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Settlement of Galesburg, Illinois, Including Noble Phelps and Family

Settlement and Early History of Galesburg, Illinois


The John Frost who had tutored George Washington Gale at Middlebury had married a rich wife at Whitesboro, a village near Utica, New York, and settled there as a minister. He had taken great interest in [Gale's] experiment at Western, and was willing to help in the larger plan. Between them they raised some $20,000 [equivalent to about $1.2 million in 2008], to which Arthur and Lewis Tappan, the New York philanthropists, whose money was available for nearly every reform movement, were generous contributors, and began to build the school Gale had conceived.

Joseph White, tutelary genius of Whitesboro, sold them 115 acres for $5,639, on which the young theologues were to sweat for their education. The farm bordered the main street of the village, and on this road three buildings were erected from plans drawn by Gale. Some of the contributions were in the form of stone and timber, and the eager students were given a foretaste of manual labor by quarrying the stone and felling the timber, the school was named the Oneida Institute of Science and Industry.

The teaching staff consisted of Gale and Peletiah Rawson, a graduate of Hamilton College, an engineer in the construction of the Erie Canal, and since that work ended, a teacher in the local academy. The system was manual labor, alternate study and work. Besides the usual academic courses, theology was taught. To protect innocent minds from contamination by heathen classics, the New Testament in the original was substituted for the customary Greek, and Hebrew for Latin, which, even if it were not the language spoken in heaven as many believed, afforded as good mental drill as the tongue of Caesar and Vergil.

Two hours in the early morning the student worked on the farm, or in the carpenter, trunk and harness-making shops. Twenty-seven students cultivated forty acres the first year, but floods destroyed the crops. Next year was better. Then were produced fifty cords of wood, thirty barrels of cider, seven hundred bushels of corn, four hundred of potatoes, one hundred of oats, twenty-five of beans, thirty tons of hay, and eighty bushels of onions—the whole valued at $1000. As this singular school prospered, the number of students increased to 100. The young disciples went about their appointed tasks unmoved by the jeering and heckling of the village boys, who hailed them as "onion grubbers."

Religious fervor was kept at a white heat. Studies were interrupted to hold protracted revival meetings, that there might be no backsliders. The result was a large crop of crusaders and reformers, who were later turned loose to fulminate against drink, slavery, Sabbath breaking, irreligion, some of whom became famous in their proselytizing [sic] fields. Most of Gale's recruits from the farm at Western followed him to Whitesboro. Finney attended for a year, and when he got into his stride on the road as an evangelist, with rows of repentant sinners kneeling at the mourner's bench every night, he sent a steady stream of students from the more promising of his converts.



Extracted from They Broke the Prairie: being some account of the settlement of the Upper Mississippi Valley by religious and educational pioneers, told in terms of one city, Galesburg, and of one college, Knox. By Calkins, Earnest Elmo, 1868-1964. New York: Scribner's, © 1937.