University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
Link to University of Wisconsin Digital Collections
The State of Wisconsin Collection

Page View

Dicke, Robert J. (ed.) / Transactions of the Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters
volume XLIV (1955)

Irrmann, Robert H.
A Harvard graduate goes west: Robert Adams Coker and the Highland School in the 1830's,   pp. 91-107 ff. PDF (6.5 MB)


Page 92

 92 Wisconsin Academy of Sciences, Arts and Letters [Vol. 44 
spring of 1831_1832,2 but looked meanwhile for greener academic pastures,
and greater remuneration. Apparently the chronic discontent of teachers seized
upon Coker in his term at Francestown, and he thought for a moment, not of
the pleasant pasture of another academy, but of the lure of the green meadows
of the great West and its Pacific prospects. His classmate George Coombs
was the recipient of one of his plaints, and wrote in reply: 
 * . I am sorry to find that you are a teacher with the Oregon mania. I trust
that you will soon recover from it. It is a vile disaster, and ' many a good
tall fellow has laid low'. You really do not seriously think of taking up
your connexion with civilized life, and transporting yourself thousands of
miles into a waste howling wilderness. What will you do when you get there?
What will your literature and your science avail you among the wild beasts,
and savages? There are thousands of one half your sense and erudition, and
would make as good perhaps better, colonists than yourself. Stay then where
your knowledge and understanding may be turned to some profit. If you feel
any disposition to roam, come down here to New Bedford . . . 
 But the nearer prospect of a "western" academy was already in sight. In
early April, 1832, Coker had received a letter from his close friend and
classmate, William Austin Jr., then teaching in Brookline,4 ". . . by which
I learn that a gentleman by the name of Watson has written to Mr. Thayer
for an instructor in Mathematics; & that Mr. Thayer has written to him
in favor of me. Salary $500 & boarded &c."5 Whatever Coker's other
interests might be in this spring of 1832, and he was attracted by several
other prospects, by May his future began to be apparent; it was to be cast
in the mold of the Highland School,6 the 
 2 Robert Adams Coker to Suran A. Coker, Francestown, N.H., November 3, 1831.
Mss. letter in the possession of the author. 
 ~ George C. Coombs to Robert Adams Coker, New Bedford, Mass., May 6, 1832.
Mss. letter in the possession of the author. 
 william Austin to Robert A. Coker, Boston, Sep. 24th, 1831. Mss. letter
in the possession of the author. 
Commentarium Comprehenclens Compendia et Notationes, De Personia et Libris
de Rebus dc. 16 Ka'. Jun. MDCCCXXVI. (The Diary of Robert Adams Coker), 
(Two Volumes, Manuscript in the Harvard College Archives), Journal &c.,
1832, 
Volume II, p. 91, entry for the week of April 8, 1832. 
 "In the evening (Wednesday) I received a letter from my chum (William Austin
by which it appears probable that I sha'l obtain the place of Iristr. in
rV[ath. in the Highland School. By this letter, also I learned of my rank
at Cambridge in Mathematics. It seems that Mr. Watson, Principal of the Highland
School wrote to Benj. Pierce, now Tutor in Math, at Harvard, to enquire my
' collegiate merits'. Pierce referred to the President's papers, & as
he told Austin, I had the highest mark in the Mathematical Department. This
is higher than I expect, for I was so low in the languages that I thought
probable that I was placed as low as the third in Mathematics. I never enquired
my rank, & was somewhat surprised at the justice of the Government."
Diary, II, 96, entry for the week of May 14, 1832. 


Go up to Top of Page