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Love's Odyssey:
The Life of Thornton Chase

by Robert Stockman

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Chapter 5

Chapter Five


      Thornton Chase did not immediately leave South Carolina. Although he resigned his commission in November 1865, a letter he later wrote notes that he was still in Beaufort in January 1866, and in Washington, D.C. in June 1866.[1] Presumably the latter city was a stop on his way home.

      Brown University started its fall term on 7 September 1866, and among the seventy-three entering freshmen was one James B. T. Chase. The "T" was present in his name in all of his university records. Although he was not yet called Thornton, he had decided to keep Thornton as part of his name. This change in the name he called himself is symbolic of the changes that Thornton had undergone during the previous three years. He was no longer an uncertain seventeen year old, but an ex-Union army captain and a veteran of two battles. Now he would tackle a new set of challenges: acquiring a university education.

      Thornton probably found his military experience both detrimental and helpful for his new tasks. On the one hand, he had not read any Latin or Greek in three years, a basic reading knowledge of which was assumed of freshmen. His military experience was little help in algebra and geometry, in which courses he did abysmally. On the other hand, military life probably gave him discipline. It might have given him greater self-reliance and restlessness, qualities that could have worked against a desire to complete college. Very few men--less than one percent--went to college in the mid-nineteenth century, and no profession required a college degree.

      By modern standards, a college education in the mid-nineteenth century was characterized by irrelevance. Brown's curriculum was typical. Freshmen were required to take a year of Latin, a year of Greek, a semester of geometry, and a semester of algebra. Sophomores faced a year of Latin, a year of Greek, a year of French, a year of rhetoric, a semester of trigonometry and geometry, and a semester of physiology. Juniors were required to study a semester of Latin, a semester of Greek, a year of rhetoric, a year of "Natural Philosophy" (physics and astronomy), and a semester of chemistry. Second semester the juniors were actually given a choice of two courses from among four: geology, political economy, Latin, and Greek. Seniors had as required courses "Intellectual Philosophy" and "Modern History" in the fall, and "Moral Philosophy and the Evidences of Christianity" and "English and American History, Constitutional and International Law" in the spring. For their third course, seniors could choose to continue their study of Latin or Greek, or to take German; second semester, if they chose to abandon language study, they could take a course in geology or in political economy.[2]

      Such a course of study was designed to produce gentlemen: men who were pious Christians, who grasped the essentials of modern science, and who could give mellifluous speeches, properly spiced with quotations from Cicero and Demosthenes. Not until 1869 did any American college introduce "majors" and a large number of electives. Colleges were virtually finishing schools for the children of the wealthy; college students spent much of their time involved in pranks and rivalries with other classes.

      Evidence suggests that Thornton Chase did not find the environment congenial. There is, first, his grades, which started out decently but steadily declined. In September and October his grades in Latin, Greek, and geometry averaged 15 on a scale from 0 to 20 (75%). This grade was typical or a bit low for his classmates. He subsequently maintained his average in the languages, but in geometry his grade dropped sharply, and he finished the semester with a 6.66 (33%). Second semester he never scored above a 6 in algebra, and his language grades slipped downward. He did not even complete the last month of the semester and never took final exams.[3]

      Thornton seems to have expressed his dislike for college life by moving off campus. The first semester he resided in Room 50 of University Hall, one of the college's two buildings (today it is the administration building). Second semester he rented a room off campus; apparently he moved while the Providence city directory company was conducting its annual canvas of the city, and thus was listed twice. Both entries describe "James Chase" as a "laborer," suggesting that he was working at the same time that he was going to school. This also agrees with the Brown University account book, which lists J. B. T. Chase, not Jotham Chase, as responsible for the bills (most boys had their bills paid by their fathers). Thornton paid a total of $88.60 to the college, which was the cost of tuition for two semesters, one semester of room and board, and one semester of maid service.[4]

      Thornton's attendance at classes and at compulsory chapel demonstrates a similar pattern of declining interest. Second semester he was absent from classes fifteen times without excuse, while first semester he was never absent without excuse. He missed compulsory chapel without excuse once the first semester and twenty-four times the second. The result of his low grades and poor attendance record was the accumulation of demerits. Thornton's records close with the note "May 29 was sent home had 210 demerits."[5]

      Most likely Thornton Chase and Brown University were each happy to be free of the other. In the mid-nineteenth century it was not unusual for college students to complete only a portion of their schooling; any college education at all was considered remarkable; the costs were difficult to bear, and the allure of earning a living in business or as an apprentice to a lawyer or physician were great.

