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Stacks again sings a stanza from the diary of William S. Johnson, an Antiochian in the very first year the College existed. He leads with a description of his role in one of the student literary societies, an interesting institution best treated in the Senior Project by Geoffrey Stein, class of 1965. From Johnson’s day into the 20th century, the literary societies were the only student activity at Antioch College not rigidly controlled by the faculty, to whom (judging from the minutes of their meetings) enforcing in loco parentis seemed more important to them than any subject they happened to teach. For archival purposes, the leather bound volumes of literary society minutes represent some of the earliest and most complete primary sources for institutional history. Among incessant roll calls and fines levied for absent and late members, we find documented therein the issues that concerned Antiochians most in the form of resolutions concerning the upcoming topics of debate.  Johnson for instance, takes “the negative side from preference,” arguing that the Roman Catholic Church represents a threat to American sovereignty that slavery does not. To modern eyes the answer to this question is so obvious as to hardly warrant discussion, but the clear and present danger of Catholicism to Protestant America was so great that many believed in a secret “Papal Bull” that would turn the faithful in the US into a fifth column to help the Pope wipe out republicanism wherever it existed.

Here we see the string of personal tragedies that strike Johnson’s family that will ultimately force him to leave college. Also of note in this installment is Johnson getting an on-campus job, one of the few we have any record of from the early days, that of College bell ringer. Most Antiochians have little or no memory of hearing the bell rung at all, and then only for special occasions. As we will soon see in our next installment, there is much bell ringing to be done in William’s day.

Image of a historic course catalog

Antioch Dec 24, 1853

I am here yet.  The second term has commenced.  I am in the second preparatory class.  We design entering the Freshman class, next September a year.  We have Latin and in addition design finishing the common english branches.  The Freshman class organized a literary society today, which I probably shall join.

Jan 21, 1854

I was initiated into the Alethezetean society last saturday Jan. 14th.  Our society meets every saturday at two and half o’clock.  The question for discussion today is “Resolved that the U. S. Government is in greater danger of being over thrown by Slavery than by Popery.”  I was chosen as one of the speakers; and took the negative side from preference.

We are now taking lessons in vocal music.  Prof, L. G. Fessenden, teacher.  These lessons are given the remainder of this term, free of charge; but after this term, will not be.

In our societies we have elections of officers twice a term.  At the first election after I became a member, J. B. Weston was chosen President, and Wm. L. Johnson Vice President.  We have changed the hour of holding our meetings to the forenoon instead of the afternoon, to accommodate some of us who wished to attend singing.

Our society is composed of two branches, called the Ladies’ branch and Gentlemen’s branch.  These two branches meet separately in their common meetings but have joint twice a term.

Feb. 25th.  Today is our joint meeting.  The question for discussion is “Resolved that is our duty to support the compromise measures of 1850; and to assist when called on, in returning fugitives back to bondage.”  Affirmative J. G. Gordon, E. C. Devore. Negative J. B. Weston, J. DeNormandie.  The President being chosen on discussion the Vice Pres. had to take the chair.  After the discussion was over which was conducted for the most part, with spirit and animation, the decision was rendered by the President (alias, vice president) in favor of the negative.  The business for the next meeting was then arranged then adjourned.  A part of the business for the next meet was an oration by Wm L. Johnson.  A part of business for two weeks was an essay by Miss S. D. Allen and Mrs. Jay

March 4th 1854

I found it a difficult matter to get up an oration.  One thing that made it worse is that we have so much to do; but I finally succeeded in getting up a short one, only about seven pages, which I delivered before the society today.  (20) My subjects were “Decay, Change and Innovation.”  When I first commenced to prepare it, I intended to make it much longer than I did.  It is just about half the length I intended to have it.  One reason I did not make it longer was, that I felt unwell at the time.

I am appointed one of the speakers for next saturday which will be the last meeting we will have this term.

The Ladies branch being so small, only six members, they began to get discouraged.  There was not enough of them to make it interesting.  For this reason the Faculty of Antioch College, who have the overseeing of the whole affairs, granted us the privilege of meeting together the balance of this term and the next.

We are going to have an examination at the end of this term.  It will commence next thursday I believe 9th of March.

