The Principals of the Pittsburgh Academy, along with the teachers, created courses and organized the curriculum, and so were the first to define English as a school subject in the institution that would become the University of Pittsburgh. The following served as Principals, Masters, or Teachers at the Academy from 1787 to 1816.
Hugh Henry Brackenridge served as the academy’s Principal from 1787 to 1789. He modelled the Pittsburgh Academy on Benjamin Franklin’s Academy of Philadelphia (later the University of Pennsylvania). Brackenridge had a distinguished career as a politician, lawyer and judge. He also had a distinguished literary career. He was the first (or one of the first) published writers on the Pennsylvania frontier, and there are reasons to list him with the major figures of early American literature.
In 1768, Brackenridge enrolled at the College of New Jersey (now Princeton University), where he was friends with James Madison and Philip Freneau. With Freneau he published A Poem, on the Rising Glory of America; Being an Exercise Delivered at the Public Commencement at Nassau-Hall, September 25, 1771. On his own, Brackenridge published poems and plays and several works of nonfiction, including Six Political Discourses Founded on the Scripture (1778) and Narratives of a Late Expedition against the Indians; With an Account of the Barbarous Execution of Col. Crawford; and the Wonderful Escape of Dr. Knight and John Slover from Captivity, in 1782 (1783). In 1778, in Philadelphia, he founded the United States Magazine, which soon failed. In 1786, he was one of the founders of the Pittsburgh Gazette. Between 1792 and 1797, Brackenridge published 4 volumes of his political satire, Modern Chivalry. The third volume is said to be the first work of American literature written and published on the frontier. Modern Chivalry was widely read and admired and established Brackenridge’s legacy as an author. In 1970, Daniel Marder (a University of Pittsburgh Ph.D. and a member of our faculty) published A Hugh Henry Brackenridge Reader: 1770-1815 (University of Pittsburgh Press).
George Welch was elected Principal in 1789, when the Academy was finally prepared to open its doors to students. He served until 1796. He ensured that the curriculum would include “the Learned Languages, English and the Mathematicks.”
In 1795, the Rev. Mr. Arthur (first name unknown) came as one of the 12 “masters” in the Academy. His specialty was rhetoric and belles-lettres. His pupils were taught “the reading of English according to the most approved method.”
Robert Andrews became Principal of the Academy in 1796. He had formerly taught at the Royal Military and Marine Academy of Dublin and, according to the Catalog, he also spent “three years in the same habit in America in two respectable places of literature, with general approbation.”
Robert Steele became Principal of the Academy in 1800. He was the pastor of the First Presbyterian Church. According to Agnes Starrett’s history, Through One Hundred and Fifty Years, he gave frequent public examinations, “considering examinations to bring into operation two powerful incentives to application: the love of praise and the dread of disgrace.”
John Taylor taught at the Academy from 1801 to 1807. He was much loved by his students and taught them to perform astronomical calculations and to make almanacks.
Benjamin B. Hopkins joined the faculty in 1803, arriving from Princeton. He was “was especially popular with his young lady students whom he instructed daily from twelve to one-thirty in geography, grammar, arithmetic, reading, and writing.” The Starrett history of the university includes an April 1804 newspaper account of a performance by his students:
Last week the Students of the Pittsburgh Academy underwent an examination in the presence of the Trustees: and, on Friday evening at the Court-House, they delivered oration; exhibited a dramatic performance embracing a great variety of characters; and spoke several dialogues on different subjects....
The exhibition far exceeded expectation. Many of the boys were not more than twelve years of age, some under ten: all, however, appeared to possess a correct idea of the parts assigned to them; their gestures gave appropriate effect to the sense; their pronunciation, manners and deportment were highly commendable....
The whole scene afforded a most pleasing proof of the value of Mr. Hopkins in this institution. His instructions extend not only to the useful, but to the ornamental articles of education....
James Mountain was educated at Princeton. He came to the Pittsburgh Academy in 1803. According to Starrett, “Previously he had been a student at Dublin University, where his concern over a political affair forced him to flee to America.” He died young and left behind a large library.
Robert Patterson was educated at the University of Pennsylvania. He was appointed Principal of the Academy in 1807. Patterson ran a bookstore with John Hopkins at Wood and Fourth Streets. Under a pen name, “The Recluse,” Patterson published poems in newspapers and magazines and, in 1817, a book, The Art of Domestic Happiness and Other Poems. The title poem opens with these lines:
When Youth and Beauty, Health, and Virtue blend
Into one mass, to serve one common end,
And their united energies employ
To build the temple of Domestick Joy,
Say, shall the muse’s lyre remain unstrung,
And leave the Art of Happiness unsung.
Joseph Stockton joined the Academy in 1809 and served as its last Principal. Stockton had founded the Meadville academy, later Allegheny College. He also taught at and served as a founding member of the Western Theological Seminary. He was known as an outstanding teacher and for his use of aphorisms: “As much as possible, do everything yourself: one thing found out by yourself, will be of more real use than twenty told you by your teacher.” He was the author of the Western Speller and the Western Calculator.