some notes on jehudi ashmun


CHAMPLAIN was first settled in 1788. Six years later, on April 24, 1794, a son was born to one of the original settlers, Samuel Ashmun, and his wife Parthenia.

 Jehudi Ashmun attended Middlebury College and University of Vermont. He earned his way by teaching in his native village.  His future wife, Catherine D. Gray, also taught in Champlain.

 After graduation he served as a professor in the Theological Seminary at Bangor, Maine, but in 1819 moved to Baltimore and to Washington, where he edited several religious periodicals.

 About this time he became active in the American Colonization Society, which was endeavoring to establish a colony in Africa for former slaves. In 1822 he and his wife sailed for this newly created settlement of Liberia with the second shipload of colonists, intending to return to America immediately.

 But on his arrival in Africa in August, he found the colony in a wretched state of disorder and demoralization, without leaders due to death and desertion, and on the point of extinction thru incursions of the neighboring natives.

 With extraordinary energy and ability he undertook the task of reorganization.  In November he was attacked by a force of 800 natives.  Although he and his wife were both stricken by fever, he repelled the attack with only 35 men and boys under him.  A few days later a larger attacking force was repulsed.

 His wife died shortly thereafter, but Jehudi Ashmun remained in Liberia for six years.  Working incessantly for the development of the colony, he expanded its territory, increased its agriculture and commerce, codified its laws, and initiated a democratic form of government.  In July, 1828, completely broken in health, he returned to America.  Less than a month later, on August 25, 1828, he died in New Haven, Connecticut, where he is buried.

Jehudi Ashmun—the Father of Liberia.




The Village of Champlain

cordially invites you to be present
at the
Unveiling of a Memorial

Jehudi Ashmun


Saturday, August 8th, 1959

at three o'clock









Some Notes





together with










Some Notes





together with








    These NOTES ON JEHUDI ASHMUN cover two periods in his life.  The first reviews everything that has been learned about his youth until he left Champlain, never to return. The information has been gleaned from the LIFE OF JEHUDI ASHMUN by Ralph Randolph Gurley, published in 1835, and from the research among local records by my father, Hugh McLellan.

    The second section is composed of six letters discovered last year among the PAPERS OF THE AMERICAN COLONIZATION SOCIETY in the Library, of Congress.  It is believed that they have not previously been published.  These letters cover the last few months of his life, with his hopes of returning to Champlain, and his death and funeral in New Haven, Connecticut.

    A poem to his memory, written shortly after his death by the New England poet, Mrs. Sigourney, will be found on the back outside cover.

    The site of Jehudi Ashmun's birthplace, on Oak Street just north of the Village of Champlain, is indicated by an Historical Sites Marker, erected by the State of New York in 1938.

                Charles Woodberry McLellan
Champlain, N. Y., August 1959



Jehudi Ashmun in Champlain

Jehudi Ashmun left his native village of Champlain in 1816, before he was twenty-two years old—never again to see his parents, his brothers and sisters, his boyhood friends.

From his diaries and his letters, as published in his Life in 1835, and from the meagre surviving local records, we can learn something of his childhood and youth—not a great deal, but sufficient to show the development of his character and the growth of his consuming determination to obtain an education.

The earliest reference to him is found in a Day Book of one of Champlain's first doctors, Dr. Benjamin Moore.  On August 2, 1805, medicine valued at twelve and a half cents was delivered to "Samuel Ashmun Esqr pr Huda".

According to the Records of the Presbyterian Church, on April 5, 1807, "Samuel Ashmun and Mary, Nancy, Jehuda, Raymond, Samuel, Hariot, Eunice and Orson Branch, his Children by Parthena his wife" were baptised by Rev. Amos Pettengill.  Three years later, on July 15, 1810, "Jahudi Ashman" was received into the Church as a member.

