Joshua Bates

Filed in Founders & trustees, Presidents
On the 18th of March, 1818, the College continued its career under the guidance of Rev. Joshua Bates (1776-1854). He was a native of Cohasset, Mass., and received his hard earned education at the leading College of the State, graduating with highest honors from Harvard in the class of 1800. His life was destined to the ministry, and after one year of teaching and others of preparation under Rev. Jonathan French, he entered in 1803 upon his work in the First Church and Parish in Dedham. He labored here until called to the Presidency of the College.

It was dark days when he first came, but the energy and determination of the man conquered, and the twenty-one years of service were years of progress. The College was in a feeble condition owing to the lack of requisite funds, and its weakness was increased for a short time by a change in the faculty. Old and proven professors, whom the patrons of the College knew and trusted, left their work and new and untried ones had yet to win the reputation. Thus lack of support was not the least discouraging feature of the opening of the administration. The Faculty in 1818 numbered five professors and two tutors, the Professorships being Law, Mathematics and Philosophy, Divinity, Chemistry and Languages. In 1824 a change was made in the branch of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy when Prof. Frederick Hall resigned, and his place was filled in the following year by Prof. Turner. In the same year Prof. Patton resigned his charge of the Languages and his duties were taken by Prof. Hough, who at the time was Divinity Professor. A few years later the appointment of William C. Fowler filled the chair of Chemistry for the first time. The size of the College at the latter part of the administration was an encouragement. The records for the year of 1834 and 1835 show a maximum in the number of students, the attendance being 163 and 168 respectively. The class of 1838 numbering in its course sixty-five and graduating forty is the largest class on record. From 1819 until 1827 the College gave the degree of Doctor of Medicine to students in the Medical School of Castleton and from 1833 to 1837 a similar degree was given to the graduates of the Medical School at Woodstock. In all about 325 received this degree from Middlebury.

Not completely discouraged with the dark financial outlook, Dr. Bates in 1833 attempted to raise another $50,000 principally for the erection of a new College building, but also for establishing an efficient Manual Training Department for sustaining an additional Professor, for creating a fund to pay the tuition of distinguished and successful, though needy students and for increasing the library, philosophical apparatus, cabinet of minerals and other necessaries. By the terms of this subscription it was made binding if $30,000 should be subscribed before the first of October, 1835, and this was duly accomplished. In the succeeding year the Chapel costing about $15,000 was finished under the guidance of Ira Stewart, Esq. It was a stone building seventy-five feet long by fifty broad and contained, besides a room for worship, six recitation rooms, three lecture rooms, two rooms for the College and Philological Libraries, and three private rooms for the officers. The College received further assistance from the legacy of Isaac Warren of Charlestown, Mass., who bequeathed $3,000 to the College and $1,000 for the support of an additional Professor. In 1828 the College also received from Joseph Burr of Manchester, Vt., $12,200 as the foundation of a Professorship.

With this improvement in finances, the College advanced from a literary standpoint. In 1822 the Philomathesian Society, which had begun in 1802, first received its charter. At this time it possessed a library of about 2400 volumes. Through the instigation of Prof. Patton the Philological Society was started in 1823 and continued with more or less life until 1836. At the meetings held somewhat irregularly both Professors and students were present. This also possessed a library of 800 volumes. It was in the administration of Dr. Bates in August, 1824, that the first meeting of the Associated Alumni was held. A Mechanical Association was formed in 1829, and for a short time Manual Training was introduced into the College Curriculum. A shop and tools were also furnished. The College was surely growing; its needs were seen by all, and help was rapidly coming in to establish the College on a firm and independent basis. Chemical apparatus was imported from London in 1828 when the Professorship was filled. In the same year minerals were collected and purchased to start a College Cabinet that the College might no longer be dependent on the private Cabinet of Professor Hall. The sun had begun to shine again in the last few years of Dr. Bates’s work and the College again showed that it was determined to thrive. Dr. Bates had long intended to retire from the Presidency at the age of sixty.

The last five years of Joshua Bates 21-year tenure were marked by events and circumstances that threatened the very existence of the College itself. The first and most notorious of these was the support by Bates and Rev. Thomas Merrill for the unorthodox methods of itinerant evangelical preacher Jedidiah Burchard, who moved into Vermont from the “burnt-over district” of Western New York in the mid-1830s. Burchard’s theatrical and vernacular style was highly unpopular among the more conservative ministry with whom Middlebury had long stood as a defender of orthodox Congregationalism. As a result, much of Middlebury’s financial support was withdrawn and enrollment began to decline from a high of 168 in 1836 to 46 in 1840.

A second factor in the College’s decline was the failure of Bates and a very small faculty to control the discipline of the largest student body in the College’s brief history. Fueled by lack of respect for the administration and faculty and their rigid rules, student insubordination led to expulsion, suspensions and other reprimands. These punishments and the departure of students who left under protest in response to them seriously depleted the already dwindling student body.

Finally, a serious economic depression that effected the financial health all institutions of higher learning between 1837 and 1842, impacted student enrollments as well.

Although it cannot be said that Bates was removed from office by the Trustees, he finally resigned in 1839. He went on to serve  as Chaplain of the Vermont House of Representatives and acted in that capacity during the long session of the twenty-sixth Congress. He settled in Dudley, Mass., in 1843, where a pastorate of ten years was ended by his death, on January 14, 1854.