This Saturday, January 10, 1815, will mark 200 years since classes began here on the Hilltop. Seven students attended that day – we will probably never know for sure all their names, as many early records have been lost. We do know that the following spring in 1816, six young men received diplomas; four young women, their classmates, were not granted diplomas that year or any year until two women are listed in the graduating class of 1848.
How did this Academy come into existence in a tiny, secluded village so long ago? Some believe it all began with the birth of David Sutherland in 1777, a boy who spent his youth on the most northerly tip of the Scottish mainland in a village called Caithness. At age 12, his mother enrolled him in a school in Edinburgh, “… under the instruction of … a pious and learned schoolmaster.” 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 he and his bride set sail for the United States, destination Barnet, Vermont, where a fellow Scotsman had sent a “call” to him to become their preacher.
One day, while visiting Deacon Joseph Foord of Piermont, NH, Sutherland spoke of Scotland and his former school, one that offered free education to poor and pious young men studying for the ministry. Foord’s son must have been informed of the visit as Sutherland later wrote a paper in 1811, where we learn that “Deacon Foord … 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.” Because of the son’s letter, Sutherland added, a council of local ministers met on August 6, 1811, to consider a similar school; a plan was drawn up for the “infant institution.” Ideas for the school so varied, they decided to invite representatives of the leading churches in all of New England to a meeting in Windsor, VT, on October 21, 1812.
Timothy Dwight, President of Yale College, was a delegate at the meeting. As one of the founders of Andover Theological Seminary in Andover, MA, in 1808, the first of its kind in the United States, it is not surprising that at age 60 he would leave the comforts of New Haven, CT, to attend the meeting. There were other distinguished professors: Porter, Woods, and Stuart of Andover Theological Seminary and Moore, Adams, and Shurtleff of Dartmouth College. However, it was President Dwight’s words that determined the kind of school that was created that day. Kimball Union Principal Cyrus Richards wrote in 1880, “President Dwight presented an elaborate argument, urging the great importance of a liberally educated ministry, for the present and future welfare of the churches and the country, and deprecating the establishment of schools with a partial and limited course of studies even for the purpose of multiplying ministers. These views were almost unanimously adopted by the Council … making the new Seminary an academy, whose object should be, as set forth in the charter, ‘To assist in the education of poor and pious young men for the gospel ministry; and such others as may be admitted by the trustees, subject to pay tuition.’” The path the Academy would take was clearly determined by the clause “such others as may be admitted …” as it made it possible for young men of all persuasions and interests to attend the Academy, and importantly and innovatively, for young women to study at the Academy from its earliest days.
Principal Richards added that the Academy, having been established by the Council “… was christened … with the name of Union Academy – it being the offspring of the united churches of New England; Its location was to be determined … by the highest offer of pecuniary benefactions. Woodstock, VT, Orford, N.H., and several other places made liberal offers. But Hon. Daniel Kimball, of Meriden, N.H., arose in the council and said that God had blessed him with a liberal fortune, but with no natural heir to inherit it. He recognized the providence of God in this movement, and was ready to pledge the institution six thousand dollars for immediate use, and the bulk of his property at his decease. This offer by this noble man … being most gratefully accepted, determined its location in Meriden, N.H.” Less than a year later, on June 16, 1813, Union Academy was incorporated.
Daniel Kimball began his life in Preston, CT, in 1753. When he was 16, his father Benjamin brought his family to Meriden, where he purchased 750 acres of land from the original town proprietors, including the village of Meriden, and owned and operated a gristmill below the Meriden Covered Bridge. After serving as a Sergeant in the Revolutionary War, Daniel married Hannah Chase, a teacher before and after marriage and a member of the prominent and educated Chase Family of Cornish, NH. Kimball inherited his father’s substantial property and greatly added to it through his own efforts. Not only was he a farmer, he owned a general store where he and his partner traded local produce as far away as Boston and returned with needed supplies for the local population. He also served the community as both a representative and a senator in the State Legislature and locally as town clerk, selectman, and Justice of the Peace.
Although he had become the first citizen and wealthiest man of the village, money wasn’t Kimball’s only gift to the Academy. He donated a portion of his property on The Hilltop for the first Academy building across the church green from his home and provided the material for it. Daniel did much of the actual construction of the building himself. Chester B. Jordan, class of 1866, a former Governor of New Hampshire (elected 1890), wrote in the February 1903 issue of The Kimball Union, “My father was present when Hon. Daniel Kimball was building the first academy. He said the old gentleman was hauling stone with his old mare hitched to a stone-boat, and laying up the foundation with his own hands. He endowed it living and dying.” The building was dedicated on January 9, 1815, and instruction began the next day.
Daniel Kimball died on February 17, 1817, but as his financial affairs were intertwined with those of his business partner, his death initially created a great hardship for the young institution. It was not until 1822 that his bequest, listed at $34,193.47, came into the hands of Union Academy. In their August 5, 1823 meeting, the trustees, as empowered by Section 13 of the charter “… once to alter the name of the Union Academy by prefixing thereto the name of the principal donor …” gratefully renamed the school Kimball Union Academy.
For more detail on the beginning of Kimball Union Academy, refer to our new history book, On The Hilltop, or visit past postings created by KUA Archivist Jane Carver Fielder on KUA’s Archives Blog <https://kimballunionarchives.wordpress.com/<https://kimballunionarchives.wordpress.com/>