Mount Allison’s First President: The life and Times of Dr. Humphrey Pickard

On Saturday October 13th, 2001 A. Wayne MacKay will be installed as Mount Allison’s thirteenth President. Such an occasion, important to both town and gown, prompts consideration of the life and times of Mt. A.’s first President, Dr. Humphrey Pickard (1813–1890).

Two strands of New Brunswick history are found in Pickards ancestry. The first may be traced to the village of Rowley in Yorkshire. It’s located in the same Yorkshire countryside, from where more than a century later, others would emigrate in numbers to the Tantramar.

A second strand concerns John Pickard, son of Rev. Henry Pickard, once rector of the Anglican Church in Rowley. He, along with his family, became part of the Puritan emigration to Massachusetts in 1644. Settling in Essex County, Massachusetts, the Pickards helped found a town, located near Newburyport. It was also to be named Rowley.

In 1763, Johns grandson, Moses Pickard (1719–1804), a blacksmith by trade, emigrated to what was then described as the continental part of Nova Scotia. He settled on the east bank of the St. John River, in a community that became known as Maugerville. Over the years, a direct descendant of a 17th century Yorkshire emigrant to Massachusetts became part of the 18th century New England Planter migration to what later became New Brunswick. By this time the family were Congregationalists.

One branch, headed by Thomas Pickard (1783–1866), a grandson of Moses, moved to Fredericton. Here he became a successful merchant. A son, Humphrey, and the subject of this Flashback, was born on June 10, 1813. His mother, Mary Burpee (1783–1833), also of New England Planter background, was a devout Methodist and played a key role in the conversion of her husband and son to Methodism.

Their New England Planter roots were to remain strong. At age 16, Humphrey Pickard was enrolled in a Methodist boarding school, located at Wilbraham, in south central Massachusetts. Still in existence as Wilbraham-Monson Academy, it makes the claim of being the first co-educational boarding school in the United States. Here Humphrey Pickard came under the influence of its principal, a well known Methodist clergyman and educator Dr. Wilbur Fisk (1792–1839). Shortly afterward Fisk was named the first president of Wesleyan University, in Middletown, Connecticut.

Pickard, who followed his mentor to enroll at Wesleyan, also made a decision to enter the Methodist ministry. Following graduation in 1839, he served as a probationer on the Miramichi for two years. In 1841 Humphrey Pickard was appointed to Saint John and ordained the following year. In addition, he became editor of the Wesleyan Methodist Magazine.

Meanwhile, other events were unfolding that would have a bearing on Pickards career. For some time, Methodists had been considering establishing a seminary or academy for the Maritimes. In June 1839 at the New Brunswick District meeting, a proposal from Sackville businessman, Charles Frederick Allison (1795–1858), was considered and accepted.

In it, he offered to purchase a site in Sackville, erect a suitable building for the proposed academy and further, to donate 100 per year for the next decade. Allison was later to confess: The Lord hath put it into my heart to give this sum toward building a Wesleyan Academy I know that the impression is from the Lord, for I am naturally fond of money.

By 1842 a projected opening date, Jan. 19, 1843, was established. Now the search began for a suitable Principal. Both clergy and laity were divided on the matter. Those with ties to British Methodism felt that only a graduate of an English university could set the right tone for the new Academy. Others were convinced that a native son with knowledge and appreciation of the local situation was needed. In the end an emergency choice was made. The mantle fell to the 30 year old editor of the Wesleyan Magazine . As events were to prove, the emergency choice turned out be a wise decision. By this time Humphrey Pickard was married to Hannah Thompson (18121844). Also a graduate of Wilbraham Academy, she was later an instructor at the school. Interested in writing, Hannah dabbled in poetry, wrote short sketches and one novel The Widows Jewels.

In the midst of a cold snap in mid January of 1843, the stagecoach from Saint John jolted some 130 miles to Sackville. Inside, Hannah Thompson Pickard and her four month old son received protection from the bone chilling wind. She later confided in her journal: My husband traveled outside with the driver his coat white, his hair and whiskers hoary with frost, even his eyebrows and eyelashes were icicled I scarcely recognized him.

Once in Sackville, Methodist hospitality took over and the Pickards were entertained by Charles F. Allison and his wife, before moving to their quarters in the Academy building. Classes did begin on time, with seven students and one teacher, in addition to Principal Pickard. Soon the noble Methodist experiment became highly successful. So much so, that in 1848 a decision was made to open a female branch. This objective was fulfilled in 1853 with Humphrey Pickard as Principal of both the Academy and Ladies College. Mount Allison Wesleyan College (which later evolved into Mount Allison University) was organized in July 1862, in accordance with a charter obtained from the province of New Brunswick.

Unlike the Principalship of the Academy, there was little debate about naming the first College President. Over the years, Humphrey Pickard had proven his mettle. Also, it did not hurt that he happened to be President of the District Methodist Conference during the crucial debates preceding the opening of the College. Mount Allisons historian, Dr. John Reid, commented on the event: Pickard entered on his duties with gusto.

During the next seven years Humphrey Pickard placed the new college on a sure footing. His resignation in 1869, due to ill health, was accepted with genuine regret. He then moved to Halifax to accept a less demanding post as editor of The Wesleyan. Throughout the rest of his life, Pickard maintained close ties with Mount Allison and was active in raising an endowment fund for the still struggling institution. Following his second retirement, he returned to Sackville and served for one year, 1876, as interim minister of Sackville Methodist (now United) Church. He died Feb. 28, 1890.

Its clear that Dr. Humphrey Pickard left his stamp on Mount Allison. Also noteworthy, is that he did so, despite the tragedies that befell his early married life. In 1844 the Pickards second child, a son, lived but a week. A month later, at age 32, his wife, Hannah, died. Within the year, their first son, also died. Later, in 1846, Pickard married Mary Rowe Carr (18101877), another New Englander, and native of Portland, Maine. One of their two daughters, Mary Emerancy Pickard (18471918) was to be the mother of Mount Allisons first Chancellor, Ralph Pickard Bell.

While the concept of a co-educational university with an emphasis on the liberal arts is accepted today; this was not the case in the mid-19th century. One principle formed the core of Pickards presidency. Higher education should be open to all, regardless of religious beliefs. This was also basic to Methodism, as exemplified in Wilbraham Academy and Pickards alma mater, Wesleyan University.

From their beginning, none of the Mount Allison institutions imposed religious tests upon entry. A further principle was heralded by the establishment of the Ladies College. Although the granting of degrees to women had to wait a few years, Mount Allison, under Pickards leadership was already in the vanguard. Lastly, the course of study for the new college was framed on Pickards belief in a liberal education; with a mix of classical and scientific courses.

Of the Presidents of Mount Allison to date, it is the sixth, Dr. Ross Flemington, whose career most closely parallels that of Dr. Humphrey Pickard. Both were clergymen who served their apprenticeship at the Academy. Both left the parish ministry for a career in educational administration. While the sometimes austere Pickard lacked the charisma and oratorical skills of Flemington, he made his mark as the builder and founder of a new university.

It was no coincidence that in a Founders Day address, President Ross Flemington called for a memorial tablet in Mount Allisons new chapel to honour the life and times of Dr. Humphrey Pickard. He went on: His monument is all around us, yet not in these handsome and commodious buildings but in the advanced state of education as it now exists in our land. He added: I think Charles Frederick Allison would have agreed with this estimate.