      Apparently Thornton returned to Springfield; the canvasser for the Springfield city directory found a "Chase, James J" boarding on Maple Street in July 1867.[6] Probably the name was printed incorrectly, and Thornton was living at his father's house on Maple Street. No occupation was listed after his name, suggesting that he was unemployed.

      The Springfield city directory is the main source of information for reconstructing Thornton's life and activities for the next five years. He is absent from the directory entirely in 1868; he could have been missed in the canvassing, which often was not systematic, or he could have been living in another locality that year. The latter possibility is reinforced by a membership certificate in the Grand Army of the Republic, a veteran's organization, that is in the hands of Thornton Chase's descendants. It notes that Thornton was "mustered into" the organization on 2 October 1868 as a member of Post Number Two in Vermont. Thus it is likely he resided in that state. The document is referred to as a "traveling card," suggesting that whatever job he held took him to many places; possibly he was an agent for his father's lumber company and traveled to sign lumber contracts or approve the timber before it was shipped to Springfield. Significantly, he signed his membership card as "J. B. Thornton Chase," indicating that he was beginning to switch to that name.[7]

      The 1869 Springfield city directory lists "James T. Chase"--once again the "Thornton" has risen in importance--as boarding on Maple Street, and as an employee of Chase, Currier, and Company, his father's lumber business.[8]

      The year 1870, when Thornton turned twenty-three, was a crucial one for him, for in that year he married. The details of how he met Annie Elisabeth Louise Allyn are lost. She was born on 25 February 1848 in Bristol, a small town in Rhode Island, and grew up there. The 1850 census lists the occupation of her father, William H. Allyn, as "harness maker." His property was worth $2500.00, presumably the value of his house and shop; it indicates that he was a man of average means.[9] In 1869 Annie lived in Providence and worked as a teacher; in 1870 she taught at "East Street Intermediate," presumably a middle school.[10]

      A descendant recalls that Annie heard Thornton sing in a church choir and fell in love with his voice. Perhaps she sang in the choir too. She was an Episcopalian and probably attended St. Stephen's Church, next to Brown University, for it was in that church where she and Thornton were later married. Perhaps she attended the church in 1866-67, and perhaps Thornton sang in its choir while he attended Brown.[11]

      They were married at 10:15 A.M. on Wednesday, 11 May 1870 by Henry Waterman, the rector of St. Stephen's. The couple settled in Springfield, where Thornton purchased a house at 12 School Street and worked as a partner in Chase, Currier, and Company. Presumably the marriage began happily. If the entries in the Springfield city directory can be considered indicative, the marriage seems to have brought out Thornton's creativity. It lists him as the director and lead bass of the choir at First Baptist Church; he was also secretary of the Mendelssohn Union, a singing society.[12] Thornton's lifelong love of music may have stimulated Thornton's interest in religious experience, for music is emotionally satisfying, powerfully aesthetic, and an activity that brings people together in fellowship and a shared effort. For some people, music is an almost mystical experience.

      To complete the new couple's joy, ten months after their marriage--on 16 March 1871--their first child was born. She was named Sarah Thornton Chase--after Thornton's mother--and was the first great-grandchild of James B. Thornton, Thornton's mother's father.[13]

      An important and unknown factor in Thornton's life was Phebe Lincoln Allyn (March 1827-30 April 1910), his mother-in-law. For a few years she lived with Thornton and Annie; probably her husband had died, for he had been twenty years older than she.[14] In 1875 she remarried, to Stephen Albro Hopkins, a mariner who lived in Newport, R.I. Seven years later, however, they divorced, a drastic and unusual action in the nineteenth century.[15] Subsequently she again lived with her daughter.

      In late 1871 or early 1872 Thornton decided to open his own business, based on the experience he had gained from his work with his father. The 1872 Springfield city directory lists the occupation of J. B. Thornton Chase as "Dealer in Lumber. Spruce House Bills a speciality. Office 229 Main street, opposite Massasoit House." However, he was no longer listed as an officer for any musical organization in Springfield, nor was he listed in 1871; either his interest had waned, or his business and family required too much of his time. His address had also changed, suggesting the family had moved into a larger house.[16]

      Life had probably acquired stability and held out considerable promise for Thornton. Sigmund Freud, once asked to summarize what a normal person should be able to do well, replied "lieben und arbeiten" (to love and to work.) Erikson has elaborated on this insight by describing two phases that adults must go through in their lives. One, called intimacy versus isolation, describes the challenge of the young adult to share his or her identity with another, and to grow as a result of the rewards and risks of intimacy. Failure to meet this challenge can result in isolation, loneliness, and self-absorption. The other phase is called generativity versus stagnation and refers to the challenge to produce and rear the next generation and to be creative in one's life and work.[17]

      Thornton later noted that he "lived happily and faithfully with. . . Annie. . well and diligently supporting her" and their baby.[18] This statement suggests that Thornton perceived that he had succeeded in these two phases of life. For a man who had had a loveless and lonely childhood, the creation of a stable and happy home life must have been a particularly satisfying achievement.

