On the evening of the 19th of Nov. 1859, three young men met in a room over one of the stores in Hopkinton village, and formed themselves into an organization under the name of “The Philomathic Club.” These young men were Silas Ketchum, Darwin C. Blanchard and Geo. E. Crowell. The number of this club was limited to seven. It was made a part of the compact “the Club should never cease except by unanimous consent, and so long as two of its members lived.” The original design was social intercourse and literary culture.
A private collection of relics, minerals and natural curiosities, belonging to Mr. Ketchum, was in May, 1860, placed in a room in Mr. Crowell’s house, fitted for the purpose, and dedicated by the Club Oct. 13, following, in which room the Club met till Oct. 6, 1868. Jan. 10, ’68, the first contribution was made to the old cabinet. It was for a time located in Henniker; May 8, ’72, was removed to Contoocook. From this beginning has come the immense number of articles now in the possession of this Society, numbering more than 35,000.
Silas Ketchum was chosen Secretary of the Club, Aug. 20, 1867, which office he held until the adoption of the constitution of the New Hampshire Philomathic and Antiquarian Society, Nov, 19, 1873.
Silas Ketchum, son of Silas and Cynthia (Doty) Ketchum, was born in Barre, Vt., Dec. 4, 1835. His grandfather was Roger West Ketchum, born in Athol, Mass., 1770; his grand-mother was Wealthy Newcomb, daughter of Bradford Newcomb, and grand-daughter of Silas Newcomb, whose mother was Jerusha Bradford, daughter of Thomas Bradford, and great-grand-daughter of Major Wm. Bradford, son of William Bradford, who came to Plymouth in the May Flower, and was Governor of the colony 36 years. Mr. Ketchum was also descended from Edward Doty, one of the 41 men who in the cabin of the May Flower affixed their names to the first constitution of government ever subscribed to by a whole people.
He was a good boy, thoughtful beyond his years, but feeble in his childhood, unable to ever complete a full term of school till after twelve; fond of fishing in his youth, but as he grew old, turned his leisure moments to books. In 1854, his father removed from Barre, Vt., to Hopkinton, N. H., and Silas learned and followed the trade of a shoemaker till 1855. But while steadily working at his trade, a more and more increasing desire for a knowledge that could take him upward out of his every-day duties pervaded him, and on his father’s death, relying upon his own abilities, he resolved to obtain an education. He attended Hopkinton Academy several terms, teaching after his second term in the Academy, in Nelson and in Amherst; fitted for college; did not enter on account of severe illness; pursued his studies under private instructors, and drawn toward the ministry, entered Bangor Theological Seminary in 1860; Apr. 4, 1860; married Georgia C., daughter of Elbridge Hardy, Esq., of Amherst, N. H., a lady of culture and devoted companion to him until his death. While at Bangor he supported himself and wife by working at his trade; pursued a full course of study, never missing but one lecture or recitation; graduating in 1863. From Dec. ’63, he preached to the Congregational church in Wardsboro, Vt., nearly 2 years; moved to Brattleboro, to become associate editor with D. L. Milliken, of “The Vermont Record” and Vermont School Journal. Sept. 17, 1867, ordained pastor of the Congregational church at Bristol, N. H.; resigned in 1855, on account of ill-health; officiated in a small church in Maplewood, Mass., till Oct. 1876; occupied the pulpit of the Congregational church at Henniker several months, where he received a unanimous and earnest call to become its pastor; declined to accept one at Poquonock, Ct., July 16, 1877, which church he was pastor of at his death.
During the whole time as student and preacher, he was a diligent collector of any and every thing of a rare and curious nature. He presented to the New Hampshire Historical Society 512 volumes; to the New Hampshire Antiquarian Society 1200 volumes and 3000 pamphlets; and to the American Congregational Association of Boston, 352 volumes. His private library, at the time of his death, consisted of 2500 volumes, comprising many works of rare merit. Of all these societies he was a member, and also of several others: The New England Historic and Genealogical Society of Boston, the Historical Society of New York, the Prince Society of Boston, and the Society of Antiquity of Worcester, Mass., and others. He was Grand Chaplain of the Grand Lodge of F. and A. Masons of New Hampshire from 1871 to 1875, and was many years an honorary member of the Orphans’ Home Association. He was Corresponding Secretary of the New Hampshire Antiquarian Society from 1873 to 1875; President in 1876, ’77, ’78, and was for mane years connected with the press as correspondent, essayist and reviewer, and had at one time a tempting offer to enter the employ of Harper Brothers, of New York, which he declined, preferring to continue his work as a minister of the gospel.
His first public address was delivered before the Lyceum at Warner, N. H., in the autumn of 1858; his subject was “Philip at Mount Hope.” His published works are, A Farewell Discourse, Wardsboro, Vt., in 1865. History of the Philomathic Club, in 1875. Eulogy on Henry Wilson, at Malden, Mass., in 1876. Diary of the Invasion of Canada by the American Army in 1775. Special Geography of New Hampshire in 1877. Paul on Mars Hill, in 1879. Historic Masonry. Original Sources of Historic Knowledge, in 1879. Address at the Annual Meeting of the New Hampshire Antiquarian Society, July 15, 1879. At the time of his death, he had in course of preparation histories of the Ketchum and Doty families, and for some time had been at work upon an elaborate Dictionary of New Hampshire Biography, that he intended should be the crowning work of his life, and upon which he bestowed most marvelous labor and care. Over 1000 sketches were completed, and material for 1500 more was well in hand. Worn down with such incessant toil, and being desirous of once more reaching the town which had so long been his home, he left the scene of his labors, reached the home of an intimate friend at Dorchester Highlands, Mass., where he passed peacefully away upon Saturday morning, April 24, 1880. One of the most quiet, unassuming, unselfish of beings, and one of the most industrious, rarest and best of men. In his youth, in his whole life, he was genial, gentlemanly; had great vigor of mind, fertility of resource, and a most complete thoroughness of execution in all he did; he excelled as a teacher, and as a preacher in the pulpit, meeting his congregation with something fresh and original. He was pleasing. His short, sharp, crisp sentences arrested his auditors; they could but listen till the last word was spoken. Earnest in his utterances, deliberate in argument, concise in his statements, with purity of diction and loftiness of thought, he commanded the interest of his congregation, and where he preached for any length of time it was soon doubled and trebled. Of him as an antiquarian and historian, his collections in the rooms of this society, one of the very largest of its kind in this country, speaks better words of commendation for him than I can utter, and stands as a more enduring monument than words can erect in honor of him.
Of his domestic relations suffice it to say, notwithstanding the immense amount of labor performed by him, his home, his family, was never forgotten, within that sacred, happy circle he was the central light. But he is gone from us, and is now transfigured and with the immortals. He was taken in the prime of life, with so much accomplished and so much left undone.
“We here formally declare, and cause to be recorded for posterity to learn, that to the Rev. Silas Ketchum’s thought, personal labors, generous munificence, and untiring zeal, this New Hampshire Antiquarian Society is indebted more than to any others, not only for its existence, but for its present proportions and prosperity.”
“We recognize that New Hampshire as a state has lost one of her richest scholars, most logical thinkers, and most accurate historians, and society a most exemplary Christian man, whose daily walk was an inspiration to holy living.”