The Original Nine: Howard College’s First Class

The first students to attend Howard College (originally called Howard English and Classical School) are often called “the original nine.” A quick glance at the handwritten matriculation records housed in Special Collection reveals that only nine boys showed up to school on January 3, 1842. By May 1842, twenty-two additional young men followed suit and Howard ended its first semester with a total enrollment of thirty-one. These original nine became part of the folklore of Samford’s humble beginnings, but many details of their lives were forgotten.  With student ages ranging from 11 to 18, Samuel Sterling Sherman was at first the principal of a preparatory school and not a college president. As we begin a new semester, take a moment to remember this first group of students from January 1842.

First Nine Matriculation Record
The Original Howard English and Classical School Matriculation Record

First in everything, John Thomas Barron was the first to sign up for classes at the newly formed school. Born in 1829 in Marion, Alabama, he lived with his mother, widow Julia Tarrant Barron, who provided funding for both the Howard English and Classical School and Judson College. Due to his high standing in the alphabet, John also became the first graduate of full-fledged Howard College in 1848.  He studied medicine, married Elizabeth Hampton Harrison of Mississippi, and later returned to Marion to became one of the town’s leading physicians. John continued his association with his alma mater, housing a few Howard boys in his own home during the ten-month academic year. After Elizabeth’s death in 1865, John remarried. He and his second wife Fannee had two daughters named Julia and Olive. Unfortunately, John died in 1870 at the age of 41. This was made even more tragic by the death of Fannee only a few years later.  John and Fannee Barron’s daughters lived under the care of their grandmother, Julia, until her death in 1890.

Thomas Booth also finished in Howard College’s first graduating class.  Born in 1827 in South Carolina, Booth’s family moved to Autauga County, Alabama sometime before 1840.  During his time as a student at Howard, he boarded with the Hufford family in Marion.  After graduation, Thomas moved to Union, Louisiana where he worked as a teacher during the 1850s. While there, he boarded with Elias George’s family, also from Perry County. In 1853, Booth married Catharine Heit in Bibb County, Alabama. Drawn to towns named Union, the couple settled in Union, Alabama by 1860, where he would work as a merchant for the remainder of his life. Booth died on August 14, 1869 at the age of 42.

Unlike his two previous classmates, William Alexander “Aleck” Miller did not stay at Howard long enough to obtain a degree. Born in Big Cove, Alabama, Miller lived in Madison, Alabama all his life, with the exception of his time at Howard. After leaving Howard, he returned to Madison and worked as a farmer. In 1852, he married Jane Haden.  Aleck and Jane raised four children, and he passed at the age of 72.

Thomas Adams Cravens was born in 1828, probably in Marion, Alabama. He lived in neighboring Marengo County until he attended college in 1842. After his brief tenure at Howard, Cravens migrated to Yuba, California where he worked as a farmer and married Elizabeth Humes in 1856. The couple had seven children and resided in Santa Barbara, California until he passed away in 1888 at the age of 59.

William D. King was the son of Edwin Davis King, a wealthy citizen of Marion, early Howard trustee, and financial supporter of the fledgling Howard College. William King attended Howard in 1842.  In spite his father’s involvement in the school, King did not complete his degree at Howard. In 1848, King married Rebecca Singleton. They went on to have ten children. Records indicate that King enlisted in 1861 and served as a cavalry officer in Captain Lenoir’s Independent Company and Lewis’s Battalion. King received an official pardon by President Andrew Johnson in 1865 for his part in the rebellion against the government of the United States. He lived in Monroe, Alabama, working as a farmer, until his death in 1866.

William D. King Pardon
President Andrew Johnson’s Pardon of William D. King

William Samuel Blassingame along with Barron and Booth, graduated from Howard in 1848. He also earned a Master’s degree from Howard in 1851. In the time between his degrees, Blassingame resided with his sister, Aurelia, and her husband, former Alabama Governor Benjamin Fitzpatrick. In 1853, Blassingame married Martha Clementine Simmons, and the couple had four daughters. William Blassingame returned to his family’s home in Greenville, South Carolina, where he drowned in 1858 at the age of 30.

Blassingame Collage 2
William Blassingame and his Diploma from Howard College (1848)

Samuel Goree, born in Newberry, South Carolina in 1823, relocated with his family to Perry County, Alabama by 1830. After his Howard days, Goree worked as a farmer. He traveled to Walker, Texas in the early 1850s, and married Sarah Wiley in 1852. His new life in Texas was interrupted by the Civil War. Enlisting in the Confederate Army in 1864, he served in the Texas Fourth Infantry. When his six-month enlistment came to an end, Goree reenlisted as a sergeant in Terry’s Cavalry, a regiment well-known for their actions throughout Tennessee and Georgia. Terry’s Cavalry surrendered on April 26, 1865, along with the rest of the Army of Tennessee after the loss at the Battle of Bentonville in North Carolina. After the war, Goree settled permanently in Walker, Texas, with his wife and three children. He died in 1873 at the age of 50.

