Sylvanus Thayer, USMA 1808
Cullum # 33.
- Assistant Professor of Mathematics, USMA, 1809-1811.
- Visited technical and military schools in France and England, 1815-1817.
- Superintendent, USMA, 1817-1833.
- Founded Thayer School of Engineering at Dartmouth, 1867.
In the USMA Cadet Application Papers (Microfilm reel 688-2) Thayer is
listed as 1806/8. There is a letter from John Hubbard, Professor of Mathematics
and Experimental Philosophy at Dartmouth, indicating that Thayer was then in the
senior class. I believe we can infer from the existence of this letter that
Thayer did study some mathematics and physics at Dartmouth. The letter also
recommends Alpheus Roberts (Cullum # 43) and calls them "young gentlemen of
genius and respectability." In another letter, Hubbard also recommends
Lawson Kingsbury (x1812; 1808/8) but does not use the word "genius."
Typically there is no mention of mathematics. See Library Notebook II, p. 115.
Microfilm not printed.
In the Joseph K. F. Mansfield files there is a folder entitled
"Essay on U.S. Military Academy." On the back of this 4 page holograph is "New
York Times 22 Feb 1860." The second paragraph reads: The mode of making
appointments appears to have been left with the President and nothing said as to
the limit of the Course of Instruction. This course when Col S. Thayer, of the
Corps of Engineers, who may be justly called the father of the Academy, took
command in 1817, was established at 4 years in four classes." This is the
earliest attribution of Thayer as the "Father of the Academy." Most of this
document deals with the 5 year course. In the Times this is signed "One
of the People." This is the earliest use of the phrase in the Times.
"Father of the Military Academy" does not appear till 1902 in the Times.
Thayer in Europe
- 1808 April 3. Jonathan Wild informs Thayer of family money
problems. Debts incurred by Thayer at Dartmouth need to be payed ASAP. [Adams,
Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 31]
- 1810 July 15. Jonathan Wild writes Thayer that Thayer's
cousin is seeking a "lucrative situation as an instructor." Partridge has
communicated to Wild concerning Thayer's "pleasant situation at W. Point."
This is the first indication that Partridge communicated about Thayer; I
suspect there is more.
- 1815 March 30. Chief of Engineers, Swift, informs Alexander
Dallas that he heartily approves that the trip to Europe has been approved.
Recommends Col. McRee and Capt. Thayer be sent.
- 1815 May 17. Swift writes Dallas for letters of
introduction for McRee and Thayer.
- 1815 May 19. Swift writes Dallas requesting order for
passage of McRee and Thayer on the Congress.
- 1815 May 31. Swift requests information from Dallas about
funding of the trip. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 43]
- 1815 March 30. Swift dispatches Sylvanus Thayer and William
McRee to Europe. Details of assignment and expectations are included. [AAR 4;
Molloy 372; Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 29]
- 1815 April 12. Alexander J. Dallas writes Joseph G. Swift
relating permission from Secretary of Treasury and Acting Secretary of War for
Thayer and McRee to sail for Europe. Appropriated $5000 for books and maps.
Thayer breveted Major. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 37]
- 1815 April 20. Thayer receives letter from Acting Secretary
of War [presumably Alexander Dalles, confirming a tour of duty in Europe
to study and purchase books and instruments]. [Adams, Thayer Papers, vol. 1,
- 1815 May 23. Secretary of the Navy, Benjamin W.
Crowninsheidld, writes Acting Secretary of War, Alexander Dallas, of order for
passage of McRee and Thayer aboard the U. S. S. Congress. [Adams, Thayer
Papers, v. 1, p. 36]
- Thayer and McRee set sail on the Congress. Napoleon
lost at Waterloo on 18 June 1815 and the Ecole Polytechnique was closed [It
closed in May 1816; Belhoste on Cauchy, p.61]. [AAR 4]
- 1815 July 25. Commandant d'Armes grants Thayer permission
to travel to Paris.
- 1816 May EP closes; Belhoste on Cauchy, p.61
- 1816 May 22. Daniel Parker informs Thayer that he may
return to US if unable to accomplish European objects. [Adams, Thayer Papers,
v. 1, p. 26]
- 1816 October 28. Daniel Parker approves of choice of cadet
uniform by Partridge. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 40]
- 1816 November 6. Swift discusses expenses of McRee and
Thayer with William H. Crawford. Additional $3000 is requested.
