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A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times
4: Sketch of the Life of Professor Jonathan Pearson, A. M., Union College, Schenectady, N. Y.

Rev. George Alexander

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[This information is from pp. xv-xvii of A History of the Schenectady Patent in the Dutch and English Times; being contributions toward a history of the lower Mohawk Valley by Jonathan Pearson, A. M. and others, edited by J. W. MacMurray, A. M., U. S. A. (Albany, NY: J. Munsell's Sons, Printers, 1883). It is in the Schenectady Collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at Schdy R 974.744 P36, and copies are also available for borrowing.]

[Copies of this book are available from the Schenectady County Historical Society.]

[Portrait with signature: original size (24K) | 4x enlarged (62K)]

The subject of this sketch is by lineage an alien to the Dutch community whose annals he has so diligently explored. His descent can be traced through seven generations from the Puritan fathers of New England.

At some time previous to 1643, John Pearson, an English carpenter, settled in the town of Rowley, county of Essex, Massachusetts. There he erected a fulling mill and became the first manufacturer of cloth in the infant colony. He was evidently a substantial and leading citizen. For many years he served his generation as deacon in the church, moderator of the town and deputy in the General Court. Having provided well for his family of ten children he died, full of years and honors, near the close of the century.

The family record for two hundred years, with its quaint scriptural names, reads like a genealogical chapter in the Old Testament. The meager story of their simple lives is sufficient to indicate that the Pearsons were a sturdy race of the genuine New England type, characterized by piety, industry and thrift.

Caleb Pearson, the grandfather of Professor Pearson, entered the Revolutionary army as a fifer at the age of fourteen and served through the whole war. Shortly after the close of the struggle he settled in Chichester, N. H., when he erected mills, which his son Caleb owned and operated after him. There the subject of our sketch was born Feb. 23, 1813.

Caleb Pearson apparently became dissatisfied with the fruits which his labor could wring from a stubborn soil, for in 1831 he joined the caravan that was then moving slowly westward to populate the plains of the interior. As he journeyed by the great thoroughfare of that day, the Erie canal, his eye was charmed by the rich valley about Schenectady, and especially by the sight of Union College, which seemed to promise him what he had coveted, the opportunity to educate his children. He accordingly changed his plans, made his home in the ancient Dutch city, and resided there till the day of his death.

His son Jonathan, then a youth of eighteen, had previously secured a preparatory education at Dover, Pembroke and New Hampton academies in the vicinity of his former home. In January, 1832, he entered Union College and graduated with honor in 1835.

The following year he was appointed tutor and in 1839, assistant professor of Chemistry and Natural Philosophy. In 1849, he was elected professor of Natural History, and in 1873, was transferred to the department of Agriculture and Botany where he still serves. Thus for more than half a century his life has been incorporated with the life of his Alma Mater.

In addition to the work of his department of instruction, other onerous and responsible duties have devolved upon him. Since 1854, he has been treasurer of the college, having in charge its varied and intricate financial interests. For years he has also held the office of librarian and has devoted a vast amount of time and labor to the puzzling and petty details of that trying vocation. The preparation of the general catalogue of the college has always devolved upon him, and he has repaid the affectionate esteem of thousands of Alumni by maintaining a constant interest in their individal fortunes. His mind is an encyclopedia of facts concerning the Sons of Old Union.

The mere fact that Professor Pearson has been called to engage in services so numerous and diverse, and that he has performed them satisfactorily through so long a period, is sufficient proof of his versatility and tireless industry. Summer and winter, term time and vacation, have found him at his post, meeting with unruffled brow the numberless and exacting demands upon his time and patience.

His antiquarian researches have been merely the recreations of a busy life. The interest awakened by the investigation of his own family tree, led him to think of exploring the scattered and puzzling records of the Dutch families who founded the settlements at Albany and along the valley of the Mohawk. The task was one of unusual difficulty. The colonists isolated from their own countrymen, and brought in contact with various races, civilized and savage, had developed a peculiar dialect in which English, Canadian, French and Indian words were freely incorporated with the mother tongue. To decipher the fragmentary relics of this vanishing speech, especially when still further obscured by the picturesque penmanship and heterogeneous spelling of the early scribes, was an undertaking which would have appalled an ordinary investigator. With Professor Pearson, however, the difficulties of the pursuit served only to give it additional zest.

He continued his labors in this field through many years, without the hope of any reward except the pleasure of telling his neighbours the short and simple annals of their sires. He first transcribed, translated and collated the records of the Dutch church in Schenectady. Having mastered the provincial dialect he afterwards performed a similar work upon the records of the Dutch church in Albany and also of the county clerk's office. The results of these studies and others of a like character, are embodied in his histories of the old families of Schenectady and Albany, published years ago, and in the volume which this sketch accompanies. He has thus rescued from oblivion, and made accessible to all students of history, facts, the value and interest of which will increase as time advances, and the region which these Hollanders redeemed from the wilderness becomes the home of a still larger and more prosperous population.

It would be indelicate in a sketch published during the life time of Professor Pearson to refer to those incidents which belong more especially to his private and domestic life, or to those qualities which have endeared him to his more intimate personal friends. He has been for many years a faithful and active member of the Baptist church, trusted and revered by all. As a son, a husband and a father, his relations have been too tender and sacred to permit of comment here. Those who may survive him and have shared and prized his friendship will wonder that they did not prize it more, when the genial and unobtrusive presence lives only in memory or immortal hope.

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