Wednesday, August 31, 2016

9/9 Camp Cornplanter program by David Mack Hardiman

Friday, Sept. 9, 2016—4-5:30pm
“The Magic Fire: The Story of Camp Cornplanter” by David Mack Hardiman
The Museum of disABILITY History, 3826 Main St. Buffalo NY

Join us for this look back at possibilities, friendships and memories that flowed
from one of America’s first summer camps for the developmentally disabled.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Ariel Standish Thurston: The Boy with the Awkward Mouth


Ariel Standish Thurston: The Boy with the Awkward Mouth

by Nan Clarke

On October 4, 1829, a resident of Bombay, India, penned the following in a letter to her sister in New York State:
“I read over your letter; you say much about our dear Brother. Poor boy: I do pity him; but I hope his mother’s prayers, & his sisters’ prayers, will all be answered. When he was not 10 minutes of age, he was in my arms, & I was alone in the room, over a bed of fire-coals. I prayed that his life might be spared, his soul washed in the Lamb’s blood, & he at last wear a crown of glory. So did his dear mother pray, in that hour. For the sake of Jesus may every prayer in his behalf be heard, & answered. I thought, at his birth, the little boy had an awkward mouth, it was so very large. Then I thought it might be that he may speak forth more, to the praise of Jesus. Poor dear boy! Shall he, that child of prayer, live without prayer to God! Shall he go down to the dark pit, with all the light which the blessed example of his beloved mother, to the hour of her death, shed, all round! He beheld that example! He heard her dying prayer for him! & then she bade the world, adieu! Jesus is still mighty to save! His spirit is still powerful! That brother is our only dear brother. Our mother’s emotions on the birth of her first-born son, tho’ her last child, were more than ordinary. Her prayers for his salvation were many & constant, I am sure, till the hour of her death. Tell the dear boy, if he dies without God for his God and friend, these prayers––O how much lower will they sink him in the dark depths of endless woe.”
The Bombay resident was Philomela Thurston Newell Garrett, a member of America’s first foreign mission, which had been established in Bombay in 1813. Daughter of a New Hampshire farmer, and the eldest of his five living children, Philomela had left her family in 1817 and sailed to Bombay to marry Samuel Newell, a missionary whom she had never met. Newell was one of the first five men to leave American shores intending to convert India’s “heathen Hindoo” to Christianity. He died in 1821, and a year later Philomela married James Garrett, the mission’s printer.
All the mission’s members had vowed to spend their lives in India. No one ever returned home, even for a visit, without a physician’s certification that continuing to remain in India meant certain death. Indeed, the harsh climate and the diseases that it fostered often proved fatal to Americans and Europeans.  
When she wrote the letter, Philomela had not seen her family in 12 years. Since letters took months to travel to the other side of the world, she had no way of knowing for certain where her sister was. But the Thurstons were a close-knit family, and communicated as best they could. 
The recipient of the letter was Clarissa Thurston, a 28-year-old teacher who had devoted her life to female education. Convinced that girls and young women should have the same scholastic opportunities as their male counterparts, Clarissa left her innovative mark up and down the East Coast as both principal and teacher in academies for “young ladies” in six states. At the time of Philomela’s letter, she was probably in Prattsburg or Lyons, both within 80 miles of Elmira.
The “dear Brother” with the awkward mouth was Ariel, the youngest of the Thurston children. Born on June 11, 1810 in Goffstown, New Hampshire, Ariel grew up in a family deeply impacted by the Second Great Awakening. This massive religious revival encompassed the first half of the nineteenth century, spreading the teachings of evangelical Christianity throughout the eastern United States. At its core was the unshakeable conviction that those who rejected Jesus’ offer of salvation were doomed to burn eternally in the fires of hell. Ariel’s father, Stephen, served as a deacon and elder in the local Presbyterian church, and he organized both the first Sunday school and the first temperance union in Bedford, New Hampshire, when the family moved there after 1810. Ariel’s mother, also named Philomela, was the sister of two pastors of Congregational churches in Massachusetts. So it is no surprise that Philomela joined a mission, or that Clarissa included a healthy dose of religious instruction in her schools.  
