Friday, December 9, 2011

Holiday Greetings

As Christmas draws near and many of us begin to address cards to friends and family, we find we share this task with many of the academy’s past headmasters and their families. The Governor’s Academy archives is fortunate to have some of these cards sent by headmasters Ingham (1907-1930), Eames(1930-1959), Wilkie(1959-1973), and Doggett(1999-2011) among its collection. Interestingly enough, while most of the cards sent were Christmas cards, the Eames family seemed to prefer sending New Year’s cards (perhaps as a way of giving themselves a little extra time to send their greetings.) Currently, many of these past greetings are on display in the Cobb Room in the Phillips Building and will remain there until after New Year’s. We encourage all who can do so to visit. For those who cannot, a small sampling of the items on display is included below.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Baccalaureate Welcoming Speech 2003

As members of the Senior Class of 2011 wraps up their academic year and high school careers, Commencement Week traditions are once again on the horizon. As tribute, the following excerpt--sometimes humorous and thoroughly informative--was pulled from the Baccalaureate Welcoming Speech delivered by John Martin Doggett, Jr. (pictured above), in 2003:

"Over the past few years, I have used the occasion of Baccalaureate to speak about the origins of some of the customs, ceremonies, trappings and traditions surrounding graduation exercises. This has forced me to become a student again and engage in some research for my talks. One year, I investigated the origins of the Baccalaureate service. Two years ago, I looked into the genesis of the colors and style of academic regalia worn by faculty. Last year, I spoke about history of commencement ceremonies. I can already see a few eyes rolling back in heads of some members of my audience who may be legitimately wondering if they had mistakenly come into a bad version of the History channel. Others, hearing my topic, may be thinking that it is ironic that they would be invited into a house of worship only to be punished; they could probably have had the same experience in a dentist's chair undergoing a root canal procedure.

However, I ask that you briefly indulge a frustrated History teacher who rarely has an opportunity to get into the classroom. I thought it would be interesting to learn a big about two unique GDA graduation rituals: walking around the milestone and jumping over the Mansion House garden wall. Information provided by Judy Klein and books by Jack Ragle and Mary Elaine Gage have given me fresh insight into these traditions.

I had assumed that jumping over the Mansion House Wall was a practice that stretched back to [the] era of Master Moody in the early days of the Academy. Not so. It turns out that the present Mansion House garden wasn't even in existence until the 20th century. What was actually located in the area where the garden is now situated was a small wooden building that was used for "human convenience". To the uninitiated, this is 19th century code for outhouse. I would venture a guess that precious few people were broad jumping in that area in the 1900s.

Conversations with various older alumni have revealed that no one before 1950 can ever remember jumping over the Mansion House Wall. All of those alums questioned could remember every Latin declension they ever did at GDA; so I am reasonably certain that they would have at least a passing memory of such a watershed event. On the other hand, graduates of 1951 on all seem to have vivid recollections of taking the leap. 1951 happens to be the year of my birth. I know it is hard to believe; most of you are probably operating under the illusion that I was in my early thirties. In any event, the first thing that came into my mind was that this coincidence was indicative of some magical convergence of cosmic forces. Sadly, more thorough research suggests a very different explanation. Apparently, the then Headmaster Ted Eames was considered quite an exacting and controlling figure. Ramrod straight and taciturn, he probably didn't get his nickname "the Stick" by accident. He insisted that all official school functions be highly scripted and regimented. Apparently jumping over the wall was a spontaneous expression of disapproval by the graduates, to what they felt was the stodginess of Mr. Eames and perhaps his insistence that they sing a tuneless dirge of a song that he had brought from his days at Amherst College. With all due respect to my good friend Mr. Leavitt, this melody was probably the best you could expect from a junior college but I completely understand how the discerning GDA students would rise up in righteous indignation to such an indignity and literally vote with their feet. This 50's style student protest of sorts was not exactly the Berkeley Free Speech Movement of the Columbia riots, but it was certainly revolutionary for quaint Byfield. Apparently the wall-jumping practice was repeated in 1952 and so, in prep school terms, it became a tradition [see photo below of members of the Class of 1969 Jumping the Wall]. The former use of this patch of real estate has not deterred any jumpers for the last half century, thus probably explaining the term leap of faith.

