The Education of Samuel Phillips, Jr. Founder of Phillips Academy
By Frederick S. Allis, Jr.*
THIS paper on the education of Samuel Phillips, Jr. has been written to honor the memory of our Society’s late president, Clifford K. Shipton. Ted Shipton was a personification of the qualities and principles that the Colonial Society of Massachusetts stands for. No member set for himself a higher standard of scholarly excellence; no member worked more indefatigably to produce work that illuminated our colonial past. I wish to pay tribute, also, to his kindliness, to his willingness to spend time and energy helping others with their work. Certainly this Society’s collective memory of him must be one of our proudest possessions.
Ted Shipton set such a fast pace in the study of colonial history that few could keep up with him, and I can make no claim to being in his class. Yet whatever judgment is made on the substance of this paper, it is, I believe, an appropriate subject to be included in a volume in honor of Ted. In the first place, Sam Phillips was a graduate of Harvard in the Class of 1771, and thus a sketch of him is included in Volume XVII of Sibley’s Harvard Graduates that Ted had just completed at the time of his death and that was published in 1975. A substantial number of the people who influenced Sam in the course of his education were Harvard men about whom Ted had already written, and thus the footnotes to this paper literally bristle with references to various volumes of Sibley. In view of Ted’s devotion to this Society, it is appropriate, also, that the work of others of our members—particularly Samuel Eliot Morison, Bernard Bailyn, Philip J. Greven, Jr., and Sheldon S. Cohen—should make important contributions to this account. In short, this paper—in its present form, at least—could not have been written without Ted Shipton and the Colonial Society of Massachusetts.
In dealing with colonial educational history, one must think of education “not only as formal pedagogy but as the entire process by which a culture transmits itself across generations.”1 This advice from the pen of our fellow member Bernard Bailyn I shall attempt to follow in presenting a case history in the education of an upper-class New Englander of the Revolutionary era. Samuel Phillips, Jr. spent three years at Dummer School and four at Harvard College; he thus had as good a formal education as Massachusetts had to offer in those days. Yet if one were to assume that the most important influences on him were his experiences at these two institutions of learning he would be greatly mistaken. One must consider as well the combined agencies of family, church, and town if he is to understand what kind of young man it was who graduated at Cambridge in 1771. Let us look first at the town in which he was born on 5 February 1752.
Andover, Massachusetts, founded in 1646, by the time of Samuel Phillips’s birth had had little to distinguish it from other New England agricultural communities. Traditional historians of the town have pointed with pride to Anne Bradstreet, the finest poetic talent that New England Puritanism produced, even though she certainly did not learn to write verse in Andover. They have dutifully recounted the troubles that the early inhabitants had with the Indians and have selected for particular attention Jonathan Frye, chaplain to John Lovewell’s troops, who was killed in “Lovewell’s Fight,” thereby prompting his sweetheart, Susannah Rogers, to pen a long elegy to his memory. The town had an unattractive claim to fame for its part in the Salem witchcraft hysteria, when paranoia seized part of the community and led to the hanging of two alleged witches, Martha Carrier and Mary Parker, and one alleged warlock, Samuel Wardwell. But, generally, from the point of view of the elitist historian, there was little remarkable about the community.2
Despite its relatively undramatic history, the town of Andover, at the time that Samuel Phillips was born, was undergoing profound changes beneath the surface, particularly with respect to family structure. As our fellow member Philip J. Greven, Jr. has pointed out, the old patriarchal family structure that had produced a society of “stability and health” until well into the eighteenth century was breaking down. Children married at a younger age, increased mobility led many to settle in other towns, and those young men who stayed on got title to land at an earlier age. All of these changes represented a threat to the authority of the patriarchs who had dominated Andover social life for three generations. Challenge to authority in one area may very well spill over into challenges to authority in others. As Greven suggests, the decline of the patriarchal family unit may well have precipitated a questioning of the authority of the church and later of royal authority over the colonies. Samuel Phillips, Jr. was born into a community where the basic educational institutions that had served the town so well in the past to transmit culture across generations were undergoing profound change.3
How much influence the changes in his native town had on young Sam is impossible to say with precision. Certainly they could not have been apparent within his own family. Since Sam was the only one of his parents’ seven children to reach maturity,4 it was hard for his father, Squire Phillips, to be a patriarch in the technical sense of the term, but his attitude was certainly patriarchal. If the familial changes occurring in Andover had an influence on Sam, it would have come from hearing his father express alarm at the breakdown of the old social patterns. Though, during Sam’s early years, the town of Andover had a grammar school and various “outskirt” schools, there is no evidence that he attended any of them.5 He is described as having “a frail constitution, which seemed unsuited to physical hardship,” as “an only child . . . growing up in comparative solitariness—his companions not only in the main his elders, but his revered parents, who were now approaching the meredian of life.”6 In short, though he may have learned something about his native town from his father and mother, the presumption is that he had little contact with community affairs.