The Texas Rangers

 Thomas Anderson was born in Greene County, Alabama in 1830.  At age eleven on Howard’s opening day, he was the youngest of the original nine. After studying at Howard, he continued to live and work in Greene County, first as a newspaper editor and later as a mill owner. Thomas and his wife Martha had four children. He resided in Greene County until 1906 when he passed away at the age of 76.

Unfortunately, the last of the original nine does not have such a long and happy story. The youngest of four children born to Thomas Oliver and Lucinda Tubb, Thomas A. J. Oliver was born two weeks after his father died in 1825. His mother, Lucinda, remained in Perry County, Alabama, and sent Thomas to Howard in 1842. Tragically, Thomas spent only one year at the school, passing away in 1843 at the age of 18. He was buried in Marion Cemetery with his father. Little is known about the circumstances surrounding Oliver’s death.

These nine young men took a risk and came to Howard English and Classical School on its first day. As the years passed, enrollment numbers increased, and Howard College began to grow in size and reputation, but the first class will always represent Samford’s humble beginnings. The original nine paved the way for future students.  Collectively, they played an integral part in Howard College’s history.

by Lauren Ziemer

Adapted from:

Samford University, Special Collection. Howard College Matriculation Record, 1842.

John Thomas Barron-Ancestry Overview

Thomas Booth-Ancestry Overview

William Alexander Miller-Ancestry Overview

Thomas Adams Cravens-Ancestry Overview

William D. King-Ancestry Overview

William Samuel Blassingame-Ancestry Overview

Samuel Goree-Ancestry Overview

Thomas J. Anderson-Ancestry Overview

Thomas A.J. Oliver-Ancestry Overview

1860 United States Federal Census, Walker, Texas.

1860 United States Federal Census, Marion, Alabama.

1860 United States Federal Census, Union, Alabama.

1880 United States Federal Census, Marion, Alabama.


The Howard, The Judson and The Black Belt

Tuesday Jonathan Bass’s Oral History class traveled to the birthplace of Samford University, Marion, Alabama.  The students interviewed senior citizens at the nutrition center while campus photographer, Caroline Summers, took their portraits as part of an ongoing project called Faces of Perry County (exhibition to begin fall 2014).  Following the interviews, students enjoyed lunch at our sister institution, Judson College, followed by a tour of Judson, a walk through Marion’s cemetery and a visit to the chapel at Marion Military Institute – all led by former Samford Vice President Bill Mathews.

oral history interview

At Judson, students toured the institution that nurtured Samford, then Howard College, during its infancy.  Judson and Howard share many of the same founders and early presidents.  Howard inherited buildings previously inhabited by Judson, then built a new campus after the 1844 fire.  Though nothing remains of our first campus, a commemorative sign marks the approximate location a few blocks behind Siloam Baptist Church.

original site HC 1842 sign

Walking through the cemetery, students visited the graves of many great figures in Howard’s history:  Julia Tarrant Barron, Edwin D. King, Porter King, Jesse. B. Lovelace, and William W. Wilkerson.  Perhaps the most recognized gravesite visited was that of Harry, a slave owned by Howard College President, Henry Talbird.  The students gathered around the obelisk that marked the grave.  When fire broke out in the boy’s dormitory late at night on October 15, 1854, Harry ran through the halls, rousing the boys and refusing to escape until every student was safe.  Harry died that night from his injuries, and the grateful citizens of Marion buried him in the white cemetery and erected an obelisk in memory of his selfless actions.

harry's grave

Driving up to Marion Military Institute, the site of Howard College’s second campus, students saw the original chapel and dormitory that still stand on the picturesque campus.  Walking into the chapel they stopped to read a plaque on the brick wall enscribed with names such as Henry Talbird and Noah K. Davis, names of those that made this second campus a reality.  Those buildings saw early Samford graduates pass through her halls, housed Confederate soldiers, freed slaves, and bore witness to secret fraternities and literary society meetings.  Many Howard cadets spent their days there, unaware that over a century later, men and women from their contemporary alma mater would return to see their roots.

chapel pic MMI

Julia Barron, E. D. King, Porter King, Wilkerson and Lovelace, nor Samuel Sherman could have envisioned the Samford University of today that grew from Howard College in the Black Belt.  Renwick Kennedy wrote in his 1934 article Black Belt Aristocrats: The Old South Lives on in Alabama’s Black Belt, “The mere fact that one is from the Black Belt gives him some degree of respectability.” This may be true of institutions as well.  This group of students was able to visit and experience the humble but respectable beginnings of Samford.  They were able to interview current residents of Marion to learn more about the evolving culture of the town and what it means to be a part of the Black Belt.  Kennedy concluded, “..the Black Belt knows how to make an art of life and is splendidly indifferent to the opinion of outsiders.  When it passes, in the opinion of the writer, one of the most civilized sections of the country will have passed.”

–Lauren Ziemer, Graduate Research Assistant