But did Ariel follow the same spiritual path as the other family members? Clearly his sisters feared for the state of his soul. Was Ariel truly headed for the “dark pit”?
The letter from Clarissa prompting Philomela’s concern was written from Lyons on January 7, 1829. At that time Ariel was a student at Amherst College in western Massachusetts, having attended Kimball Union Academy in Meriden, New Hampshire, from 1826 to 1828. Amherst was founded in 1821 as “an institution of higher learning for the education of indigent young men of piety and talents for the Christian ministry.”   
But if Ariel entered Amherst intending to save souls after graduation, his plans soon changed. He left the school in 1829, and at the urging of his friend Alexander S. Diven moved to Elmira in 1830, where he began to study law under Judge Hiram Gray. 
Years later Diven spoke of the bond the two shared as “poor boys. … He [was dependent] upon his sister [Clarissa], that sainted little woman. … We met in early life as students, relying upon our own resources. … We had to fight our own way, and when our funds ran out he went home with me to my father’s farm. We succeeded in earning enough to pay $1 a week for our board.”
Over the next few years Ariel continued to study law under Judge Gray, where, “as in school, he was noted as a thorough, industrious student and a deep thinker.” While still under Judge Gray’s tutelage, he taught school in Elmira for a time, and became principal of an academy in Williamsport, Pennsylvania. In 1835 he was admitted to practice before the  New York City Supreme Court, and he practiced law in that city for a short time. Returning to Elmira in 1836, he married Julia Clark Hart, daughter of the well-known and beloved local physician Dr. Erastus L. Hart.
During the next ten years, Ariel built his law practice in partnership with John Wisner, fathered three children (one of whom died in infancy), became a widower, and remarried. With his second wife, Cornelia Sophia Hull, he had five more children from 1847 to 1863. All these children lived to adulthood except William, who died in 1861 at age 14. 
By the mid-1850s Ariel had assembled a lengthy resume that included a  thriving practice, an interest in local and state politics, and a commitment to community service. In 1847 he was appointed to the Chemung Corresponding Committee at the state Democratic Convention. In 1850 he was elected to serve as Chemung County judge and surrogate, and remained in that position for five years. Also in 1850, he ran unopposed for the local post of First District supervisor. The year 1855 brought a failed bid for state treasurer, and in both 1856 and 1857 he ran unsuccessfully for the office of canal commissioner.  
In the following year, Ariel and two other men obtained funds from the state legislature for the establishment of Woodlawn Cemetery, and in 1859 the Governor appointed him to a three-year term as a state assessor and member of the Board of Equalization, overseeing real estate tax assessment. Also that year he was elected to Elmira’s first Board of Education, and reelected in 1860. 
When the Board of Supervisors decided that the county needed a new courthouse, Ariel was appointed to a commission to oversee the project. The work was done under budget, and the new building was completed and ready for use in 1862. Located on Lake Street, it still serves this purpose more than 150 years later. 
The year 1871 brought an appointment of a similar nature, this time for the construction of a new jail. Charges of corruption during the bidding and nonconformity to the contract specifications had plagued the process from the beginning, and it was up to Ariel and the other commissioners to straighten out the mess. They were evidently successful; when the building was completed the work was pronounced “well done.”
As the result of another political appointment, in 1876 Ariel became a member of the Board of Managers of the new State Reformatory, located where the Elmira Correctional Facility is today. This innovative prison focused on rehabilitation and vocational training rather than on punishment. The following year he was named secretary and treasurer of the board.  
Ariel was a charter member of the Chemung Valley Historical Society when it formed in 1876, serving as its vice president for a number of years. And when the need to revise the state tax code became evident, he was appointed to that commission in 1878. The following year he became both secretary and a trustee of the Newtown Monument Association, and in 1885 he was elected president of the first national gathering of Thurstons, held at Newburyport, Massachusetts. Shortly before his death he was an honorary manager of the Arnot-Ogden Memorial Hospital Board of Managers.