The two most important influences on the young Samuel Phillips, Jr. were his family and the church. Since the two are so inextricably intertwined as to make it impossible to separate them, I shall treat them together. On both sides of his family, young Sam came from a line of orthodox, Calvinist clergymen. His paternal grandfather was minister of the Andover South Parish during most of his youth; his father, though technically a businessman, was a minister in all but name. His maternal great-uncle, the Reverend John Barnard,7 was minister of the Andover North Parish until Sam was five years old. And behind these more immediate relatives stretched a long procession of Puritan divines. It was not by accident that Sam received as a boy a stern course in Calvinist beliefs and practices, and that the lessons he learned as a youth should have remained with him for the rest of his life.
When it came to naming their eldest male offspring, the Phillipses got into a rut right at the start. The first Phillips, George,8 named his eldest son Samuel, and there then followed five generations of Samuels to the discomfiture of later historians. The first member of the family to influence young Sam was his grandfather, the South Parish minister, whom I shall refer to as the Parson. The son of a Salem goldsmith and the grandson of the minister of Rowley,9 the Parson was educated at Harvard as a scholarship student, whence he graduated in 1708.1 Apparently he was a very serious young man, for he complained that other students, presumably the rowdy element, disturbed his meditations. After the usual short stint at teaching school, the Parson studied theology, and when the South Parish in Andover separated from the North Parish, he was called to be the former’s first minister, a position he was to hold for close to sixty years. From the start the Parson proved a shrewd businessman, and, as a result of careful investment of his own and his wife’s inheritance, it was not long before he was able to adopt a life-style well above that of the average Puritan clergyman. Like many prosperous people of that time, for example, he owned slaves. The Parson never let his relative affluence stand in the way of collecting the full salary due him from the church. Sometimes from the pulpit, sometimes in writing, he chided his congregation for not living up to their agreements for his support, and he became particularly cross when his parishioners failed to supply him with wood.2 He was thrifty and economical in all that he did and is reported to have blown out the candle while engaged in family prayers, so as to save tallow.
As time passed, the Parson became more and more of a power in the community. A story is told of a passing traveler who asked him, “Are you, sir, the parson who serves here?” to which the Parson replied, “I am, sir, the parson who rules here.”3 Throughout his life he preached the strictest form of Calvinism, and woe to the church member who strayed from the path. Church records indicate that the most common sins of the congregation were fornication and drunkenness, and he was never slow to discipline sinners.4 He was particularly concerned about overindulgence in liquor at funerals. Another practice he deplored was “Swapping Horses, or other Creatures.” Admittedly an honest trade in animals could occasionally be condoned, “but for any one to make a Trade and Business of it, and spend their Time riding about, and visiting Taverns, on Purpose to tempt People to trade, and traffic with them, designing all the while, to over-reach them in the Bargain, and rather than fail, to speak falsely in the Matter, carries in it a very heinous Transgression.” He was determined that good order should prevail during church services. After the earthquake of 1755, he rebuked his congregation for “sleeping away a great part of sermon-time,” but expressed the hope that since the “Glorious Lord of the Sabbath” had “given them such a shaking of late,” they would reform.5 On another occasion he obtained a warrant for the arrest of a youth who, during church services, “sported and played, and by indecent Gestures and Wry faces, caused laughter and misbehavior in the Beholders, and thereby greatly disturbed the Congregation.” Perhaps one reason for the sleep and horseplay during his sermons was that they were inordinately long. He used to turn the hourglass over at the start, and often was still going strong when all the sands had run out.
And so, for close to sixty years, the Parson labored for what he conceived to be the welfare of his flock. It was his proud boast that there were no unbaptized people in his parish. He never deviated from the strict Calvinism of his youth; George Whitefield and the Great Awakening were anathema to him. He dutifully made regular parish calls on all his parishioners, riding on horseback with his wife on a pillion behind him. Some idea of the awe in which he was held by the South Parish can be seen in his almost ceremonial walk to church each Sunday. He headed the family procession, with his Negro slave on his right hand, together with Madame Phillips, with her Negro slave on her left hand. Then followed the five children, arranged according to age. When the Phillipses arrived inside the church, the entire congregation stood until their pastor had mounted the pulpit and seated himself. When he died in 1771, after a lifetime of almost perfect health, one eulogist said of him, “He was a Saint While he Lived and Dyed a Saint.” Perhaps—it all depends on one’s definition of a saint. But there can be no argument about the statement from the same eulogist that “the graces of the holy Spirit in him Were very eminent and distinguishing.” Though Sam and his parents went to church in the North Parish, the impact of such a powerful personality as his grandfather on him must have been substantial nonetheless.6
The second Samuel who was important in Sam’s education was the Parson’s eldest, Sam’s father, whom I shall refer to as the Squire.7 Born in 1715 and raised in the South Parish, the Squire, like his great-grandfather and father before him, was sent to Harvard as a scholarship student. Armed with the Hebrew Bible that every preceding Phillips had used at Harvard, he finally won one of the prestigious Hollis scholarships and graduated in 1734. After teaching school for awhile, he returned to Harvard for an M.A., which he got in 1737, and seemed destined for the ministry. For some reason he decided to go into trade and in 1738 opened a store in the Andover North Parish. That same year he married Elizabeth Barnard, niece of the Reverend John Barnard, the North Parish minister. Elizabeth is described as a “lady of rare vertues,” one of the most attractive of which was her large inheritance. In the early 1750’s the couple built a handsome mansion, still standing in what is now North Andover, but this did not change the Squire’s life-style a whit. He continued operating his store in his new house, just as he had in the old one.8 There are almost no records of the Squire’s business activities among the Phillips Papers, but he must have done well, for he was soon one of the wealthiest men in Andover.