- 1816 November 16. Secretary of War Graham directed Adjutant
General, Daniel Parker, to order McRee and Thayer to return in April 1817.
[Denton, p. 146]
- 1816 December 18. McRee writes Swift that Seven boxes of
books shipped to NY, 9-10,000 volumes. Discusses cost of binding and stamping.
[AAR 5; Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 33]
- 1816 December. Captain John O'Connor came to WP to
translate Guy de Vernon. He was recorder in the Court Inquiry of Partridge and
came to dislike Partridge. He was a close friend of William Crawford
(Secretary of War, then Treasury), and so information about Partridge was
probably passed to the new Secretary of War and probably president elect
Monroe. [Pappas 90]
- 1817 January. EP reopens. Belhoste p. 61.
- 1817 January 8. McRee writes Swift about expenses for
books. Usefulness of books is indicated. Many titles mentioned. [Adams, Thayer
Papers, v. 1, p. 33]
- 1817 January 21. In letter to Swift, George Graham denies
request of Partridge as instructor of military tactics.
- 1817 February 8. Duc de Richelieu writes Albert Gallatin
confirming that McRee and Thayer may tour Metz, but that the fortifications
will not be open for inspection. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 42]
- 1817 February 8. The American Legation at Paris gives
Thayer a passport to travel to Low Countries and England and return to France.
Validated by Gallatin.
- 1817 February 16. Albert Gallatin writes John Quincy Adams
of arrangements for McRee and Thayer to visit Metz, etc. [Adams, Thayer
Papers, v. 1, p. 37]
- 1817 March 26. Thomas Edgerton, bookseller, writes Swift,
itemizing money due for purchase of books.
- 1817 March 27. Jared Mansfield writes Swift that Partridge
has returned and is conducting classes. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 39]
- 1817 May ?. Daniel Parker says Thayer had promised to
write. Miss B. has given up hope of hearing from Thayer and is becoming
lovelier every day. Did Thayer have some romantic involvement? [Adams, Thayer
Papers, v. 1, p. 26]
- 1817 May 14. Swift tells Graham that McRee and Thayer have
returned from France.
- 1817 May 20. George Graham informs Swift that President
Monroe wants Thayer to assume command at WP when Swift is absent. [Adams,
Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 39]
- 1817 April. They set sail from Le Havre aboard the Maria
Theresa. [AAR 5]
- 1817 May. O'Connor returned to DC. Is requested to write a
report for the President about Partridge. [Pappas 90]
- 1817 May 19. Secretary of War Graham writes Swift that the
President is ordering Thayer to WP as Superintendent. [Denton, p. 159]
- 1817 June 20. McRee acknowledges receipt of 675 francs
sterling from US Treasurer. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 33]
- 1817 July 10. Swift tallies expenses of McRee and Thayer in
dollars and pounds sterling to U.S. Treasurer.
- 1817 July 17. Swift orders Thayer to WP as Superintendent.
He is told that President Monroe intends to Court Martial Partridge. [Adams,
Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 29]
- 1817 July 24. Alden Partridge writes Swift notifying him of
arrest of Academy staff. Many personalities discussed. [Adams, Thayer Papers,
v. 1, p. 41]
- 1817 July 28. Thayer arrived at WP. Partridge left,
refusing to accept his dismissal. [ Crackel 81; Pappas 91 has Thayer's arrival
as 27 July]
- 1817 August 1. Order to Mansfield, Ellicott, Berard,
Zoeller, and Crozet to compile outlines of their courses.
- 1817 August 2. Daniel Parker informs Thayer that
restrictions imposed by Partridge on arrested faculty have been removed by the
Secretary of War. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 26]
- 1817 August 6. George Graham acknowledges that Thayer is
Superintendent at WP, subject only to orders of the President through
Secretary of War. [Adams, Thayer Papers, vol. 1, p. 19]
- 1817 August 28. Partridge returns. Davies met him. Thayer
left the next day.
- 1817 September 3. Jared Mansfield informs John M. O'Connor
about the Partridge incident and defends Thayer. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1,
- 1817 September 3. Daniel Parker informs Swift that
Partridge is to be arrested and removed to Governors Island. Thayer is to
resume command at WP. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 40]
- 1817 September 3. Graham informs Swift that Partridge is to
be arrested and return Thayer as Superintendent.
- 1817 September 8. Swift orders leniency toward Davies wrt
Partridge incident. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 29]
- 1817 September 10. Partridge departed for good.
