Samuel K. Hoshour and Lew Wallace

Samuel K Hoshour portraitSometimes an educator is remembered less for their accomplishments than for the history made by their students. Such is the case with Samuel K. Hoshour. In 1840, when Lew Wallace was 13 years old his father, David, once again sought to impress the importance of an education on his son. David sent Lew to school in Centerville, Indiana (some reports report that the school was actually located nearby in Cambridge City). This area of Wayne County had been settled by whites beginning in 1814. It had a significant population of Quakers who held fast to their traditions of anti-slavery and the value of education. By 1827, the Wayne County Seminary was built and for more than 50 years it served as an institution of higher education.

The Seminary was later sold to the Methodist Church and renamed Whitewater College with the Reverend Cyrus Nutt serving as president in the 1850s. Nutt would later go on to serve as president of Indiana University. In addition to Lew Wallace, among the distinguished individuals educated in Centerville were Ambrose Burnside (Civil War general), John Stevenson Tarkington (father of Booth Tarkington), Emily Meredith (mother of Meredith Nicholson), and Oliver P. Morton (Indiana’s Civil War governor).

David sent Lew to Centerville because of Professor Samuel K. Hoshour’s great reputation as an educator. Professor Hoshour deserved this reputation, at least in Lew Wallace’s eyes. Hoshour was born in York County, Pennsylvania in December 1803. He was trained for the ministry in the Lutheran Church, but converted to the “Campbellite Doctrine” and was ostracized from his church. He travelled west with his wife, and settled in Wayne County in 1835 where he quickly developed a reputation as an outstanding instructor and intellect who could read five languages and speak three fluently.

Hoshour came nearest to being what young Lew imagined an ideal school master should be. While Hoshour wielded the rod, he did so with “discrimination and undeniable justice.” Wallace wrote: “He was the first to observe a glimmer of writing capacity in me. He gave me volumes of lectures on rules of composition, English, and style.” Hoshour invited Wallace to his home in the evenings to give Lew extra help with the thorny and perplexing problems of algebra.

Recognizing that Wallace did not have an aptitude for mathematics, instead of beating the student, Hoshour humanely applied himself to cultivating the abilities he believed were within Wallace’s reach. In an evening’s interview with the student who could not find his way, Hoshour recognized Wallace’s native intellect and his interest in reading and self education. The Professor presented Wallace with lectures on rhetoric by John Quincy Adams that contained rules for composition. Wallace went on to write that Hoshour took a New Testament and gave it to the student, saying: “There, read that! It is the story of the birth of Jesus Christ. This was entirely new to me and I recall the impression made by the small part given to the three wise men. Little did I dream then what those few verses were to bring me—that out of them Ben-Hur, was one day to be evoked.”

Hoshour taught in Centerville and Cambridge City for eleven years. Teaching did not pay well, and he attempted to earn a better income to support himself and his family, but with health issues that began in the 1840s and a series of poor investments, after a decade Hoshour returned to teaching. In 1855 he joined the faculty of Northwestern Christian University (today’s Butler University) in Indianapolis. In 1858, he was pressed into service as president but after three years, he left the presidency and resumed teaching at the University. In 1862, he was appointed State Superintendant of Education. After a distinguished career in education he passed away in 1883 and was buried in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis.

As Wallace wrote in his autobiography: “I can see the professor standing in his door, lamp in hand and bareheaded, dismissing me for the night, with exactly the same civilities he would have sped an official the most important in the state. Ah, the kindly cunning of the shrewd old gentleman! He had dropped a light into my understanding and caught me. So, step by step, the professor led me into and out of depths I had never dreamed of, and through tangles of subtlety and appreciations which proved his mind as thoroughly as they tried mine. Before the year was out he had, as it were, taken my hand in his and introduced me to Byron, Shakespeare, and old Isaiah. The year was a turning-point of my life, and out of my age and across his grave I send him, Gentle master, hail, and all sweet rest.” Every educator who has sparked the imagination of a student would appreciate Wallace’s remembrance of the teacher who changed his life and changed history.

Lew Wallace: An Autobiography, Harper & Brothers, 1906, pp 55-58
Montgomery Magazine, November 1980. “Wallace – the writer.” Pat Cline


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