Throughout his life the Squire believed that a man of his position had a duty to serve the public, and his first opportunity to do so came in 1752, when he was appointed a justice of the peace for Essex County. In this position he handled several cases of misbehavior that his father sent up to him and generally tried to keep his part of Essex County in line. For example, he issued a warrant against Phineas Parker of Andover “for having been a loiterer, misspending his time, not using any ordinary and daily lawful trade or business to get a living as the law directs, moreover by unlawfully travelling on the Lord’s Day, he hath conducted himself contrary to the peace of our sovereign lord the king.” Though there is no record of what happened to this eighteenth-century hobo, the presumption is that he was jailed.9 Another case involved a complaint by Nathaniel Perley of Boxford against a Negro girl Flora, who, he said, had been publishing “Lies and False Reports” about him. Flora’s reports were “that he pull’d her coat up, that he had to do with her . . . by the old Shop and that he had to do with her behind the Shop under an apple Tree, and that he had to do with her . . . in the Barn, meaning . . . that the Complainant committed the crime of Fornication with the said Flora at the severall Places aforesaid, and at divers times.” The Squire had Flora brought before him. She readily admitted to speaking the words charged but justified them “because she says they are true.” Apparently this ended the matter. One can well imagine how the Squire would have abominated the whole episode.1
The Squire took his social position seriously and wanted it recognized. When his son Sam went to Harvard, he was ranked, as were all undergraduates, according to the social status of his father. The Squire did not believe that his son had been ranked high enough and protested to the president and tutors. He was, he claimed, the senior justice of the peace and quorum among the parents, and yet John Murray, whose father was less senior, had been placed ahead of Sam. The Harvard trustees agreed with the Squire, and the boy was placed ahead of Murray. One beneficial result of this flap was that the Harvard authorities decided to abandon entirely the practice of social ranking shortly after this.2
One can get further insight into the character of Squire Phillips from the letters that he wrote his son while the latter was at Harvard. These epistles are almost invariably moralistic, and if young Sam had followed all his father’s instructions to the letter, he would have become the worst kind of prig. During his son’s freshman year the Squire wrote, “Beware of Bold Company. . . . Petition for such a Chamber and Chum as will be most advantageous for your studies next year. . . . Spread up your Bead as soon as you are up. Two Mornings I found it very much like a pig’s nest. Find some place for your Tea Kettle out of sight.”3 A year later he wrote, “Labour to maintain your good Character at College; Treat all Superiors with due respect; Shun all bad company; Be Intimate with very few. . . . Keep good hours, go to Bed in good Season and rise Early, you will find it much better, than setting up late, on all Accounts.” The Squire was much disturbed when his son announced his intention of attending a dancing school. “I very much fear it will prove a Snare to you at College and am sure it will be no way for your Credit or Advantage when you leave College,” he wrote.4 On another occasion he saw dancing school as “a great Temptation to Attend Balls and Assemblies, to lead you into Company and to be abroad at unseasonable hours, all which I do detest and Abhor, as having the greatest tendency to Corrupt the Morals of young people.”5 In an undated letter he urged, “Don’t go to Boston and Beware of all that come from Boston.”6 Finally, he counseled his son to avoid “Broad Laughs”—presumably the eighteenth-century equivalent of the “belly laugh.” They have a disagreeable sound, he thought.7
Sam’s father, the Squire, then, was really a minister manqué. Throughout his life he was an exemplar of the most rigid kind of Calvinism. His father the Parson was certainly a moral martinet when it came to disciplining his flock. The son was, if anything, even more stern and severe. As one writer had put it, “Perhaps he had the temperament which, by hating vice too much, loves men too little.”8 Whether he was serving as town moderator, as magistrate, as representative to the General Court, as deacon of the church, as businessman, or as parent, he was a hard man, conservative, uncompromising, respected but unloved. Perhaps some of his sternness can be attributed to the fact that of his seven children only Sam lived to real maturity. It would be easy to see the hand of a punitive God in their fate. But, for whatever reason, here was a man who set his face sternly against wickedness and had little real humanity in him.
