1830: Theodore Russell Jenks to Rev. Dr. William Jenks

How T. R. Jencks might have looked

How T. R. Jencks might have looked

This letter was written by Theodore Russell Jenks (1801-1883), the oldest son of 16 children born to Rev. William Jenks (1778-1866) ¹ and Elizabeth (“Betsey”) Russell (1783-1850) of Boston, Massachusetts. [See Rev. William Jenk’s biography in footnotes.] Theodore was married to Mary Esther Mann, formerly of Newcastle, Maine, on 30 December 1827 at Cambridge, Massachusetts by his father, according to marriage notice published in the Boston Traveler on 11 January 1828. No biography could be found for Theodore and tracing his career is compounded by the fact that he appears to have changed the spelling of his last name to “Jencks” by 1831. However, I have learned the following:

Jenks graduated from Harvard in 1821, a classmate of Ralph Waldo Emerson. Afterwards, he may have spent some time in Europe. A notice in the Evening Post (New York City) on 5 September 1825 lists him among passengers arriving in the port aboard the packet ship, Wm. Thompson, from Liverpool.

Ad for Germantown Academy in Philadelphia Paper

Ad for Germantown Academy in Philadelphia Paper

We learn from this letter that Theodore was one of four teachers employed by Professor Chester Dewey at the Berkshire Gymnasium — a high school for young men founded on a peculiar German model. The school was built by Lemuel Pomeroy and put into operation in 1826. Chester Dewey (1784-1867) was a graduate of Williams College (1806) and briefly served as a minister before returning to Williams in 1808 as a tutor, achieving the rank of professor in 1810. He taught a range of subjects, including mathematics, physics, chemistry, geology, and botany. From 1827 to 1836 he was principal of the Berkshire Gymnasium (a boys’ school) in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. Beginning in the 1820s and continuing for two decades he was a lecturer at two western New England Medical Schools. In 1836 he moved to Rochester, New York, to become head of the high school (later known as the Rochester Collegiate Institute). In 1850 Dewey was the founding faculty member of the University of Rochester, where he taught chemistry and natural sciences until his retirement in 1861.

In 1831, the year following this letter, Theodore joined with Levi F. Claflin, an 1826 graduate of Williams College, as co-principals of the Germantown Academy in Germantown, Pennsylvania — six miles from Philadelphia. It appears that Claflin and Jencks provided the instruction for the boys who attended this academy while Amos Bronson Alcott (the father of Louisa May Alcott) and William Russel ran the female section of the academy.

In a History of the Germantown Academy (p. 56), it is stated that:

At a meeting of the board in November 1831, Levi F. Claflin was chosen as associate principal with Mr. Jenks, the school numbering 38, including 12 boarders…. Thomas Russel Jenks proposed to take charge of the Academy as principal provided he could secure day scholars and boarders sufficient to justify him in the undertaking, and that the trustees would guarantee him a loan of $500 which they at first agreed to by authorizing the president to indorse his note in the Germantown Bank; but he entered upon his work as principal without the loan, succeeding Mr. Claflin, who resigned because the school seemed to be running down. In the depressed state of the school, the interest of the trustees flagged for a time, and but few meetings were held; and from some intimations in the minutes they were not all in one mind in regard to what it was best to do in the case. In November 1833, there were 3 in the English Department, 10 of whom were free scholars; and 11 in the classical department, 4 of them boarders.

It does not appear that Theodore was at the Germantown Academy for more than a year or two as the school struggled financially. Later in the 1830s the Harvard Catalogue states that Theodore was employed as a professor of Political Literature, English Languages, and Literature at Mount Hope College near Baltimore, Maryland. This college was short-lived, however.

The next notice I found of him was in 1846 when he represented the city of Boston in a State Educational Convention at Albany where the subject of free schools dominated the discussion for two days.

In 1854, Theodore seems to have been employed with Lippincott & Co., a publishing house in Philadelphia. In 1870, Theodore is enumerated in the New York City’s 18th Ward working as a lawyer (his wife not listed with him). He died at Ocean Beach, New Jersey, in September 1883, a widower, and apparently still practicing law. He had resided there only three months before his death.

1830 Letter

1830 Letter

Addressed to The Rev’d Dr. William Jenks, City of Boston, Massachusetts

Berkshire Gymnasium
[Pittsfield, Massachusetts]
Wednesday, June 1830

My dear Father,

Day before yesterday I wrote you letters for yourself & William which I hope may be reasonable. I unfortunately labour under the imputation of being of an unsatisfied disposition and as I think you had better not mention my equities for a situation to those who are apt & feel that they have a right to find fault with me for them.

