sheldon clarkSheldon Clark: Another View
Published in History of Seymour.


Condensed from a sketch by Prof. Silliman kindly loaned for the purpose by the Secretary of Yale College.

A little beyond our northern boundary, in Chestnut-tree Hill, is a tract of land owned by Yale College, given by one who is well worthy of a sketch on these pages. Sheldon Clark, a brother of Mrs. Abirim Stoddard of Seymour, was born in Oxford Jan 31, 1785, and died April 10, 1840, aged 55 years. His father died when he was very young and he was adopted by his grandfather, Thomas Clark, Esq., with whom he remained until the death of this venerable ancestor at the age of 82, April 5, 1811.  The grandson wished to obtain a liberal education, but his grandfather disapproved of such a course as a waste of time and money, and he had no extraordinary opportunities for education except about a year at South Farms, in Litchfield, in 1805 and 1806. But his active mind prompted him to diligently read such books as he could obtain and thus cultivated habits of intellectual exercise and independence of character.

The death of his grandfather left him to pursue such a course as his own judgment dictated, and he applied for advice to Prof. Silliman of Yale College and passed the autumn and winter of 1811-12 in a course of study in connection with the recitations and discussions of President Dwight.

Among his numerous manuscripts is one dated January, 1812, giving an account of a dream or vision of the general judgement. The language is elevated and beautiful and the imagery splendid and sublime. It is remarkable for deep seriousness and reverence for the heavenly world.

Ten years later he called on Prof. Silliman and stated that the twenty thousand dollars left him by his grandfather he had by industry and economy increased to twenty-five thousand, that he had no family, and might never have one, and that he was disposed to appropriate at least a part of his estate to the encouragement of learning. He therefore deposited $5,000, to be placed at compound interest until it should amount to a sufficient sum for the establishment of the Clark professorship.  In 1824 he gave $1,000 for the purpose of establishing a scholarship.  This new instance of liberality excited additional interest in the hardworking Oxford farmer, whose example had now placed him at the head of the benefactors of this ancient literary institution. In 1829 he presented to the College an excellent telescope, with a focal length of ten feet and an aperture of five inches, made to his order, and costing over $1,000.

He was elected to the legislature from Oxford in 1825 and for several succeeding years.  His sentiments and mode of thought may perhaps best be expressed in his own words, as in the following extract from a letter written by him in reply to acknowledgments of one of his bequests:

"Oxford, Nov. 29th, 1832.

"Respected Friends -- Man is a child of circumstances. While some are born to ease and plenty, seldom meet with disappointments, are surrounded by benevolent friends, always ready to assist, to comfort and to afford them the most ample means of enjoying the highest degree of mental culture; others are bon to poverty and servitude, unassisted, even by their nearest relatives, and denied the privilege of obtaining a good common school education, and are often dispirited by disappointments.

"It was my destiny to belong tot he latter class. Earl,y in life, I had a tender father, who was in possession of a large amount of property. He intended, and often promised that I should have a liberal education -- but alas, before I was old enough to prepare to enter College, he died, and the estate proved to be insolvent.

"Thus all my fond hopes of having a liberal education were frustrated, and I was left fatherless and penniless in a hard, unfeeling, selfish world, to provide, by my own industry, to satisfy those positive wants congenial to poor human nature. It fell to my lot to live, till I was of age, with my grandfather, a hard working, parsimonious farmer, but I was allowed the privilege of reading occasionally, on Sundays, stormy days, and in the long nights of winter. From these opportunities of reading, I was soon convinced that the power, the honor, and glory of nations, consisted in, and depended upon, their great man. What has Greece, or Rome, or any nation of antiquity transmitted to posterity, worthy of esteem and admiration, but the achievements of their heroes, and the productions of their artists, poets, and philosophers?  And what else can we transmit to succeeding ages, to distinguish us form the unlettered savaged that roamed at large in the uncultivated wilds of America when discovered by our fathers?  Full of this idea, and animated with an ardent desire to promote the honor and happiness of my own native country, I felt determined to do all I could to patronize and encourage literature and science, to provide the means of affording our literary and scientific genius a finished education.

"Oft when toiling with ceaseless assiduity to accomplish that object, I have been pointed at, by my fellow-citizens, with the finger of scorn, and taunted by the tongue of ridicule. But for all of this I felt a reward in the anticipation of promoting the honor, and glory, and happiness of my beloved country. I never dreamed of personally receiving the grateful acknowledgments of one of the most respectable collegiate classes in the world. This I assure, my dear friends, is a rich compensation for all the labor, the hardships and privations I have suffered."