History is full of instances where the influence of stern fathers on children has been ameliorated by the tenderness of gentle mothers, and this may have been true to a certain extent in the case of Sam Phillips. Yet his mother, Elizabeth Barnard, did not need to yield to anyone in her dedication to strict Calvinist principles, and she could count among her forbears and contemporaries the same kind of conservative Puritan divines as could her husband the Squire. Her grandfather, the Reverend Thomas Barnard, was Andover’s minister at the turn of the seventeenth century, while his son John, her uncle, was his successor in the North Parish. Two of her cousins were clergymen, while a third married one.9 Though the Barnards were not as stern and awe-inspiring as the Phillipses, they were solidly orthodox, and it could not be expected that Elizabeth would challenge her husband when it came to choosing the right road to salvation. Sam’s biographer speaks of him as inheriting from his mother “the fire which glowed in all these [his] virtues.”1 Perhaps. Certainly the letters that she wrote him while he was at Dummer School and Harvard are warm and full of concern for her son’s material and spiritual welfare. Crudely written and full of misspellings, these epistles are half motherly injunctions on practical matters, half moral lectures. In one letter she urges her son to be careful of his clothes. “Dont wear them in the weat; if you weat your linen it will take of the Gloss.”2 In another she promises to send him a spread—there are no chickens to roast, but she may send a quarter of lamb, some cake and cheese, and some “Syder.”3 At Harvard there was the usual problem of student laundry. Elizabeth was after Sam to send back his “Dirte Linen—hope you will change your Linnen Twice a week and won clean Towel evere weak—you must not Goo so Dirte.”4 Yet her son’s religious development was most important to her. “Remember the one thing needful and that is an Intrest in Christ; we are told to seek and we shall find—that’s a promis—But then—then we are not to seek in a cool, lasy, Formal manner—But with our hole hearts.”5 And again, “Leet him that stands take heed leest hee fall. Dont stand in your own strength. You know whear to go for Direction and Strength in evry time and kneed—oh—Be allways found in the way of your Duty—if your with God hee will be with you—But if you forsake him hee will forsake you. Search the Scriptures Dayly for in them ye have Eternal Life—without Knowleg the heart cannot be good. Dont mistake me, I did not say knowleg made the heart good. No, knowleg is won thing and Grace is another. Above all labour for saving Grace.”6 Though his father might address him with sternness, the mother with warmth, the aims of the two were identical—the salvation of their son’s soul.
If the aim of parents is to reproduce in their offspring likenesses of themselves, the Squire and his wife were supremely successful with young Sam. Throughout his life he never departed from the strict orthodox Calvinism in which he had been nurtured. From the example of his father he accepted as axiomatic the duty of public service. And throughout his career he labored unremittingly to conserve those qualities that he had learned from his parents and that he was later to insist constituted “the great end and real business of living.”7
In the summer of 1764 Sam was sent to Dummer School in neighboring South Byfield, presumably because it promised to be superior to the local grammar school. It had been founded a year earlier and was then under the forceful and eccentric leadership of Samuel Moody.8 This extraordinary pedagogue, after graduating from Harvard and trying unsuccessfully to establish himself as a clergyman, had been called to Dummer to serve as its first master and soon had an institution going that was very different from the grammar schools of the day. An enthusiastic classicist, he spent little time teaching mathematics or science, but provision was made for the study of French and, over the violent protests of local blue-noses, dancing. The master’s costume was bizarre enough: he wore a long green flannel gown and a tasseled smoking cap. He thought that enforced silence during study hours was nonsense and permitted his charges to read their lessons aloud, talk with each other, and wander around the room during study hall. Unlike most pedagogues of his day, he believed in encouraging students to do their best rather than in terrorizing them, and he boasted that he had never used the rod during his entire career as a teacher.9 On warm days, when the tide was right, he used to take the entire school for a swim, the older boys in the Parker River, the younger ones in a shallow swimming hole nearby. Though the boys must have gone to the local church on Sundays, there is no evidence that Master Moody paid much attention to religion during the school week, and unlike many contemporary schoolmasters he had a genuine affection for his boys and could not bring himself to think of them as sinful. As a result of all this, his students worshipped him, and he made an enviable record during his early years.1
The evidence is clear that young Sam was happy at Dummer. In a letter to his parents he speaks of being “so hapily Attached to my very dear Master,”2 and later at Harvard his father wrote him to associate himself with Tutor Eliot and “you will find a Master Moody in him.”3 Other letters reveal a typical schoolboy concerned about his clothes, his trips home, and other material matters. Requests for such items as “black Breeches, Blue Coat Buttons, linen to mend my Pockets, Quils, some silk ferret to ty my Hair with,” and last but not least “money” appear regularly in Sam’s correspondence with his parents.4 “My father forbad my pricking any tunes in my singing Book. I should be exceeding glad if you would know whether I may not get some Tunes pricked in it,” he wrote on one occasion.5 Apparently the tunes got pricked, for Sam is soon urging his parents to visit school and hear some “very Superior Singing.”6 There are also among the Phillips Papers a few samples of the schoolboy’s work at Dummer—a sheet headed “Upon the sixth Conjugation of verbs in aire,” indicating, perhaps, that Sam was availing himself of Master Moody’s French program. There is also a writing book in which the boy had written, among other things, “Contentment is the most precious Jewel” and “Depart from Evil and do good” over and over again.
