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Blanchard, Jonathan (1811-1892) | Archival Collections at Wheaton College

Name: Blanchard, Jonathan (1811-1892)


Historical Note:

Jonathan Blanchard was born on January 19, 1811 in the town of Rockingham, Vermont.  His mother, Polly Lovell,  was from a family of early settlers in the town.  His father, Jonathan Blanchard,  Sr., emigrated to the region from Massachusetts in the 1790s and bought a farm near Saxtons River, Vermont in 1801.  Fifteen children were born to their union, Jonathan Jr. being the eleventh.  His formal education began at the age of 4 when he entered the local district school.  His first experience as an educator came at the age of 14 when,  following the death of his mother, he traveled across the state to Shaftsbury to assume the duties of teaching in 1825.

  Using money saved from teaching in Shaftsbury and Rockingham, Blanchard entered Chester Academy in Chester, Vermont. Here he boarded with Uzziah Burnap, the school preceptor. Burnap and his brother,  Asa, encouraged the young man to think deeply about his religious faith.  Their tutelage was instrumental in Jonathan's decision to devote himself to a life of Christian service. 

  Following his preparatory studies at Chester, Jonathan entered Uzziah Burnap's alma mater, Middlebury College from 1828-32. Active in the Philomathesian Literary Society, Blanchard learned debate and parliamentary procedure.  While at Middlebury, he began the first of the several newspapers he would eventually found, The Undergraduate.  He took his degree on August 15, 1832,  at the age of 21. 

  Blanchard travelled to New York following his college graduation and assumed duties as preceptor of Plattsburg Academy. He often found his duties frustrating, but proposed resolutions for the improvement of the educational system. Here also, Jonathan advocated the immediate abolition of slavery, a campaign which he would soon undertake with characteristic vigor.

  From 1834 to 1836 Blanchard was engaged in theological studies at Andover Seminary.  While there he met Theodore Weld (a reformer and anti-slavery organizer) and left the school in September of 1836 to become a lecturer for the American Anti-Slavery Society.  He was sent to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where an event occurred which would be of great importance in Blanchard's life; he met his future wife, Mary Avery Bent.

  Blanchard continued his theological training in 1837 at Lane Seminary, near Cincinnati, Ohio.  He preached in black churches and continued his work for abolition of slavery.  Called to preach to the Sixth Presbyterian Church, he accepted the position as full-time minister after the completion of his studies.  Mary Bent had taken a teaching position in Montgomery,  Alabama and the two maintained a correspondence while separated.  Jonathan proposed to her through the mail and they were married at the Samuel Bent home in Middlebury,  Vermont on September 17, 1838.

Returning to Cincinnati, Blanchard was ordained a Presbyterian minister on October 31, 1838.  In addition to his continued anti-slavery work,  Blanchard and his new wife also promoted the causes of temperance and anti-secretism.  The first four of twelve children were born during the Blanchards' residence in Ohio:  two boys and two girls.  Both of the boys died as infants and both girls preceded their parents in death.  In 1843 Blanchard traveled to London as a delegate to the World's Anti-Slavery Convention.  The following year he journeyed to Quincy, Illinois, to deliver the commencement address to the Adelphi Theopolis Mission Institute. He took the opportunity to visit Knox College in Galesburg, Illinois, which had offered him its presidency. In November of 1845 the Blanchard family made the cold trek to Galesburg and Jonathan was installed as President of the college. 

During Jonathan Blanchard's presidency at Knox College the institution's debt was liquidated and the main building erected.  His presidency at Knox was terminated due to friction between himself and members of the Board of Trustees in 1858. Between 1858 and his assumption of the presidency of Wheaton College in 1860,  Blanchard served as pastor of churches in Ottawa and Galesburg,  Illinois.  Eight children were added to the Blanchard fold during their 15 year residency in Galesburg, bringing the total to twelve (a son, Williston, died in 1858).  He was offered, but refused the presidency of Iowa College (now Grinnell) and a nomination to run for Congress during this period.  He accepted the presidency of the Illinois Institute, a college and preparatory school founded by Wesleyan Methodists.

As with Knox College, Jonathan Blanchard found the Illinois Institute a struggling school.  He added new members to the Board of Trustees and gained a new charter for the institution, renaming it Wheaton College after trustee and benefactor Warren L. Wheaton.  Through his efforts the college was brought out of debt and the west wing and tower of the main building were added.  Plagued by weak health,  Jonathan and his son Charles (later second president of Wheaton College) undertook a wagon journey to the gold fields of the Montana Territory in 1864.  In 1868, Blanchard was a co- founder of the National Christian Association,  a reform body devoted to the cause of anti-secretism.  He became editor and a regular contributor to The Christian Cynosure,  official organ of the NCA.  The years 1878-79 saw a threat to the Blanchard presidency in an imbroglio involving Professor John Calvin Webster and the Congregational church in Wheaton.  In 1882 Blanchard turned over the presidency to his son, Charles, but remained active in reform work.  He became involved in politics in 1884 with the organization of the American Party. 

The following years saw Blanchard travelling to Batavia, NY,  Washington, D.C., Saratoga Springs,  NY,  and Vermont.  During a trip to California in 1890,  Mary Blanchard became ill and died in East Las Vegas, New Mexico.  Blanchard spent his remaining years quietly in Wheaton, Illinois where he died in his sleep on Saturday, May 14, 1892 at the home of Herman and Julia Fischer.







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