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Alden Partridge

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Alden Partridge
Partridge, c. 1817
Member of the Vermont House of Representatives from Norwich
In office
Preceded byElias Lyman Jr.
Succeeded byCyrus Partridge
In office
Preceded byCyrus Partridge
Succeeded byThomas Hazen
In office
Preceded byThomas Hazen
Succeeded byAaron Loveland
Vermont Surveyor General
In office
Preceded byJoseph Beeman
Succeeded byCalvin C. Waller
President of Norwich University
In office
Preceded byNone (University founded)
Succeeded byTruman B. Ransom
Superintendent of the United States Military Academy
In office
Preceded byJoseph Gardner Swift
Succeeded bySylvanus Thayer
Personal details
Born(1785-02-12)February 12, 1785
Norwich, Vermont, US
DiedJanuary 17, 1854(1854-01-17) (aged 68)
Norwich, Vermont, US
Resting placeFairview Cemetery, Norwich, Vermont
SpouseAnn Swasey (m. 1837, 1854, his death)
RelationsLewis Samuel Partridge (nephew)
Nickname"Old Pewt"
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/serviceUnited States Army
Years of service1805–1817
UnitCorps of Engineers
CommandsUSMA Superintendent
Battles/warsWar of 1812

Alden Partridge (February 12, 1785 – January 17, 1854)[a] was an American author, legislator, officer, surveyor, an early superintendent of the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York and a controversial pioneer in U.S. military education, emphasizing physical fitness training, advocating the concept of citizen soldier and establishing a series of private military academies throughout the country, including Norwich University.

Early life[edit]

Alden Partridge was born and raised on a family farm in Norwich, Vermont, the son of Elizabeth (Wright) Partridge and soldier Samuel Partridge Jr.,[1] who had fought in the American Revolutionary War, including the Battles of Saratoga.[2] Tall and hardy, the younger Partridge hiked the Green and White Mountains,[3] worked on his father's farm, and matriculated in local district schools. He attended Dartmouth College from 1802 to 1805.

Military career[edit]

Upon his graduation from the United States Military Academy at West Point, New York in 1806, Partridge received the rank of lieutenant of engineers and an appointment at the academy as an assistant professor of mathematics.[4] In its early days, the post served both as the academy for training prospective officers and the headquarters of the United States Army Corps of Engineers, and the superintendent was also chief of engineers. In 1808 chief engineer Jonathan Williams promoted Partridge to professor of mathematics and delegated to him the responsibilities of acting superintendent.[5] Partridge set an example for physical fitness during his administration, frequently leading the cadet corps on extended marches in New York and neighboring states. Never profane or intemperate, superintendent Partridge required cadets to attend church services, occasionally preparing and delivering the sermon on Sundays.[6] Named professor of engineers in 1813,[7] and officially appointed as superintendent in 1814,[5] "Old Pewt" developed a reputation among academy faculty as a martinet, often micromanaging subordinates, and occasionally demonstrating preference toward favorite cadets.[8]

The "Long Gray Line" tradition at West Point originated during Partridge's tenure when he had gray uniforms made in New York City in 1814 because of a shortage of blue cloth. In 1816, when the War Department decided to select a new Cadet uniform, gray was chosen because "it better suits the finance of the Cadets than one of blue." In other words, gray uniforms were cheaper.[9][10]

Partridge refused to relinquish his command when former student (but superior officer) Sylvanus Thayer was appointed to replace him as superintendent and was court-martialed for insubordination and neglect of duty. Though acquitted of serious wrongdoing, he chose to resign his commission in 1818, after having served his entire Army career at the academy.[4] He received a pension for his service at West Point during the War of 1812, and after his death his wife received a pension as the widow of an 1812 veteran.[11]

Citizen soldier[edit]

In the summer of 1818 Partridge was engaged in New York City to drill and instruct a volunteer infantry company, and he gave a series of lectures on the subjects of military science, fortifications, and military education.[5] In these lectures, Partridge advocated a new program of regional military instruction and began a lifelong campaign in opposition to the existing national military academy system which would shape the rest of his life.[5] Partridge argued that the national academies produced a professional officer class, and was creating a new military elite, which was at odds with examples of the country's great generals, such as George Washington and Andrew Jackson. Partridge proposed the nation be divided into state-based military departments, local citizen soldiers organized into militias and officers appointed by department, and units mustered on a regular basis for instruction and drill, much like the Minutemen of the well-remembered American Revolution. Further, he suggested military colleges for officer instruction be established in each department.[12]

