Do you have a favorite document for one of your ancestors in your collection? I am betting you do…it is usually one that broke through a “brick wall” or perhaps it has some sentimental attachment, such as a letter from an ancestor? I have quite a few “favorites”, but one of the top five is Rev. John McNair’s alumni file from Princeton Theological Seminary. It was the mother lode of biographical facts that gave me a map to follow him through his life.
In the last blog entry, I mentioned that neither William McNair nor his brother John received anything in their father Solomon’s will. William had his debts forgiven for the money he borrowed money to buy land in Michigan. But what about John? Why didn’t he get any money from his father’s estate? John’s alumni file helps to answer those questions and so much more.
In Solomon’s 1832 will, he stated:
I Give devise and bequeath to my son John McNair all the
book accounts and advancements that have been Given
or paid for his education; and the sum of twenty dolars
to be Paid to him on the first day of october next out of
my estate in case I should not live to that time……
At first this sounded a bit harsh to me. Was Solomon fed up with footing the bill for John’s education? And what about Rev. John McNair’s educational expenses? Where did he go and what did he do? In John’s alumni file, there is a questionnaire from 1872 with all the answers!
- Where and under whose tuition was he prepared for College? At Newtown Academy under Rev. Mr. Boyd
- Date and College of his graduation? Jefferson College PA 1828
- Length of time spent by him at Princeton Seminary, and in any other Theological Institution before or after his residence at Princeton. Between one & two years at Princeton Seminary (1828-30)
John went to Newtown Academy in his hometown for college preparation, run by the Presbyterian minister Rev. Alexander Boyd. He then attended Jefferson College in Canonsburg, Pennsylvania, which was also a Presbyterian institution. It was a “log cabin school” and a cornerstone of spreading religious thought during the Second Great Awakening. After John’s graduation from Jefferson, he attended Princeton Theological Seminary for 1-2 years to prepare for being a Presbyterian minister. He didn’t graduate from there though, which may indicate his father didn’t want to pay for another degree. Another possibility is that in the 1830’s, John didn’t need to complete the advanced degree to become a minister. He may have just needed those 1-2 years of “post-graduate education” to be able to get a “license to preach” from the Presbytery of Philadelphia in October 1831. Solomon was still giving John money in 1832 as he stated in his will, so John was receiving assistance at the age of 25. That explains a lot about what Solomon invested in John’s education.
John is finally ordained as a minister in November 1833 and goes on to preach in many churches across the country. From John’s alumni file, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that Solomon supported his son’s education to become a Presbyterian minister both financially and emotionally. The family was very involved with the Newtown Presbyterian Church, having gone there for 4 generations with many of their family buried in the church cemetery, including Solomon. And after Solomon’s death, his youngest son, also named Solomon, goes to college at Jefferson and becomes a Presbyterian minister – presumably with the funds he inherited from his father. After researching what happened to the other brothers and sisters after Solomon died, I think that Solomon was evenhanded about dividing his estate equally between is wife and children. John just got his inheritance a little earlier, when Solomon was alive to give it to him.
More interesting tidbits from the amazing alumni file and what it told me about John’s sisters next time.