Just before graduation he wrote his parents a relatively long letter summarizing his experiences at Dummer and looking to the future:
Dummer’s Sons begin to feal the Approach of Commencement; ardenrly and impatiently to wait the wished for Time, and yet with fear to dread it, when we must pass the fiery Tryal, and be weighed in the Scails. I hope no part thereof is rusty, and that any of us will not be found despicably wanting. The very Thought striks my dastardly pusillanimous Soul with Fear. I labour under a great Disadvantage in this Respect. I can scarce perform one Period to my Master without a strange Palpitation. 13 Schollars to be offered from Dummer School for an Admittance into Harvard this Year, a Class in Numbers truly respectible. I count it an Honour to be of the Number. It is possible it will be a third Part, highly probable it will be a fourth Part of the Class at College. Should we keep a happy Harmony, Friendship and Correspondence we should be likely to have considerable influence. Mr. Moody says that our Glory will consist in our Union. Can any Master on the Continent boast of the like Number? I scarce think it. . . . I desire to be thankful that I have a pretty Good Standing with the School in general, but my Temper will not allow of my Pleasing every body. I hope I shall ever be thankful that it was my Fortune to fall under the Tutelage of such a worthy Gentleman. He has almost every Thing requisite to constitute the Schollar, and the Gentleman. . . . He has one very valuable Quality in particular, in which I believe scarce any body exceeds him, (viz) in telling People their Failings and Faults, without incurring their Displeasure. . . . Here he has not been wanting in his School in general. . . . Of this he has dispensed to me liberally, tho’h not profusely; he has been extreamly kind uppon every Occasion; he scarce ever denyed me a Request, I believe never a reasonable one; he has treated me with all the Tenderness possible; his Rule is to treat every Body well. The Needy are Witnesses to his very great Generosity. I have great Reason to be thankfull for his Friendly Caveats and kind Admonitions, but I am . . . dispairing of ever recompensing him, except by Behaving in the best Manner I am able. Nor has he been my only Friend, but I have ben treated very kindly by Family, Schollars, and Neighbours, but about three Weeks more concludes my Enjoyment of these Valuable Friends. . . . The Maids have been very kind and officious to me in particular. It has ben the Custom to make them a small Preasant; they need it enough. If you please should be glad I might not break the Custom; they may be gone after the Vacancy. . . .
And he closed, characteristically, by giving precise specifications for a pair of “Leather Breaches” he was anxious to buy.7
This letter is certainly a typical schoolboy missive—the examination jitters, pride in the school’s record, affection for his teacher, especially with his school days all but over, concern about clothes. All things considered, young Sam could not have had a better preparation for college than he got from Master Moody.
Harvard College, when young Sam Phillips entered it in the late summer of 1767, was approaching the end of an era. President Edward Holyoke, who had assumed office in 1737, had two more years to go before his death. During his administration Harvard had prospered. The curriculum had been overhauled, teaching strengthened, and the plant improved. When Sam arrived, he would have found two new buildings in the yard—Hollis Hall, in which he would live, and a new Harvard Hall, replacing the one that had burned down in 1764. Moreover, the college was crowded; in 1761 ninety students had been forced to board in the town of Cambridge, and Sam’s own class of 1771 numbered sixty-three—the largest to date in the history of the college. If Sam followed the normal procedure, his admission to college would have been determined by an examination in Greek and Latin and testimony to his having a “good moral character.” When President Holyoke died in 1769, he was succeeded by Samuel Locke, who would head the college for the rest of Sam’s stay in Cambridge, and who was forced to resign after three years on the job because he had impregnated his maidservant.