Partridge was appointed chief of the surveying expedition to establish boundaries between the U.S. and Canada as required under the Treaty of Ghent. He mapped the natural watersheds of the Saint Lawrence River and Hudson River. Still consumed with plans for a military college based on his program, he decided to resign from the expedition in 1820, and retired to Norwich.[13]

Private military educator[edit]

Alden Partridge with cadets at a military academy. From an 1840 engraving, courtesy of the Norwich Historical Society

Norwich University[edit]

In 1819, Partridge founded the "American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy" in Norwich, Vermont (now known as Norwich University and located in Northfield, Vermont).[14] Norwich is the nation's oldest private military college, based on Partridge's model of training citizen soldiers, it became the basis for the Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC).[15][16] In its first four years, the nascent academy was attended by 480 students representing 21 of the 24 states, and Partridge's program seemed successful enough to attract the attention of Middletown, Connecticut, which undertook a financial subscription of local residents as an inducement to relocate his academy. Partridge moved the school, and in Middletown, it drew nearly 1,200 students in three years, but the academy was operating again in Norwich by 1829.[17]


The curriculum Partridge advanced incorporated the study of liberal arts, agriculture, modern languages, and engineering in addition to the sciences and various military subjects. Field exercises and drills, for which Partridge borrowed cannon and muskets from the federal and state governments, supplemented classroom instruction and added an element of realism to the college's program of well-rounded military education.

One of America's first exercise enthusiasts, Partridge became a strong proponent of physical education as an essential part of school curriculum. As part of that program, he often led his classes on hiking expeditions in the many local mountains of New England. On one climb of Vermont's Green Mountains in 1822, Partridge led 27 pack-laden cadets on a 150-mile hike from Norwich to Manchester in just four days.

Other colleges[edit]

Awarded an honorary master's degree from Dartmouth in 1812, Partridge received the same honor from the University of Vermont in 1821, but he declined that institution's offer the same year to become its president.

Partridge founded 17 military institutions during his quest to reform the fledgling United States military, including:[18] The American Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy at Middletown, Connecticut (1824-1831), the Virginia Literary, Scientific and Military Academy at Portsmouth (1839–1846), Pennsylvania Literary, Scientific, and Military Academy at Bristol (1842–1845), Pennsylvania Military Institute at Harrisburg (1845–1848), Wilmington Literary, Scientific and Military Academy at Wilmington (1846–1848), the Scientific and Military Collegiate Institute at Reading, Pennsylvania (1850–1854), Gymnasium and Military Institute at Pembroke, New Hampshire (1850–1853) the National Scientific and Military Academy at Brandywine Springs, Delaware (1853).[4]

When John Thomas Lewis Preston worked to influence public opinion in favor of creating the Virginia Military Institute in the 1830s, Partridge assisted by providing open letters of support to members of the Virginia General Assembly and letters to the editors of Virginia newspapers.[19]

Efforts to revitalize militia[edit]

Interested in revitalizing and reforming the state militias, which had become increasingly dormant during the long period of peace following the War of 1812, Partridge and Norwich University faculty members Truman B. Ransom and Alonzo Jackman, both of whom served in the militia, worked with Franklin Pierce of New Hampshire, also a militia officer, and Frederic Williams Hopkins of the Vermont militia on efforts to increase recruiting and improve training and readiness.[20][21]

Personal life[edit]

An avid hiker, Partridge is described as "a noted pedestrian" in A History of Norwich.[22] He had reportedly already ascended Mount Monadnock and Mount Moosilauke in New Hampshire when in 1818 he walked 76 miles from Norwich to climb both Camel's Hump and Mount Mansfield in two days. It rained the entire journey, according to his journal, and while one friend joined him climbing Mansfield, he hiked the balance of the expedition accompanied only by his "inseparable companions", his knapsack and barometer.[23] He was an early traveler on a path to the summit of Mount Washington, New Hampshire that had been constructed in 1821 by the pioneering Ethan Crawford.[24]

A Democrat, Partridge served as Vermont's Surveyor General from 1822 to 1823.[25] He also served four terms in the Vermont House of Representatives, (1833, 1834, 1837 and 1839).[26][27] In addition, he ran unsuccessfully for the United States House of Representatives on five occasions between 1834 and 1840, losing each time to Whig party candidate Horace Everett.[28]


In 1837, Partridge married Ann Swasey (1810-1902), with whom he had two sons, George M. C. Partridge (1838-1855) and Henry V. Partridge (1839-1920). His widow did not remarry, and survived him by 48 years.[29]

