Most Common Research Requests:
Rev. Robert S. James (father of Frank and Jesse):
Rev. Robert Sallee James, father of the notorious Frank and Jesse, was a Baptist minister close to William Jewell College. He was named on the first board of trustees; however, he left for California before the official start of classes. He only served for a very brief time. The rumor that Frank and Jesse robbed a bank to keep a financial pledge by their father is unsubstantiated. The Partee Center has a biographical file on James with various newspaper clippings, genealogical information and excerpts from letters discussing James.
Dr. William Jewell:
Many Missouri Baptists are familiar with the name William Jewell and associate it with the college in Liberty. Few, however, realize the influence that Dr. William Jewell, the early Missouri Baptist for whom the college is named, had upon the political, educational, and religious life of his day. William Jewell was an ambitious, autocratic man in whom his contemporaries saw both the compassion of a physician and the pragmatism of a politician. Chiefly, though, what they saw in Jewell was a leader. William Jewell could be described as opinionated and stubborn but he also had the gift of vision; Jewell could see what needed to be accomplished in a given situation and had the tenacity to see the job completed. A pioneer, Jewell helped to create the laws, establish the institutions and raise the buildings that would transform a wilderness in Missouri. Jewell was a medical doctor, architect, government official, entrepreneur, supporter of education and denominational leader.
Born in 1789
William Jewell was born in Loudoun County, Virginia, on the first day of January in 1789. He was the son of George and Mary Jewell, whose religious heritage was in the Presbyterian Church. Caught early in the flow of people moving west, Jewell went with his family to Kentucky at the age of ten. It was in Kentucky that Jewell received his formal education at Transylvania University in Lexington, graduating with the degree doctor of medicine.
After his graduation, Jewell pursued a career in medicine. As was normal for his time, Jewell’s medical education consisted of serving an apprenticeship with a local physician. It was also in Kentucky that Jewell got his first taste of political life by serving in the Kentucky state legislature.
In 1814, when he was twenty-five years old, Jewell married Arethusa Boyle, who was sixteen. They had three children, John, Thomas, and Angelina. Following the birth of their daughter Angelina, Arethusa Jewell died at the age of twenty. In June 1820, William Jewell married his second wife, Cynthia Compton. Following the birth of their son, George, in 1822, Cynthia died from complications while giving birth. William never remarried.
The pull of the West remained strong, and in 1820 Jewell, his family, his parents, and two sisters moved to Franklin in Howard County, Missouri. After spending nearly a year in Howard County, the Jewells moved to neighboring Boone County in 1822 where William Jewell established a medical practice in and around the new town of Columbia, which was to be Jewell’s primary residence for the remainder of his life.
The decade of the 1820’s was one of growth for Missouri, Columbia and for William Jewell. Missouri gained statehood in 1821; and as the town of Columbia grew, so did William Jewell’s medical practice as well as his influence in non-medical circles. In 1823, he was one of only two physicians in Columbia. In 1828, he built a two-story brick residence on the corner of Sixth and Broadway which also served as his office and hospital.
Almost immediately after getting settled in Columbia, William Jewell became involved in the affairs of city government. Having gained a spot on the commission responsible for the laying out of streets in the young town, Jewell was able to convince his peers that the future of Columbia would be best served if its new streets were wide enough to accommodate the growth that Jewell envisioned for Columbia. As a result the main streets were laid out to be 100 feet wide and the secondary streets 66 feet wide. In the years to come this decision was widely praised as one of foresight. It was just that kind of progressive thinking that was to distinguish William Jewell’s career.
Eager to continue his pursuit of public service, William Jewell served as mayor of Columbia, during which time he governed in an autocratic manner. By force of his personality, Jewell convinced the citizens of the need for such “progressive” measures as paved streets and inspection and regulation of slaughter houses, livery stables, and pigsties. Today those improvements seem quite normal, but to many on the edge of the nineteenth century frontier this seemed to be too much regulation. To William Jewell’s credit he not only insisted on these basic improvements but was able to implement them against strong opposition.
