THE ACADEMIC ANCESTRY OF BEREA
It would be presumptuous for one like myself not of your immediate family to
tell you about your own traditions, your ideals, the purposes of your founders.
I shall attempt nothing of the kind... .We at Knox College are, however, academic
sisters of yours, first cousins at least. We do share a common origin, common
ancestors, and a common educational history. It is about the common origin,
ancestry, aid early history of your school and nine, and two other sister schools
that I wish to talk to you this morning.
The opening scene of the story that I wish to tell lies in the valley of the
Mohawk River in western and central New York. It is this valley, that offers the
easiest way through the mountain barrier that separates the Atlantic coastal plain
from the lands to the west. For a long time this easy route to the West was not
available to the pioneer, however, for the western end of it was occupied by the
Iriquois Indians, fierce Indian fighting of this region was largely used by the
first American to write good Indian stories, James Fenimore Cooper, as it is still
being used in such excellent modern frontier fiction as Walter Edmund's Drums Along
the Mohawk and Kenneth Roberts' Northwest Passage.
It was therefore not by that route but by the somewhat roundabout trails that
led first into Kentucky and Tennessee and then on farther that the first considerable
white settlers came into the Ohio and Mississippi Valley. Even my state, Illinois,
had been settled mostly from the South at the time it was admitted into the Union.
During the 1320's that Mohawk River Valley route came into its own, however.
New York was building the most important means of east-west communication then yet
undertaken, the Erie Canal, which was completed in 1825. Very quickly it became the
means for western migration for Yankee pioneers from New England and nearby New York,
and during the 1830's that part of the country was exerting a great influence on
those western settlements which it had somewhat neglected up to that time. At that
very time New England was entering upon its most brilliant period, that of Bryant,
Emerson, Hawthorne, Thoreau. It was out of New England traditions that directly,
or indirectly the West got educational pioneers, its best cultural models and moral
leaders. They came tardily, but after 1820 they came strong. It was to that educational,
cultural, and moral strain that the Berea founders were bred.
So much for the opening scene of my story. New the opening incident. In the
early 1820's the Reverend George Washington Gale was a Presbyterian minister of
liberal views in Adams, N.Y. His choir master was a man by the name of Charles
Grandison Finney, a lawyer. This man Finney experienced a very deep religious
experience, and became convinced that he should become a minister. He studied