E. A. (Edward Austin) Sheldon.

Autobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon online

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municated the facts I had ascertained to my friend, Mr.
Ames and to another good friend, Douglass Smith, a fellow-
boarder, and suggested that something be done for the edu-
cation and care of these poor classes. They were in full
sympathy with me, and we resolved at once to communicate
the information I had gained to others and enlist their
co-operation. This resulted in the call for a meeting of a
few prominent, benevolent, active citizens to consider plans
of operation. The first meeting was held Tuesday, Octo-

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EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 75

her 31, 1848. The result was the organization, on Novem-
ber 28, of the "Orphan and Free School Association."

Extracts from a Letter to His Sister.

Oswego, Nov. 23, 1848.

A few Sabbaths after I came here, I visited a mission
Sabbath school recently started here. I was surprised to find
a large number of them, children eight and ten years old,
who could not read their A, B, Cl As I passed through the
streets that day and saw great numbers of ragged, pro-
fane children romping the streets, having no idea of the
sacredness of the day. my heart was pained within me, and
I went to my room reflecting what might be done for these
poor children. I told my chum, if I had the means, I should
not hesitate what to do. I would open a school into which
I would gather these children and teach them free. He said
he thought the means might be raised. We then formed a
resolution to make an effort ; laid a little plan ; made some
estimates, got upon our knees and implored the blessing of
God to give it success.

We first introduced the subject in a public manner at
a prayer meeting; there appointed committees to make fur-
ther investigation. Since then we have had two or three
meetings of the citizens generally. Christians are praying
for it in private and public ; our ministers are all urging
it from the pulpit ; several discourses have been based
entirely on this subject. For the week past we have been
circulating subscription lists ; have got six hundred dollars
subscribed, and shall probably get three hundred or four
hundred more. Next Tuesday night we meet to organize.
We hope to be able to accommodate one hundred or one hun-
dred and fifty scholars.

Clothing will have to be furnished these children more
or less, as well as books. An effort will be made to get as
many as possible into good families. They are to be taught
moral as well as mental precepts. Benevolence must search



76 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

them out, visit the families from time to time, extend to
them the hand of sympathy and affection, and teach them
that they may become worthy citizens as well as others.
There are hundreds of children in this city as ignorant and
depraved as the children of India or China. Two or three
missionaries might be constantly employed with profit here.

I have really been led into this unpremeditatedly and
unintentionally. I felt that something ought to be done
here; and I knew it would not be done until some one
should offer himself a sacrifice to the work and lead it on.
Thus far I have succeeded better than I anticipated. Next
Tuesday night we meet to organize. Something may come
up to frustrate the whole plan, but at present it promises
very well. The greatest difficulty I find is to get gentle-
men or ladies to help me do the labor. That is all new busi-
ness to them ; they want a good deal of training ; and they
will get it if I have to do with them long. It is no dishonor
to beg in a good cause.

When this plan first suggested itself to me, I thought it
was a new thing under the sun; but I have since learned
that nearly the same thing was introduced into London a
few years since; and that now some of their schools number
over a thousand ; and it has gained popularity all over the
continent ; so that government has recently made an appro-
priation to them. Boston has also adopted something the
same plan. They find it to be the only way to reach this
class. At the same time these children are sought out for
school, all orphan children of a tender age are to be picked
up and provided for, thus paving the way as we trust for
an Orphan Asylum.

I sometimes tremble at the responsibility I am taking
upon myself, for it is all new, entirely new business 'for me.
I put my trust in God, who alone can give me wisdom to
direct and strength to perform. It has opened a pretty effec-
tual way for me to become acquainted with the people of
Oswego, for old and young, high and taw, rich and poor,



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 77

have pretty well learned by this time who is the poor boy's
friend. I wish I could take you with me a little while in
my visitations among the poor, I could show you what you
have only dreamed of before.

The first article of the constitution indicates the objects
of the association. Article i. "The object of this associa-
tion shall be the intellectual and moral education and
improvement of such poor and orphan children in this city
as are not otherwise provided for in these respects."

The movement enlisted the interest of all the churches,
the clergymen, and the leading philanthropic gentlemen of
the city, who gave the movement their hearty support. Funds
were collected, sewing societies organized 'for the prepara-
tion of clothing, second-hand garments of all kinds were
solicited, rooms were rented for the school, schoolbooks pur-
chased, and all necessary provisions made.

The next thing in order was the employment of a teacher.
I urged upon the committee the importance of taking this
step at once. "Why," said Mrs. Fisher, one of the most
influential, active persons on the committee, "I thought you
were to be the teacher." "Oh, no," I said, "I cannot teach
the school ; I never had any such idea. I never taught
school in my life and do not know how to teach and, more
than all, I have already made other arrangements."

During the time that these movements were going on, I
had arranged with the President of Auburn Theological
Seminary to enter that institution as a student. My out-
door life and activities, together with such medical aid as
I had been able to secure, had so restored my health that
I felt justified in taking this step.

Mrs. Fisher replied, "If you are not going to teach this
school, I will have nothing more to do with it." "Very well,"
I replied, "in that case I must teach the school."

Judge Churchill, the secretary of the association, said,
"What salary shall we pay you?" I answered after a
moment's reflection, "It will cost me about $275.00 to live



78 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

and that is all I ask." Judge Churchill answered, "We will
make it an even amount and call it $300.00."

Thus it was settled that I was to take charge of the new
"ragged school," as it was dubbed. Nothing could ever
have been 'farther from my thoughts than the idea of teach-
ing school ; nothing for which I considered myself so poorly
adapted. But the duty seemed to lie before me, and however
much I might shrink from it, there seemed to me no alterna-
tive. The enterprise must not fall through at this stage for
want of a teacher, and as that duty now seemed to fall to
my lot if we had a school at all, I would do the best I could.
This seemed to me the strangest of all the fortunes of mine.
This was not a plan of my own making, but something
given me to do. I resolved to make the best of it and go
ahead.

Extracts from a Letter to His Sister.

We shall probably have some thirty or 'forty orphans to
take care of and I think we shall open an Orphan Asylum
at once, though on a small, economical scale at first, of
course. . . .

This is the hardest community to work upon I ever saw
or heard of. I have had to tug and toil through thick and
thin, and almost drive them on to the work in order to get
anything done ; and yet everyone seems to be surprised at
the success which has attended that effort. If this does ulti-
mately succeed, it is the first benevolent effort of any kind,
I understand, that ever has succeeded here. The great game
here is to make money. . . .

Thus I found myself in the autumn of 1848 with one
hundred twenty to one hundred thirty wild Irish and French
boys and girls, in the basement of what was called the
"Tabernacle," a building that stood on West Second Street,
near Bridge Street, on the site of the present engine house.



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 79

Many of these children had never been inside a schoolroom,
and knew no better how to behave as pupils than I did as
teacher. This was a strange school, with a no less strange
teacher. None such had ever been assembled in Oswego.

It was a curiosity, and as such was visited by teachers
and others. Mr. I. B'. Poucher, a graduate of the Normal
School at Albany, who at the time had charge of a public
school in the old Academy building, located on the site of
the present High School, and who later became associated
with me in my educational work, and so continues up to
this date (December, 1896), relates some amusing stories of
my methods as he saw them. One thing is surely true : if
any principles of pedagogy were applied in this school, they
were either intuitive or accidental. I had never read any
theories of school teaching, and certainly had none of my
own at the outset; at least, all my work was haphazard.
About all I knew was that these children were poor, neg-
lected, and ignorant, and needed sympathy and help; and
these I certainly could give them. Of this I am also sure,
I got their confidence and love. It was a usual sight on
my way to school to have a large number of these poor
children hanging on to the ends of my fingers and coat-tails,
greatly to the amusement o'f the lookers-on.

The order of the school was doubtless not up to the pro-
fessional standard. It was not unusual to see two boys stand
up for a fight in the presence of the school. But allowances
are to be made for the character of the pupils, the inexpe-
rience of the teacher, and the larger number children in
attendance. There were children enough present to require
the services of three or four teachers.