William Jewell’s civic service did not end when he stepped down from the office of mayor. In addition to that post Jewell served two terms in the Missouri state legislature (1826-28, 1844-46) and one term as state senator (1830-34) as a member of the Whig Party. During these terms he again showed his progressive nature by voting to outlaw the whipping post, to establish a pubic hospital and public schools in St. Louis, as well as a library association and St. Louis University.
Jewell always maintained a keen interest in higher education. In 1833 he was placed on the first board of trustees of the Columbia Female Academy. When the location for the new University of Missouri was being debated, Jewell gave $1,800 to help secure its location for Columbia. Jewell’s gift to this effort was the sixth largest subscription in Boone County. Later, in 1847, the University of Missouri granted him an honorary doctorate of medicine degree.
Other civic concerns captured Jewell’s interest. In the 1840’s he served as president of the Columbia Temperance Society. In 1845 he was president of the African Colonization Society (a society devoted to resettling black slaves in Africa). And in 1845 he served as the superintendent for the construction of the new courthouse in Columbia. He even did his civic duty by fighting in the Black Hawk War of 1832.
Though William Jewell had a full life of public service he was also quite influential in Baptist life in Missouri. However, his early church life was less than tranquil. Upon his arrival in the Columbia area, William Jewell had joined the Little Bonne Femme Baptist Church in August 1823 by experience of baptism. While a member of that church, he got into a professional dispute with two other members of the church. It seems that the two men were operating a medical practice in the area, and William Jewell felt that they were less than qualified to do so. In fact Jewell, in a display of his outspoken candor, circulated pamphlets that described one of the two as “a so called physician but in reality a ‘quack’.”
Because of the dispute, disciplinary action was taken by the church demanding that Jewell apologize to his fellow churchmen, which he did. The apology was short lived, however. Soon Jewell was again distributing pamphlets denouncing one of the men. In the end the church agreed to overlook the second charge and granted letters to Jewell and others to form a new church. The result was that Jewell and these others organized the First Baptist Church of Columbia on November 22, 1823. William Jewell was perhaps the leading force behind organizing the church and its most influential member for almost forty years.
In 1836 William Jewell once again displayed his leadership and innovative thinking when he and Moses U. Payne joined in a unique partnership. Moses U. Payne, said by some to be the richest man in Boone County, was also a lay minister in the Methodist church. William Jewell had already unsuccessfully approached other denominations with the idea of combining efforts to build a church building to be shared on alternating Sundays by two congregations. Jewell could not find a sympathetic hearing until he approached Payne. Finally, through the joint efforts and considerable capital investments of these two men, the Union Church was built, which served both Baptists and Methodists.
Throughout his life William Jewell was an important supporter of the First Baptist Church in Columbia. In addition to his contributions in the organization and construction of the Union church building he also served as clerk for twenty years and was instrumental in the next building project that First Baptist Church undertook.
In 1851 First Baptist was feeling the need to expand, and once again it was William Jewell who was to lead in the design, construction, and financial support of the new building. It was also William Jewell who used his influence to have the new building located on the courthouse square. Though the building has since been relocated it was for a time a fitting commentary that the church and the courthouse, both of which held common William Jewell designs and construction supervision, should share the same piece of property. This was an appropriate picture for a man who gave so much of himself to both his faith and his government. And it was a unique story in Baptist history, where a church owned part of the courthouse square.
As has been shown William Jewell’s contributions to Baptists and Missouri government were numerous, but it is for his contributions to Baptist higher education in Missouri that William Jewell is best remembered. William Jewell’s generosity would eventually lead to the formation of the first Baptist men’s college west of the Mississippi River.
