Joseph Spencer (1790-1862)

Joseph Spencer was born on March 21, 1790, in Beverly, Talbot County, Maryland. He was privately educated in Philadelphia, and became a teacher at the Episcopal Seminary there, being ordained in 1819. He left in 1820 to become the principal of Washington Academy in Somerset County, Maryland. Just two years later, Spencer accepted the position of professor of languages at Dickinson College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania. The Board of Trustee minutes of July 27, 1822 show Spencer was unanimously and officially elected with permission to be active in the ministry of the Episcopal Church of Carlisle during his tenure at the College.

Although Spencer spent eight years at Dickinson, rebellious students and fear for his personal safety marred his stay. For example, on February 25, 1825, he received an anonymous letter from a student who wrote in concern for Spencer's well being. The student stated that “Private conspiracies have been formed…against your life. Your body I must confess has 4 times in my own certain knowledge been rescued by the entreaties…of 2 or 3 of your friends, from severe flagellation.” The student cited the reason for these conspiracies and threats to Spencer's life as the professor's own doing, stating “your severity toward the students in general has caused it.”

Ultimately, Spencer's strict policies proved too much for the students and they began to lash out at him. He appealed to the Board in a letter on December 8, 1827 for a new living space. He was then living on the grounds of the College and students were “again commencing their depredations on my rooms…I feel in imminent personal danger from stones thrown in at my windows.” Upon hearing this, the Board allowed for the change of living arrangements, apparently pleased with his performance as an instructor and supportive of him. Unfortunately the estrangement between Spencer and the student body seemed to be a large factor in his decision to leave the College in 1830.

When Spencer left Dickinson College he became the rector of St. Michael's Church in Talbot County, Maryland, as well as becoming principal of Parsonage Seminary. He retired in 1860 and moved to Bogue Chitto, Mississippi, where he resided until his death on May 4, 1862.

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Dickinson College Archives
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