1836: Dr. Robert G. Wilson to Rev. John Pitkin

Dr. Robert G. Wilson

This letter was written by Dr. Robert G. Wilson, the third President of Ohio University, and his wife Jane. They wrote the letter to Rev. John Pitkin (1794-1892), their son-in-law, who had married their daughter Eliza Wilson (1801-1864).

Native of North Carolina and educated at Dickinson College, Dr. Wilson (who had been a trustee since 1809) came to the presidency at Ohio University at age 56 from the pastorate of the Chillicothe Presbyterian Church and teaching in the Chillicothe Academy. Progress during his term was considerable, with a department of English studies being added to the curriculum to provide teachers for the common schools and to qualify men for business careers. In 1825 the first masters degree was awarded Thomas Ewing, the University’s first graduate. John Newton Templeton, was the first African-American graduated from the University in 1828, and the sixth in the nation. The University’s first riot occurred in 1835 over a pledge requiring students to report disorderly compatriots. A summer session was offered in 1836 which included 33 college students. East Wing and West Wing (Wilson and McGuffey Halls) were completed in 1837 and 1839. In 1838 a fence was erected well up on the green near the college buildings to keep out wandering pigs. That same year saw the beginning of a program of free admittance of one indigent student from each Ohio county and the continuation of a concentration in teacher training for public schools. Revenue was enhanced through sales of lands in fee simple by authority of the state legislature.

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Addressed to Rev. John Pitkin, Dresden, Muskingum County, Ohio

Athens [Ohio]
March 15, 1836

Dear Children,

We were glad to receive your letter, as we had not heard from you for a long time. I had often thought of writing and wished to do it, but could not find time. Never in my life have I been so closely and steadily engaged in business as during this winter. Our students are not very numerous, but we have the very same number of recitations on the college classes that we would have if their number was doubled or quadrupled – and but three instructors. Besides the college students, we have ten academicians and I am busy with them from sunrise through all the study hours of the day except about one hour. In addition to these, I attend three exercises ever Sabbath, all of which require preparation. It is desirable to have our time filled up with useful business; too much, however, is oppressive.

My health is god as usual. Your mother’s at this time is also good. About the first of December, she was attacked with a spitting of blood (evidently from the lungs) which continued ten days or two weeks. In that time, the quantity discharged might be about a quart. Since that time, her health has been as good as usual, and now there are no symptoms of injury from that attack. Thomas Brice has been for some time low and expected to die, but at this time is somewhat better, and may get up again.

Miss C. Anne Gilmore is married to Doctor McGonegal who is respectable as a man and as a physician. These are the principal changes which you will be interested in hearing. The people are elated with the hope of having a canal down the Hocking from Lancaster. This would enable you to visit us by water.

We are glad to hear that your church gives you some hopes of its rising. Here, during the winter, the attendance has been, I think, some better than formerly, from which circumstance I persuade myself that a deeper interest is felt in divine things. My last letter from Fanny was about the 10 of February. They were then well and very busy – both teaching, and Mc preaching every Sabbath. From Mary we have no late accounts except that we have heard verbally a few weeks since that they were well.

I must now beg to be excused as business presses me. Perhaps your mother may add something. With affection to all – Robert G. Wilson

Dear friends,

Rev. John Pitkin

Your Father having left a blank for me to fill up, I have taken his pen to add something but my eyesight has failed me so much that writing with me, I fear, will soon be over. The people here have given a call to Mr. Burton. It is the second or third time I believe. The last was induced by a letter written here to some of the Elders encouraging them to believe a call at this time would be accepted and speedily attended to what will be the result, will soon I suppose be determined.

Rebecca Pruden was married about a month ago to a gentleman in Baltimore, Ohio, where she went to keep a school. The Pruden family have dwindled down to almost nothing after the Old Lady acknowledged a belief in infidel principles. She sunk and her family pretty much with her since she has been severely afflicted with bodily disease. She was struck with a paralytic stroke from which she partially recovered but never expected to be able to walk without help and her mind is weak.

Yesterday, a stepson of your cousin, Polly W. Gilespie, was here. [He] has a notion of going to college. He told us friends generally were well.

William Dicky was married lately to a Miss Gormely – cousin to those we used to know in Chillicothe. It is said Mr. Fullerton has a call from the Circleville Church and is waiting the meeting of Presbytery to determine if he will or ought to go.

Our town remains pretty much as it was when you last visited us – few changes. Miss Gilmore is the only wedding we have had here a great while nor is there any more talked of or expected. The Ladies have a sewing circle. They meet every two weeks, spend the afternoon in working for charitable purposes. Methodists and Presbyterians are combined together to do as much good as they can. I feel myself superannuated and did not join them. I am often admonished by diminished strength and failure of bodily powers, of the shortness of that time that I may be continued here and the necessity of being in readiness for my departure. When my time comes, my prayer is that I may not like the foolish virgins be slumbering and sleeping when the bridegroom comes. It behooves us all to be on our watch tower. We know not what a day may bring forth. Perhaps before tomorrow’s setting sun we may be called to another world. The young as often as the old are called suddenly without perhaps a moment’s warning as was poor Eliza Jane. Tell Elizabeth and Robert and the other dear children to think of this and ask God to prepare them for their every change for life as long as they may be spared and for death when they are called to die.

I felt and still feel for Fanny. She has been exercised by many trials, but if she is a child of God as we all hope, the word of God affords his many consolations. He has promised to his children that as their day is, so shall their strength be – and that they shall want no good thing, that all things shall work together for good &c. &c. But I fear I shall weary you repeating what you already know.

Perhaps when the canal is completed between this & Lancaster, a mode of traveling may be afforded us that will justify us in thinking the children can travel with less inconvenience than now and will often visit us with their friends. If your niece continues with you, perhaps she may be induced to visit Athens.

With love to all, I subscribe myself your affectionate mother &c., — Jane Wilson


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