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BATTELL, PHILIP, Esq., was born at Norfolk, Ct., November 28, 1807. His father was the elder Joseph Battell, a prosperous and public-spirited merchant of that town; his mother Sarah Battell, daughter of the Rev. Ammi R. Robbins, for fifty-two years the beloved pastor of the Norfolk Church. When hardly twelve years old, young Philip was sent to Lennox Academy, Mass., to prepare for college under “Father Gleason,” who in those days was held in high repute as an educator of youth. After studying two years at the academy he finished his preparation for college by spending one year more with Dr. Cooley, at Granville, Mass., and was admitted to the freshman class of Yale College when less than fifteen years of age. Three years before, however, his older brother Joseph (afterward the wealthy merchant of New York city who built the elegant “Battell Chapel” for Yale) had entered Middlebury College. Brotherly affection naturally led Philip to go to Middlebury instead of to New Haven, and in 1826 he graduated with such illustrious classmates as Hon. Solomon Foot, Prof. Edwin Hall, of Auburn Theological Seminary, Dr. Martin M. Post, and Dr. J. W. Chickering.
After leaving college Mr. Battell took up the study of law, spending one year in the office of Mr. Williams, of Hartford, Ct., and one year in the New Haven Law School, and was admitted to the bar in 1829. Then commenced the customary struggles of the young lawyer to establish himself in his profession. After four years of more or less successful practice in Connecticut, he was induced to accept of a promising opening in the city of Cleveland, Ohio, then in the Far West. The five years spent here were years of delightful activity, when many valued friendships were formed to be broken only by death, and when the enthusiasm and enterprise of the newly-formed and growing community made their indelible mark upon the character.
In 1836 Mr. Battell had married the accomplished daughter of Hon. Horatio Seymour, a prominent lawyer of Middlebury and for many years a United, States Senator. In 1838 her failing health impelled Mr. Battell to remove his residence from Cleveland to Middlebury. But the tenderest ministries of her husband and of her own family were unavailing; and, after a long illness, Mrs. Battell died on the 3d of November, 1841, leaving two young children, now Mrs. John W. Stewart and Mr. Joseph Battell, of Middlebury.
Since this time Mr. Battell has continued to reside in Middlebury. Here his best work has been done; here his influence has been most felt for all that is good in education, in social culture, and in letters. It is too soon to give in detail the record of a useful life which, we trust, is to continue for years to come. Mr. Battell has enjoyed the enviable privilege of a life of learned leisure and of unceasing activity. He was at one time the editor and manager of a literary weekly called The Topaz, a journal which, in those days that antedate the railroad and the telegraph, would compare favorably with any paper published in the country. He has been the prime mover in many of those public improvements which have made the village of Middlebury so dear to its residents and so attractive to strangers. The beautiful park east of the Episcopal Church was a dreary waste until Mr. Battell organized the movement to grade and enclose it, and to plant trees and construct walks. Many persons in passing by the Congregational Church have had their attention attracted to three handsome, thrifty trees, forming a triangle at the meeting of Pleasant street and Main street. Citizens in the future will take pleasure in knowing that these trees commemorate the public spirit of three of their honored predecessors – the oak having been planted by Mr. Joseph Warren, the elm by Mr. S. B. Rockwell and the hickory by Mr. Philip Battell.
But it is in the line of historical research that Mr. Battell has done his chief work. He was one of the founders of the Middlebury Historical Society in 1843, and, excepting an interval of four years, has been its perennial secretary down to the present day. Under the direction of this society four volumes of town histories in a complete form and of high merit have been published. Mr. Battell has been unwearied in his efforts to collect all useful information from the oldest citizens in all parts of the county. Even enterprises of a scientific character and pertaining to matters in other parts of New England have found in him a generous and an indispensable friend. It is chiefly due to his energy and enthusiasm that for forty-three years without interruption Forefathers’ Day has been celebrated in Middlebury, and in such a manner as to make the celebration one of the great events of the year. This anniversary has been kept in like manner in no other town of New England except in Plymouth itself.
The portrait that accompanies this sketch was copied from an ambrotype taken in July, 1858, and sent to his daughter, then absent in Europe. It was regarded as life-like at the time, and, as engraved from a photograph copy, may be regarded as representing him at the age of fifty.
It would be unbecoming in us to attempt to describe the character, or to sum up the career, of one who is still living and engaged in the active duties of life. But we trust we shall be pardoned for quoting a few words of warm affection from his life-long friend, Dr. Truman M. Post, of St. Louis:
“My acquaintance with Mr. Battell began when he was in college, three years in advance of me. He was then a general favorite. His bright and genial temperament, his frank and generous bearing, his refinement of taste and feeling, and his classic and belles-lettres culture – combined with quick and kindly tact and a thorough honor – made him one of the most delightful of companions, admired and beloved of his classmates, and respected by all. At this time, although I was a freshman and he was a senior, I was drawn, more than is usual between classes, into personal acquaintance with him, as the intimate and highly appreciated friend and classmate of my eldest brother, M. M. Post; and he grew with me very much to the position of an ideal, in many things, of culture and character in youthful manhood – an admiring affection of my early youth, which has been strengthened and confirmed by the personal friendship of maturer years.
“Liberal and generous in his caste of thought, yet conservative of the best elements and noblest type of New England character and civilization, and ever of loyal interest in the improvement, material, social, intellectual, and moral, of the region in which he lived – he is entitled to recognition amid the beneficent forces in its history. These qualities, together with his courteous offices and genial hospitality, have contributed much toward making Middlebury and its vicinage, as well as his own home, of pleasant and attractive memories to strangers visiting from abroad, and will permanently associate his name with the village and county of his residence; where his age, wearing still much of the freshness of earlier years, and grouping around it the love and honor of children and grandchildren who worthily represent him, and the grateful respect of a large circle of friends, is felt as a continuous benediction.”