- 1817 September 13. George Blaney informs Thayer that Swift
considers the arrest of Douglass illegal. [Adams, Thayer Papers, vol 1, p. 16.
- 1817 October 10. Daniel Parker instructs Swift to order
Partridge to WP to await trial. Thayer is to provide him with quarters.
[Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 40]
- 1817 November 15. Swift informs Partridge that he is being
ordered away from WP.
- 1818 March 17. Foster Swift, the father of J. G. Swift,
informs Thayer that Partridge published article in Vermont newspapers which
casts a bad light on Swift and Thayer. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 27]
- 1818 June 2. Mary Mansfield requests Thayer to grant a
furlough to her son, Cadet Joseph K. F. Mansfield. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v.
1, p. 25]
- 1819 September 23. Daniel Parker informs Thayer that Crozet
is to be tried on charges pressed by Thayer. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p.
- 1818 October 19. Swift writes Thayer about the Wood
monument. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 3, image ]
- 1820 July 7. Alexander Macomb informs Thayer that Maj. Long
is not available for service at WP. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 22]
- 1821 August 13. Andrews Norton informs Thayer that a new
translation of LaCroix's Algebra has been published for the use of
students at Cambridge, MA. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 26]
- 1825 September 27. Thayer notified that he can retain Mahan
to fill vacancy due to resignation of Webster. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p.
- 1828 August 25. Thayer requested to give his ideas about
administration of a university. Monroe expresses his. [Adams, Thayer Papers,
v. 1, p. 25]
- 1830 February 11. Thayer receives word, via Gratiot that
officials and not paying heed to the charges in Partridge's pamphlet. The
writer is viewed with disgust. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 21]
- 1832 July 6. Gratiot writes Chief of Engineers, Lewis Cass,
that Thayer has been nominated for the brevet rank of Colonel. [Adams, Thayer
Papers, v. 1, p. 39]
- 1833 February 1. Gratiot notifies Thayer that his
resignation as Superintendent has been received and forwarded to Secretary of
War. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 21]
- 1833 March 14. Gratiot notifies Thayer that Secretary of
War has accepted his resignation as Superintendent. He will be relieved after
the next general examination. Can choose his next post. [Adams, Thayer Papers,
v. 1, p. 21]
- 1833 April 19. Chief of Engineers, Gratiot, notifies Thayer
that he will be assigned to Boston. [Adams, Thayer Papers, v. 1, p. 21]
Arney, Chris, West Point's Scientific 200: Celebration of the
Bicentennial. Biographies of 200 of West Point's Most Successful and Influential
Mathematicians, Scientists, Engineers, and Technologists, 2002.
Wesley A., "Duty, Honor, Country: Molding Citizen-Soldiers," Policy
Review, January-February, 1998, number 87. Published by the Heritage Foundation.
On the web at http://www.policyreview.org/jan98/profiles.html
- “Sylvanus Thayer – Neglected
American,” by William J. Morton, vol. 3 (Apr. 1944): 1-2, 5 (Class of 1923);
- “The Life and
Character of General Sylvanus Thayer,” by Stacy B. Southworth, vol. 15 (Jan.
- “Sylvanus Thayer; More Than the Father of the U.S. Military
Academy,” by Sidney Forman, vol. 17 (Spring 1958): 14-15;
Thayer…Educator and Engineer,” by Pat Ryan, vol. 22 (Spring 1963): 22-23;
- “Sylvanus Thayer: Man of Destiny,” by R. Ernest Dupuy, vol. 24 (Winter 1966):
- “Sylvanus Thayer Enshrined,” vol. 25 (Summer 1966): 36-37;
Thayer, 1817-1833 – A Personal Glimpse,” by Ed Cass, vol. 40 (Mar. 1982): 8-9
- “Thayer Bicentennial Celebration Will Center Around the Thayer
Birthplace in Braintree, Massachusetts,” vol. 43 (Mar. 1985): 26;
- “Happy 200th
Birthday, General Sylvanus Thayer 9 June 1985,” vol. 44 (June 1985): 2;
- “Academic Limits: The Thayer Method for the 21st Century,” by
Fletcher M. Lamkin, vol. 55 (Mar./Apr. 1997): 10 (Class of 1808).
Thayer Monument. “Relocation of Thayer Monument,”
ASSEMBLY, vol. 32 (June 1973): 24.
Contains picture of Thayer.
Cemetery where Thayer is