In common judgement, ny notions of the uncertainty of this school’s prospects might have been even more decisive than I have expressed them; such is the competition in situation & price & so little external effort have our proprietors made. They have never spoken a word to me or that I know, to others, until last evening when Mr. [Chester] Dewey proposed that I should go out into New York State to ascertain what pupils could be procured. He of course then went into the circumstances of the establishment & stated that it was scarcely a living one at present, that more scholars must be obtained, or a different organization take place. We have now four teachers besides Mr. Dewey himself & dirty-four boys, including one from town, two of Mr. Dewey’s, & four of Mr. [Lemuel] Pomeroy’s. Many of the paying scholars are small & consequently at the least price. I, of course, asked what change was proposed, whether reduction of salaries or of the number of teachers? Mr. Dewey said, “One of those, or rather both.” Now, two of the instructors might well be spared; indeed, there is hardly any employment for them, and taking every circumstance into consideration, my own candid opinion is that there is one who is certainly more valuable than myself & with which they cannot part. That of the other three, there are some circumstances which would render it more desirable to retain me & others which make ___ them; so that my situation, soberly, is by no means permanent. Of course, the state of the institution ought in honor to be kept secret except it be necessary to tell it in order to ward off an imputation of changeableness which would be detrimental to me or my interests.

I decline going upon the agency as it would undoubtedly I find be injurious to me.

The decision of the proprietors must be made at the earliest opportunity & it is therefore my duty to be on the lookout. My present request to you, therefore is that you will speak with A. B. Senior Esq., immediately, if you please, & let me know what he says, together with anything you can obtain from any sources of inquiry or information to which he may point.

With regard to the professorship in Geneva, ¹ I would in fact go there for 6 or even 5 hundred dollars a year with the engagement to have it increased ultimately. I put down 5 as 5 is the lowest, but you perceive I would on no account let it be known to the Trustees or their friends that would do so; that would open & undo me at once. But supposing you should suggest to Mr. Potter in any chance or apparently chance conversation that the Trustees might pursue that course, but you by no means mentioning my name, though after you had told him you might say, “Indeed, I don’t know but that my son would take up with such an offer such is his liking of that country & so certain is he, as I have heard him say, that there is a career of usefulness open to that college which it will sooner or later ____, and indeed, sir, I think it might be well for you to propose some such course to the Trustees in your very next communication.”

And then Father, if your conscience would let you, as really were it not for propriety & modesty would, you might say that you think your son would be of great advantage in building up & giving a character for sound practical instruction & elegant literature to the College if he was connected with it.

By the way, you may if you please say as much of my usefulness to Mr. B. with regard to the Middletown College & especially in the matter of “organization.” I say it with reflection, on my honor I will try to bear out your speech. I have been & still am deep in studies.

Please give our love to Mother & all & accept it for yourself.

We are quite well and should like to receive that Domestic Bulletin of which I spoke. We should have liked very much to have seen Master William before his departure. Pray how long will he be gone? I do not know but I may be obliged to take up with another situation in a school so that I wish such a place mentioned to me, if it ____, though I had determined not to change except for a college, but “broot argument” as the Germans call them, are commanding.

Yours affectionately, — Theodore

¹ William Jenks (1778-1866), the noted American scholar and clergyman, was born in Newton, Massachusetts, to Samuel and Mary Haynes Jenks in 1778. He studied at the Boston Latin School and graduated from Harvard in 1797. Jenks held pastorates in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and was ordained at the Congregational Church in Bath, Maine, in 1805. There he also served as an army chaplain for the Bath Light Infantry (1st Regiment, 1st Brigade, of the 11th Division) during the War of 1812 and was a professor of Oriental Language and English at Bowdoin College from 1812-1816. Jenks next returned to Boston where he taught privately and was active in a number of humanitarian reform efforts, such as founding a mission for seamen and opening the Mariner’s Church on Central Wharf. Jenks was also the chaplain for the Massachusetts senate from 1827-1828.

Between 1826 and 1845, Jenks was the pastor for the Green Street Church; he augmented his ministry through his religious and political writings. His theses include the important Comprehensive Commentary on the Holy Bible, 6 vols. (1835-1838), the anti-Jeffersonian Memoir of the Northern Kingdom (1808), and Bible Atlas and Gazetteer (1847). Jenks received many honorary degrees, including a doctorate of divinity from Harvard Divinity School (1845). Although Jenks was best known for his biblical and oriental scholarship, his interests were far ranging. He was a founder of the American Antiquarian Society and the American Oriental Society, and a prominent member of the Massachusetts Historical Society and the New England Historic Genealogical Society.

Jenks married Betsey Russell (1783-1850) of Boston in 1799; they had 16 children: Elizabeth Russell, Theodore, Sarah Judith, Frederick Craigie, Joseph William, John Henry, Francis Haynes, Russell Edward, Harriet Newell, Mary Susanna, Mary Elizabeth, Lemuel Pope, Cornelia Hood, Nathaniel Frederick, Adeline Matilda, and Craigie Phillips. William Jenks died in 1866.

² This is probably Geneva College in Geneva, New York. In 1852, the name was changed to Hobart College.

2 responses to “1830: Theodore Russell Jenks to Rev. Dr. William Jenks

  • Wlliam Branz

    I am researching the Jenks Family and found your page with the letter to Reverend Wm.Jenks. My focus is on Theodore’s sister who married Timothy Wright. I noticed a mention of Charles Dewey. Timothy Wright’s mother is Professor Dewey’s sister…thank you for keeping history alive

  • Elizabeth b Jenks

    Would love to know more about Rev. William Jenks, my great-great-great grandfather, I have a bible book he edited in 1859

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