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Benevolence, by Mr. Rogers, served as a conclusion to the exercises of the forenoon. The author after graduating, returned to his home in Newport, where for several years, he engaged in teaching. In 1772, he removed to Philadelphia, and was ordained as pastor of the First Baptist church. Here he became noted for his eloquence, attracting to his church and congregation large numbers, among others, it is said, the celebrated Dr. Rush. During the war he rendered good service as a brigade chaplain in the continental army. He was an honored member of the Masonic Fraternity, and an intimate friend of Washington. In 1789, he was appointed professor of oratory and belles-lettres, in the college and academy of Philadelphia, and in 1792, he was elected to the same office in the University of Pennsylvania. In 1790, he received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. He died on the 7th of April, 1824, universally beloved and lamented. If among her "first fruits,” Trinity College of Doublin may boast of her Archbishop Usher, and Harvard College of her Dr. Woodbridge, surely Brown University nlay with equal propriety boast of her Dr. Rogers, as the first student who enrolled his name upon the records, and as one whose character and life reflect the highest honor alike upon his revered instructor and the institution over which he presided. It is pleasant to state, in this connection, that the late William Sanford Rogers, of Boston, who died in 1872, bequeathed to the University the sum of fifty thousand dollars, to found the Newport Rogers Professorship of Chemistry,” in memory, so reads his will, of his uncle, Dr. Rogers, a member of the first graduating class, and of his father, Robert Rogers, who was graduated in 1775.
-- -- - -- - -- - - -- --(1) In Evan's life of Rev. William Richards, LL.D)., may be found a pleasant
account of Dr. Rogers, as given by an English gentleman who was travelling through this country in 1793. This account which I have introduced in my sketch of Rogers, (Manning and Brown University, page 93) serves to illustrate his social position, and also gives an agreeable view of Gen. Washington in his private relations.
The prominent feature of the day, was a Disscussion on American Independence, between James Mitchell Varnum and William Williams. This occupied a good part of the forenoon. Mr. Varnum, or as he is termed in this "Forensic Dispute” the "Respondent," was born in Dracut, Massachusetts, in the year 1749. His father was a large land owner on the banks of the Merrimac, and a man of influence in the community where he resided. The son early developed a remarkable capacity for learning, and although, as his biographer states, somewhat dissipated in his habits, made liberal acquisitions in general knowledge and literature. He was especially attached to mathematical science, and delighted in its pursuit. After leaving college he taught a classical school; and to this period of his life he ever afterwaods referred, as a season of special benefit. In the year 1771, he was admitted to the bar, having studied law in the office of Oliver Arnold, Esq., then the Attorney General of the colony. Soon afterwards he established himself in the town of East Greenwich,' where he rapidly rose to distinction in his profession. The following extract from the “Memoirs of Elkanah Watson,” presents a pleasing description of his powers of eloquence at this period :
“Mr. Varlium, he says, was one of the most eminent lawyers and distinguished orators in the colonies. I first saw this learned and amiable man in 1774, when I heard him deliver a Masonic oration. Until that moment I had formed no conception of the power and charms of oratory. I was so deeply impressed, that the effect of his splendid exhibition has remained indelibly fixed upon my mind. * * * Lavater would have pronounced him an orator, from the vivid flashing of bis eye, and the delicate beauty of his classic month."
Mr. Varnum had a decided taste for military life, and in 1774 was appointed commander of the “Kentish Guards ;” a
(1) A short time before the breaking out of hostilities he built him a house,
which was regarded as one of the finest residences in the colony. This is still standing, being owned and occupied by Dr. Bowen. Here the owner in 1779, entertained in great state Gen. Nathaniel Greene, Gen. Lafayette, Gen. Sullivan, and other distinguished officers of the American and French army.
company which, from their acquirements in military tactics, became the nursery of many distinguished officers, including Major Whitmarsh, Col. Christopher Greene and Gen. Nathaniel Greene. Upon the breaking out of hostilities, he at once offered his services to the government. He was appointed colonel in the American army, and in February, 1777, he was promoted to the rank of brigadier general. In 1779, he resigned his commission and returned to his profession. The following year he was appointed a delegate to the Congress of the Confederation, and again in 1786. His great forensic effort was in the celebrated case of Trevett versus Weeden, in which, by his resistless eloquence, he stemmed the tide of power and misrule, and successfully vindicated the claims of equity and justice. In the year 1787, he was appointed by congress one of the judges of the North Western Territory. But disease had enfeebled his constitution, and in the month of January, 1789, he died, at the early age of forty. A beautiful and touching letter, written from his sick chamber, to his wife Martha, daughter of Cromel Chill, of Warren, was published in the Massachusetts Magazine for November, 1790, with a note from President Manning prefixed.'
