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The Story of the Mountain
Mount Saint Mary's College and Seminary

Mary E. Meline & Edward F. X. McSween

Published by the Emmitsburg Chronicle, 1911

Chapter 3 | Chapter Index

Chapter 4 1809-1812

Dr. William Seton, Ex '55, eldest son of Captain William Seton, who was a student in 1809, describes the college life in his father's time. We borrow from the "Mountaineer," April, 1904:

"Thanks to Pompey's promise to take them soon on an opossum hunt, the youngsters worked like beavers this day as well as the next; besides the old slave and Mr. Elder there were several other skillful axmen to assist them, so that by the end of the week the ground for the college garden was pretty well cleared, and Peggy McIntee declared she hardly recognized the place, it was so changed. At ten o'clock every morning she treated the boys to fresh doughnuts ; nor had the boys ever tasted more delicious water than the water which flowed in the brook close by, a cousin of that spring which in years to come was to give delight to so many thirsty students as it bubbled out of the fountains on the college terrace.

"Saturday evening, after supper, they were allowed to go with Pompey to the mountain in quest of opossums. Mr. Smith shook his head and hinted to Mr. Dubois that they might get into mischief. But Mr. Dubois was not afraid to trust their honor; and so off went the frolicsome band, Pompey leading and carrying a bag into which to put the game while at his heels trotted Bowser and Towser, dogs seemingly of no particular breed, and which he aptly styled 'meat-hounds.' No sooner had the boys departed than Mr. Smith, who had nothing to do, set out for Emmitsburg to get whatever letters he might find addressed to the care of his superior. It was a dark night, and the air a little moist, and just the kind of weather for the scent to lie well. When the youngsters heard this they rubbed their hands in glee, and began to count their opossums in advance, while Shorb exclaimed:

"'I do wish my whole life could be a possum-hunt.' Well, I reckon these be your happiest days,' observed Pompey, as they entered the forest at the foot of the mountain. ' hey would be the happiest days for me if my sister were here,' said Taney, who was constantly thinking of Agnes, his dear Agnes. 'I don't see the good of studying Latin grammar,' put in Miles. 'Do you Pompey?" Can't answer that,' replied the venerable African.' 'Twouldn't, of course, be no good to me. But I'm only a poor nigger; you may become an archbishop some day.'

"This remark was greeted by a peal of laughter, and for many a day afterwards Miles was known among his school fellows as the "Archbishop." The first opossum was captured right at the back of what is today the college God's-acre, and it was taken alive by Taney, who, braving the animal's sharp teeth, climbed the tree, and unwinding its tail from the branch round which it was wound like a snake, let it drop into the bag which Pompey held open underneath.

"In a few minutes they emerged from the gloom of the forest and found themselves at a rock which stood on the northeast brow of the Catoctin. This spot was afterwards "Indian Lookout;" for seated by the fire, which was not at all unpleasant this moist, chilly night, was an Indian. "Don't be scared,"spoke the latter, for the boys looked a little startled at the grim, dusky visage turned upon them. "You've got out of the trail, have you? Don't be scared." "We have been hunting 'possums," replied Taney. "Is it far from here to Mr. Joseph Elder's?" "Some distance. I'll show you the trail which leads down to the valley," said Tobias, or Uncle Toby, as he had been christened by the people of Emmitsburg, whither he went now and then to sell cigars, or "tobies" as the college boys called them long after the old Indian himself had gone to the happy hunting-ground. [Indians still lingered about Split Rock, Cosy Dell, Crystal Spring, Amman-dale, or other beautiful spots even up to the nineteenth century.]

"‘Well, is this your home?' inquired Shorb. 'Yes,' answered Tobias. 'My wigwam is near by. I am the last of my tribe and I cultivate a patch of tobacco, which in winter-time I make into cigars." Indeed !' exclaimed Taney. ' Smoke?' said the Indian, offering the boys a handful of tobies. 'I have promised Mr. Dubois not to smoke,' replied Taney, 'and I will not break my promise." Nor I,' said Shorb. 'I know Mr. Dubois,' said Tobias. 'All the folks about here know him. He's very good, and very strong, too. He can walk most as far as I could when I was his age. But he isn't here now. Do try my tobacco.' Again the boys shook their heads, and the Indian, after staring at them a moment in wonder, rose to his feet and guided them safely down the mountain.