From his Life we find that he commenced his studies—beyond that which was to be obtained in the local school—in 1808, under the tutelage of Rev. Pettengill, in preparation for further formal education.  These studies were seemingly continued for the next three years, with occasional trips away from home on account of his health.  During this period he considered the possibility of studying medicine or the law‑ in 1811 he obtained brief employment with a lawyer in the city of Troy, New York—but finally determined that his life must be devoted to educational and missionary labors.

In 1812, therefore, he entered Middlebury College.  Two years later he transferred to the University of Vermont at Burlington, seemingly for economic reasons, where he graduated in 1816 with the degrees of A.B. and A.M. and with "literary honors". His college career was repeatedly interrupted by poor health; in 1813 he is travelling in Vermont, and in 1814 in Connecticut.

From one of these trips, probably in 1813, the death of two of his sisters called him home, and it is presumed that it was at this time that "he organized and took command of a military corps".  During these war years Champlain was alternately occupied by British and American troops, and Jehudi was greatly perturbed by the burning by the British of the church-schoolhouse, although justified by the fact that it was at the time being used as an American military depot.

The size of his family prevented much parental financial assistance, resulting in further interruptions in his efforts to complete his college education by the necessity of earning his own living and tuition. This he accomplished by teaching school, at least one season in Champlain.

A fragment of school records has been preserved which show that the "First Common School District in the Town of Champlain" paid $66.00 in March 1815 to "Mr Jehudi Ashmun for Instruction". On July 17th of the same year $24.00 was paid to "Miss Catherine Gray Instructress" and $21.00 to "Mr Ichabod Fitch for Boarding Instructress".  It is interesting to note that Jehudi's father Samuel was one of the three School Trustees at the time.

Research has failed to identify Catherine Gray, beyond the fact that she had attended a girl's school in Middlebury, Vermont.  Whether Jehudi first met her there, and suggested her to the Champlain school as a teacher, or whether he met her in Champlain while they were both teaching there, has not been determined.  However, an attachment was formed, resulting in their marriage three years later.  In 1822 she accompanied him to Liberia, where she died three months after their arrival.

After his graduation from the University of Vermont in 1816, Jehudi accepted a position as the first instructor in the newly founded Maine Charity School.  So far as has been discovered, he never returned to Champlain, nor saw any of his family again.

Jehudi Ashmun, as has been stated, suffered from poor health during much of his life.  While this may be partially attributed to physical causes, a certain amount must be laid to the intensity of his character.  He was ever a strict self-disciplinarian and task-master, as is shown in his Journals which account for every waking moment devoted to some form of self-improvement or labors in behalf of others.

We may judge something of his intensity from a letter written to him in 1817 by a clergyman, one of the Trustees of the Maine Charity School:

You have preached twenty-five times in two months; that is, is times more than you ought to have preached. You do right to tell me your faults, and I shall do right in reproving you.  Hear me then.  If you will persist in preaching at such a rate, your race will be short.  You ought to begin as you can hold out. Preach only when duty calls, and attend more to a regular course of studies. Count me not your enemy, because I thus write.  It is not the language of hatred, but of love.

This typifies his method of working throughout his life. His perpetual urge to keep going, his feeling that he could not relax for a moment, his sense of obligation toward his fellow men—these as much as a frail body brought him to an early grave.


The Last Days of Jehudi Ashmun

The six letters here printed are addressed to the officers of the American Colonization Society at Washington, D. C., and are now in the Library of Congress. They are given without comment, to avoid detracting from the pathetic story here unfolded.

Monrovia [Liberia] 18 Mar. 1828

Dr. Sir,

The Nautilus will sail tomorrow or next day; the Doris to follow in 4 days—on bd of which I am compelled by failing health, & the Dr's express injunction, to take passage for the U. States. I trust you will not indulge in ominous apprehensions on acct of the Colony. Its affairs, thank God, are gathered into a very convenient compass—& Mr. Cary, a man of very great influence & experience, takes charge.

My disorder is extreme & fixed debility, attended with symptoms of dispepsia and dropsy.  Mr Cary pronounces it not possible to recover strength or to live long without a change of climate and habits.