A younger brother, Joseph Bradley Varnum, I may here add, also, served as brigadier general in the war, and was especially prominent in Massachusetts politics. He was a member of the State Senate, House of Representatives, and Council. He was for sixteen years a member of Congress, serving two terms as speaker of the Ilouse, and from 1811 to 1817 he was a member of the United States Senate. He was also a member of the Baptist Church in Dracut.
Mr. Williams, or as he is termed in this "Forensic Dispute,” the “Opponent,” was born in IIilltown, Pennsylvania, in the year 1752. IIis father emigrated from Wales, and settling in this country as a farmer, accumulated a handsome property. The son, as has already been remarked, was fitted for college at the then celebrated Hopewell Academy. In the autumn following his graduation he married, at the early age of eighteen, a daughter of Col. Nathan Miller, of Warren. In September, 1771, he was baptized by his classmate, Mr. Thompson, and received as a member of the church. He was then engaged in teaching, an employment for which his talents and inclinations especially qualified him. Ile removed to Wrentham, Massachusetts, where he opened an academy, which soon attained to high distinction among the literary institutions of that day. Among the eighty youth, and upwards, whom he fitted for his Alma Mater, may be mentioned Dr. Maxcy, the successor of Manning, Gov. D. R. Williams, of South Carolina, and the celebrated orator and statesman, Hon. Tristam Burges. He also conducted the theological studies of young men, with a view to their entering the Christian ministry. A pupil of this class was the lamented Rev. William Gammell, of Newport, father of Professor William Gammell of the University. In 1776, the day before the Declaration of Independence, Mr. Williams was publicly ordained as pastor of the Baptist Chnrch in Wrentham, an office which he held with usefulness and honor fortyeight years. Quite a number of his early manuscript sermons are among the archives of the College Library. They are written in a plain, legible hand, and exhibit marks of careful preparation. He received the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity from the University, and in 1789 he was elected a member of the Board of Fellows. When the college was disbanded during the war, and the building was occupied by troops, the little Library, of which he had the charge while a student at Warren,' was removed to his home, and once more entrusted to his care and keeping.
(1) This letter ipay also be found in
Manning and Brown University,” pp.
(1) The original pine table which Mr. Williams used in his study chamber at
Warren, is preserved in the new Library Building, as an interesting relic of “ye olden time.” In its capacious drawer were contained all the books that constituted at that early period the “ college library.”
The curious may be interested in seeing Mr. Williams' “parchment,” or diploma, which I hold in my hand. It bears date September 7, 1769, and contains the signatures of Jacobus Manning, Praeses; David Hoell, Phil. Professor ; and Thomas Eyres, Secretary ; a mingling of Latin and English not altogether classic, at least. The seal of the college, which it will be observed is affixed to the parchment by a ribbon, has in the centre the busts of George III. and his Queen. It was devised and prepared, as appears from the records, by the Rev. Dr. Stillman, a member of the Board of Fellows.'
Thus much for an introduction, which I fear has been in violation of one of the first rules laid down by my respected teacher in Rhetoric, not to make the portico too large for the house. Allow me to devote the remainder of the hour to the Discussion itself, which I have carefully copied from the original documents. It is interesting, not only as a genuine specimen of the earliest public exersises of the college, but also as an illustration, to a certain extent, of the two classes of opinions that then prevailed in regard to American Independence. While the popular movement was from the beginning opposed to the King, a good proportion of the professional and editorial intelligence and talent of the thirteen colonies was arrayed against it. In Sabine's History of the American Loyalists, or as Washington termed them, Tories, may be found notices of one hundred and fitty persons, who were educated at Harvard College, or some other American or foreign institution of learn
(1)At the second annual meeting of the corporation, held in Newport on the
first Wednesday in September, 1765, “A Seal for the College,” so reads the record, “was ordered to be procured immediately, by the Rev. Saml. Stillman, with this device :-Busts of the King and Queen in profile, face to face. Underneath Geo. III., Charlotte. Round the border, The seal of the College in the Colony of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations in America.” At the next meeting in 1766, it was “Ordered, that the account of the Rev. Saml. Stillman be allowed, and that ten pounds thirteen shillings the amount thereof, be paid him by the Treasurer of the Corporation." Whether this was sterling, or New England currency, it was a large amount of money for the times.