But it was Ariel’s ardent abolitionist views that led him to make his most distinctive contributions to his community. Although he maintained a lucrative law practice and close ties to Elmira’s wealthiest and most powerful citizens, he also befriended and aided the town’s most destitute and helpless residents––the runaway slaves who sought refuge there. 
Through Ariel’s assistance and influence, one such individual, John W. Jones, received housing, education, and employment. Jones had arrived in Elmira in 1844. By 1850 he was living at Clarissa’s Female Seminary on Main Street, and working there as a laborer. Accounts of his education vary, but all credit Ariel with recognizing Jones’ innate potential. There is some evidence that Jones was educated in a private school run by Hugh Riddle, a boarder in Ariel’s home, and that another pupil named Loop was especially helpful in teaching Jones to read and write. Other sources indicate that he was a pupil in Clarissa’s school. If that is true, he was probably the only male student, and the only black student, in the history of the school.
Over the years Ariel devoted both time and money to aid the runaways, and in 1853 he risked his career by openly defying the Fugitive Slave Law of 1850, a federal law that required authorities in free states to return fugitive slaves to their masters. The law also specified that local courts could not adjudicate a person’s status as a slave or a free man, and it subjected northerners aiding runaways to fines and imprisonment.  
When a slave from Missouri named Juda Barber came before Ariel’s court, she testified that her owner, Mr. Barber, had hired her out to a Mrs. Warner. Juda had accompanied Mrs. Warner on a visit to her relatives in Horseheads, New York, and at some point she decided that she wanted to be free and to remain in Elmira. In a bold ruling, Ariel granted Juda her freedom.
During his time as Chemung County Judge, Ariel was a member of the Democratic Party, but as the debate over slavery intensified, he found his own abolitionist leanings more in line with the views of the newly formed Republican Party. Consequently he was one of the “prominent politicians” who in 1856 attended a state convention of Democrats desiring to unite with the Republican Party. He was elected to the office of vice president of that convention, and in the same year he changed his party affiliation to that of Mr. Lincoln’s supporters.   
Also in 1856, Ariel and other abolitionists attempted to purchase the Elmira Gazette, a Democratic newspaper that was up for sale. They had hoped to turn it into a Republican paper, but a group of Democrats bought it instead.
As the war approached, some members of Elmira’s First Presbyterian Church left to form  a new church now known as Lake Street Presbyterian Church. The primary motivation for the split was discontent with First Presbyterian’s position on slavery. The Lake Street group included a number of abolitionists, and Ariel was in the first group of trustees elected. He remained a member of the church until his death.
In spite of his prominence in the community, Ariel maintained a simple lifestyle. During the 1850s he lived at 411 Lake Street, in a little frame house, modest but cheerful, valued at $4,000. Opulent Victorian mansions housed most of his neighbors, but a mulatto barber and his family lived next door. Their property was valued at $1,800.
By 1870, having been widowed a second time, Ariel had married Georgianna Gibson, and they had moved into a somewhat larger frame house located at 413 North Main Street. This house was on the site of Clarissa’s former school, which had been closed a few years earlier. The home was not pretentious, but it was comfortable and equipped with a large and well-selected library. The household included Clarissa, several of Ariel’s children, his stepmother, some other relatives by marriage, three Irish servants, and a group of eight people who were probably boarders.   
Ariel appeared to handle his finances wisely, accumulating wealth and indulging in few if any extravagances. His investments in real estate included a 50-acre farm, another property of about 200 acres, and a city block, sold to him by Clarissa, directly north of the Second Street Cemetery. His law office was on Lake Street near the courthouse. Neighboring businesses were unpretentious. They included a barber shop, a furniture factory, a saloon, and a tobacco store.  
But arguably Ariel’s greatest wealth was to be found in his intellect. Describing his voracious passion for acquiring knowledge, he said, “When I learn that one of my ancestors was a soldier in … Sullivan’s campaign against the Six Nations, I do not rest satisfied till I have informed myself in regard to all events within my reach touching the main incidents of … that campaign. Thus I learn history.” And thus he learned whatever subject piqued his insatiable curiosity.  
Genealogy was one such subject. Ariel collected wills and other records, and he traveled to England to learn what he could about the family there. As a direct descendant of Miles Standish, he was especially interested in that line. 
