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  • Print publication year: 2015
  • Online publication date: July 2015

3 - The Colony and the College


THE OBERLIN COLONY WAS ESTABLISHED IN 1833 as part of the “grand scheme” of John Jay Shipherd, a young Presbyterian minister in Elyria, Ohio. Similar to other religious idealists in the early nineteenth century, Shipherd aspired to create a utopian community of “selected, consecrated souls, founded in the virgin forest far from the taint of established and sin-infected towns.” The settlement, in his vision, would include a school for the education of the “hopefully pious,” who, once educated, would serve as missionaries and educators throughout the western states. Shipherd shared his ideas with a childhood friend named Philo Penfield Stewart, a former missionary to the Cherokees, and the two men set about locating suitable land in the northern Ohio district known as the Western Reserve.

Providence, as they put it, brought them to a remote location in Lorain County's Russia Township, which they determined to be an “eligible spot for a colony and school.” Most important was the region's isolation. It was separated by nine miles of “impassible roads” from Elyria, the county seat, and the growing city of Cleveland was a nearly insurmountable forty miles distant across a sea “of almost bottomless mud.” Any place closer to civilization would have risked marring their “great educational work” by attracting “manufacturers and large establishments … with many workmen” and the accompanying “saloons and other nuisances.” Shipherd and Stewart convinced the owners of the property – some 7000 acres – to donate a portion of the land and sell them the rest. Thus was born Oberlin, which they named after the German pastor John Frederic Oberlin, whose “benevolent social work and interest in Sabbath Schools” were thought to set a fine example for the new colony.

The first Oberlin settlers arrived from the East in spring 1833, eager to clear the land – it would have to be “hacked out of a dense, unbroken wilderness” – and begin a new life of devotion, temperance, and prayer.

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The 'Colored Hero' of Harper's Ferry
  • Online ISBN: 9781139872072
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