Hillman, Walter
Autograph Letter Signed, Clinton, Hinds County, Mississippi, August 3, 1880 to Eliakim Norton, Vineyard haven, Massachusetts

octavo, 4 pages, with original mailing envelope, in very good, clean and legible condition.

$ 100.00 | Contact Us >

      Hillman wanted “the friend of my father and of myself … to know what I had been doing during the year past …” feeling certain that he “felt more than a passing interest in the doings of a Vineyard boy …  although father died more than three years ago, I have by no means ceased to feel his loss. Monuments of his handwork exist all around me. Even the desk on which I am now writing was made by him … With us everything is very quiet. General cheerfulness prevails throughout our communities. Good crops are extending their promises of rich rewards to the planter and as we are eminently an agricultural people this makes us feel that we are in a prosperous condition and makes us therefore to a certain extent a happy people. Because of my planting interests, which have grown to be objects of no slight importance on account of their great extent, I shall have to forego the pleasure of visiting my old Vineyard home this summer. Mrs. Hillman is at Newport. Both cannot well be away at the same time…”


      Rev. Walter Hillman was born in Martha’s Vineyard in 1829, the son and grandson of successful whaling shipmasters. After graduating from Brown University, he went south in 1854 to become Professor of Mathematics at Mississippi College in Clinton, northwest of the capital city of Jackson – the oldest college in the state, and the second oldest Baptist college in America. Two years later, he became President of Clinton Female Academy, subsequently named in his honor as all-female Hillman College. During the Civil War, when Hillman saved Mississippi College from destruction by Union troops – and many Clinton residents, Black and White, from starvation by requesting rations from General Sherman. After the War, when the endowment of Mississippi College (which had been closed during the War) was “swept away”, Hillman became its president and, starting with only two students, “resuscitated” the institution, with northern financing, he resigned in 1872 to devote the rest of his life to Hillman College.


      Hillman, who, as he writes here, was a planter as well as an educator and clergyman, may have owned slaves before Emancipation. But he was a Republican and friend of the murdered Black leader of his county during the troubled Reconstruction era, when Clinton was far from “quiet”, “cheerful” and “peaceful”. In 1875, it was at his home that a barbecue organized as a political debate descended into a race riot that led to the death of dozens of Blacks. In the aftermath, Hillman helped ease racial tensions, taking the place of his assassinated friend as Trustee of a Seminary for Black women and helping a group of former slaves to establish a Baptist Church. As for his educational legacy, Mississippi College, like Hillman, which it absorbed in 1942, was entirely segregated until the 1970s. A fourth of its students are now African American.