"Next morning Mr. Dubois was obliged to punish his school boys, for Mr. Smith had told him what they had done in Feather-bed Lane; how, taking him for a bear, they had wantonly flung stones up the tree which he had climbed and had bruised his legs, and had threatened to hew down the tree, at the imminent peril of his neck. Whereupon his brother pedagogue had inwardly laughed and wished that he had been present to witness the sport. But happy as the boys were, a grief came to them at last: before the winter was over Felix McManus was seized with a fatal cold. Felix had caught a rabbit in his trap the week before he took his bed; ere he breathed his last he asked Taney to set his rabbit free, which Taney did with moistened eyes; he and Hickey first moving the dying boy's cot as near to the window as possible, then rubbing the frost from the glass, so that Felix might see his pet escape from the narrow space where it had been so long immured. Just a few hours later the soul of young Felix broke loose from its own prison and flew away. In an old God's acre, about twenty rods north of the house now called Clairvaux, Felix McManus was buried. No stone marks his grave. The little wooden cross has long since disappeared, but the humble cemetery remains. Its northern boundary is but fifty feet removed from the ancient Elder mansion (razed in 1862), and the windows of the 'house-church,' described elsewhere, looked out upon the last resting-place of the faithful. [Up to the middle of the nineteenth century this old chapel served as a Catholic public school, and was taught then by an Irishman named Cahill, one of the many members of the same race as Pidgeon before mentioned, who, forbidden to teach or even learn in their native land, came to train the embryo citizens of our fortunate country. One of his pupils, the then owner of Clairvaux, it was, who attended Archbishop Elder on his last visit, in 1903, to this home of his ancestors.]

"In April, 1809, the boys moved from Mr. Elder's house to the new building at the foot of the mountain. It was a day of great rejoicing and observed as a holiday. Pompey escorted them thither, thrumming on a banjo, while Peggy McEntee begged to be allowed to wait on the youngsters at the first meal in the refectory. But Mr. Dubois said, 'I wish the boys to wait on one another.' And this has been ever since the time honored custom of Mt. St. Mary's.

"At last on the evening of the 21st of June, word was brought from Emmitsburg by Joe Elder, that a couple of big canvas covered wagons were slowly approaching the village along the Westminster road, and that the dear ones so long expected were in these creaking, old-fashioned vehicles. Yes, Mother Seton and her companions had arrived after a two days' journey from Baltimore. And now loudly pealed the college bell, down dropped grammars and slates and forth from the class rooms rushed the excited students, at their head Jim Taney, who was noted for fleetness of foot.

"Half a mile south of Emmitsburg Mother Seton was met, and the little girls, who were with her, waved their handkerchiefs when they espied their brothers bounding towards them. When Father Dubois went to Emmitsburg for late Mass his little troop of boys walked the two miles or so through the woods to the village in charge of their teachers, paid a brief, a very brief, visit to the Blessed Sacrament, then played until Mass time, when they took their places on the benches in the front of the sanctuary, where the eyes of the priest and the congregation were on them."

Dr. Ferdinand Chatard of Baltimore, father of the present (1908) Bishop of Viucennes, tells of the life at the Mountain a couple of years later than 1809. "When I became a student, in August, 1812, the college and grounds were in a very primitive condition. The buildings consisted of two parallel log-houses, a short distance apart. The one, known later as the 'White House,' contained the rooms of the president, vice-president, teacher, and seminarists, as well as the study rooms, class rooms and dormitory, and in its basement paved with flags were the refectory, store-rooms and cellar. The other buildings which stood at the end and rear of the former (which fronted south) contained the kitchen, clothes-room, infirmary, etc.; the whole being under the superintendence of the Sisters of Charity of St. Joseph's, then recently established by Mother Seton. An old building which stood at the end of the terrace and entrance of the garden (the Hermitage mentioned above) was also occupied by some of the teachers, viz.: George A. Carrell, George Elder, Dr. Acker Leonard Smith, father of Sister Raphael Smith, directress of the Sisters of Charity; Dr. Caspar Beleke, etc. The stumps of the original forest trees were still standing in the yard and some quite close to the college buildings. The wood pile was within a few feet of the refectory, and the boys took part in chopping the wood and carrying it into the study-room. We were permitted to own chickens, and had our coops in the lower part of the yard, where also was our depository of apples, a barrel sunk in the ground and secured by a cover and padlock. We were also allowed small patches of ground near the old barn which was then near the college, and we cultivated them for our benefit. The present splendid garden was laid out and cultivated by a French gentleman, Mr. Marcilly, a refugee, I think, from San Domingo. He and his family resided in a building located near the line of the old Mountain road and not far from the Grotto. [The athletic field laid out in 1900 covers a great part of the garden here mentioned. Ed.]