In haste & weakness Dr Sir


                    J. Ashmun

St. Bartholomews, West Indies, May 20, 1828.

Dear Sir,

I avail myself of the sailing of a Baltimore Schooner, to inform you that I have found considerable relief of my most formidable and painful symptoms, since the sailing of the Doris on the But having been the whole time under the action of very sharp medical remedies, I am alarmed to state how greatly my little remaining strength and flesh have been diminished in the time. My only hope turns on the prospect that remains [ tear] the morbid affections yielding soon enough to leave me life and stamina enough to recover on. The last report of my physician, who I believe to possess both candor and skill, was favourable, with the assurance that from present appearances he could venture to change the attenuating treatment, for the tonic, in 3 or four days.

I need not say that in case of my recovery I intend to proceed without delay to the U. States. But should no immediate conveyance offer at such time from this Island, I shall probably proceed first to St. Croix, and spend some little time in collecting by observation and inquiry, in that highly cultivated Island, such information respecting the culture of tropical products, and obtaining such seed, as we have so long & severely felt the need of in Liberia.

With particular esteem & respect—your frd & bror

        J. Ashmun

                        New Haven August 17, 1828


My dear Sir                         

You are doubtless apprized of Mr Ashmun's arrival here a week this day. I take it upon me to write to you this morning after having just been to enquire after Mr Ashmun. I did not see him but was informed that he had a bad night but probably owing to medicines which were intended to operate with some vigor and actually broke up his night.

On his first arrival here he thought he should proceed within a few days for the Saratoga Springs—a course which Dr Ives favoured—provided he should appear able to bear it. With this view Dr Ives thought it not best to enter on any very urgent course of medicine & Mr Ashmun acted as if he hoped to get up by riding out & by travelling &c. & began to take his meals with the company at the Tontine & to endeavor to act like a convalescent.

But it will not do. He is now removed to a good private house (Miss Miller's in Chapel Street) & is now treated as a sick man—has a nurse & is going through a course of medical treatment intended to produce a resolution, if possible, of his complaints—which are dropsical—with probably a diseased state of the liver & spleen & great abdominal enlargement.

But as he may sink either under the disease or the treatment & as it has struck me that it might be important that you should personally communicate with him—respecting the great interests of the establishment before it is too late—I now write with Dr lye's approbation to let you know that if you wish to see Mr Ashmun it may be important that you should lose no time, especially as there may be a debilitude of faculties even if life is prolonged.

I am afraid that this very interesting & useful man will never leave New Haven.

In haste I remain my dear sir

most truly yours

B Silliman


PS I PM Sab.

I have opened my letter to say that I have seen Mr Ashmun. I did not tell him that I had written but he requested me to do so & to say that if there were no very forbidding reason, it is his wish that you should come to him immediately—tell him, said he, that there are many things which I would communicate were he here, respecting the Colony, respecting Africa & respecting my private affairs—that Mr Hawley has probably gone on his journey (up the Hudson &c) & missed the information that I am here.

He said, I am sinking & requesting Mr Bacon to pray with him—he instructed him to pray for his recovery that he might be permitted to return to Africa—to pray also for the Colony—with the mention of which he was overpowered & agitated & wept abundantly. He is much changed within two or three days, but I impute a part of it to his medicine, & trust there may be a revival—but I repeat it—there is no time to be lost.

New Haven Aug 25 1828 Gentlemen,

In all human probability, our excellent Friend M r Ashmun will before this reaches you, be in the eternal world. On my arrival last night at twelve oclock, I learnt with the most painful concern, that he might, very probably, be taken from us before morning, and hastened to his chamber. My arrival was announced to him, & he had time to prepare to receive me with composure. He pressed my hand with perfect calmness, begged me to repress my feelings, saying that he had made a great effort to subdue his own. He conversed for some minutes in a very pious & affecting manner, saying that he would defer any instructions which he might wish to give concerning his affairs until tomorrow.

