Page images
PDF
EPUB

use of his classes. Mr. Clap was eminent for his attainments in the mathematical sciences, and, President Woolsey says, was "selected to fill the place of Rector on that account." The first recorded purchase of anything to be used in the work of giving instruction was that of a telescope, a microscope, and a barometer in 1734. The interest of the college in scientific discovery attracted the attention of Benjamin Franklin, who in 1749 presented it with an electrical machine, and in 1755 paid it the compliment of a visit.

We are now witnessing the outcome of the Founders' work at the end of two hundred years. In so far as the college to-day is Christian in its principles, broad in its culture, mindful of its duty to both Church and State, it is so by virtue of the character which was impressed upon it by its originators. All honor to the Connecticut ministers who founded Yale College.

JOSEPH EARL SHEFFIELD.

The Father of the Sheffield Scientific School.

By HENRY W. FARNAM, R.P.D.

[Read October 9, 1901.]

wars.

Not only was Mr. Sheffield an extraordinary man, but the times in which he lived were prolific of great things. His life of four score and nine years stretched from the administration of Washington to that of Arthur. It ran through three great

It witnessed the Louisiana purchase, the Dred Scott decision, the Proclamation of Emancipation. Mr. Sheffield was a boy of fourteen when Fulton launched his first steamboat on the Hudson. He lived to see steamers cross the ocean and locomotives the continent, while electric currents throbbed their messages around the world. He saw Yale College expand into a national university in fact, if not in name.

Of these events he was no indifferent spectator. He bore a leading part in the development, first of the South, and then of the West. Though never holding public office, he held decided opinions about the great economic, political, and ethical questions which agitated the country, and expressed them in weighty letters to the press and to public men. Though not a college graduate, he exercised a powerful influence upon education through the school which bears his name. Accustomed to look far into the future and to consider the broader bearings of all the enterprises in which he engaged, he was in the habit of writing down in a characteristically handsome hand as well as in vigorous language his reflections of the past and his views with regard to the present and the future. He thus left a number of memoranda, and notes, of the greatest interest and value. Of these manuscripts, which have kindly been placed at my disposal by his daughter, Mrs. John A. Porter, I have made free use in the preparation of this paper, and it is a pleasure gratefully to acknowledge at the very outset my indebtedness to Mr. Sheffield for having made the records, and to Mrs. Porter for having preserved them.

Mr. Sheffield was born in Southport, Connecticut, June 19th, in 1793. He came of good, New England sea-faring stock. His father, Paul King Sheffield, to quote his own words,"was born in Stonington and was old enough to take an active part in the war of the Revolution, and with his father and brothers built, equipped, and sailed a private armed ship in quest of the enemy and had one or two pretty hard fought battles, in one of which his brother ‘Bob' lost an eye and he, himself, was slightly wounded. After the peace of ’83 he removed to Fairfield, Connecticut, where he married Mabel Thorp, daughter of Captain Walter Thorp, who also had done good service for his country in the war of ’76."

Later he became actively engaged as ship-master and shipowner in the Cuba trade and suffered severely by the Milan and Berlin decrees of Napoleon. "His moderate fortune, already much diminished, was swept away by the unfaithfulness of one of his captains to whom he had entrusted a ship and valuable cargo of sugars, who squandered them in the port of Riga (Russia) where he was frozen in during the winter." It was not far from this time that Goethe classed war, commerce, and piracy together as an inseparable trinity, and the history of the Sheffield family certainly proved the truth of this saying.

One of Mr. Sheffield's brothers had served as a naval officer in the war of 1812 and like many other American officers and captains had been thrown out of his commission by the peace of 1815.* At this time the South-American Colonies of Spain were fighting for their independence. Young Sheffield, and a number of other naval officers, went down to help the Colonies and incidentally to do a little privateering on their own account.

* The story is related by Mr. Sheffield himself in the “American Whig Review” for July, 1847.

A ship, called the Chacabuco, had been bought by the Government of Buenos Ayres and equipped as a privateer. She carried sixteen guns, a full complement of officers, chiefly American, and a large crew composed of sailors of almost all nations. Capt. Sheffield was second in command. The ship was a good one and a fast sailer, but the captain, who had formerly been an officer in the American Navy, had received a severe wound in the head, which evidently affected his mind and made him at times almost insane.

The Chacabuco set sail for St. Helena disguised as a merchantman. Napoleon was then confined upon the island and the English government took extraordinary precautions to secure their captive. The harbor of Jamestown, which was bounded on one side by a promontory, was strongly fortified. There was just one point around the promontory where it was possible that a landing might be effected in calm weather, and at this point Sir Hudson Lowe had stationed an eighteen-gun brig. This brig was excluded from sight at the port of Jamestown by the high point of land. “But once during every day she sailed far enough out to be seen by the Admiral and fire a gun which was answered by his ship, and thus the watchful sentinel reported all's well.'"*

By a curious coincidence the British brig and the Chacabuco looked enough alike to be twin sisters, the resemblance extending even to the accidentally dark color of the foretopsail of the two vessels. One day a great storm arose which nearly wrecked the Chacabuco. Upon the return of a clear sky the brig had disappeared. The thought at once occurred to Lieutenant Sheffield to simulate the English sentinel-ship by hoisting the British flag, sail to her anchorage, and rescue Napoleon. Napoleon himself was plainly seen on the land, riding horseback with some friends. Lieutenant Sheffield communicated his ideas to his officers, most of whom fell in with the plan. He committed the mistake, however, of addressing the crew, which was made up of sailors of various nationalities, seeking only prizemoney, and entirely devoid of any higher sentiments. The crew were surly. It was evident that, if Lieutenant Sheffield led his landing party, there was a fair chance that those who remained on the ship would sail off and leave him to his fate. While time was being wasted in debate, the British ship appeared on the horizon, her counterfeit had to drop the mask, and Napoleon remained a prisoner.

* "American Whig Review," July, 1847, p. 89.

One cannot help feeling that, if Joseph Sheffield had been in his brother's place, he would perhaps not have waited to consult his crew, but would have organized his landing party and carried out the rescue of Napoleon before the sailors really knew what they were doing. It would be entertaining but fruitless to speculate on the changes that might have taken place in the history of the world, if the audacious plan of the young American officer had been carried out. The story has a bearing upon the present narrative because it was left to Joseph Sheffield to exhibit in more peaceful undertakings the same fertility of invention, the same audacity, and thus to accomplish things more helpful in the progress of the world than any coup de main, however brilliant, performed upon the larger stage of world-politics.

During his life Mr. Sheffield was preëminently a pioneer, He was a pathfinder. By this I do not mean that he had the characteristics of a backwoodsman living upon the confines of civilization. In his manner, appearance, and tastes he was what would now be called a gentleman of the old school,—tall, handsome, well-dressed, dignified, courteous, self-contained. But the main cause of his success, and the main cause of the influence which he exerted upon education, lay in the fact that he was able to see further into the future than his contemporaries, and that at the same time he had the courage and the ability to put his ideas into execution.

His active life naturally divides itself into three periods of nearly equal length. The first, from 1807 to 1835, he spent as a merchant, engaged chiefly in trade in the Southern States. During the second, from 1835 to 1855, he embarked in great railroad enterprises in New England and in the West. During the third, from 1855 to 1882, he lived in retirement from active

« PreviousContinue »