By Joseph E. Cates, Curator of Education and Public Programs
In June 1908, at the annual meeting of the Board of Trustees, Capt. Henry V. Partridge, son of Alden Partridge, presented Norwich University with the portraits of Cadet Ashe and Cadet Phillips wearing the uniforms of their respective schools—different schools yet of the same founder and the same town.
In 1843, Alden Partridge resigned from his position at the newly chartered Norwich University and vice president Truman B. Ransom, NU 1825, became the president. Partridge personally owned the school’s buildings as well as the arms and associated items, and agreed to lease the Norwich, Vt. property for one year in order for the university to move to a suitable location. However, at the end of the lease no progress had been made to relocate so Partridge forced Ransom to move Norwich University into an old barn. He then opened another university in the buildings he owned, the American, Literary, Scientific, and Military University.
From April 1845 to November 1846, Partridge and Ransom ran separate universities in the town of Norwich, each with a corps of cadets and uniforms that represented their school.
The cadets in both universities were educated as citizen-soldiers in the Partridge school model. Cadet Thomas P. Ashe traveled from Demopolis, Alabama, where he earned his education through private tutors, to attend Ransom’s Norwich University. After graduating in 1846, he became a farmer, a clerk of the circuit court in Old St. Stephens, Alabama. Ashe served in the Civil War as a major in the 32nd Alabama Infantry Regiment and moved to Kimmswick, Missouri following the war.
Cadet James W. Phillips attended Partridge’s American, Literary, Scientific, and Military University from 1843 to 1845. He later transferred to the Pennsylvania Military Institute in Harrisburg, which Partridge also founded, graduating in 1848. Ellis’ History of Norwich University claims Partridge “secured Professor James W Phillips a graduate of the Institution in Norwich as principal” of the Pennsylvania Military Institute, which opened September 6, 1847. It appears that Partridge conferred a degree on Phillips sometime before 1847.
Fortunately for the future of Norwich University, the citizens of Norwich, rallied to purchase five acres of land and two buildings in order to keep the school’s doors open. With this generous gift from the town, Norwich University was able to regain its footing and purchase the original property from Partridge before the end of 1846.
These portraits are on display in the 200 Years—200 Objects exhibit at the Sullivan Museum and History Center.