David Sutherland, b. 6/17/1777 – d. 7/25/1855 “Few ministers have labored so long; few have enjoyed such good health; few have had so many attractive qualities and been so invariably respected, esteemed and beloved. He was greatly distinguished for his benevolences; his large heart was ever filled with kindness, good will and generosity.”
The first link in a golden chain that led to the birth of Kimball Union Academy can be found in a fishing village in Caithness, in the Scottish Highlands, when a baby, who should have been born at sea on his way to the new world with his immigrant family, arrived, instead, in Edinburgh, Scotland. Shipwrecked onto a Shetland Island, David Sutherland’s parents lost everything but their lives and found themselves stranded in Edinburgh seeking restitution for their lost possessions. When Sutherland was nine-months-old, his mother sent him home to Caithness to live with his grandmother. At age 12, she came for him and enrolled him in a school in Edinburgh, “… under the instruction of … a pious and learned schoolmaster.”
After two years at school, Sutherland was apprenticed to a printer and, during that time, he regularly attended church “becoming hopefully pious.” He came under the influence of two wealthy, itinerant preachers, Robert and Richard Haldane, who had established a seminary “… to qualify young men for going literally into the highways and hedges to preach the Gospel….” He entered their school and was “educated for the ministry at [the brothers] expense.” Sutherland was ordained in the spring of 1803 and on June 4 he and his bride, Anna Waters of Caithness, set sail for the United States, destination Barnet, Vermont, where a fellow Scotsman had sent a “call” to him to become their preacher. The couple made landfall in New York City and embarked on a coastal schooner for Hartford, CT, and from there, a stagecoach up the Connecticut Valley to Hanover, NH, where a final coach took them to Newbury, VT.
The couple found life in rural Vermont extremely harsh and isolated from society. And here, too, they found the use of spirits to be dangerously liberal even amongst the established clergy and “strait-laced” inhabitants. Sutherland decided to proclaim a lifelong abstinence from spirits and set about, as an itinerant preacher, to change local habits by his own example. The people of Barnet thought very highly of him and offered him a farm if he would remain with them, but he accepted another, more permanent and lucrative call, from Bath, NH. His enthusiasm, his good humor and his uplifting sermons were again appreciated and he soon became known as “Father Sutherland, the Priest of Bath.”
Here we have to imagine – we have no written proof – that while visiting in the home of his parishioner Deacon Joseph Foord, Sutherland spoke of Scotland and his former school, one that offered gratuitous education to poor and pious young men studying for the ministry; perhaps Foord’s young son John was listening. What we do know comes from Sutherland’s own hand, a paper dated 1811, “Deacon Foord of Piermont, N.H., has a son, who a few years since, went to Scotland to obtain an education gratis, for the ministry at an institution established for that purpose…. He has written several times to his father informing him, that if an institution of the same kind were established in New England he would obtain donations for it in money and books to a considerable amount, in England and Scotland.” From Sutherland’s writings, we learn that a council of ministers from the local churches was then created; they met on August 6, 1811, to consider a similar school and a plan was drawn up for the “infant institution.” Affixed to a letter inviting delegates from New Hampshire and Vermont to a larger council of churches to a meeting in Norwich, VT, that October, was the signature, “David Sutherland, Scribe.” Ideas for the school varied, therefore a decision was made to invite representatives of the leading churches in all of New England to a meeting in Windsor, VT, on October 21, 1812. Daniel Kimball of Meriden, NH, was at this Windsor meeting and there he made his pledge of $6,000 if the new Academy would be located in Meriden. His pledge was accepted and another link was added to the Kimball Union chain.
An article in the Kimball Union Alumni Bulletin, June 1946, includes these words by the school historian, Ernest Sherman who declared, “Thus, had it not been for David Sutherland, a storm at sea, and the evangelical Haldanes, Kimball Union Academy would not have been established.”
Next Time: President Dwight of Yale College presents an argument at the Windsor 1812 meeting for a “liberally educated ministry…making the new Seminary an academy….”