Biography of Isaac T. Goodnow

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Isaac T. Goodnow. There are certain names that should be preserved in the annals of Kansas with testimonials of pride and admiration, and one of these is Isaac T. Goodnow, who was a member of a notable group of liberty-loving men whose efforts had much to do with making Kansas a free state and opening the way for her to become the great and prosperous commonwealth she is now. He assisted in the founding of educational and religious institutions, he co-operated with others for business expansion and in every way during a long and singularly useful life displayed those qualities which promote comfort, peace and happiness.

Isaac T. Goodnow was born at Whitingham, Windham County, Vermont, January 17, 1814, and died at Manhattan, Rilcy County, Kansas, March 20, 1894. He was the fourth child of William and Sybil (Arms) Goodnow. His father was born at Petersham, Massachusetts, and was a descendant of one of three brothers who came to the Massachusetts Colony from England at an early day. When a young man he went to Vermont and for many years was a successful merchant at Whitingham. There, in 1806, he was married to Sybil Arms, a schoolteacher and a daughter of Josiah Arms, one of the early settlers of Brattleboro, Vermont.

When fourteen years of age heavy responsibilities fell upon Isaac T. Goodnow because of the death of his father. The support of the family devolved on him in a large measure, necessitating much self denial on his part as his hopes had already been centered on collegiate training and a life in one of the professions. Nevertheless he went to work as a clerk in mercantile establishments, faithful to his duties during the day and applying himself to study at night, hopefully looking forward and in the best way he could preparing himself for the wider environment that his ambition craved.

In 1832 Mr. Goodnow removed to the Town of Coleraine, Vermont, where he was converted and united with the Methodist Episcopal Church, of which he ever after remained a devoted and useful member. The religious emotions that had come to him aroused new hopes and aspirations for every day as well as a future existence and especially created a desire to secure a better education and with this end in view he became a student in the Wesleyan Academy at Wilbraham, Massachusetts, attending during the summer sessions, and taught in the public schools in the winter. Finally he became an instructor in the academy and was identified thus with the institution down to 1848, having been graduated therefrom and for ten years was a professor of natural science and of languages. In 1848 he was elected professor of natural science in Providence Seminary, Rhode Island, and remained there until 1855, when he resigned to go to Kansas with the avowed purpose of helping to make it a free state.

Carrying this project into execution, Professor Goodnow became in 1855, one of the founders of the City of Manhattan, Kansas. He joined the New England Emigrant Aid Company in their long journey to the far West, and with a colony started westward March 13, 1855, reaching Kansas City, Missouri, on March 18 after five days of steady travel. From there a committee of seven was appointed, its members being: Isaac T. Goodnow, Luke P. Lincoln, Charles H. Lovejoy, N. R. Wright, C. N. Wilson, A. Browning and Joseph Wintermute, as the advance guard of the emigrants and they pushed forward into Kansas.

It was a historic event, when, on March 24, 1855, just as the sun was setting, the travelers ascended Bluemont from the north, and from its summit looked down upon what is now the site of the beautiful and prosperous little City of Manhattan. This committee soon learned that there was a prior claimant to the land they sought. In the fall of 1854, George S. Park, of Parkville, Missouri, had located a town site on the Kansas River, on the southwestern part of the present site, and had named it Poliska. Also, on the northeastern part of the town site and upon the Big Blue River, in the same fall, Samuel Dexter Houston, of Illinois, S. W. Johnson, of Ohio, J. M. Russell, of Iowa, H. A. Wilcox, of Rhode Island, and E. M. Thurston, of Maine, had located the Town of Canton. Soon after this the Boston Colony arrived upon the scene and were invited to join the earlier immigrants to help build the town. They accepted the invitation and the name of the town, Manhattan, was agreed upon, this being done to comply with a clause in the constitution of the Cincinnati and Kansas Land Company, which had also arrived.

In 1857 Mr. Goodnow returned to the East and spent the summer in the New England states, raising, in the meantime, the sum of $4,000 for the building of the first Methodist Church edifice west of Lawrence, Kansas. Next, in connection with the plans of Rev. Joseph Denison and Rev. Washington Marlatt, he conceived the idea of establishing a college at Manhattan, to be under the auspices of the Methodist Church. Mr. Goodnow spent the years 1858, 1859 and 1860 in the East, and through his pleas raised the funds for the building of Bluemont College and for its equipment. The college was opened for students in the latter part of 1859, but Baker University, at Baldwin, Kansas, another Methodist institution, had, in the meantime been established, and it was deemed not wise to endeavor to maintain two Methodist colleges in the state, hence plans were made and carried to the end of making Bluemont College the nucleus of what is now the Kansas State Agricultural College. For many years Mr. Goodnow served on the board of trustees of Baker University.

As a lover of liberty, Isaac T. Goodnow ventured his all to help to make Kansas a free state and by men such as he, the end was accomplished. Not to him nor to any of his coadjutors did it appear what historic work they had a hand in achieving.

In the fall of 1862 Mr. Goodnow was elected state superintendent of public, instruction and was reelected in 1864. This office was one for which he was eminently fitted, and he was influential in shaping the educational policy of the state as to the public school system, its colleges, university and normal school. The Kansas State Agricultural College began its existence in July, 1863, while he was state superintendent of public instruction. In 1867 Mr. Goodnow was selected agent for the disposal of the 90,000 acres of the agricultural college lands and this position he held until 1873 with great success. For nearly seven years he was land commissioner for the Missouri, Kansas and Texas Railroad, and during that time, from 1869 to 1876, he sold a great deal of land. While thus occupied he lived at Neosha Falls, Kansas.

Isaac T. Goodnow was married August 28, 1838, to Ellen D. Denison, of Colerain, Massachusetts. She was a daughter of Maj. David and Lucy (Avery) Denison, and was a sister of Rev. Joseph Denison, whose name is closely identified with the early history of Kansas. They were not blessed with children of their own but they reared as a cherished daughter a niece of Mr. Goodnow, Miss Harriet A. Parkerson, who survives them and is a universally esteemed resident of Manhattan, a lady of culture and many accomplishments. Mrs. Goodnow survived her husband for six years, leaving in her passing from life memories of noble qualities and a blameless existence.

In his political views Mr. Goodnow was a pronounced republican and had been an important factor in the party at times, but after 1876 he accepted no office of public responsibility. The evening of his life was passed in the city he had helped to found and was serene and unclouded, surrounded by all the comforts that loving care could bestow, and upheld by the consciousness that he had not lived in vain. Few men of his day were more widely known in Kansas, and also in the eastern states his acquaintance was wide and his friends many. Almost from childhood he unselfishly bore burdens for others and his public efforts were all directed toward helpfulness for those in need and not to advance his own fortunes nor add luster to his name.



MLA Source Citation:

Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies. AccessGenealogy.com. Web. 29 July 2014. http://www.accessgenealogy.com/kansas/biography-of-isaac-t-goodnow.htm - Last updated on Jun 2nd, 2011

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