"The Rev. Mr. Duhamel, pastor of the church at Emmitsburg, resided in a long, low building to the left of the road from the college to the Mountain church, about midway between them. The only stone building on the premises was that which is now used [and still is used, A. D. 1908] as the chapel. It was in those day's the laundry, and the basement was occupied by the dairy, which was in charge of Sister Ann."

"On Sundays the Sisters and pupils of St. Joseph's came to the Mountain church and occupied seats in the gallery. They formed the choir, and the voices of the singers were accompanied by a piano. The performer was a Madame Seguin, teacher of music at the Sisterhood. Between Mass and Vespers the Sisters and girls occupied the stone house, and dined sometimes there and other times at the Grotto. . . .

"The Rev. Mr. Dubois was president, Rev. Mr. Brute, vice-president, and among the professors and teachers were Father Hickey and Father Didier. The last named was a great trapper, and celebrated for his success in catching pheasants, partridges, rabbits and different animals that abounded on the mountain, among others a wildcat. Mr. Alexius Elder and his brother George, who was afterwards a president of a college at Bardstown, Ky., Messrs. Byrne, Mullen, Wiseman, McGerry, Hayden, and Francis Jamison were ordained priests at a later period. I do not recollect the number of boys at the college at this time, but from the limited accommodations of the buildings they must have been very few. A few years after I entered college a two-story log structure was added to the western end of the main building, the lower floor being used as a study-room and the upper as a dormitory. Among the boys were William and Richard Seton, Charles White, Charles and William Allan, Guerin Malval, the three Van Schalkwycks (these last four were from the West Indies), James D. Mitchel, Jerome Bonaparte, Charles Carroll, the father of Governor John Lee Carroll; Charles Harper, Luke and William Tiernan, Thomas and John Hillen, Henry Chatard, my eldest brother, all of these from Baltimore; Brent, Ramsay, Carroll, the two Beattys and King from Washington and Georgetown; Cole and Schaffer and Henry Jamison from Frederick City; the two young Kauffmans from Philadelphia, the younger of whom died from a wound in his chest. He was running with an open knife in his hand, and was tripped by a friend in play; he fell and was mortally wounded. The knife was retained as a memento of the event and a caution to heedless boys. Mr. A. Prevost, of Baltimore, was an assistant teacher of French. The late Rt. Rev. George A. Carrell, Bishop of Covington, Kentucky, was also a student; also Grandchamp, Grimes, Floyd, Sims and Lilly. We did not enjoy many luxuries or comforts, only bread and coffee for breakfast, without butter. I think we had some for supper. Winter and summer we washed in the open air, exposed to sun and rain. The water from the spring was conveyed in wooden pipes to a long trough, in which we inserted a number of spigots, from which we drew the water required for our ablutions, no pleasant task on a cold winter morning. Another trough, with four ladles on either side, was for drinking. It is but fair, as a companion picture, to tell the mental exercises which also occupied the pupils. At first none but Catholics were received; a few Protestants, however, were soon added to their number, at the earnest request of parents, and with the full understanding that they were to be trained as Catholic children and to comply with all the obligations of the Church. Other Protestants were subsequently admitted, with no other condition than that of conformity to the rules and daily exercises of the school. The course of studies comprised reading, English grammar, mental and written arithmetic, French, Latin, Greek, algebra, geometry, rhetoric, logic, ethics and metaphysics. . . ."

The college may claim some influence in spelling reform. Harry Lee of the class of 1810 became President Jackson's secretary, and " was charged with having written many of the latter's State papers, teaching him to spell sweep without the finale, etc., etc." Harry got a foreign mission as a reward. The writing in the old ledgers was done with a quill, of course, and doubtless for this reason the engrossed work is very beautiful. Let us look at a couple of items: A boy is charged 12˝ cts. for sulphur, 12˝ for jalap, 12˝ for an emetic, 12˝ for quills, 12 ˝ for powder, and 121/2 J for salts. It is to be hoped he didn't need all these the same day. Item for pane of glass 12˝ cts. Item for yard blue cloth and tailor to mend pantaloons torn as soon as put on. To one dinner at Read's on Christmas Day, 37˝ cts. It seems the boys dined there that day, wherever it was. To 1 "Following Book of Christ," 50 cts. To 1/4 velvet to mend with. Soap is always set down as "to wash hands and feet." To making a great coat $1. To making three pair pants $1.12˝.

Chapter Index

Historical Society Note: In honor of the 200th anniversary of the founding of the Grotto of Lourdes we'll be posting at least 2 new chapter every week.

Special thanks to John Miller for his efforts in scanning the book's contents and converting it into the web page you are new viewing.