Past “200 Things About Norwich” features have highlighted the myth of Truman Ransom coining the Norwich University motto during the Battle of Chapultepec and the legacy of his three sons who attended Norwich in the 1840s, ’50s, and ’60s. Now we turn to the man himself—Truman Bishop Ransom, protégé of Captain Alden Partridge and the second president of Norwich University.
Ransom was born in Woodstock, Vt., in December 1802. Little is known about his early life. He was one of the earliest students to enter the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy, becoming a student when Captain Partridge’s bold new undertaking was just two years old in 1822. He became one of Partridge’s favorite pupils.
After he completed his studies in 1825, Ransom became a professor at the Academy. He soon became a member of the inner circle that Partridge trusted to help him spread his “American System of Education” across the country, opening new schools and establishing military instruction at existing ones according to his vision. For example, when Partridge became president of Jefferson College in Washington, Miss., in 1831, he brought Ransom with him to teach mathematics and, one can only imagine, spread the “gospel of Partridge.”
Eager to take on a leadership role, Ransom became vice president of the newly chartered Norwich University in 1835, and served as major general of the Vermont State Militia from approximately 1836 to 1844. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1840 and for lieutenant governor of Vermont in 1846.
By the 1840s, the university Partridge founded was growing under the leadership of a Board of Trustees as mandated by the Vermont state charter. Unhappy with the leadership of the board, Partridge resigned the presidency in 1843. He was none too pleased when his former right-hand man, Truman Ransom, took over his position. In fact, over the objections of the Norwich townspeople, Partridge opened a short-lived new school in the tiny town of Norwich to compete with what he now saw as Ransom’s Norwich University.
It is not known whether the two men ever resolved their differences. Ransom’s tenure as president turned out to be tragically brief. In 1846, he was called to the front lines by his country when the Mexican-American War broke out. He served as a recruiting officer before sailing for Veracruz in the summer of 1847. That September, he led an assault on the fortress at Chapultepec. In spite of an American victory, the 44-year-old Colonel Ransom met his untimely end when a musket ball met his head.
Ransom was originally buried in Mexico and moved in 1848 to his final resting place in Norwich, Vt. Six years later, he would be joined there by his visionary mentor and sometime rival, Captain Alden Partridge.