Bidwell Lore – Nathan Jackson

Welcome to Bidwell Lore number 129! This week we will share a short tale about Nathan Jackson, the son of Colonel Giles Jackson who you read about last week.

  Young Nathan Jackson Burns Down a School and Later Funds a Library;
Or Did Someone Else Start the Fire?
Rick Wilcox

This week we will share the story of Nathan Jackson, who was the youngest of the fourteen children Colonel Jackson had with his first wife, and who may or may not have burned down a school in Stockbridge.

As we mentioned last week, his father, Colonel Giles Jackson, was married twice. Nathan’s oldest brother was Dr. Giles Jackson of Tyringham (Monterey). Nathan was the 14th of 19 children and the last child born of Giles’ first wife, Anne Thomas Giles. At a very young age, Nathan Jackson was sent to live with his older sister, Mrs. David Manning [1], in Stockbridge. David Manning was a member of “school house proprietors” in Stockbridge who purchased land for a school in 1792. [2]

Mary Gray Bidwell (who you may remember from our series about Barnabas Bidwell starting HERE) and Nathan Jackson were cousins. Nathan Jackson’s great aunt, whose maiden name was Jackson, was Mrs. Ephraim Williams, Sr. Mary’s father, Colonel James Gray, Jr., was Ephraim Williams, Jr.’s first cousin. James Gray’s mother, Elizabeth (Mrs. James Gray, Sr.) was the sister of Ephraim Williams Sr. I hope that relationship is not too complicated to comprehend!

Nathan Jackson, After Burning a School in Stockbridge, Donates for a Library

**The reader will, of course, recognize the Gleaner newspaper story as gossip, or in today’s parlance, “fake news.” With that confession in mind, we include it anyway. If Colonel Jackson didn’t write the Articles of Capitulation, maybe young Nathan didn’t burn down a school.**

COMMENDABLE LIBERALITY. – We are informed that Nathan Jackson, Esq., of New York City, has recently covenanted to give to the Town of Stockbridge; for Educational purposes, the sum of $4000; also for a Public Library in the town, $2000, on condition that the citizens erect a building for the Library, and add to the fund $1000 more.
       Hon. John Z. Goodrich, one of the citizens of the town, has offered to, erect the Library Building of stone, at a cost of not less than $3000; and Mrs. Frances F. Dwight of Stockbridge, offers to give an eligible corner lot, 100 feet square, opposite her residence, for the site of the Library. Of course, the good people of Stockbridge will not be slow in raising the $1000 now needed to secure these liberal donations. We congratulate them on this prospect of this immediate addition to their already excellent means of social, moral, and religious improvement and happiness.
        Rumor says the reason why Mr. Jackson singled out Stockbridge as the town on which to bestow his annual donation in the cause of education, is because he once attended school in town, and in one of his boyish freaks destroyed a school-house by fire.
        The citizens of Stockbridge have also recently formed a Book Club, and have purchased a fine collection of books, which are now in use in the town.
Lee Gleaner

The Stockbridge Library today. Photo by Todd Norwood.

The Bidwell Dollar

“How did Nathan Jackson acquire the means of aiding [Williams College and] the Stockbridge Library so liberally?

In the summer of 1792, while residing in Stockbridge, our old friend Barnabas Bidwell (son of Reverend Adonijah Bidwell), was a law student in that place. He kept a horse; and he told [12- year old Nathan] Jackson if he could catch his horse for him, and turn him out, he might have it to ride home to keep Thanksgiving. He readily accepted that offer, and fulfilled his part of the contract. The day before Thanksgiving, as he mounted on his horse ready to start for home, Mr. Bidwell said, ‘Nathan, have you any pocket-money?’ ‘Yes, Sir, I have three nine penny pieces.’ Mr. Bidwell then handed him a silver dollar. This was the first dollar he ever had. And what did he do with it? He did not spend it to see shows, nor for rum, nor brandy, nor cigars, nor tobacco. But he bought a sheep with it, and put out that sheep to double once in four years, and kept on letting out his sheep for forty years. In 1832 his flock amounted to one thousand and six-four sheep; and he then sold them for fifteen hundred and ninety-six dollars. He knew where he could invest this money to good advantage. Uptown lots in New York had recently been surveyed, and there were now for sale at very low price. He ascertained that a large number were to be sold at auction. He attended the sale, and purchased ten lots for two hundred and fifty dollars each. These lots he sold in two years for twelve thousand dollars. Thus Jackson Hall was erected at Williams College…” [3]

“It was in March of 1862 that Nathan Jackson of New York, who was born in Tyringham, and educated in Stockbridge, to show his grateful appreciation and remembrance of the town said he would give $2,000 toward a library, provided the citizens of the town would raise another thousand and erect a suitable building.”

The Stockbridge Library became one of only five public libraries constructed in the United States during the Civil War. And you could say that Stockbridge Library is here today because of a Bidwell Dollar.

Next week we will share a short story about Barnabas Bidwell and how we might not have Disney World without him!

1.  Pierson, Josiah, to Ashmun, Phineas, Book 30, Page 42 (1790) Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds
{Josiah Pierson to Phineas Ashmun} TO ALL PEOPLE to whom these Presents shall come Greeting. Know Ye, that I Josiah Gilbert Pierson of the City of New York Toner – For and in consideration of the sum of Forty Pounds Current Money of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, to me in hand before the ensealing hereof by Phineas Ashmun of Stockbridge in the County of Berkshire and Commonwealth of Massachusetts the receipt whereof I do hereby acknowledge & am fully satisfied Contented and paid have given, granted, Bargained, sold, Aliened, Released, conveyed & confirmed and by these Presents do freely clearly and absolutely give, grant, bargain, sell, alien, release, convey & confirm unto him the said Phineas Ashmun his Heirs & Assigns forever, two acres of Land be the same more or less, lying in Stockbridge aforesaid, bounded North on the highway called the Plain, West partly on land belonging to David Manning and continuing on the said Manning’s line to the River, South on the aforesaid River and East on the Land of Theodore Sedgwick Esq. Probably in the area of 16 Main Street.
2.  Pepoon, Benjamin, to School House Proprietors, Book 30, Page 333 (1792) Berkshire Middle Registry of Deeds, Pittsfield, Mass.
3.  Durfee, Rev. Calvin, A History of Williams College (Boston: A Williams and Company, 1860) [This volume prepared and published by David Dudley Field, LLD, pages 275-6]
4.  Wilcox, Olga (Stockbridge Librarian), “A History of the Stockbridge Library,” 1929