Undergraduate life was anything but puritanical. A loyalist lady wrote of Harvard, “Here is a Colledge indeed, but the Independency and Liberty with which Youths are brought up, and indulged, makes too many of ’em proficients in Vice.” In 1759 the Overseers had repealed a law forbidding the drinking of punch, and from then on undergraduate behavior, perhaps encouraged by the political fracases of the day, began to degenerate, reaching a new low during the presidency of the unfortunate Samuel Locke. Classes and chapel were cut with impunity, parties in Boston were popular, and the undergraduates became more and more insubordinate. To control all this the college had instituted a series of punishments, mostly fines ranging from two pence for tardiness to twenty shillings for breaking open doors and picking locks. Blasphemy, fornication, robbery, forgery, or “Any other very atrocious crime” was punished by expulsion. And expulsion was not just a matter of packing one’s bags and leaving. The culprit was drummed out of the institution before all his classmates. The food was bad and constantly complained of, with the climax coming in the great butter riot of 1764, precipitated by the serving of rancid butter. Despite the relaxing of standards of behavior, academic excellence was still prized, and the long list of distinguished Harvard graduates who were there in Sam’s time indicated that one could still get a good education in Cambridge.8
While Sam was at college, he kept a journal intermittently, fragments of which are preserved in the Phillips Papers. The outstanding characteristic of this journal is the amount of space devoted to self-flagellation for presumed faults, morbid discussion of failings, and apprehension for the future if sinful behavior is not corrected. “I am very much inclined to a State of Indolence and Sloth,” he wrote, “I am almost continually guilty of shamefull Neglect.” When alarmed by a severe thunderstorm, he wrote, “. . . may it be my constant care to be in Readiness, so that my last change may not. . . prove awfull as it is to those who have not made their peace with God.”9 On another occasion he reviled himself for sleeping in church during the sermon.1 He was constantly thinking of death and judgment; when he heard his grandfather was sick, he wrote, “May I make it my Business to be preparing for the Agonies of dissolving Nature.”2 On New Year’s Eve 1768, he reviewed the year just past and found little pleasing in it: “My Sins are very great, for I have often sayd I will forsake my sinful Ways, but my Fruit has not Witness’d a Reformation. Oh that the Almighty would inspire me with Zeal in this World which if neglected must occasion endless Horror.” He was still at it on the last extant page of his journal, written on 8 September 1770, where he comments again on his failure to reform: “. . . yet I immediately return’d as a Dog to his Vomit, and as a Sow that has returned to her Wallowing in the Mire.”
To judge by his journal one would suppose that young Sam did almost nothing at Harvard for four years except worry about his soul. But this is by no means the case. In March 1768, for example, he wrote his parents an angry letter about his divinity professor, Edward Wigglesworth, who was relatively young and inexperienced and seemed to Sam completely unqualified for his position.3 According to Sam “. . . A Large Number here are very uneasy about our Divinity Professor. His Lectures are generally attended with a very indecent Noise of the Feet which yesterday . . . he took Occasion to denounce. He told them that if any would bring their Names to him and a Note from their Fathers that they did not desire they should be instructed in the Branch of Theology . . . he would lay it before the Overseers and try to get us excused.” This, according to Sam, would be the equivalent of making the students “Publickly proclaimed ATHEISTS.” Nor could they get together and draw up a petition, for the college authorities had made them all promise that they would never enter into any “Combinations.” As a result “Should they inflict upon us the tormenting Punishments and like the Tyrants of Old order us to be torn in Pieces for their Amusement, we may not as a Body bring it to the Case in Hand; should the most despicable Person in the World be plac’d in the most Important Station (as this truly is) we must remain in Silence, without the least murmur, submit our Necks to the Yoke, rather than seek for Redress or else violate their Commands and our own most Solemn Engagements.”4 Despite Sam’s outrage, this contretemps blew over without further trouble, and Wigglesworth went on to have a distinguished career at Harvard.
Yet the undergraduate attacks on their divinity professor were just a curtain raiser to the more serious disturbances that occurred a few weeks later and are known in the Harvard Records as “The Disorders of 1768.” Since our fellow member Sheldon S. Cohen has presented an admirable account of these “Disorders” in his essay “Harvard College on the Eve of the American Revolution,” a paper included in this volume,5 I shall not treat the subject in detail. The trouble arose when the tutors, in an effort to tighten up classroom discipline, decreed that no student could offer an excuse for not reciting, unless he got his instructor’s permission before class. This decree was met with defiance and violence by the undergraduates and, before the affair was over, some undergraduates had threatened to transfer to Yale, two tutors had their windows broken, the deputy sheriff of Middlesex County had to be called in, and four ringleaders were fired. Sam Phillips played a minor role in this fracas, primarily because his friend Stephen Peabody of Andover was one of the ringleaders who got expelled. Sam was one of fifty-five students examined by the president and faculty in an effort to get at the truth. He readily named the ringleaders and reported that Peabody had threatened to bring down a mob from Andover to intimidate the college officials. Other students reported that it was Sam’s idea to have a class meeting to organize resistance and that when he heard about the tutors’ windows being broken, he said he was glad “’on’t.”6 Eventually the overseers rescinded the administration’s decision to expel the ringleaders, much to President Holyoke’s rage, and the trouble died down. As might have been expected, Sam’s father, the Squire, took a dim view of the whole business. He wrote Sam a stern letter ordering him to avoid combinations and under no circumstances to combat properly constituted authority.7
Sam recorded in his journal, but did not participate in, some new disorders later in the year. “On Wednesday night,” he wrote, “Mr. Wigglesworth’s and Mr. Scale’s Effigies were hung on the Tree in Hollis Square with their Dying Speaches on their Breasts, and a Copy of each was posted on the Tree in Harvard Square. The Form of a Heart was taken out of his [the Governor’s] picture in the Hall, in the Night. The Widow Wyth’s Fowls were stolen, 6 Sheep killed, which must have been done by some inconsiderate Person, an Enemy to the Peace of Society. We have received good Treatment from the Governor since Commencement and we cant expect better for this.”8 Sam the Sophomore is more law-abiding than Sam the Freshman.
