Jeremiah Atwater (1773-1858)

Portrait of Jeremiah Atwater

Jeremiah Atwater was born the second child of Jeremiah and Lois (Hurd) Atwater on December 27, 1773 in New Haven, Connecticut. He prepared for college with Eli Bullard and attended Yale University, graduating with highest honors in 1793. He was awarded prestige as a Berkeley Scholar and received a three-year graduate scholarship for study. In 1795 he became a tutor at the university, and on May 29, 1798 he was licensed to preach by the New Haven Eastern Assembly of Ministers. Atwater resigned his position at Yale in 1799 in order to become principal of the Addison County Grammar School in Middlebury, Vermont. The following year marked the establishment of Middlebury College, and Atwater became its first president.

In August 1809, Atwater left his position at Middlebury to become the third president of Dickinson College. Upon his arrival in Carlisle, he was impressed by the beauty of the College, but was discouraged by its internal affairs. The College was faced with large debts, and, to Atwater's mind, there was a lack of religious discipline among both college and local community. During his time in office, Atwater would make several efforts at change, some more successful than others. In 1810, the first College Catalogue was printed, as well as the first book of rules and regulations, Laws of Dickinson College. At the beginning of his term, Atwater attempted to secure the association of the Presbyterian Theological Seminary with the College. However, the seminary joined with Princeton University instead.

During Atwater's presidency, enrollment began to steadily increase until a dramatic drop in 1812, which is generally attributed to the outbreak of the war. Also during his presidency, Thomas Cooper came to the College as the professor of natural philosophy and chemistry and became immediately popular among the students. Cooper and Atwater had great disagreements about the College and its internal affairs, stemming largely from their philosophical and religious differences. This, as well as problems with the trustees, led Atwater to resign from his position in September 1815. He then returned to New Haven, where he spent the remainder of his life.

On February 7, 1802 Atwater married Clarissa Storrs of Sandisfield, Massachusetts. Following her death in February of 1834, he married Susan Morris of East Haven, Connecticut on December 2 of the same year. He again became a widower in February 1854 after her death at the age of 70. Jeremiah Atwater died on July 29, 1858 at the age of 85 after suffering partial paralysis for two years.

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Dickinson College Archives
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