But he is sinking rapidly, nor shall I be surprized, if he expires before morning. He has exerted himself much to give some direction concerning his pecuniary affairs, but I fear his strength will not permit him, (particularly, as he wishes much for some information from Mr Hawley who is expected) perfectly to arrange them. As he has taught us how to live, he is now teaching us how to die. Nothing can exceed his patience, his submission, his holy magnanimity of soul. The chamber where he meets his fate, is indeed privileged, quite on the verge of Heaven.

I have just told Mr Ashmun that I am writing to you, & he wishes me to say "that he has no hope of recovery, but that he most affectionately remembers you." A few minutes ago he offered up a most solemn & pathetic prayer, imploring grace to sustain him in his distress, & a blessing upon his friends, & upon that "poor people" among whom he had laboured. But I must close. In view of the sublime example of Christian Faith before me I must say "Let me die the death of the righteous & let my last end be like his."

With the most respectful & affectionate regard,

your faithful servant,

                                                    R R Gurley

New Haven Aug 26th 1828


My sad forebodings are realized. Mr Ashmun expired, at twelve last night, gently & quietly as an infant sinks to rest. I write announcing this fact to Messrs Gales & Seaton, by this mail, & have now only time to say, that the excellency of his life, was surpassed (if this is possible) by the sublimity of his death. His funeral will take place tomorrow at 4 oclock & a sermon be preached by the Rev Mr Bacon.

Affectionately (in haste)

R R Gurley

New York Sep 1st 1828 Gentlemen,

The Rev Mr Hawley & myself (Mr Hawley having reached N Haven ignorant of the Death of Mr Ashmun until just before his arrival on friday evening) came into this City, accompanied by Mrs Ashmun, early yesterday morning.

The circumstances attending the Funeral of Mr Ashmun were of the most affecting character. Mr Ashmun had on landing at N Haven informed his Parents of his purpose to visit Saratoga, & his Father immediately left his home at Champlain N Y, that he might meet him at the Springs.

Four days later Mr Ashmun's Mother learnt that her son was rapidly sinking, & that no time was to be lost.  She took the steamboat on Sunday night, & travelling without delay alone four hundred miles arrived at New Haven, while the Congregation were assembled to hear the funeral sermon of her son.  The effect of her presence can hardly be described.  It was thought imprudent & indeed dangerous to uncover the corpse, & she never looked upon his features, though she had not seen him for twelve years.

Though our loss is irreparable, I trust the impression which his death has made in favour of our Cause will not soon be effaced.  Mr. Bacon's sermon was excellent, & will immediately be published.  No individual probably, ever enlisted more deeply the feelings of the Citizens of New Haven, or received more sincere or general expressions of respect & affection.

I hope to be with you in two or three days.

Affectionately yours,

R R Gurley




By Lydia Huntley Sigourney

Whose is yon sable bier?

Why move the throng so slow?

Why doth that lonely mother's tear

In sudden anguish flow?

Why is that sleeper laid

To rest in manhood's pride?

How gained his cheeks such pallid shade?

I spake,—but none replied.

The hoarse wave murmur'd low,

The distant surges roar'd ;— And o'er the sea in tones of war

A deep response was poured; I heard sad Africa mourn

Upon her billowy strand:— A shield was from her bosom torn, An anchor from her hand.

Ah ! well I know thee now,

Though foreign suns would trace Deep lines of death upon thy brow,

Thou friend of misery's race; — Their leader when the blast

Of ruthless war swept by,

Their teacher when the storm was past, Their guide to worlds on high.

Spirit of Power, —pass on !‑

Thy homeward wing is free ;—

Earth may not claim thee for her son, She hash no chain for thee ;—

Toil might not bow thee down,—

Nor Sorrow check thy race,—

Nor Pleasure win thy birthright crown,—Go to thy own blest place !


some notes
                      on jehudi ashmun
some notes
                      on jehudi ashmun
some notes
                      on jehudi ashmun
some notes
                      on jehudi ashmun

Jehudi Ashmun on Wikipedia showing Tombstone

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