Before Governor Dummer graduates jump over the Mansion House garden wall, they march around the Milestone, which is located in front of Lt. Governor Dummer's ancestral home. In the early 1700s, the old Bay Road ran north from Boston through Essex County all the way to the New Hampshire line and was set off with markers indicating the mileage to Boston and the towns along the route. Only 10 of these milestones remain; the oldest surviving stone is located in front of the Mansion House [see photo below from 1910]. It is dated 1708 (which predates the Mansion House by at least 5 years), and it gives the information 5N 33B--5 miles to Newburyport and 33 miles to Boston. It is made of simple fieldstone with a simple flat face. It was carved by John Hartshorn, the first gravestone carver in the area of Massachusetts.

Our friend Headmaster Eames, younger, but still anally retentive, instituted this practice of marching around the Milestone in 1931, at the start of his 29-year headmastership. Apparently that generation of students was more compliant. The senior class assembled on Sunset Rock adjacent to what is now the French Building in their caps and gowns. They eventually descended the hill (this was before the days of ambulance-chasing personal injury attorneys) and filed slowly around the historic marker to symbolize their reaching this important educational landmark. Give Mr. Eames some credit, some nice symbolism here. This practice became the culminating even in the GDA graduation exercise until jumping the wall was introduced twenty years later.

So much for the history lession..."

Friday, April 29, 2011

John Leslie Breck, Impressionist Painter

Born in 1860 at sea on a clipper ship in the South Pacific, John Leslie Breck, son of a U.S. Navy Captain, was raised in the Boston area and attended Dummer Academy as a child. The Governor’s Academy archival records reveal that Breck was a student at the academy during the years 1868 and 1869. According to the academy’s records, Breck resided in Newton Lower Falls, a village of Newton, Massachusetts, through at least 1871. He would subsequently study in Munich, Germany, and in 1886, at the Academie Julian in Paris, France (1886).

One of the artists to settle in the famous impressionist art colony of Giverny, Breck would become one of the few Americans to enter the inner circle of Claude Monet. It has been reported that he was once viewed as Monet’s most promising artistic heir among Americans. The website of the City of Newton ( provides information about John Leslie Breck's life, and includes the following picture of Breck (seated) with Claude Monet's wife and stepdaughters, Monet himself (center, standing), Monet's son Jean, and Henry Fitch Taylor, another American painter.

In 1888, Breck began to paint by moonlight, a technique that he would later employ on canvases such as Santa Maria della Salute by Moonlight (see below).

After a failed romance with Monet’s stepdaughter, Blanche Hoschede-Monet, he returned to Boston in 1890 and continued to paint in the avant-garde style. Many of Breck’s canvases were created after his return from France, with several featuring scenes along the Massachusetts coast. Flower Garden at Annisquam (see below), painted in 1892, sold through Christie’s for $270,000 in 2000.

Breck’s U.S.-based works are some of the earliest fully realized impressionistic painting in this country. His many works include the following:

The River Epte, Giverny, 1887

Les Coquelicots, 1890

Grainstack, Giverny, 1891

Early Snow, 1894

Ipswich, 1894

New England Village, circa 1895

Guidecca Canal, Venice, 1897

Landscape, 1899

Breck’s well-known series of 15 paintings—Studies of an Autumn Day—feature hay mounds, farm buildings, a ridge, and trees as anchors while their colors, textures, and shadows, which are captured at various times during one day, evolve with the movement of the sun and changing atmospheric conditions. Canvases from this collection appear below.

The artist’s brother, Edward, penned the following poem in tribute to the content of the serial works:

“The Day”

By Edward Breck

She sleeps.

Soft pillowed on fair cloudland’s purple bank.

Sweet Nature sleeps, still guarded by the night,

And dreams, love-drunken, of her Lord, the Sun.

But see! She wakes! And waking thinks of him!

Across her limpid cheek warm blushes flame,

And all her form thrills with expectant joy!

And lo! From o’er the hills and purple fields

Behold the Lord of Day in splendor rise,

Flash far on high his blinding bolts of light,

And tip the harvest peaks with dazzling fire!

But ‘this not meet roe impious mortal’s gaze

To view the rapture of that first embrace,

When Nature’s form he clasps with ardent arms.

From fleeting night he tears the lustrous veil

To deck the blushes of his beauteous bride.