      But everything changed in August 1872 when Thornton's business failed. He was obligated to provide for his family in an era when there was no unemployment or other government assistance for those thrown out of work. The 1873 city directory lists him as an express agent, but it also gives a different home address for him than in 1872, suggesting that he had either to sell the house he owned or to rent a cheaper house.[19] Hard times had begun again; the tests of intimacy and generativity would ultimately produce much growth but were to bring seven years of severe pain, as Thornton faced repeated failures.


[1]James B. Chase to A. A. Paul, Colored Bureau, War Dept., Washington, D.C., 2 June 1866, United States Government Archives, Washington, D.C.

[2]Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Brown University, 1867-8 (n.p., n.d.) 20-22.

[3]Record of Standing Book of the Class of 1870, entry for J. B. T. Chase, Brown University Archives, Providence, R. I., notes in Robert H. Stockman, "The Record of Thornton Chase in the Brown University Archives," TS, 1, author's personal papers.

[4]Catalogue of the Officers and Students of Brown University, 1867-8, 15; The Providence Directory, for the Year 1867: Containing a General Directory of the Citizens, and Business Directory, of the State of Rhode Island, City Record, Etc., Etc. (Providence: Sampson, Davenport, and Co., 1867) 48; "The Record of Thornton Chase in the Brown University Archives" 2.

[5]Stockman, "The Record of Thornton Chase" 3, 4.

[6]Springfield City Directory and Business Advertiser, for 1867-68. From July, 1867, to July, 1868 (Springfield: Samuel Bowles and Co., 1867) 77.

[7]Traveling membership card in the Grand Army of the Republic for J. B. Thornton Chase, original in the hands of Charles Lawton, grandson of Thornton Chase (photographic copy in author's personal papers).

[8]Springfield City Directory and Business Advertiser for 1869-70. From July, 1869, to July, 1870 (Springfield: Samuel Bowles and Co., 1869) 72.

[9]Annie's date of birth comes from her death certificate in the Newport, R.I. city clerk's office (notes in Robert H. Stockman, Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.1, author's personal papers); United States Census for 1850, Bristol County, R.I., notes in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.5.

[10]The Providence Directory, for the Year 1869: Containing a General Directory of the City, A Record of the City Government, its Institutions, Etc.; Together with a Complete Business Directory and Register of the Entire State. (Providence: Sampson, Davenport, and Co., 1869) 16; The Providence Directory, for the Year 1870: Containing a General Directory of the City, A Record of the City Government, its Institutions, Etc.; Together with a Complete Business Directory and Register of the Entire State. (Providence: Sampson, Davenport, and Co., 1870) 20.

[11]Personal Interview with Margaret Hansen, 30 August 1985, author's personal papers. Marriage record of Thornton Chase and Annie Allyn, St. Stephen's Church, Providence, R.I., notes in author's personal papers.

[12]Marriage record of Thornton Chase and Annie Allyn, St. Stephen's Church, Providence, R.I., notes in author's personal papers; Springfield City Directory and Business Advertiser for 1870-71, For the Year Commencing June 1, 1870 (Springfield: Samuel Bowles and Co., 1870) 157, 52-53.

[13]Springfield Daily Republican, Friday, 17 March 1871, p. 8, col. 6, notes in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.1A.

[14]Phebe's month of birth comes from the United States Census for 1900, Newport County, R.I., notes in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.6; her date of death comes from the Newport Daily News, Saturday, 30 April 1910, Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.14. Her first husband's date of birth can be estimated from his age, given in the United States Census for 1850, Bristol County, R.I., notes in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.5.

[15]Marriage record of Stephen Albro Hopkins and Phebe Lincoln Allyn, Newport, R.I. City Hall, notes in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.11; divorce record of Stephen Hopkins and Phebe A. Hopkins, Newport, R.I. Superior Court, notes in Thornton Chase Research Notebook, p. 8.12.

[16]Springfield City Directory and Business Advertiser for 1872-73, For the Year Commencing June 1, 1872 (Springfield: Clark W. Bryan and Co., 1872) 157.

[17]Erik Erikson, Childhood and Society (New York: Norton, 1950) 265, 263-68.

[18]James B. T. Chase to Newport Superior Court, Newport, R.I., 12 February 1878, copy in author's personal papers.

[19]Springfield City Directory and Business Advertiser for 1873-74. For the Year Commencing June 1, 1873 (Springfield: Clark W. Bryan and Co., 1873) 189.

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