March 8th, Tomorrow the examination will commence.  Today closed up our regular recitations for this term.  H. H. Burkholder and myself have been copying off the last lecture of Prof. Doherty.  After that we set and talked over various topics till twelve o’clock at night.  Mr. Burkholder is the only intimate friend I have.  I have many friends I think, but not intimate, bosom friends.  I received a letter from home to-day informing me, among other things, that father had a sale on the 2nd of this month, selling off all or nearly all of the stock, property furniture &c.  The sale, I believe it was stated, amounted to over twenty three hundred dollars.  Our folks are going to move to Franklin; The farm was rented out for one thousand dollars per annum.

Our class, the 2nd Preparatory, was examined today in Latin.  The examination was much milder that we anticipated.  We were also examined in Arithmetic orally, but will be examined tomorrow by written exercises.  All the faculty were present and also a great number of the other students who did not belong to our class.

March 13.  We were examined today in Geography and written examination.  Tomorrow is the last day of this term.  It will close with a public examination in the Chapel.

March 14th.  We had a public examination today.  The most of the students acquitted themselves creditably.  There was a great many in to witness the exercises; and they pronounced it a good examination.

In our daily recitations we are marked from 0 to 8, 8 being a perfect lesson, and we were marked the same in our examinations that were written.  In Latin I averaged 7 48/85.  English grammar 7 5/6.  I have not averaged the other studies.  On the examination I averaged 7 5/17 in Latin being second best in the class.  The best was 7 11/17, on the examination of Arithmetic 7.  

Antioch                                                            April 2nd 1854

After a vacation of two weeks I have returned again to the halls of learning, to the great Antioch.

April 9th 1854

I went over to Cliffton yesterday distance three miles.  I suppose about one half the student were there also, among which were many ladies.  I do not now feel like writing a discription(sic) of it.  I will leave a blank here and perhaps I may sometime fill it out, when I feel poetic, for I never shall forget the looks of that place as I saw it.

Antioch College

Sep. 7th 1854

“School has begun so come every one

Come with smiling faces.  

For happy are they who learn when they may

So come and take your places.”


Yes, long vacation is over and school

has begun again commenced with a great

addition of new students.  

I have had good fortune to get the job of ringing the bell, for which I will receive nearly, if not quite sufficient to defray my expenses.

But I wish to speak more of the vacation.  O what a one it has been to me!  A vacation from study truly, but an initiation into sorrow and trouble!  For the dark Angel of the grave has laid his withering hand up wth loved ones at home

Two brothers and a sister sleep in the silent graveyard.   

The zephyrs of Autumn will sing their funeral requium around the marble slab that marks their last resting place; but their souls have gone home to Heaven unto the God who gave it.  We mourn, but not without hope.  We have a blessed assurance that they have gone home to Heaven.  Then why should we mourn?  They are much better off than we.

It is a great loss to us that they are gone; but what is our loss is their gain; consequently we should not complain.

My oldest brother died.  Larkin T. Johnson, died on the 18th of July at 3 o’c and 20 min A.M. in Franklin, of Typhoid fever, after an illness of 14 days. 

My third sister, Nancy Jane, died on 31st of July at 3-20min. P.M. after an illness of 9 hours, of Cholera, in Franklin.  My second brother, T. E. Johnson died on the 4th of Aug. after an illness of 12 hours of same disease at same place, at [left blank]

Heaven has now become a reality, a place.  It has a new interest to my mind; one that it never had before.  I feel that I have two brothers and a sister there.  I intend to try to go there, too, if God will pardon my sins.

Oct. 1st 1854  Me thinks I see them today, hand in hand, praising God and calling to us to come up there too.  O God how manifold are thy blessings! How glorious all thy works!  O Lord! I would desire to come to them this morning, with humility of heart, feeling my dependence upon thee.  Realizing that it is in thee that we “live, move and have our being.”  Knowing that without thee we can do nothing, but with thy sanction can accomplish anything!  O assist me to consecrate my life to thy service, to thy glory and the salvation of souls.  Prepare me, O Father! for this great work!  Expand my mental powers, Give me wisdom, and give me understanding; Give me grace to know and do thy will hereafter and forever, and to thy name, through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, shall be all the praise now and forever more.