Once more he sweeps from earth the fairy film

And shoots his rays athwart the dew-decked field,

Turning each drop into a flashing gem!

With ruby, pearl and emerald bedight

Fair Nature wanders through the golden day,

Her lovely face turned upward to her Lord,

And smiling back his smile, until on high

He turns his chariot round the top of Heaven

And downward gallops toward the earth again.

At his return she laughs and clasps her hands!

She drinks the perfume of the oderous earth,

The melodies of sylvan symphonies.

The field, abashed at such magnificence,

And feeling with the lover’s instinct sure

The coming of the evening, blushes red,

With all his pulses swelling at the thought!

But see! The dusky maid, of waiting weary,

With lovely, slender arms outstretched,

Alas, how art thou tricked! Those arms are more

Than cooling—they are cold! Thy blushes die.

Thy thrill turns to a shudder as the eve,

Her lips on thine, locks thee in her embrace!

The jilted sunshine, laughing from the hills,

At thy poor plight, is off, the wanton wench,

To woo the cloudlets in the western sky.

Despair not yet, for the darkling vale

Uprises in transcendent loveliness

The Queen of Night, before whose majesty

In terror shrinks thy gloomy torturer.

Singing the sweet, yet unheard song of silence,

She hangs aloft her robe of blue and silver;

And Nature, hearing, seeing, sinks to rest,

O’ercome by beauty’s soothing anodyne.

She sleeps!

John Leslie Breck’s premature death came at the age of 39 in 1899.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Dummer Academy Alumni Involvement in the American Civil War, 1861-1865

Information held in The Governor’s Academy’s Archives reveals that at least five alumni of the academy—then named Dummer Academy—fought in the American Civil War. All five men were Union Army officers, two of whom reached the level of Brigadier General, during the 1861-1865 war. One Dummer Academy alumnus was an aide to Major General George B. McClellan, while another ultimately served as private secretary to Andrew Johnson, who assumed the United States Presidency after Abraham Lincoln’s assassination in 1865.

Of the five Dummer Academy alumni to fight in the Civil War, two died in battle and one died from complications of pneumonia while active in service. Arranged chronologically by year of Dummer Academy graduation, the men are as follows:

Frederick West Lander (see below), Brigadier General of Volunteers, Union Army, and Aide to General McClellan. Originally from Salem, Massachusetts, Lander graduated from Dummer Academy in 1838, and subsequently studied at Norwich Military Academy. Lander was also a transcontinental United States explorer and poet. In the former capacity, he was commissioned by the U.S. government to survey for a route for a Pacific railroad. He constructed the overland wagon route (“Lander Road”), a popular route between the Wyoming and Oregon Territories. During the American Civil War, he published a popular poem on the Battle of Ball’s Bluff, as well as other nationally recognized patriotic poems. Lander died of complications from pneumonia in February of 1862.

Reuben Delevan Mussey, Brigadier General, US Volunteers, and Private Secretary to President Andrew Johnson. “R.D.” Mussey graduated from Dummer Academy in 1846. He received a college degree in 1854 from Dartmouth College, where his father—also Reuben Mussey—was a professor in Dartmouth’s medical school and the fourth president of the American Medical Association. Mussey had campaigned for Abraham Lincoln in 1860. When the war started, he was appointed from Ohio to the regular army, assigned to the 19th U.S. Infantry as a captain in May of 1861. The 19th ultimately joined the Army of the Ohio and later the Army of the Cumberland. According to the Certificate of Records of Soldiers and Sailors Historical and Benevolent Society No. 180017, Mussey was said to have been the first regular army officer to see permission to raise Negro troops. In September 1863, he was sent to Nashville, Tennessee, to help organize Negro troops. He was made Colonel of the 100th U.S. Colored Infantry in June of 1864. Mussey was brevetted Brigadier General of U.S. Volunteers in 1865 for his recruitment and organization of Negro troops. Subsequently, he served as Andrew Johnson’s confidential secretary from when Johnson took office following Lincoln’s assassination until November 1865. Mussey then served as an adjunct instructor at Howard Law School. He established law office in Washington, DC, and involved his wife, Ellen Spencer Mussey, who became a social reformer, supporter of the women’s suffrage movement, lawyer, and founder of Washington College of Law.