Sheldon Cohen, in summarizing undergraduate attitudes at Harvard during this period, speaks of them as “mainly apolitical.”9 This is certainly true in the case of Sam Phillips. Earlier writers would have us believe that once the trouble with Britain began, Sam became an instant patriot and threw himself wholeheartedly into the American cause.1 His journal and letters do not bear this out. He does record a few of the political events of the period in his journal, but he invariably returns at once to the problem of his soul. On 18 June 1768, he writes, “. . . from the State of National Affairs we have reason to fear a Revolution, and justly may we expect it for we have sinn’d with a very high Hand.” His account of the arrival of British troops that same year is a purely factual one, written without personal comment.2 He records the vote of the Harvard undergraduates not to use “Tea of foreign Production” and adds, “. . . there were some in each Class that dissented, and were very resolute; tho’ it appears to me without any Reason. They did not act the part of Gentlemen. By all these things we see what human Nature is. Is it not the working of Pride?”3 In another entry he writes, “Last Monday Evening was observ’d here as the Anniversary of the Repeal of the Stamp Act, but the Fatigue I experienc’d therefore is Folly. I have misspent a vast deal of precious Time.”4 The best example of Sam’s attitude toward political events is his account of the Boston Massacre: “Monday there were four mortally wounded at Boston by the Soldiers, several others very bad if not more dangerous. On Thursday they were buried in the presence of a large Number of People. Let this among others prove a Warning to me. Can I recollect that this Day Week they made as much Dependence on Life and with as good reason [as] I did?”5 When the time came for Sam to serve the Revolutionary cause, he dedicated himself to it without reservation, but during his college years, like other Harvard undergraduates, he was not aroused by the political issues of the day.6
Other, less serious aspects of Sam’s life at Harvard, as revealed in his letters and journal, include getting seasick on his first sailing expedition,7 singing at Thanksgiving services in chapel “with Applause,”8 and attending a memorable dinner with Colonel William Brattle. Sam describes this last occasion as follows:
Last Sabbath Morning in common Time Colonel Brattle came up to College and went into the Kitchen among the Negroes, and there took his Seat. His Habit, which may be better concieved than describ’d I will give a short Description of. He had on a very remarkable Cap, such as I never saw before and I do not think there is such another, an Old Rusty, dirty, greasy, Red, Hatsthick Coat bound on with an old Belt, a Pair of miserable Shoes slip-shod. He invited Mr. Willard, one Master viz. Mr. Marvel [?], Mr. Hall Sr., my Chum, Saltonstall, Governor’s Son, and me to dine with him. We all waited upon him and were entertained with the following Dellicacies (Viz) 1st. an Indian Pudding, 2ndly an uncommon Soop consisting of Cabbage, turnips, Carrots, Biscakes, Meat etc. etc. etc. 3rd some cold meat, 4th Neat’s tongue, 5th Hog’s Harslet, 6th a Rost’d Goose, 7th 2 Rost’d Ducks, 8 th a Chicken Pye. We were tended by 3 Negroes, defended by 8 Swords with many other Instruments of War. Thus he.9
Little evidence remains of Sam’s progress as a student. The Harvard Faculty Records indicate that he was given a Hebrew grammar, excused from Commons twice, fined once for absence, and was the recipient of the Hopkins Gift, in his case Montesquieu’s Rise and Fall of the Roman Republic.1 Among the Phillips Papers is an undated essay entitled Obsequium Amicos, Veritas Odium parit. Despite the Latin title, the theme is in English and deals with the problems of correcting the mistakes of one’s friends. Sam’s biographer speaks of a “salutatory oration” in Latin that Sam apparently delivered on Commencement Day, but the document is no longer among his papers.2 In his senior year he led some of his classmates in the formation of what was called the “Speaking Club,” later known as the “American Institute of 1770,” and, later still, absorbed by the Hasty Pudding Club. Every two weeks the club met to hear one of its members declaim before his fellows, but there is no record of Sam’s speaking, for all his zeal to found the organization.3 It can hardly be said that Sam was a true leader at Harvard. But he was accepted and respected, and he could well be proud of his overall achievement.4