I spent Saturdays in visiting parents at their homes, look-



8o AUTOBIOGRAPHY

ing after their necessities, and supplying them as far as pos-
sible. These Saturday visits were often the most tiresome
work of the week. I used to return home from them com-
pletely exhausted, such was the draft upon my sympathies
in view o'f the squalid poverty and wretchedness I found in
the homes of the helpless poor. Some things I could do
for them, but there was much that I could not do. Some
temporary relief could be given, but to lift them out of the
low lives to which they had fallen seemed hopeless. The
hardest experience that ever comes to us is to see wretched-
ness that cannot be alleviated.

The school and its attendant work went on prosperously.
The Sunday School, the outside charitable work, the visita-
tion from house to house, went on hand in hand with the
day-school. Meanwhile, the winter of 1848-9 came and
went.

Extracts from the Diary of E. A. S.

Oswego, Jan., 1849.

Jan. 30. Opened the Orphan and Free School the I4th
day of January, 1849, with 70 scholars. Have now on my
list over 140. Had in regular daily attendance 120. Have
this week in regular attendance but 90, and five or six of
those are new ones.

Jan. 31. Had ninety scholars. Two have returned, who
had left. One little girl froze her cheeks. Two of the boys
came today two miles, come to get warm; they cried piti-
ously with the cold. They have for pants but poor, ragged,
and very light and thin cloth. For a coat one has but tick-
ing; and neither of them have vests. . . . Have not had
to punish a child today. They begin to show signs of
improvement.

Feb. i. A windy uncomfortable morning. But few chil-



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 81

dren out to school. Dr. Baird called on me this morning,
together with Dr. Condit. . . . Tonight in his lecture on
England, while speaking of the "Ragged Schools" of Lon-
don, referred to this school in the highest terms. . . .
Found tonight by the wayside, a very ragged-looking boy ;
stopped and called him to me ; inquired into his history, and
he took me to his home; found in a small room of an old
dilapidated building some seven or eight grown persons
huddled around a stove, two beds, or rather frames on
which the merest apology for straw beds were thrown ; the
room was literally stowed full. . . . The father had just
come over, expended all he had in coining over, and had
not been able to find work since he arrived in America.
Was anxious to have his boy go to school; would like to
work to pay for some clothes.

Feb. 2. Had between eighty and ninety scholars. They
seem to grow more and more eager to learn. . . . Supplied
a little boy by the name of Patrick Burke with shoes. Has
been to school nearly a fortnight, next thing to barefoot; his
clothes are also very poor. His mother has run away. His
father is a poor miserable drunken stick, without money or
a home. They go from one poor shanty to another, living
on the charities of these poor people. He is a smart active
boy, and needs a home very much. I hope to be able to
procure one for him. . . .

Feb. 3. . . . Joseph Perkins left school for want of
pants and coat. He has two sisters . . . want dresses, petti-
coats, shawls, and shoes. . . . Called at Mr. Blayes where
I found three girls . . . who had left school for want of
shoes. The girls are very interesting children. The mother
said the children were so eager to attend school, that she
made for them some cloth shoes which they wore to school
until they were entirely worn out and they 'froze their feet ;
and then they were obliged to stay at home ; and then the
children cried to go even barefooted.

Feb. 7. Today have commenced a little on the Lancas-



82 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

trian plan ; made my scholars assistants. I put them the
question whether they would become my assistants or
whether I should hire an assistant ; they decided to assist me.
I proposed to them to have several grades of scholarship,
and the one who should make the best recitations should
hear the most advanced class ; and the next the second, etc.,
etc., I have my fears about the working of the thing ; but
it is impossible for me to do all the work. Tonight I was
so tired I could hardly stand up or speak a loud word. . . .
Feb. 8. Had ninety scholars ; seemed more unmanageable
than ever; find it is wearing upon my health. . . .

Feb. 9. A very tedious stormy day ; had notwithstanding
seventy or eighty scholars; presume they 'found it more
comfortable than at home. Two market baskets full of frag-
ments left of a donation visit were sent in, which I distribu-
ted among the children ; they seemed elated with it.