Literature, particularly poetry, was another of Ariel’s passions. A classical scholar, he memorized poetry and was fond of quoting it. He also enjoyed writing it, and he occasionally presented his poems in book form as gifts to his friends. At age 80 he published A Birthday Souvenir, containing such poems as “Wild Roses,” “To Augustus,” and a hymn sung at the dedication of his church. 
Combining several of his interests, in 1876 Ariel published “A Paraphrase of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s Poem, Entitled the Courtship of Miles Standish.” Convinced that Longfellow’s poem contained erroneous information about the Standish family, Ariel rewrote it in verse form, making what he believed to be necessary corrections. He sent a copy to Longfellow, who was singularly unimpressed. Writing to his friend George Washington Greene, Longfellow described Ariel as “a foolish man in Elmira” whose paraphrase “consists in altering the lines enough to make them rhyme!” Longfellow added, “I suggested to him that perhaps he might have employed his time and talent more profitably in writing an original work.”
Ariel continued to practice law and pursue his wide-ranging interests until his death, which occurred unexpectedly while he was visiting his granddaughter Julia Gayley in Braddock, Pennsylvania. He died of a broken neck, sustained in a fall down the stairs, during the early morning hours of September 23, 1894. He was 84. Today the Thurston family plot at Woodlawn contains a monument to Ariel as well as the graves of his first two wives, several of his children, and their spouses.  
In his will Ariel left most of his property to his children and grandchildren. The totality of his bequest to his wife, Georgianna, was a book, his portion of another book that they owned jointly, the “bed now occupied by her,” other bedroom furnishings, and the lounge in the front parlor. 
A few days after his death, the Chemung County Bar met to “bear testimony to the exalted worth of the departed … jurist.” One by one, attorneys and judges spoke of Ariel’s “sterling integrity.” He was a man with “one of the best hearts, … always cheery and pleasant. … Among the older members of the bar he was the most active and able.” He had the “least enemies among the profession.”  He was “a lover of wisdom. Within the last twelvemonth he was … endeavoring to discover authorities by which he could solve the mooted questions that agitated the … philosophers of ancient Greece.” 
The boy with the awkward mouth had clearly grown into a man of words. They were essential to his professional success and his enjoyment of life. Yet Ariel is primarily remembered as a man of action with an exhaustive list of personal accomplishments and civic contributions. 
But with all the good that he did, there is no solid evidence that he fit his sisters’ definition of a Christian, or that he worried about the “dark pit.” It may be that he viewed his church membership as a civic activity rather than a source of spiritual nourishment. And it may be that Ariel simply believed that he served God––and earned  his place in heaven––by serving man.  

 Philomela Garrett to Clarissa Thurston, private collection.
 Brown Thurston, comp., 1635-1892 Thurston Genealogies, 2nd ed. (Portland, ME: Brown Thurston, 1892. Facsimile ed., Rutland, VT: Tuttle Antiquarian Books), 84.
 Ibid., 175. 
 “A History of Amherst College,”  accessed June 19, 2011,
 W. L. Montague, ed., Biographical Record of the Alumni of Amherst College, during Its First Half Century 1821-1871 (Amherst, MA: n.p., 1883),     HYPERLINK "" See also Thurston, 1635-1892 Thurston Genealogies, 175.
 Ausburn Towner, Our County and Its People: A History of the Valley and County of Chemung from the Closing Years of the Eighteenth Century (Syracuse, NY: D. Mason & Co., 1892), 131,
  “A Thurston Memorial,” Elmira Telegram, September 30, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""   
 “Ariel S. Thurston: The Death of One of Elmira’s Foremost Citizens,” Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, September 24, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""   
 “Ariel S. Thurston,” Elmira Daily Gazette, September 24, 1894.   
 Thurston, 1635-1892 Thurston Genealogies, 175-76. 
 “Committee of Correspondence,” Elmira Gazette, November 25, 1847.
 H.B. Peirce and D. Hamilton Hurd, History of Chemung County New York; with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Some of Its Prominent Men and Pioneers (Philadelphia: J.B. Lippincott & Co., 1879; facsimile ed., Ovid, NY: W.E. Morrison & Co., 1981), 59.