As commencement approached, a problem arose. The budding graduate wanted to invite a large group of friends, put them all up in Cambridge, entertain them properly, and have his father foot the bill. He was particularly anxious to invite the Foxcroft family, including Phoebe Foxcroft, who, although nine years his senior, was soon to become his wife. The old man seems to have been diffident about Sam’s proposal. As a result he wrote his father a long letter arguing his case: “. . . in any joyful event there seems to be great fitness in calling in our friends to rejoice with us,” he wrote. “. . . That this is a time to rejoice I think I may venture to say; for (thro’ the goodness of God) I don’t know how I could have made a more honorable egress, than I have a prospect of making, if we take into consideration the whole term of my residence. Many instances present themselves in Holy Writ, of eminent servants, who assembled their friends to partake with them in the happiness of any prosperity. . . . The cost, I know, will be great; but why is wealth given, but to be used in a lawful and proper way?” And he signed his letter, “Duty and love, sir, if you please.”5 Unfortunately, there is no record of whether or not Sam had the kind of commencement he wished. One hopes that the Squire loosened his purse strings and put on a fine show for the boy.
With his graduation from Harvard in 1771, Sam’s formal education ended. And, to a large extent, his informal education too. While some people continue to learn new things throughout their entire lives, Sam’s basic beliefs and attitudes, by the time he became adult, had hardened into a mold that would change but little during the remainder of his career. The greatest single influence in his upbringing—the religious training provided by his family and his church—remained his greatest concern in later years. The two contemporaries closest to him, his wife Phoebe and his friend Eliphalet Pearson, the first master of Phillips Academy, simply reinforced his early convictions. His voluminous correspondence with his wife for some thirty years, for example, is almost entirely devoted to religious matters.6
On the other hand there is evidence that Sam had serious reservations about his formal education once he had completed it. There is no record of his maintaining contact with either Dummer School or Samuel Moody in his later life, and when he came to found Phillips Academy, he did so with almost no reference to Dummer School.7 When he came to consider plans for his school, he began with a bitter attack on existing educational institutions:
. . . our general Plan of Educating Youth, is injudicious, is unnatural, is absurd. As soon as an infant is capable of muttering english he is then put into his Accidence. . . . In our own Language we have Beauties that will engage the Attention of an Infant. . . . But in the Latin they look back to something, that has been dead, these hundred Years and never will exist again and if there was not a fragment of it remaining it would not exclude us from Heaven. In it they study Months without one new Idea, and yet it has a great Tendency to make the little ignorant Scholar a pedant, if he can throw out one latin Word, tho he knows no more its significance than a Parrot. . . . Are Ovid and Horace and Virgil and Tully of such infinite Consequence? . . . Why the first two were infamous Debauchees . . . and as for the last, if he liv’d in these Days he must be call’d an adept at blackguarding. . . . All latin Authors of Note were Pagans, and wrote before the coming of our blessed Savior, and their Works all contain more or less of the foolish and stupid Religion of those Times. . .
College was no better:
. . . the greater part of the Youth that enter our College are unprincipled and immoral, and remain so until their very Subsistence obliges them to be otherwise. . . . They are neither capable of writing, reading, or speaking English; and in this miserable Condition many of them leave their Alma Mater. . . .
No wonder parents find the views of their children unreasonable when the children “are permitted to attempt navigating for themselves, when they are as St. Paul was, without Sun, Moon and Stars, without compass and pole Star; and this World is not less dangerous than the adriatic Gulph where paul was shipwreckt.”8
These bitter criticisms were, to be sure, considerably modified when he came to put his educational theories into practice. When he founded Phillips Academy, his friend Eliphalet Pearson talked him out of abandoning the classics. Despite his animadversions against Harvard, he later became a dedicated overseer, sent his son there, and accepted an honorary degree from the institution. Nonetheless, the school constitution that he drew up accurately reflects his concern to conserve those basic qualities of orthodox New England Calvinism that he had learned to respect as a youth and that he saw being challenged as a young man. When he speaks of the “prevalence of ignorance and vice, disorder and wickedness” in the New England of his day, when he confesses “a painful anxiety” for the future, when he bemoans “the present degeneracy which has increased upon us with such rapidity,”9 I believe that we should take him at his word. In founding his school he was simply attempting to preserve those precepts from his educational experience that had most firmly taken hold of his mind and of his spirit.1