Appleton's Cyclopedia of American Biography, edited by James
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VASSAR, Matthew, philanthropist, born in the parish of Tuddenham, Norfolk, England, 29 April, 1792; died in Poughkeepsie, New York, 23 June, 1868 His father, James Vassar, of French ancestry, who was a dissenter of the Baptist communion, emigrated with his wife and children and an unmarried brother, Thomas, to this country. He reached New York in 1796, and, after spending a few months in exploring the country, settled in the spring of 1797 on a farm in the neighborhood of Poughkeepsie. Here the Vassar family, having brought the art with them from England, began the brewing of ale first for their own consumption and then to meet the demands of their neighbors. These demands grew so rapidly that in 1801 James Vassar removed to Poughkeepsie and there conducted the brewing business on an extensive scale. His son, Matthew, finally succeeded to this business, and in it acquired the large fortune that he ultimately devoted mainly to the higher education of women. In 1845, after many years of diligent and prosperous labor, he visited Europe and spent nearly twelve months in travelling over Great Britain, Ireland, and the continent. Having no children, he was already meditating as to the manner in which he should dispose of his fortune so as best to promote the welfare of society. Circumstances finally determined him to erect, and endow a college for young women which should be to their sex what Harvard and Yale were to young men. In the execution of this purpose Mr. Vassar was a pioneer in a field that now abounds in imitators. In January, 1861, he obtained from the legislature an act to incorporate Vassar college, and in February following, at a meeting of the board of trustees which he selected, he transferred to their custody the sum of $400,000. At his death this was increased by the bequests of his will to more than $800,000. In the earlier years of his career Mr. Vassar gave much to various charities. A handsome house of worship for the Baptist church of Poughkeepsie, to which he was warmly attached, was built mainly by his contributions. His death occurred suddenly on commencement-day while he was engaged in reading his annual address to the trustees.--His nephew, Matthew, philanthropist, son of John Guy Vassar, born in Poughkeepsie, New York, 11 May, 1809; died there, 10 August, 1881. At the age of twenty-two he accepted a partnership in his uncle's brewing business, and laid the foundation of a large fortune. Though his early education was limited, lie became a well-informed man of sound judgment, positive convictions, and resolute energy, and exerted a commanding influence in the community in which he lived. He was active in various local institutions and charities, but rendered especially valuable service in his care of the college that his uncle had founded. He was one of its original trustees, and its treasurer until the time of his death, devoting, without salary, to the duties of this office and the general interests of the college several hours of each day for sixteen years. He endowed two professorships that bear his name in Vassar college, contributing for this purpose $100, -000, and also bequeathed to the college $50,000 as a beneficiary fund. In conjunction with his brother, John Guy, he built and equipped the Vassar brothers' laboratory connected with the college at a cost of $20,000. In the city of Poughkeepsie r he and his brother erected and endowed the Vassar brothers' home for aged men, the Vassar brothers' scientific and literary institute, and the Vassar brothers' hospital, of which the last named was completed after his death. His various benefactions amounted to about $, 500,000. By his exertions a branch of the New York society for the prevention of cruelty to animals was established in Poughkeepsie, and he became its president. He also gave much to the Baptist church of Poughkeepsie, of which he was a life-long member. --The second Matthew's brother, John Guy, philanthropist, born in Poughkeepsie, New York, 15 June, 1811; died there, 27 October, 1888, was early associated with his uncle in the brewing business, and shared its prosperity. Infirm health prevented his steady application to business, and he spent thirty years abroad, during which he travelled over a large part of the globe. He gave an account of these travels in a published volume entitled "Twenty Years Around the World" (1861). He is one of the original trustees of Vassar college, being selected for that position by its founder. Be sides his joint benefactions with his brother, which are recorded above, he has made a conditional gift of $20,000 to the College that bears the family name. His later years have been earnestly devoted to the completion and equipment of the Vassar brothers' hospital.--The first Matthew's cousin, John Ellison, lay preacher, born near Poughkeepsie, New York, 13 January, 1813; died in Poughkeepsie, 6 December, 1878, was the son of Thomas Vassar. In early life he was employed in the brewery of Matthew Vassar, but, having become a religious man of very earnest convictions, he left the service of his cousin and devoted his entire life to self-sacrificing labors for the good of others. He was employed in 1850 by the American tract society as a colporteur, his first missionary work being in Illinois and other western states. Subsequently New York and New England were his field of service. During the civil war he was at the front, engaged in religious labors of all kinds among the soldiers. Just before the battle of Gettysburg he was captured by General James E. B. Stuart's cavalry, who were glad to let him go to escape his importunate exhortations and prayers. At the conclusion of the war he visited, in the service of the Tract society, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, and Florida. Few men of his day travelled more extensively or were more widely known than " Uncle John Vassar," as he was everywhere called. His extraordinary mental gifts, in connection with his zeal. made him a lay preacher that was rarely equalled. An account of his life has been published by the Reverend Thomas E. Vassar (New York, 1879).--John Ellison's nephew, Thomas Edwin, clergyman, born in Poughkeepsie, New York, 3 December, 1834, is son of William Vassar. His plans for entering college were frustrated by family misfortunes, and he was ordained to the Baptist ministry in 1857, without the advantages of a formal education. He has been successively settled as pastor at Amenia, New York, Lynn, Massachusetts, Flemington, New Jersey, and Newark, New Jersey, and is now in Kansas City, Missouri. He was for one year chaplain of the 150th New York regiment, and was at several battles, including Gettysburg. He is the author of a memoir of his cousin, John Ellison Vassar, entitled " Uncle John Vassar" (New York, 1879), of which about 20,000 copies have been sold in America and England. He has received the degree of D.D.
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