Eliphalet Nott


In 1804, Eliphalet Nott became president of Union College in Schenectady. From 1798 until then, he was the pastor of the First Presbyterian church in Albany. The subject of extensive biographical study, this sketch will focus on his six years as a resident of Albany and leave the particulars of his long and energetic ministry and career to Codman Hislop and other chroniclers.

Eliphalet Nott was born in June 1773. He was the youngest of the nine children of Stephen and Deborah Selden Nott of Ashford, Connecticut. His father has been characterized as a "shoemaker-farmer." Perhaps, he received a basic education from the woman he later called "the best of mothers." He was profoundly influenced by his older brother, the Yale-trained, New Light minister named Samuel Nott (1754-1852). Sympathetic and reflective by nature, Eliphalet is said to have begun teaching at the "district school" and became "Principal Instructor" at Plainfield Academy by 1793. He was able to graduate from Rhode Island College (now Brown University) in 1795. His theological education continued under his future father-in-law which left him ending the year seeking chiefly to "preach the Gospel of Edwards."

Seeking to find his way in what New Englanders called the "vacant ground" in New York, this Yankee opportunist accepted a call from the "Scotch Presbyterians" in Cherry Valley, New York. The particulars of those years are vague and chiefly passed down from the remembrances of his future colleague at Union, young Jonathan "Pinky" Pearson" - one of Albany's pioneer community historians. After delivering a sermon in Schenectady in 1796, Nott was persuaded by the president of Union College to accept a call to the "Court Church" in Albany where he would serve some of the leading lay Calvinists in the State Capital and where his frail new wife would feel less vulnerable than in the wilderness to which he had formerly aspired.

In 1798, twenty-five-year-old Eliphalet Nott embarked on a rigorous regimen of study and service from his Albany pulpit while Sally Benedict Nott raised the children in their home near the church at the corner of South Pearl and Beaver Streets. In 1800, their household included three children and three slaves. During his time in Albany, Reverend Nott was involved with a number of community-based organizations - many of which would continue beyond his actual years of residence. He was a frequent and energetic public speaker whose views on education, social issues, and spiritual matters created some controversy among his parishioners and beyond.

His first wife died in March 1804 at the age of twenty-nine. He would marry twice more.

biography in-progress

While living in Albany, Nott was an active participant in several facets of secular life - most significantly with respect to the community's transformation and transition. We expect to connect him more closely to the Albany scene both during and after his tenure.

In August 1804, he was elected fourth president of Union College where he had served as a trustee since 1800. Relocating to Schenectady, he served in that capacity for more than sixty years. During his tenure, the permanent campus, curriculum, and professional schools came into being. Eliphalet Nott died at his farm on "Nott Road" in Rexford in January 1866. He had lived for more than 92 years.


the people of colonial Albany Sources: The life of Eliphalet Nott has no CAP biography number. The standard work on his life was published in 1971. Its author, Professor Codman Hislop, was a historical writer - best known in Albany circles as the author of Albany: Dutch, English and American (Albany, 1936), the first book I read on Albany probably during the late 1950s. Perhaps the first modern (20th century) narrative history of the city's people, it appeared just after Hislop joined the English faculty at Union during the mid-1930s.
        Online sources: Begin with his Wikipedia entry. See also TCBNA; The published Memoirs of Eliphalet Nott (1876) are available in a number of formats but start with Google Books. However, this sketch is derived chiefly from community-based resources and relies on Hislop's massive monograph for basic biographical details.

first posted 3/15/15; updated 7/6/15