 “The Charter Election,” Republican, May 10, 1850.
 Peirce and Hurd, History of Chemung County, 59.
 “Ariel S. Thurston,” Elmira Daily Gazette, September 24, 1894.   
 Peirce and Hurd, History of Chemung County, 120.
 E.O. Jameson, “Necrology of the New England Historic Genealogical Society,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 49 (January 1895): 90-91,    HYPERLINK ""                        
 “The Real Founder of Our Fine Schools,” July 4, 1909, Chemung County Historical Society, Elmira, NY.
 Peirce and Hurd, History of Chemung County, 38.
 Peirce and Hurd, History of Chemung County, 39.
 Ibid., 45-47.
 Ibid., 76.
 “Reform in Taxation,” Syracuse Daily Courier, April 23, 1878,  HYPERLINK ""
 “Monuments, Markers and Boulders in This Vicinity, Erected in Honor of the Sullivan Expedition,” Waverly Free Press and Tioga County Record, August 30, 1912, HYPERLINK "../../Downloads/"
  Brown Thurston, The Doings at the First National Gathering of Thurstons, Newburyport, Mass. (Portland, ME: Brown Thurston, 1885), 5,
 “Hospital Report,” Elmira Daily Gazette and Free Press, October 18, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""
 1850 US Census, Town of Elmira, NY, 202, Dwelling 159, Family 170, Line 15.
 Abner C. Wright, “Underground Railroad Activities in Elmira,” Chemung Historical Journal (September 1968): 1756.
 “Underground Railroad: Route to Freedom,” Elmira Sunday Telegram, March 8, 1961, quoted in Chemung Historical Journal (June 1961): 863. 
 “Eric Foner on the Fugitive Slave Act,” PBS Online, accessed July 2, 2011,      HYPERLINK ""
 “Underground Railroad Series: Abolitionists in Elmira,” Tri-Counties Genealogy & History by Joyce M. Tice, accessed July 2, 2011,  HYPERLINK ""
 “Convention of Republican Democrats,” New York Daily Tribune, July 25, 1856,  HYPERLINK ""
 Peirce and Hurd, History of Chemung County, 59.
 Ibid., 70.
 “Lake Street Presbyterian Church,” AE Monthly, accessed July 2, 2011,
 “The Thurston Homestead,” Elmira Telegram, March 25, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""
 1855 New York State Census, Town of Elmira, NY, First Election District, Dwelling 487, Family 526, Line 32.
 “Judge Thurston’s Home,” Elmira Telegram, February 4, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""
 1870 US Census, City of Elmira, NY, 23, Dwelling 145, Family 163-65, Line 9.
 “Obituary,” New York Sun, September 24, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""
 Ariel Thurston, will dated February 13, 1894, proved October 29, 1894, Chemung County Surrogate’s Court, Elmira, NY.
 Erastus P. and Eliza Hart to Ariel S. Thurston, deed dated July 23, 1853, recorded July 25, 1853, Chemung County, NY. 
 Clarissa Thurston to Ariel S. Thurston, deed dated April 12, 1853, recorded April 21, 1853, Chemung County, NY.
 “Disastrous Fire in Elmira,” Baldwinsville Gazette and Farmer’s Journal, February 23, 1888,  HYPERLINK ""
 Thurston, 1635-1892 Thurston Genealogies, xiii. 
 Ibid., 175. 
 “A Thurston Memorial,” Elmira Telegram, September 30, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""   
 Thurston to Longfellow, September 7, 1876, Archives, Family Papers, Box 2, Item 29, Longfellow House, Cambridge, MA.
 Longfellow to Greene, September 10, 1876, in The Letters of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, ed. Andrew Hilen (Cambridge, MA: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 1982), 6:175.
 “Ariel S. Thurston,” Elmira Daily Gazette, September 24, 1894.
 Ariel S. Thurston, will dated February 13, 1894, proved October 29, 1894, Chemung County Surrogate’s Court, Elmira, NY.
 “A Thurston Memorial,” Elmira Telegram, September 30, 1894,  HYPERLINK ""