Contribution to Higher Education
For years Baptists of Missouri had longed for a training institution for ministers. In 1843 William Jewell came to the General Association with the offer of a donation of land valued at $10,000. His only stipulation was that Missouri Baptists match that amount with a pledge of $16,000 of their own. The General Association was unable to collect the appropriate pledges, and for the time being had to walk away from the offer. But the Baptists were to persevere in their desire to have a school and in 1847 the General Association approached William Jewell with $16,000, and Jewell agreed to give the remaining $10,000.
The next step was to determine the location for this Baptist college. By all accounts it was William Jewell’s desire that the new school be located in or near Columbia; Jewell wanted the school to be near the center of the state. But the prestige that would accompany the town in which the school was located resulted in rivalry that would determine the school’s location. As the bids from Booneville, Liberty, Palmyra, and Fulton were examined, the most impressive came from the party from Liberty. Colonel Alexander Doniphan, an eloquent speaker and hero of the recent Mexican War, presented the case for the Clay county town. His persuasion, along with an offer of $7,000 in cash and more pledges, convinced the Assembly that Clay County would be the most fertile location for the new school. So Liberty was to be the home of the new school, and by popular acclaim it was to be called William Jewell College.
So, in 1849 a charter was signed by Missouri’s governor for a college to be built by Missouri Baptists. It would be two years before construction would begin on the new college. In 1851, Dr. William Jewell left his medical practice in Columbia and took his supervisory skills to Liberty. It is said that William Jewell was not pleased by the site that had been selected for the new college. Atop a hill that overlooked the town of Liberty, Jewell predicted that the climb up the hill would prove to be a burden for his generation and those that followed. Still it was to be on that hill that William Jewell began construction of what was to become Jewell Hall.
William Jewell was a demanding man and the fact that Jewell Hall still provides class rooms today is a testament to the longevity of his standards. When the foundation was dug William Jewell looked into the hole and said, “keep digging until you find bedrock, this building will stand on a solid footing”. As the brick walls were being erected one wall did not meet Jewell’s specifications. “Tear it down and build it right” came the order from Jewell.
In the end William Jewell was never to witness the finished product of this last project. He died while supervising the construction of Jewell Hall. In the August sun he collapsed of heat stroke and died a few days later on August 7, 1852 in a hotel room in Liberty.
This man who had contributed so much to Missouri and Missouri Baptists was honored with two memorial services, one in Liberty and again, a few days later, in Columbia. In both towns businesses closed in tribute to Jewell. He was buried in a small cemetery on the family farm south of Columbia. William Jewell was a man who devoted much of his life in the pursuit of civilizing Missouri. The inscription on his grave stone says it best: “His work is over, he did it well and faithfully”.
In the mid 1920s, William Jewell College announced that a chapel was needed on campus. Mrs. Elizabeth Price Johnson, a Kansas City resident, heard about the construction plans and offered the college funds if they would meet three requests. She asked that the new chapel be named after her great grandfather, Rev. John Gano, and that a painting of him baptizing George Washington be permanently placed in the chapel. The third request was that William Jewell would maintain a family cemetery located between Liberty and Excelsior Springs.
The namesake of the chapel, Rev. John Gano, was born in New Jersey in 1727. He served as a Baptist minister in New Jersey and New York and worked his way down the east coast as an evangelist. He was George Washington’s chaplain during the Revolutionary War when he earned the title “the Fighting Chaplain”. It was during this time with Washington that some believe John Gano baptized George Washington by immersion. There are an equal number of historians who do not believe it happened, but this issue sparked a national debate in the 1930s after an article appeared in TIME Magazine discussing this question. The painting depicting the baptism still brings visitors to the campus from around the country.
In 1996, another descendent of Gano donated a sword to the college that had been passed down through the family. The sword had been given to George Washington by the Marquis de Lafayette. Washington in return gave it to Gano. Both the painting and the sword are on display in the chapel.
William Jewell College does not own affidavits discussing the baptism. The Partee Center has various newspaper articles, papers, and memoirs discussing Gano.