Malcom W. Tewksbury, Company C, 104th Illinois Volunteer Infantry, enlisted as a 1st Lieutenant, Union. Originally from Chester, NH, Tewksbury graduated from Dummer Academy in 1854, and from Dartmouth College in 1858.

Goodwin A. Stone (see below), Captain 2d Cavalry, Company K. An 1856 graduate of Dummer Academy and an 1862 graduate of Harvard University, Stone was mortally wounded at the Battle of Aldie, part of the Gettysburg Campaign. He hailed from Newburyport, Massachusetts.

George P. Sylvester, 3rd Sergeant (non-commissioned officer), Ninth Regiment New Hampshire Volunteers. Originally from West Newbury, Massachusetts, Sylvester graduated from Dummer Academy in 1858. The Union officer was also mortally wounded in battle.

Monday, March 21, 2011

The Civil War Scrapbook of Captain William White Dorr

The Governor’s Academy Archives house the Civil War-era scrapbook of Captain William White Dorr, a Union Army Commander in the 121st Regiment Pennsylvania Volunteers. Captain Dorr was born in Philadelphia on October 31, 1837, the son of the Reverend Benjamin Dorr, D.D., Rector of the Christ Church, Philadelphia, and Esther Kettell Odin, daughter of John Odin, Esq., of Boston. Dorr’s paternal ancestors were some of the earliest settlers of Boston’s Roxbury section and of Salisbury, Massachusetts (the local Dalton family). On his maternal side, Dorr was a descendant of the Chief Justices Lynde (father and son) of the Massachusetts Bay Colony; the Reverend Increase Mather; the Reverend John Eliot, the “Apostle to the Indians”; and the Reverend William Walter, Rector of Christ Church, Boston.

Educated in Philadelphia, Dorr entered the army at age 25 and served in the battles of Fredericksburg, Chancellorsville, Gettysburg, the Wilderness, and at Spottsylvania Court House, where he was killed in action on May 10, 1864. His remains were taken to Salisbury Point, Massachusetts, and interred with other family members in a cemetery near the bank of the Merrimac River. A mural tablet was erected in Christ Church, Philadelphia, as tribute to his patriotism and virtues.

Captain Dorr’s scrapbook holds a number of letters from the battlefield, journal entries, newspaper clippings, sketches (see below, with caption), pressed flowers, and memorabilia from the Civil War era. Many of the sketches—soldiers’ camp sites, officers and enlisted men, and maps—were drawn by Captain Dorr’s men and, combined with notes on troop movements, capture a feel for the life of soldier in this mid-19th century period.

This is one of the many military-related items in The Governor’s Academy’s archival collection. For more information, contact Laurie DiModica, Archivist, at

Friday, February 11, 2011

Governor Dummer Academy Work Squad Efforts, Part 2

The Fall 2004 issue of The Archon makes reference to the May 14, 1932 issue of this publication (see below, with related four photographs), in which the efforts of students engendered much-needed flood relief on campus:

“Senior Class Makes and Unusual Gift to School,” reports a headline in the May 14, 1932 issue of The Archon. Looking for a gift out of the ordinary, the class decided to volunteer its time to dig drainage in the southwest portion of the Morse Field to alleviate flooding problems. [The students] began digging on May 5 and finished the nine hundred foot system by the time the seniors graduated in June 1932. Several other projects followed over the next few years, including construction of a five-foot-high dam to form a hockey rink later referred to as Ingham Rink, and an outdoor board track made u of two 85-foot straightways connected by two semicircles banked at an angle of 20 degrees. In 1942, a new emphasis was placed on the work squad due to a serious shortage of labor in the vicinity of the school caused by wartime enlistments. Students were asked to do chores such as cleaning their dorm rooms, mopping their bathrooms, and picking up the classrooms.”

The academy's archives contain photographs and film of several other Work Squad projects, including the following:

-Cutting grass and raking leaves on the lawns and athletic fields.

-As previously noted, construction of a dam for the creation of Ingham Rink.

-Planting trees around the athletic field and other areas of campus.

-Building up of the embankment at the first base line on the baseball field.

-As previously noted, the construction of an outdoor wooden track.

-Filling 350 feet of ditch over a pipeline to one of the dorms.

-Picking 20 bushels of apples.

-Shoveling snow after heavy snowstorms.