Sweetwater couple donates 165-year-old letter to College
Nov. 19, 2013
Contact: Karen B. Eldridge, Executive Director for Marketing & Communications
Van and Margaret “Peg” Michael of Sweetwater recently donated a 165-year-old letter to Maryville College’s Archives.
The couple made the donation to Maryville College President Dr. William T. “Tom” Bogart at his office in Fayerweather Hall.
During the Oct. 16 visit with the president, Van, an attorney, explained that he acquired the letter in 1946 while looking through the attic of a friend’s house in Sweetwater.
“We were stamp collectors, so we were going through old letters in the attic, looking for stamps,” he said. “I kept this letter [in my collection] as an example of what they did before stamps.”
Folded a few times so that it measured the size of a small envelope and then sealed, the letter had the simple address – “Mr. Franklin Bogart, Maryville College, Tennessee” – written in flourishing script, and above it, in the right corner, the word “Paid.”
It was written to a student at Maryville College from “S. Bogart,” his father living in Philadelphia, Tenn. The letter addresses the question of whether or not the student should stay and study at the college for another session or come home and teach school. The letter also includes an update about crops in the field and the health of Franklin’s mother and his sister, Margaret.
“We believe the letter is historically significant in that it tells the story of the student in school at that time – his everyday life instead of stories of battles or who got elected,” Van said.
“It’s a picture, a snapshot of what was going on in his life, with his family. And I love the handwriting,” added Peg, who is a member of the Rhea-Craig Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution and the Sweetwater Library Board.
Posed with the question of whether or not he could be related to Franklin, Bogart, MC president, said it was unlikely, but he said he still found the letter fascinating and thanked the Michaels on behalf of the entire College for their donation.
“Maryville College was founded in 1819, so our history dates back 194 years. We are proud of that history and want to both uncover and share more of it, especially as we approach our bicentennial.
“The donation by the Michaels is significant for many reasons, but mostly because of its age,” he continued. “Consider this: When it was written, Maryville College’s buildings were located in downtown Maryville. The Rev. Isaac Anderson, founder of Maryville College, was still the president, and Thomas Jefferson Lamar, who would reach legendary status after reopening the College after the Civil War, was finishing his senior year.
“That’s really amazing, and we’re excited to be able to preserve and keep this letter in our Archives.”
Internet search reveals more
Many of Maryville College’s earliest student records were lost in fires, so the College has no way of knowing whether or not Franklin Bogart enrolled for another session at the College or returned home. His name is not listed among those earliest graduates; however, it is included in a catalog of antebellum students.
A Google search of key names and information found in the Michaels’ letter turned up text from “The History of Sweetwater Valley, Tennessee,” which was published by the Presbyterian Church in 1916.
The biography of Solomon Bogart seems to match up with the author of the letter.
Listed among his children are Franklin, born in 1827, and Margaret, born in 1829.
Solomon’s occupations included hotelkeeper, teacher and land surveyor, and the biography also describes him as a “leading member of the Presbyterian Church.”
Regarding Franklin, the history indicates that he studied medicine and had a medical practice in Tellico Plains, then Sweetwater, after the town was settled in the 1850s. He died in 1887.
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the fall 2014 semester was 1,213.