It’s not bicentennial time yet, but an important Colgate anniversary happened on Sept. 24, 2017. On that day in 1817, 13 men gathered and offered 13 prayers and $13. The occasion culminated in settling on 13 articles for a constitution that led to the creation of what is now Colgate University.
We broke down the day into 13 elements to give a sense of what it was like to be part of the original 13:
BY REBECCA DOCTER
At the time, some Baptists worried that ministers weren’t well educated. The men who founded Colgate believed that there needed to be an institution to educate people of the faith. “They felt like they were on the mission of their lifetimes,” said visiting assistant professor of history and bicentennial fellow Jennifer Hull.
A notice in the Western New York Baptist Magazine II asked men to gather at the Baptist Meeting House in Hamilton on the fourth Wednesday in September at 10 a.m. The notice invited ministers from several associations to give information about creating a theological institution. Only the Otsego and Madison associations responded.
In part because of likely muddy September roads to Hamilton, only 13 men arrived for the meeting, though more were expected, according to Howard D. Williams’s book, A History of Colgate University: 1819-1969. The reason for the small attendance may also be that not everyone in the faith supported an educated ministry.
Jonathan Olmstead, Joel W. Clark, Nathaniel Kendrick, Charles W. Hull, Daniel Hascall, Samuel Payne, Elisha Payne, John Bostwick, Thomas Cox, Samuel Osgood, Amos Kingsley, Peter Philanthropos Roots, and Robert Powell assembled that day.
Because attendance was lower than expected, the crew met at the home of Baptist Deacon Jonathan Olmstead. As far as we know, they convened in the parlor, which can still be accessed on the main floor of the building.
Looking down from Olmstead House, the 13 men would have taken in a gorgeous view of the countryside.
A pledge of $1 earned each man membership into the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York. “These weren’t poor men, but they were not wealthy,” Hull said. “They were middle-class members of the community.”
A prayer was said by each of the men that day. “They would have prayed the Lord’s Prayer, at some point, and earnestly prayed for guidance, wisdom, and support,” Hull said.
The collection of 13 articles laid out the foundation for the Baptist Education Society of the State of New York. It included rules for creating committees to oversee the institution, including the hiring of instructors and supervising student affairs.
The founding men weren’t the only ones who had a role in creating what is now Colgate — their wives also played a large part. For example, Olmstead’s wife, Freedom, and the other women helped to raise money for the school by knitting socks and sweaters and selling them.
“Robert Powell remembered the meeting as a solemn and impressive occasion,” Williams wrote. “After the purpose of the meeting had been indicated, a period of profound silence followed, which [Nathaniel] Kendrick broke by a prayer in which all joined.”
After its founding, the university lacked an official name, but was sometimes known as the Hamilton Literary and Theological Institution, according to Williams’s book. Then, in 1846, it was renamed Madison University. In 1890, its name was changed to Colgate University.
To this day, the number 13 is at the center of Colgate’s identity. It’s in our zip code, in our address, and is the number of letters in our motto, Deo ac Veritati. Colgate Day, which comes around every Friday the 13th, is celebrated by the university community worldwide.