Alonzo Jackman was born in Thetford, Vt., in 1809, when Alden Partridge was already 24 years old. His father died of an injury working on his farm when Jackman was not even three years old, and his mother struggled to support the family. Young Alonzo spent time away at school and in the care of neighbors, including the Smith family of Thetford. Their son Joseph was four years older than Alonzo Jackman, and he would go on to found the Mormon religious movement.
When Jackman was only 11 years old, he and his older brother Enoch left home for good, first working on a farm in Thetford, then at a quarry in Connecticut, and eventually making their way west to labor on steamboats on the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. Throughout this time, Alonzo demonstrated a thirst for knowledge. He studied privately whenever he could, and sometimes attended school when work was slow in the winter months.
After making his way by steamboat to New Orleans, Alonzo Jackman had proved himself a capable sailor and was offered a job in the business office of his shipping company. But the young man of 23 desired more education, so he returned to New England in 1833 and enrolled in the Franklin Seminary in Norwich, Vt.
As fate would have it, this was around the same time that neighboring Norwich University received its state charter as a degree granting institution. Having completed several years of academic study, Jackman was able to pass an examination to enter Norwich as a senior in 1835 and receive his diploma in 1836—the first bachelor’s degree ever granted by the newly chartered university.
After only attending the university for a year, Jackman must have been powerfully influenced by Alden Partridge’s philosophy and personality, because he dedicated the rest of his life to serving the university and its mission. He started teaching mathematics shortly after his graduation. At various times he also taught civil engineering, natural philosophy (science), topographical drawing, military science and tactics, and even served two stints as the university’s librarian.
Jackman also assisted Captain Alden Partridge with his goal of spreading a new educational philosophy rooted in the concept of the citizen soldier. In 1840 and 1841, he and future NU president Josiah Swett edited and published a newspaper called the Citizen Soldier all about the state militia and military education. Shortly after the paper folded, Jackman and Swett attempted to establish a school in the image of Norwich in Windsor, Vt., but were also unsuccessful in that endeavor. They both returned to faculty positions at NU.
In the early 1850s, Professor Jackman took a leave of absence from the university to travel out west with Stillman Dana, another Norwich alumnus, and then-University President Henry Wheaton. It’s possible that the trip was motivated by the California Gold Rush. Though Wheaton never returned to the university, Jackman once again answered the call of his alma mater, returning in 1852 and remaining until his death in 1879.
He had an active intellectual life; his papers include many writings and inventions, including evidence that he invented the concept of a sub-oceanic telegraph. During the Civil War, he remained at NU to train citizen soldiers at the express request of the governor of Vermont.
Jackman died suddenly at his home in Northfield in 1879 and was buried with great honor by the sons of Norwich in Northfield’s Elmwood Cemetery. He was also memorialized by the cadets with a stained glass window that still hangs in St. Mary’s Episcopal Church.