--From his will, made in 1823, the following is taken"

"Knowing the uncertainty of life -- thinking that we must always be prepared to die -- feeling that it is our duty to do all the good in our power, and believing that part of my prosperity will do more good if given to encourage literature than it would to descend according to law, I Sheldon Clark, of Oxford, am voluntarily and of my own accord, disposed to make the following will"

"I wish to be buried in a decent manner, and to have decent grave-stones at the discretion of my executors. It is my will, that my just debts and funeral expenses be paid out of my movable estate. I give and bequeath to the Corporation of Yale College in New Haven, all my homestead farm where I now live, with its buildings and appurtenances -- also all the land that was given to me by way of my grandfather, Thomas Clark, Esq. on the east side of the road that runs north and south of Mr. Samuel Tucker, with its buildings and appurtenances, also all my land that lies north of the road that runs by where George Drake now lives -- also my meadow that lies a few rods west of Rimmon school-house, and also all my Red Oak farm &c.

"Funds being so liable to be lost by bad security, it is my will, that the lands I have given to said Corporation shall never be sold, but that they shall be let or rented in such way and manner ad the President and Fellows of said Yale College, and their successors, forever, shall judge to be for the best interest of said institution. It is my will =, that the annual income of said lands shall be annually appropriated for the advancement of literature in said Yale College, in such a manner as its President and Fellows, and their successors forever, shall deem the best and most beneficial for said institution; but no part of said donation or income shall ever be appropriated to erect or repair buildings.

"I also give and bequeath to the Corporation of Yale College in New Haven, all the money I shall have on hand and all the notes I shall have due me at the time of my decease, (Except three hundred and thirty-four dollars for Chestnut-tree hill school district,) to be appropriated  for the benefit of said Yale College, as its President and Fellows, and their successors forever, shall think shall be for its best good, and the most conducive to its prosperity and honor.

He then gives in form, and with certain conditions, the above named sum to the Chestnut Tree hill school district. He gives also to his three sisters a valuable farm which fell to him and their brother, besides other lands acquired after his will was made; also, all his personal estate not otherwise disposed of; and on his death bed he expressed a wish, that the sisters should receive each one thousand dollars.

He named Abel Wheeler, Esq. of Oxford, and Benjamin Silliman of New haven his executors, but Judge Wheeler did not survive him.  He died April 11, 1840, from injuries received by a fall from a scaffolding in his barn. Under his extreme sufferings not a word escaped him as to his future prospects: he remarked only, that he endeavored to do all the good in his power, and as these pages show, his efforts were not in vain.

A large concourse of friends and neighbors and people of the vicinage, with several of the officers of the college and the clergy attended him to his last home. A long retinue of rural vehicles wound slowly down the high hills and along the deep valleys to a secluded burying ground, which he had been instrumental in arranging, on a quiet and beautiful plain, shaded by pines and watered by the murmuring current of a branch of the Housatonic. A neat marble slab records his name as "a distinguished benefactor of Yale College." Such indeed he was. His benefactions to the institution, including the funded interest that had accumulated to the time of his death, amounted to full thirty thousand dollars -- three times as much as any other individual had ever given.

This object was not accomplished without a long course of stern self-denial -- with great industry and severe economy. Mr. Clark expended very little on his own personal accommodation. The plain farmers house remained as his grandfather left it, without decoration and almost without repair; the furniture was of the humblest kind, but a warm welcome was given to his friends and to strangers, with ample provision not only of the produce of a farmer's cultivation and care, but occasionally, with a free hospitality in rarer things.

His policy was, to augment as far and as fast as possible, his productive capital; he attempted no improvements in his agriculture; he hardly preserved fences and buildings in status quo; little return of manure was made to his hard worked soil and even his wood and timber, were, to a certain extend, sold for money and cleared away for market, by other hands. He kept his money always at work -- loaned all the cash he did not need, (and his personal wants were few) -- required his interest and payments at the day -- but was exactly just in his dealings -- prompt to give his advice when desired, and kind in his treatment of all. His hoarding was not for himself; wife and children he had none, and he laid by his thousands -- the results not of traffic or speculation , but of laborious thrifty industry -- to furnish the means of a superior education to the children of others, and to generations yet unborn.