The autobiography and letters of Matthew Vassar
Matthew Vassar, the founder of Vassar College, was a plain, self-made businessman whose life ran along for years in grooves familiar to many American citizens. His story is indeed only a narrative of thrifty money-making in a homely business until, when he had almost reached the scriptural allotment of three score years and ten, the romance of his life appeared in the shape of a great idea and his dreams of fame were shortly realized.
The founding of Vassar College was the opportunity, education, and reward of all Matthew Vassar's latent power. Viewed then, in the light of the significant ending, the whole story of Matthew Vassar's life has an interest. Born in England in 1792, Matthew was brought at the age of four America by his parents, James and Anne Vassar, who were dissenters and wished to escape the taxation involved in the tithes of the church. In 1797, the family purchased a farm on the shores of Wap- Benger's Creek, near Poughkeepsie, and here, by raising their own barley and making home-brewed beer, they started in a small way the business in which afterwards Matthew made his fortune.
In 1801, the Vassar brewery was started in Poughkeepsie and the family moved to town. Matthew got little education here, in fact, did not stay with his parents long, as he ran away from home in 1806 to avoid being apprenticed to a tanner, and worked in the country near Newburgh for four years,' saving during that time $150.00, — an in- dication of the thrift which later was to make his fortune. In 810, Matthew returned home to help his father in the brewery, but a year later calamity visited the family, for the brewery was burned, the older son was killed, and the father ruined. Matthew Vassar now had to start again for himself, and he began by brewing ale in a small way and by opening an " oyster saloon " in the basement of the courthouse. Business went well enough so that in 1813 he married Catharine Valentine, but the struggle to secure a fortune was long and arduous. Twenty years of industry, however, were rewarded by success. A large, new brewery was built on the river in 1836, and the tide of prosperity kept rising. His fortune made,
Mr Vassar in 1845 went with his wife and his friend, Cyrus Swan, to Europe. It was during these travels that he was so impressed by the sight of the London Hospital, founded by his relative, Thomas Guy, that he began to dream dreams of seeing himself famous as a benefactor of mankind. After his return, Mr Vassar enjoyed his wealth in another way, by purchasing a farm of about fifty acres three-quarters of a mile south of Poughkeepsie, and laying it out as a beautiful country estate. " Spring- side," as it was called, became his delight and pride.
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