|The Rev. Simeon Colton, D.D., by illustrator|
Rich Powell from a 1904 engraving of
an 1854 daguerreotype.
Find out as Ross Holt, director of the Randolph County Public Library, debuts his book A Man of Restless Enterprise: The Diary of Simeon Colton, 1851-1862, at 7 p.m. Tuesday, January 8, at the Asheboro Public Library.
Holt’s talk is free and the public is invited.
The Yale-educated Rev. Simeon Colton, D.D. (1785-1868), was the superintendent of the Asheboro Male and Female Academies from 1854 until his retirement in 1862, and minister of Asheboro Presbyterian Church during the same period. Holt has transcribed and annotated Colton’s diary, which is in the Southern Historical Collection at The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
“The diary is an amazing look at life in central North Carolina as the country heads towards civil war,” Holt says.
In his writings, Colton shares his thought on domestic affairs, the complexities of travel both in the area and nationally, and the difficulty of operating schools in communities facing demographic, economic and civic challenges. He also reflects on his charge to develop Presbyterian congregations in rural areas, and wrestles with his own questions of faith.
As the country draws toward war, Colton turns his incisive mind to national affairs, and to the sin of slavery as the genesis of the conflict.
Pious and outspoken, Colton also is not shy about voicing his opinion of neighbors and colleagues who fell short of his expectations. “Some of the diary reads like ‘Asheboro Confidential,’” Holt says.
Colton was a Connecticut native who grew up in Massachusetts. A lifelong educator, he served as principal of a series of preparatory schools in Massachusetts and Cumberland County, N.C., before coming to Asheboro.
Colton’s diary also sheds light on the amazing reach of his colleagues, friends and former students. Among the latter were Charles Merriam, who would establish The Merriam-Webster Dictionary, and Loring Norcross, who would become the uncle of poet Emily Dickinson.
Included in Holt’s book is the most definitive profile of Colton to date, was well as profiles of his extraordinary children, who made significant contributions of their own. “One of my colleagues observed that Colton’s story demonstrates the power of a family that places a supreme value on education” Holt says.
The diary project grew out of Holt’s research for the Randolph County Historic Landmark Preservation Commission on the 1839 Asheboro Female Academy, which recently was designated as a Randolph County Historic Landmark.
A Man of Restless Enterprise is available through Amazon.com. Proceeds from book sales go to the Randolph Room, the local history and genealogy service of the Randolph County Public Library.
Holt said the process of transcribing the diary and chasing down references to people and places was a series of daily “A-ha” moments, generating a series of interesting and sometimes odd facts. For example:
- Colton was trained at Yale as a chemist, and had a lifelong affinity for the subject. In 1850, he testified as an expert witness in a celebrated murder trial in Fayetteville.
- Colton was put on trial by the Presbyterian church during a doctrinal controversy in 1839 and acquitted, but just barely.
- Among his friends was Elisha Mitchell, the University of North Carolina professor who measured the altitude of North Carolina’s Black Mountains and for whom Mount Mitchell is named.
- His son Henry was a newspaper editor who shot a man, nearly fought a duel, and wrote the first travel guidebook to the western North Carolina mountains.
- His son Fisher was a prominent architect in the heyday of Chicago building, and designed the Gold Coast mansion that was used as the exterior of the family home in the 1980s television series “Webster.
- ”His grandson Henry argued the appeal of John Thomas Scopes, from the famed “Monkey Trial,” before the Tennessee Supreme Court.
- His granddaughter Elizabeth was an instructor at Meredith College whose research transformed higher education for women in the early part of the 20th century.