Presbyterian Education and Hanover Church

Out of this religious revival at Hanover in July 1814 the Female Harmony Society was organized by the women of the Church “for the purpose of prayer, mutual instruction and Christian labor.” One of its first efforts was the establishment of a Sabbath school in October. The school began with 23 scholars and has continued in unbroken session to this date, probably one of the longest in continuous session in the United States. In 1815, the Female Harmony Society opened a free day school for children. Two years later, the Society petitioned the Delaware Legislature for financial aid for the purpose of educating poor children. This petition was first turned down but in 1820 the Legislature passed a general act which appropriated twenty cents per year for each child instructed in the Sabbath schools throughout the State.

In 1818 the Society erected a building for the Sabbath and day school on a lot adjoining the Church on Fifth Street. The free day school thus established in 1815 by the Female Harmony Society and operated in conjunction with Hanover’s Sabbath School was the forerunner of the present free public school system in Delaware.

The building was described as “commodious, plastered, and painted white, and furnished with benches with comfortable backs; having a platform on the West end, with a square recess in the east end wall, made for a clock.” Anna McMullen was superintendent, or directress, as she was officially known, of that first school. Later Anna Maria Jones became directress, and she remained so until March 23, 1835. In her letter of resignation, she writes:

I hold myself bound to serve you in any way
compatible with my sense of honor and
propriety. Command my services, they are
yours, for dear as “the apple of my eye”
have the members of this society and the
interests of the school ever been, and I
never can sever those strong bonds which
have knit our souls together for time and for
eternity. No longer as your Directress, but
ever, and forever I remain your faithful
colleague and fellow laborer. A. M. Jones

The establishment of the Hanover Sabbath school was in keeping with the Presbyterian attention to education, dating back to the earliest days of their presence in America. They founded everything from one-day-a-week Sabbath schools to colleges, including the University of Delaware. The school traces its origins to 1743, in the New London Presbyterian Church, in Chester County, Pa., founded by Rev. Francis Alison. It first moved to Maryland and then to Newark, Del., where it began as Newark Academy, later was called Newark College, then Delaware College and, finally, the University of Delaware.

One of the more famous pastors of Hanover Street, Dr. Eliphalet Wheeler Gilbert, was the first president of Newark College. He was called to Hanover, on Jan. 19, 1818. He left the church in 1834 to accept the presidency of the college. According to notes of Bill Frank, noted reporter for The News Journal, Dr. Gilbert agreed to accept the position “provided the faculty had the right to discipline the students.” He earned $1,000 per year without board. He quickly became unhappy that the chief source of college income was from a lottery, and his growing conviction that it was wrong to encourage gambling led him to resign the presidency. He said lotteries were “the evils of Lucifer.” Dr. Gilbert returned to serve Hanover in 1835. In 1840, he was brought back to the college, his scruples being satisfied by a new arrangement under which the lottery money went to the state, which then made a direct appropriation to the college. It was also understood that the college would be under Presbyterian influence.

Dr. Gilbert was considered a good administrator and the college, renamed Delaware College in 1843, flourished. It was known as the golden era of the college. State appropriations ended in 1845, when the state ceased raising money through a lottery. Apparently, Dr. Gilbert became discouraged when he failed in his efforts to find money and to increase enrollment through his Presbyterian connections. He resigned in 1847, but a series of five Presbyterian ministers were to follow him in the presidency of the college.

Dr. Gilbert was born in New York State and educated at Princeton Theological Seminary. Rev. Lafayette Marks described Dr. Gilbert as “a man of small stature, quick, nervous habit, and of bright intellect; a man fond of his study, fond of his books, and thoroughly in love with his profession. As a speaker, he was possessed of a rapid utterance, and a shrill, penetrating voice. His tongue was as the pen of a ready writer. His mind was discursive, gathering information from every source, with a decided leaning towards theological and scientific discussion. He excelled as a debater, and never declined the opportunity to measure his strength with an adversary. The sword of truth in his hands was a trenchant blade, that struck fire in many a conflict.”

Lydia Monroe Gilbert, his wife, was described as someone “devoted to the Church with an affection and zeal which is seldom witnessed. Filled with a deep sense of her own responsibility as a pastor’s wife she discharged her duty with an industry that put to shame the lukewarm and lazy.” She was 25 years old when she married Dr. Gilbert. Born near St. Georges, her family moved to Wilmington when she was quite young. Her father, Dr. George Monroe, was an active Elder in the Hanover Presbyterian Church. According to her obituary, it was when home on a visit to Maryland “that her mind became deeply impressed on the subject of religion by receiving letters from some subjects of the ever memorable revival in the year 1814.” During this visit she had a “severe attack of illness, the effects of which she felt through all her subsequent life, and which greatly shattered her constitution. She possessed a very intellectual mind. Great colloquial powers, great originality of thought, with much vivacity and uncommon command of language.” She died in Newark, in 1843, at the age of 49. Rev Hogarth spoke at her funeral, in Hanover Church, on the subject of the “resurrection,” at her request.

Another distinguished member of Hanover who had a significant impact on education was Judge Willard Hall. He lived from 1780 to 1875; served as an Elder for many years; was Church School Superintendent; and, was very active in Presbytery. He was a U.S. District Court Judge, in the District of Delaware, and he was the first president of the Historical Society of Delaware. As noted previously, the free day school established by the Female Harmony Society was the forerunner of the present free public school system, and it was through his efforts that the Delaware public school system came into existence in 1829.

In an address during the 100th anniversary of Hanover, Rev. Carson W. Adams spoke about Judge Hall. “Willard Hall is a name known and honored of all men. Forty-three years he has been a ruling elder in this Church, and for 40 years a successful teacher of young men in the Bible class. When he heard the call of the master he threw himself with all his learning, his legal attainments, his social position, at the foot of the cross, and made a thorough consecration of them to the service of God, to be used for his glory. In every department of Christian and benevolent effort he has been a constant worker. Not only the church, but the state has been better for his living and his doing. He is not with us this day because bodily infirmity forbids it. He is with us in spirit. He has sent me this note, written this day with his own hand, with the request that I should read it this evening.”

Will the members of the Hanover
Presbyterian Church of Wilmington,
assembled in Centennial worship, hear a
word from one who has partaken oft and
much with them in the sweet communion of
our adorable and worshiped Redeemer? Be
ye steadfast and immovable, always
abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as you know your labor is not in
vain in the Lord. Yours in Christ, under the
hand of sickness. Willard Hall

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