Feb. 10. . . . Called on a poor widow by the name of
McGuire. Here I found poverty in its most lank forms.
The widow was but poorly clad hovering over a cold stove,
industriously plying her needle. There were other families
in the same tenement, but how many I know not. Their
shanty was but little protection to them from the inclement
season. There was not fire enough to make the least impres-
sion on the snow which had drifted in the night before ;
some of which they had used to bank up around the inside
of the room. This widow has a boy and girl who have
been at my school ; bright intelligent children. The boy
had on one boot and one shoe; but the shoe was but little
better than none at all. The girl came to my school a day
or two, until she took cold for want of protection from the
cold and was obliged to stop. She had now nearly recov-
ered, and was about the room with nothing in the world
on her feet and hardly enough clothing to cover her naked-
ness. The boy has been for a day or two to the Catholic
school. I asked her whether they would not clothe her
children at the Catholic school ; and if so, I advised her to



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 83

send them to it. She said she would, and if they did not
clothe them, she should send them to my school. . . .

Afternoon. Saw a little boy running along the street
without coat and barefoot with a jug under his arm. I
immediately followed him; he entered a grog-shop into
which I followed him. The keeper filled his jug with
whiskey : remarking at the same time something about the
little fellow's being barefooted. I uttered an expression of
surprise as though I had not seen the boy before. The
grog-keeper all at once expressed a great deal of sympathy
for the boy, and says, "How great a charity it would be
for some one to put some clothes on his back and shoes on
his feet!" I thought, "How much better it would be for
you not to sell this boy liquor, and thus save the money
for him to buy shoes!" . . .

Feb. 23. A very beautiful day. Had a large school. . . .
The school has been unusually noisy today, seemed hard to
keep them still. Tonight called at Mr. Hensey's ; seemed
very much elated to see me. The little children saw me
coming, and cried, "There comes the school master!" Mrs.
H. came out to meet me and heartily seized and shook my
hand. They urged me hard to take some tea and Johnny-
cake; but I begged as hard to be excused. They are very
poor and destitute. The father is partially deranged and
the mother has the whole family of five or six to provide
for. She is a very kind-hearted woman. . . .

Feb. 28. One hundred scholars. Am completely
exhausted. . . .

Mar. 19. School continues small during these pleasant
days. Find it much more difficult to keep them still in such
weather than when less inviting. . . .

Mar. 20. This morning had some trouble in school. A
great lawless boy, nearly as large as myself, who has always
caused me a great deal of trouble, after disobeying me and
laughing me in the face, I struck him over the head with the
rattan. Upon this he rose and showed fight ; I plied the rod



84 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

the closer, and soon subdued him, and he cried like a baby.
At noon, however, in the street, he was very saucy. Tonight
went and saw his mother; found her a widow with a large
family; and a poor man with his boy living upon her
'for which she received no compensation. Went to see the
poor-master to see if something could not be done to pay
her for keeping the poor man, but without success. For the
boy I hope to be able to get a place. The poor widow, to
show her gratitude to me for the interest I took in her,
fitted me out with an umbrella, and asked me to take some
punch or wine ; upon which I gave her a short temperance
lecture.

Mar. 27. Had no help today. Found a good deal to
try my patience in school. Did not get through until six
o'clock. Has been a cold raw day.

March 28. Had a very pleasant school. This afternoon
some general exercises and the girls sewed. Mrs. and
Miss Fisher were in to assist in sewing. One unpleasant
transaction was the only thing to mar the day. A surly
boy had to be severely whipped ; never whipped so hard in
my life. I finally succeeded in subduing him.



CHAPTER XIV
MARRIAGE: 1849

IN THE spring of 1849, on tne I 6th of May, occurred the
most important event of my life that which had more to
do with my success, my usefulness and happiness, than all
other events combined. It was on this day that I added
to my life that of Frances A. B. Stiles. Those who knew my
circumstances, and who estimated my action from a material
standpoint, doubtless considered that I was tempting Provi-
dence, and condemned it as foolish and unwise. It was,
however, the wisest and most provident act of my whole life.
This partner of my life did more to mold my character
and make me what I have been and am, than all the other
circumstances of my life. She proved to be a helpmeet in
the highest and best sense of that term, as well as in its
common meaning. She brought into my life that which I
so much needed the warm sympathy of a loving heart.
She made for me all work light, every hardship a joy. It
was for her I lived, moved, and had my being. The moral
support she gave me, the intellectual stimulus, the help in
all the everyday details of life, no one can ever know.

