Teaching a Nation’s Leaders
Considered by many to have been the foremost educator in the South, Moses Waddell was of Irish parentage and was born in Rowan (now Iredell) county, North Carolina, on July 29th, 1770. He received his academic education at a school which was opened in the neighborhood under the name of Clio’s Nursery. For four years, beginning at the age of fourteen, he was engaged as a teacher (1784-1788) at various places in North Carolina and Georgia.
Leaving his employment as a teacher, he enrolled as a student at the Hampden-Sydney College, graduating there in 1791. The next year he was licensed to preach by the Hanover Presbytery, of Virginia, on May 12, 1792.
About 1793, Waddell opened his first school in Columbia county, Georgia, then another in 1801, in Vienna, Abbeville District, South Carolina. He remained in that work until 1804, when he removed to Willington, six miles south of Vienna, and it was at Willington where he founded the famous Willington Academy. It was common for Presbyterian pastors to maintain an academy, in part for the extra income, and in part because they could thus guide the moral, religious and intellectual education of the children of their parish.
All of these schools were designed as preparatory schools, utilizing a classical education model. As the fame of the Willington Academy grew, it came to be called the “Eton in the woods”. To give one example of the school’s rigor, students were required to memorize, translate and recite some 250 lines of Greek or Latin every night. A Willington graduate, South Carolina governor George McDuffie, held the record, having once recited over 2200 lines of the poet Horace.
In 1818, Waddell was elected President of what was then Franklin College, later to become the University of Georgia. However, he did not actually step into the duties of this office until May, 1819. While serving as an educator, he also labored as a pastor, founding the Presbyterian Church in Athens, Georgia in 1820. During his tenure at the University, the school prospered greatly, and he continued here as President until 1829. Resigning his post, he returned to Willington. For forty-five years he had labored as a teacher. His labors as a pastor continued another six or seven years more, and the Rev. Dr. Moses Waddell’s life drew to a close on July 21, 1840.
Dr. James McLeod provides the following account of Dr. Waddell as a teacher:
“The boys called him ‘Old Moses,’ and while he believed in corporal punishment, he never spanked in a passion, and it finally evolved that he did this only upon a verdict of a peer jury of students. He never spanked for a deficient lesson but chiefly for defects in morals or actions that had to be punished.
“He was a cheerful man even playful in his disposition. He maintained a personal interest in each boy. He had a wry sense of humor. When boys on second floor dumped water on him as he went in a door, he said nothing, but later raised an umbrella as he went in the door to the delight of the boys.
“His strength seems to have been to analyze the boys accurately, then demanded accordingly. He was not a man who used sentiment to escape facing the laziness of adolescence. He demanded. They groaned, they gave, they griped, they worshiped him later. There was a chestnut tree outside the Doctor’s study window that the boys remembered watching as they waited to see the Doctor if they had done anything wrong. Others would climb it to see if anyone was punished by him.
“Dr. Smith, the president of Princeton College, was quoted as saying that he received no students from any school in the United States who stood better examinations than those of Dr. Waddel.”
As a pastor, Alfred Nevin notes that “he was pious, zealous, and well versed in theology generally. His style of preaching was plain, simple, earnest. He addressed himself much more to the understanding than to the imagination or passions. As a teacher he stands almost unrivaled.”
Words to Live By:
In The Great Doctor Waddell, by Dr. James McLeod, the author provides a compilation of the students educated under Waddell. The list includes two Vice-Presidents, three Secretaries of State, three Secretaries of War, one Assistant Secretary of War, one US Attorney-general, Ministers to France, Spain and Russia, one US Supreme Court Justice, eleven governors, seven US Senators, thirty two members of the US House of Representatives, twenty two judges, eight college presidents, seventeen editors of newspapers or authors, five members of the Confederate Congress, two bishops, three Brigadier-generals, and one authentic Christian martyr.
In light of which, this might be a good time to review again the words of Dr. R. B. Kuiper, posted here this past July 15th:
“God has seen fit to reveal Himself to man in two books—the Bible, the book of special revelation, and nature and history, the book of general revelation. Now it is the duty of the organized Church to teach men the content of the former of these books, while it is the special task of the school to open the latter. To be sure, the two may not be separated. Truth can hardly be dealt with so mechanically. After all, truth is one because God is one. Truth is organic. And only he who has learned to understand the Bible can really know history and nature. Yet the distinction is a valid one. The Church can hardly be expected to teach the intricacies of mathematics, physics, astronomy, or the history of the Balkans. Nor does any one demand of the school that it preach the gospel. But Church and school together must declare the whole of God’s revealed truth.”