Samuel James Gummere


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Gummere Family of the USA

Samuel James Gummere

Born 28 April 1811 at Rancocas, Burlington, New Jersey, the son of John Gummere and his wife Elizabeth Buzby.
First marriage on 16 April 1835 at Providence Meeting House, Rhode Island to Abigail Griscom.
Second marriage on 9 January 1845 at Frankford Meeting House, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to Elizabeth Hooten Barton.
Died 23 October 1874 at Burlington, Burlington, New Jersey.
Buried at Haverford Friends Burial Ground (Orthodox), Buck Lane, Haverford Township, Delaware, Pennsylvania, row 3, grave number 49.

Abigail Griscom

Born 25 March 1816 at Queens, New York, the daughter of Professor John Griscom and his wife Abigail Hoskins, of New York and Burlington, New Jersey.
Died 28 September 1840 at Haverford, Delaware, Pennsylvania aged 25 years.
Buried at Haverford Friends Burial Ground (Orthodox), Buck Lane, Haverford Township, Delaware, Pennsylvania, row 3, grave number 47.


  1. Caroline Elizabeth born 24 January 1835 in Burlington, New Jersey; married 28 August 1867 to Joshua Kimber; died 6 March 1869 at Haverford, Delaware, Pennsylvania.
  2. John born 23 July 1838 at Haverford, Delaware, Pennsylvania; married 1865 to Rebecca Volkmar.

Elizabeth Hooten Barton

Born 1 November 1819, the daughter of David Barton of Philadelphia.
Died 17 July 1895.
Buried at Haverford Friends Burial Ground (Orthodox), Buck Lane, Haverford Township, Delaware, Pennsylvania, row 2, grave number 31.


  1. Francis Barton born 6 March 1855 at Burlington, New Jersey; married 14 September 1882 at Burlington Meeting House, New Jersey to Amelia Smith Mott.

Samuel was educated in the school his father founded in Burlington. He was taught by his father who passed on his love of mathematics and astronomy to the boy. He assisted his father teaching at Burlington for a short time, before going to Providence, Rhode Island to organise the classics department at the newly founded Friends' School (later became the Moses Brown School). In 1834 became an assistant teacher at the Haverford School where his father was superintendent, and his uncle, William Gummere, an assistant. Samuel taught mathematics, physics, chemistry and Latin at Haverford.

In January 1835 Samuel married Abigail Griscom, but the marriage was short as Abigail died in 1840 at only 25 years of age. The death notice in the New York Spectator on 29 September 1840 reads At West Haverford, Pa. on the 28th inst. after a lingering illness, Abby, wife of Samuel J. Gummere, and daughter of John Griscom, late of this city, aged 26(sic) years.

By the 1840s Haverford School was in financial difficulties and there was disagreement on how the school should be managed. In 1843 several teachers, including the Gummeres resigned, and Samuel together with his father returned to Burlington to reopen the old school.

In 1845 Samuel remarried to Elizabeth Hooten Barton. He spent a year travelling Europe, visiting England, France and Switzerland in 1854.

He returned to Haverford, now a college, as principal and professor of mathematics, physics and astronomy in 1862. The family lived in a house surrounded by woods, where Maple Lane slopes down to the skating pond brook. In 1864 he became president of the college, a post he held until his death. It was a time when morale was low at the college. It was governed by a Board of Managers who all lived a distance away from the college, and had their own businesses to attend to. These managers were called to the college to deal with problems as they arose, and of which they often had little understanding. It was an unsatisfactory arrangement for all concerned and over time wore Samuel Gummere down. In 1871 the Managers handed over the running of the school to President Gummere, and Professors Chase and Dillingham. Overwork brought on a breakdown in the summer of 1874 from which Samuel never recovered.

Samuel Gummere was a natural scholar. His ability in mathematics was remarkable considering he had had no university training. He was equally good at classical languages and the humanities, and was known throughout the country as a mathematician and astronomer. In private he would write Latin verse - after his death one of these poems, Ad Horologium Meum was found hidden behind the pendulum of his clock. He was awarded a Master's degree by Brown University in recognition of his scholarship, and was also elected to membership of the American Philosophical Society. In 1869 he was invited to be part of a scientific group who went to Iowa to observe the eclipse of the sun.

Physically he was slight but muscular, and enjoyed walking, swimming and ice-skating. The winter before he died he was seen skating on the frozen pond, executing fancy figures.

Below is a photograph of a portrait of Samuel James Gummere (1811-1874) painted in 1881 by an unknown artist, according to the plaque at the bottom of the painting.

©Haverford College Library, Haverford, PA: College Archives

Samuel James Gummere, President of Haverford College 1862-1874 (photo from Haverford College Archives: Faculty Individuals II, G-L)

According to Haverford College: A History and Interpretation, by Rufus M. Jones:- President Gummere was quiet, modest, reserved, but at the same time he was possessed with a deep and subtle humor. He was profoundly loved by his students and he left his mark upon them for good. As has been the case so often in the life of Haverford, here was a man who was a remarkable union of the scholar and the teacher. He both knew his subject, and he knew how to impart and transmit his learning. He also had good gifts as an administrator as was shown when he had a real chance to direct the affairs of the college.

On one occasion the Managers came out to the college and investigated in their own way a case of petty student disorder. They fixed upon  a certain student as the inspiration and instigator of the trouble and they decided upon his "suspension" from the college. He was one of the best students in college. He was morally sound and above reproach. The Managers, however, informed the President that they had decided to have him "suspended", and they told President Gummere to write a letter to the young man's parents who were both distinguished Quaker preachers in a distant state to say that he was sent away from college for two weeks on account of his misdemeanors. At the end of the two weeks the student returned from his "vacation", which he had spent with much satisfaction in a not very distant Friend's home, and President Gummere called him to his office. "Here is a letter," he said to the student, "which the Managers told me to write to thy father and mother. Fortunately they did not instruct me to send the letter; they only instructed me to write it. I did so. I thought perhaps thou would like to keep it as a momento of this experience. Thou canst send it to thy parents or not as thou likes!" In later years that man, who had become Head master of one of the great schools of Philadelphia would never tell this incident without having tears run down his face, and his love for his old President knew no bounds.

These years from 1863 to 1874 under the guidance of this refined, broadminded, genial, just man were years of great importance in the life of the college.

One of the halls of residence at Haverford College, built in 1964, was named Gummere.

If I have something wrong I would greatly appreciate being corrected, or if you have something to add to the story then please email me .

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Photo of a portrait of Samuel James Gummere reproduced with the permission of Haverford College Library, Haverford, PA: College Archives.
Dictionary of American Biography, Vol. viii, edited by Dumas Malone.
A History of Haverford College for the First Sixty Years of its Existence, prepared by a Committee of the Alumni Association, published 1892.
Haverford College: A History and Interpretation, by Rufus M. Jones, published 1933.
Encyclopaedia of American Quaker Genealogy, by William Wade Hinshaw.
Vital Records data from the website.
New York Spectator, published 29 September 1840.
Last revised: 5 December 2006
© Linda Hansen 2006