I was indeed poor ; I had an income of only three hundred
dollars a year, was already in debt 'for seven hundred dol-
lars, for which my personal notes had been given, and it was
natural that some should consider me strangely inconsider-

85



86 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

ate. But they did not know of the boundless wealth she
would bring into my life, without making me any the poorer
in the things of this world. I have done many things in
my lifetime that I have had occasion to regret, but this act
I have always looked upon as one of the wisest and best.
She did not bring to me earthly treasures, but that which
was far better, a spiritual wealth that had no bounds.

This was no sudden, rash, or childish act. We had known
each other for many years. I formed her acquaintance in
the days of my college life. She was for a time a teacher
in Perry Center Academy, my Alma Mater, and through my
sisters and others I had heard much of her admirable traits
of character. Mrs. Skinner of Perry Center and Mrs. Pot-
wine o'f La Grange were her aunts. On one of my visits
home from college, I formed her acquaintance at Mr. Pot-
wine's. From the first I felt irresistibly drawn to her. I
immediately courted her companionship. She did not reject
my approaches. She consented to further acquaintance and
correspondence.

An opportunity for . better acquaintance occurred very
soon. At the same time of my return to college, on recov-
ering from my attack of pleurisy in the spring of 1846, Mrs.
Stiles and her daughter returned to their home in Syracuse.
Fortunately, we both embarked on the same boat from Cuy-
lerville. Another fortunate circumstance was the fact that
it was one of the slow line-boats that moved sluggishly
along and stopped at every town. Thus a short journey was
made long, and an excellent oportunity was afforded for a
good social time. At Clyde, we stopped to see the glass
works, and, at other places, other objects of interest. We
reached Syracuse early one morning, and I accompanied



EDWARD AUSTIN SHELDON 87

her to her home on East Genesee Street, where I 'frequently
saw her on subsequent occasions, and where our final
engagement was consummated.

It is a good instance of the dramatic juxtapositions of real
life, that this, one of the chief joys, came to me at about
the same time with one of the greatest disappointments in
my experience my failure in the prize speech at the College
"Exhibition." Both had a strong determining influence over
my career, and both in the same direction.

Our courtship was not conducted without some drawbacks.
Our case proved that the "course of true love never did run
smooth." It met with strong opposition on the part of Mrs.
Stiles and her immediate friends, so that our opportunities
for interview were few and brief. It was, in fact, mostly
carried on by correspondence and in secret. My aunt lived
at this time in Syracuse. This gave me a good excuse for
spending my vacations here, and they were very generally
improved. A little drawer in the hall in Mrs. Stiles' house
was the depository o'f our secret epistles. She taught me to
superscribe these missives, "Meine Herzen-Geliebte," a
superscription that the mother was sure not to understand,
should the letters be discovered. To this drawer I made
daily pilgrimages to leave and receive our love missives.
This opposition rather gave edge to our love and courtship,
while it never caused her to swerve from her purpose. The
day of our wedding was hastened by the change of my plans,
and by the wise Providence that ordered my life better
than I knew.

Our wedding was a very simple one. We were united
in marriage by the Rev. Dr. Adams in a small room at the
Globe Hotel, in the presence of a few intimate friends and



88 AUTOBIOGRAPHY

such relatives as resided in Syracuse. Our wedding trip
was from Syracuse to Oswego. At this time I was boarding
with the Rev. Mr. Judson, the pastor of what was then the
Second Presbyterian Church, which subsequently organized
into the present Congregational Church. His residence was
in what was termed the "Stone Cottage." With its grounds,
it occupied an entire block. The rooms were all large and
airy, all on the first floor, and the outlook upon the town
and the lake was not to be surpassed. The location was
directly opposite and toward the lake from Mr. J. W. P.
Allen's, my first Oswego home. It was bounded by Seventh
and Eighth and Oneida and Mohawk Streets. The house
was afterward destroyed by fire, and the block was sold


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Online LibraryE. A. (Edward Austin) SheldonAutobiography of Edward Austin Sheldon → online text (page 6 of 18)