PHIL BENNETT SPEAR, A.M., D.D. Prominent in the educational and literary circles of Madison County stands the gentleman of whom we write. During his entire life he has sought to raise the standard of education in his native State, leaving nothing undone that would advance the progress of civilization, and has been a substantial help in making Hamilton one of the most important centres of learning in the State. He was born in Palmyra, Wayne County, May 23, 1811. His grandfather, Lemuel Spear, was, it is thought, a native of Massachusetts. In 1789 he came with his family to New York, making the journey overland with teams, at times being obliged to cut a path through the wilderness. He bought a tract of land in the town of Palmyra, and improved a farm, living there until shortly before his death, which occurred at the home of his son, Dr. Spear, in Hamilton.
Abram Spear, father of our subject, was born during the residence of his parents in Massachusetts, his birth occurring November 19, 1780, in the city of Boston. He was a lad of nine years when he came with his parents to Palmyra, which was afterward his home. He was trained to agricultural pursuits, and, when he attained his majority, started out for himself, with no capital excepting willing hands, vigorous youth, and a stout heart. By thrift and economy he accumulated enough in a few years to buy a small tract of land in Palmyra, on which was a house that had been built for a tavern. He did not open it as a public house, however, but turned his attention to farming, continuing his habits of industry, and occasionally purchasing adjoining land. His landed property increased until he had a rich and productive farm, one mile long and one-half mile in width, and mostly under good cultivation. He married Clarissa Bennett, who was born in Perinton, Monroe County, September 8, 1782. To them were born four daughters and one son--Irene, Cordelia, Philena, Clarissa, and Phil Bennett. They resided on the homestead all their lives, Mrs. Spear dying August 26, 1859, her husband following her a few days later, his death occurring September 9, 1859.
The subject of our sketch was the only son of the household, and received the best educational advantages of that period, attending the common schools and the high school of his native town. He made a further study of mathematics under Tobias Ostrander, and received instruction in the languages from Dr. Seth Davis, an Episcopalian clergyman. At the age of twenty he entered the Hamilton Literary and Theological Seminary of Hamilton, N.Y. After completing the academic and literary course, in 1836 he entered the Theological Department, from which he was graduated in 1838. He had commenced teaching when in the Literary Department, and, after being graduated from the Theological Department was appointed to the chair of Hebrew and Latin. He taught both languages for some years, but subsequently confined his teaching to Hebrew, and continued an instructor in the university until 1889, when he resigned. He has always labored for the interests of his Alma Mater, which had a hard struggle for life in its earlier years. In 1846 application was made for a charter for the Literary and Scientific Department, which was granted under the name of Madison University. Soon after an attempt was made to remove the institution. To this Dr. Spear very much objected, and all of his influence was used to retain the location at Hamilton. The contest waxed warm until
1850, when the location at Hamilton was made permanent. Those who were in favor of removal withdrew from the university; and, though dire results were predicted, the opposite happened, however, for the institution at once flourished as it never had before. The chief financial responsibilities of the institution rested upon Dr. Spear, and how well he fulfilled his part cannot be told without giving a complete history of the institution. Suffice it to say that its landed estates have been largely increased, and the endowments raised to upward of one-half million dollars. In 1889 the name was changed to Colgate University, and it is now recognized as one of the solid institutions of the country.
Dr. Spear has been twice married. The maiden name of his first wife, to whom he was united August 29, 1838, was Esther Jackson. She was born in Palmyra, N.Y., and died January 19, 1878. In 1881 he was united in marriage to Mary Dielle, of Plattsburg, N.Y. Of the first marriage four children were born--Frank B., Charles, John, and Mary. The Doctor is now living retired, enjoying his well-merited rest from active duties, happy in having won the confidence and esteem of all with whom he has come in contact during his many years of busy life. The people, not only of his town, but of the whole county, look up to him with respect; and his name will be handed down from generation to generation as one whose highest aim was to benefit his fellow-men.
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