At a time when transportation infrastructure was scarce and Vermont winters unforgiving, nearly 15 percent of Alden Partridge’s earliest academy students came from the Southeastern United States.
They came from North Carolina, Georgia, Kentucky, Virginia, Louisiana, and Mississippi, but predominantly from South Carolina. In droves they traveled from larger towns like Columbia and Charleston, as well as little coastal islands like Edisto, St. Helena, and Wadmalaw. They averaged 15 years of age. Sometimes they arrived alone, sometimes alongside brothers or cousins, as with Henry and Isaac Alexander, ages 12 and 13, who arrived in Norwich from Camden, S.C. in April of 1824.
Relatively little is known about who most of these young men were and why they came to attend Partridge’s academy. Some were sons of prominent families, such as Joseph Alston, a likely relative of the former governor of South Carolina. Others we can only assume had the means to pursue an education far away from home. There is some evidence that Partridge advertised in the Charleston newspapers, but word of mouth clearly played a significant role as multiple students from the same small towns continued to make the thousand-mile journey north.
This striking trend waned over the years, though by no means did Southern students stop making the trek to Norwich and later Northfield. In 1835, there were three students from Charleston, while 1845 saw one student from Louisiana and one from Alabama.
The opening of The Citadel in Charleston 1842 likely influenced the number of prospective military cadets traveling to New England—and perhaps also speaks to the interest in military education that drove that city to send so many of its boys off to Captain Partridge. Later in the century, 56 Norwich alumni are thought to have fought for the Confederacy in the Civil War.
Though firmly Yankee in origin, Norwich has always been “global in perspective,” inviting diverse voices to join the narrative of our history. Today, we welcome students from over 45 states and 20 countries around the world.
The Norwich University Archives houses handwritten cadet rosters, letters to Alden Partridge, early course catalogs, and other documents that can be used to learn about the earliest students of the American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy.