By John Hart, Jr., Director
Objects have stories, from their creation to donation (or in the case of archeology, their rediscovery). Often times it’s the families who keep the stories about objects alive. That is certainly the case with this desk, which has been in the same family for over 100 years and was always called the “schoolmaster’s desk.” It’s simply made, indicative of “country” furniture rather than a high-end piece made in Newport, Philadelphia, or New York City, though it shares similarities with its straight, formed legs, semi-padded writing surface, dovetail joints, and a now-missing bookcase on the upper half.
What makes this desk so interesting, and important to Norwich University, lies in the fact that this “schoolmaster” of family stories was Alonzo Jackman (1809–1879), the first to be conferred a bachelor’s degree under the name of Norwich University in 1836. While Jackman was not a president of Norwich University, he was intimately connected to the school and beloved by those at Norwich. He became the university’s professor of mathematics upon graduation, a position he retained his entire life, excepting an absence to start his own school with a fellow graduate and later when he traveled West during the gold rush. His letters and accounts from friends indicate his thoughts were very much with the school even while away, eventually drawing him back permanently.
In addition to his devotion to Norwich, Jackman was instrumental in the reorganization of militias in New Hampshire and Vermont. He was appointed Brigadier General by the Vermont Militia in 1860. A few short years later Jackman began training soldiers for service in the Civil War and was deployed with the Corps of Cadets to St. Albans following the Confederate raid on the town in October 1864.
Jackman died February 24, 1879 at his home of an apparent heart attack, dressed in his uniform, as he had planned to conduct class as usual. The letters that must have been written, the notes taken, or the book researched on his desk certainly could tell their own stories, but the story of Alonzo Jackman and his importance to Norwich University is by far the most important.