. Rockwell, A.M—Professor of Chemistry and Natural Science. (DCB 1851, p. 4)

[9] $35,000 in funds in 1850 would obviously be worth a lot more in the 2014 economy. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis it would be worth $982,100 in 2014. Along with the funds there were a few buildings that is showed in the picture below, and also an apparatus, which is a collection of instruments, machines, and tools, which was used for lab equipment. (Fed. Reserve)

Buildings at Davidson in 1850 (9-1248)
Buildings at Davidson in 1850 (9-1248)

[10] Three textbooks used by the school in 1850 as listed by the Davidson College Catalogue. (DCC p. 10)

[11] During the time Rockwell wrote this letter there were many members of the Board of Trustees for Davidson College. Rev. Walter S. Pharr was the current President, William S. Harris was serving as the Secretary of the Board, and Robert I. McDowell was the Treasurer of the College. Additionally, the college’s constitution gave the trustees the power to approve textbooks, so Rockwell would have had to make deliberate with them before obtaining said textbooks. (Lingle 6-18)

[12] Denison Olmsted was a teacher and physical scientist who wrote several widely used and profitable textbooks. In November of 1817 Olmsted joined the faculty of The University of North Carolina as professor of chemistry. Unfortunately, he was poorly prepared to teach chemistry and received leave for a year’s private study with Benjamin Silliman at Yale. In 1835 he later became professor of natural history and astronomy at Yale, and occupied this position for 25 years. (DONC)

[13] Presumably, Mr. Hamrick was an acquaintance of Mr. Olmsted and Professor Benjamin Silliman because he is mentioned having a copy of the catalogue for Yale. There is no written documentations in catalogues or online of who he is and his importance, but it is important to note him because he has the catalogue that Rockwell wants.

[14] The Phi Beta Kappa Society is the nation’s oldest and most widely known academic Honor Society. This society was founded during the American Revolution in 1776 by five students at the College of William and Mary, and embraces principles of freedom of inquiry and liberty of thought. The ideal Phi Beta Kappa demonstrates intellectual integrity, tolerance for other views, and a broad range of academic interests. Only about 10 percent of the nation’s institutions of higher learning have Phi Beta Kappa chapters, Davidson and Yale being two of those, but Davidson’s chapter was not established until 1923. (The Nation’s Oldest)

Davidson College's Phi Beta Kappa Certificate
Davidson College’s Phi Beta Kappa Certificate

[15] No. is an abbreviation for number, but in 1850 was also used to refer to an issue of a journal, and that is how Rockwell uses it. Here, Rockwell expresses his lack of knowledge about the price for the Journal of Science, and suggests that if he knew how much it cost, he would send Mr. Silliman the money. (Blodgett)

[16] Theodore Dwight Woolsey was an American educationalist, tutor, author, and president of Yale College from 1846-1871. At Yale, he taught history, political economy, political science, and international law before resigning as president in 1871. During his 25 years as president, Yale advanced in wealth and influence, and gained a lot of positive exposure. (Theodore)

President Woolsey of Yale 1846-1871 (Yale Archives)
President Woolsey of Yale 1846-1871 (Yale Archives)

[17] Dr. Elijah Frink Rockwell is a graduate of Yale, class of 1834 and a former student at Princeton and Colombia Seminary, where he studied Theology. Rockwell taught Chemistry, Geology, Latin, and Modern History at Davidson College from 1850 to 1868. He was also a Presbyterian minister, married to Margarette K. McNeill, and served as principal of the Statesville Female Seminary, and pastor of Fifth Creek, Bethany, and Tabor Churches. (Rockwell)

Works cited
Jump to top

Blodgett, Jan. Personal Interview, 2 May. 2014.

“Davidson College Bulletin.” Davidson College Digital Repository. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. [1849].

“Davidson College Bulletin.” Davidson College Digital Repository. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. [1851].

Davidson College Catalog, 1851. Davidson: Davidson College Office of Communications, 10. [1851].

Dictionary of North Carolina Biography. “Denison Olmsted, 18 June 1791-13 May 1859.” Denison Olmsted, 18 June 1791-13 May 1859. Ed. William S. Powell. The University of North Carolina Press, 30 Apr. 2014. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://docsouth.unc.edu/browse/bios/pn0001301_bio.html>.

Lingle, Thomas Wilson. Davidson College Alumni Catalog, 1837-1924. Charlotte, N. C., The Presbyterian Standard Pub. Co., 1924.

Narendra, Barbara L. “Benjamin Silliman | Archives : Collections : Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History.” Benjamin Silliman | Archives : Collections : Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History. N.p., 1979. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://peabody.yale.edu/collections/archives/biography/benjamin-silliman.>

Photograph of Buildings at Davidson, 1850. Davidson College History. RG 9-1248. Davidson College Archives.

Photograph of Phi Beta Kappa Certificate, 1922. Phi Beta Kappa Records. RG 6/14.5. Davidson College Archives

Photograph of President Theodore Dwight Woolsey, 1846-1847. Faculty Records. Yale University Archives.

Photograph of Professor Benjamin Silliman, 1850. Faculty Records. Yale University Archives.

“Princeton Theological Seminary.” Princeton Theological Seminary. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://www.ptsem.edu/>.

“Rockwell, E. F. (Elijah Frink), 1809-1888.” The Social Networks and Archival Context Project. University of Virginia, n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014.<http://socialarchive.iath.virginia.edu:8888/xtf/view?docId=ark:/99166/w60s0p3c>

Statistics and Class Events, 1850-1851. “Davidson Archives.” Web. 5 May. 2014. <https://davidsonarchivesandspecialcollections.org/archives/databases/colhist>

“Theodore Dwight Woolsey: Encyclopedia.” Theodore Dwight Woolsey – Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://www.theodora.com/encyclopedia/w/theodore_dwight_woolsey.html>.

“The City of Fayetteville, NC – Official Website.” The City of Fayetteville, NC – Official Website. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://www.cityoffayetteville.org/>.

The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. “Consumer Price Index (Estimate) 1800-2008 | The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis.” Consumer Price Index (Estimate) 1800-2008 | The Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://www.minneapolisfed.org/community_education/teacher/calc/hist1800.cfm>.

“The Nation’s Oldest and Most Widely Known Academic Honor Society.” Phi Beta Kappa Society. N.p., n.d. Web. 29 Apr. 2014. <http://www.pbk.org/infoview/PBK_InfoView.aspx?t=&id=8>.

“Town History Timeline.” The Town of Davidson North Carolina Website. Web. 3 May. 2014. <http://www.ci.davidson.nc.us/index.aspx?nid=129>

Waskey, A. J. L. “Columbia Theological Seminary.” New Georgia Encyclopedia. N.p., n.d. Web. 30 Apr. 2014. <http://www.georgiaencyclopedia.org/articles/arts-culture/columbia-theological-seminary>.

Transcription and annotation author: Ryan Leak.
Date: May 2014.
Cite as: Leak, Ryan, annotator. 25 November 1850 Elijah Frink Rockwell Letter to Benjamin Silliman. DC0152.
Available: https://davidsonarchivesandspecialcollections.org/archives/digital-collections/e-f-rockwell-letter-25-nov-1850.

Sorry, comments are closed for this post.