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Aug. 4, 2010
Last month Antiochiana received a donation of Antioch School materials from Ruth Hameyer King ‘55, whose husband, Louis King ‘49, was director of the Antioch School and a longtime member of the Antioch College faculty. The Kings had a long association with the College going back to 1860, when Louis’ great grandfather, James Elbridge Greer, enrolled in the Preparatory Program. Included in Ruth’s gift was a carte de visite, or “calling card,” of Greer’s Latin teacher, the Rev, Claudius Bradford, a Unitarian minister from Massachusetts who taught languages at Antioch College at the end of his life. The calling card, as it was called in the mid 19th century, was a photograph mounted on a business card.
Though this space is not generally intended for autobiography, kindly forgive my descent into the first person. The reason I do this is because Claudius Bradford was my ancestor. From the time my family knew that I would be working at Antioch College (the summer of 1994), I was told that my great great uncle Gershom Bradford had been a student here. I knew him a little as I was about 12 when he died at a ripe old age. He’d been a Navy scientist, authored three books of maritime history, and had built from scratch exquisite model ships that were donated to the Smithsonian. He’d married into the one wing of my family that ever had any money, the Lightfoots of Washington D.C., and between their wealth and his lineage, traceable to the settlement of Plymouth colony in Massachusetts, he was perhaps the closest thing we ever had to a celebrity in the family.
So, on my very first day on the job, I told Nina Myatt ’53, curator of Antiochiana for more than 30 years, about my family tie to the College. She immediately went to look Bradford up, and discovered, to my dismay, that the archives had no record of his attendance. Crestfallen as I was, I would go on to use that little episode time and again whenever a genealogist contacted us to find out the years of their forebear’s attendance. When the subject didn’t come up, I would respond with the increasingly well-rehearsed line: “Sorry to report that we have no record of your ancestor ever attending Antioch College. But if it is any consolation, the same thing happened to me.”
Then one day I was looking for something completely unrelated in the bound volumes of The Antiochian, a title that goes back to 1869, and stumbled upon the article from the May 1898 issue reprinted below. Finally, the mystery was solved: My great great uncle did not go to Antioch College, but his great uncle taught here.
Claudius Bradford was born in Boston, Mass., on January 20, 1801. He was of pilgrim descent straight from the Bradford of the Mayflower. As the means of the family were not abundant it was difficult for the boy to get an education, but, by strenuous effort, he succeeded in doing so and even assisted a younger brother in the same direction. His first start in the world was as a teacher of French in Boston where had private classes while yet in his teens; he subsequently taught in the then famous school known as The Round Hill School at Northampton, Mass., whose principal had the distinction of being called “Cogswell,” (without title, as one says Dickens, not Mr. Dickens), among literary men. When about thirty years old, Mr. Bradford married a far-off cousin, Miss Maria Weston Bradford, whom he took, while yet a bride, to Cincinnati, Ohio, at that time in the “Far West” and more distant in time, almost, than are the antipodes at present; there he was connected with the Woodward High School, afterwards college, and while in this part of the country, taught for some time in Louisville, Kentucky. Cincinnati then held a place as to literary culture similar to that of Edinburgh in the time of [Sir Walter] Scott and Mr. Bradford’s position and tastes brought him into association with literary people of eminence. His life here was a delightful episode and it is curious that he should finally have ended his career so near the city he loved so well and in a village no less dear. In Cincinnati two children were born, one of whom, Sarah, died in infancy and the other, Lucia, is still living.
Urged mainly by the inclination of his wife for her home and home friends, he returned to Massachusetts and was engaged first as a teacher of a private school in Hingham for about two years and later as principal of an Academy at Westford, northward from Boston. Here he remained some two years and prepared by study for the ministry and shortly after the birth of his first son, Gershom, in 1838, settled as a Unitarian minister in Hubbardston in the interior of the state where his second son, Laurence, was born and where he lived for some five years, after which he was called to a parish at Bridgewater about twenty miles south of Boston. He was about forty-four years old, at the prime of his powers, with a salary sufficient for his moderate wants and located in a beautiful village conveniently situated for association with those for whose intellectual companionship he cared most. He was popular in his parish and the way seemed clear for a prolonged stay in this snug harbor after his wanderings, and so it might have been had his conscience not been too tender for his prosperity. “The children of this world are wiser in their generation than the children of light.” The Anti-slavery agitation was then at its hottest, its opponents at their bitterest and the door for martyrdom wide open. Although in accord on this burning subject with a majority of his parishioners, it happened that one of the number was of a contrary opinion actuated partly by business motives and partly, let us hope, by honest conviction. Unfortunately this man’s support, as his contribution was very large, was, or seemed to be, necessary to the existence of the parish and he ruled it despotically. A little incident which came to my notice a few years ago will illustrate this. It chanced that I was attending service in the same meeting-house (to use the quaint puritan word) in Bridgewater where Mr. Bradford had preached nearly fifty years before, and I was surprised to find a survival of the queer fashion of turning the back on the minister and the face to the choir during the singing. A friend explained that all the parish wished to do away with this absurdity but that the one person above mentioned wished the practice continued and so it was.
Forced to leave, for conscience sake, his pleasant parish in Bridgewater, and for the same reason probably, finding it difficult to obtain another as desirable, Mr. Bradford drifted to Franklin County in the Western part of the state and to the little hill village of New Salem lovely in its situation but only interesting otherwise to a man of culture on account of its Academy, an institution of some note at that time, which gave it the only intellectual life it possessed. After two or three years of residence here another move was made to Montague, not far away, and near the Connecticut River, and here he remained until, through the liberality of a few old friends and the exertions of Rev. F.N. Knapp, his daughter’s husband, who united immense energy with great kindness of heart, a tutorship was received at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, Ohio, where he was later appointed to a professorship of modern languages, which he retained until he died in 1863. It would seem that teaching was, all things considered, rather more to his taste than the ministry: at all events no party of his life was happier than when he was engaged in the former employment and especially was this the case at Antioch where he formed friendships that sweetened his last years.
GERSHOM BRADFORD, Washington, D.C.