In 1823 Partridge adopted a young Greek boy, George Colvocoresses, whom he raised and educated at Norwich University. Colvocoresses, NU Class of 1831, was appointed to the United States Navy in 1832; from 1838 to 1842 he served in the United States Exploring Expedition, better known as the Wilkes Expedition of the Pacific Ocean. Three separate geographical features, two on the west coast of the U.S. and another in Antarctica, were named for Colvocoresses.[30]

Death and burial[edit]

Partridge died in Norwich on January 17, 1854.[31] He was buried at Fairview Cemetery in Norwich.[32]


Partridge wrote widely, mostly in local newspapers and in books, about his many travels, several mathematical and scientific subjects, and his constant, vocal opposition to the academy at West Point. The following is an incomplete list of his writings.

  • "Observations Relative to the Calculation of the Altitude of Mountains, etc, by the Use of the Barometer" (1812)
  • "Method of Determining the Initial Velocity of Projectiles" (1812)
  • "Account of Some Experiments on Fire of Artillery and Infantry at the Military Academy in 1810 and 1814"
  • "Newton's Binomial Theorem" (1814)
  • "Meteorological Tables" (1810–1814)
  • "A General Plan for the Establishment of Military Academies" (1815)
  • "Reports of the National Academy" (1814–1817)
  • "Lectures on National Defense" (1821–1827)
  • "Discourse on education" 1826. The art of epistolary composition, or Models of letters, billets, bills of exchange ... with preliminary instructions and notes : to which are added, a collection of fables ... for pupils learning the French language; a series of letters between a cadet and his father, describing the system pursued at the American, literary, scientific and military academy at Middletown, Conn.: E. & H. Clark, 1826. PE1481 .P4
  • The Military Academy, at West Point, unmasked: or, corruption and military despotism exposed. By Americanus [pseud.], Washington [D.C.], Sold at the bookstore of J. Elliot, 1830, [3], 4-28 p. 22 cm. Attributed to Alden Partridge by Sidney Forman in his West Point. A History of the United States Military Academy (New York, 1950), p. 62. USMA: U410.F7 P258 .


  1. ^ Some sources, including the Norwich, Vermont town records, give Partridge's birth month as January. His grave marker and the biographical sketch of Partridge in William Arba Ellis's history of Norwich University indicate that he was born in February.


  1. ^ Goddard, Merritt Elton; Partridge, Henry Villiers (1905). "Capt. Alden Partridge". A History of Norwich, Vermont. Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth Press. p. 232. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  2. ^ Henry Barnard, ed. (1872). "Alden Partridge". The American Journal of Education. Vol. 23. F.C. Brownell. p. 833. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  3. ^ Stier, Maggie and McAdow, Ron, Into the Mountains: Stories of New England's Most Celebrated Peaks
  4. ^ a b c Mathematics Department faculty (1989). "Alden Partridge" (PDF). USMA Office of the Dean website. USMA. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  5. ^ a b c d Barnard, Alden Partridge, p. 51
  6. ^ Guidotti, John A., The Legacy of Alden Partridge, p. 8
  7. ^ Forman, Sidney (1950). West Point: A History of the United States Military Academy. New York City, New York: Columbia University. p. 38.
  8. ^ Depuy, R. Ernest (December 1955). "Mutiny at West Point". American Heritage. 7 (1). Rockville, Maryland: American Heritage Publishing. Archived from the original on October 19, 2010. Retrieved January 15, 2010.
  9. ^ U.S.M.A. Corps of Cadets, The Military Images, Sep/Oct 2000 by McAfee, Michael J
  10. ^ "Cadets, U.S. Military Academy, 1816-1817," Military Uniforms in America, Vol II, Years of Growth 1796-1851, Company of Military Historians, 1977
  11. ^ National Archives and Records Administration. "War of 1812 Pension Files, Entry for Alden Partridge". Fold3. Lehi, UT: Ancestry.com LLC. Retrieved October 11, 2022.
  12. ^ Barnard, Alden Partridge, p. 52
  13. ^ Barnard, Alden Partridge, p. 54
  14. ^ Tucker, Spencer and Arnold, James R. (2012). The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History, Volume 1. ABC-CLIO. p. 560. ISBN 9781851099566. Retrieved July 3, 2014.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  15. ^ Ring, Wilson (August 8, 2017). "Military brass to gather in Vermont to highlight ROTC origin". Military Times/Associated Press. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  16. ^ Staff (December 20, 2018). "History". U.S. Army Cadet Command. Retrieved June 30, 2019.
  17. ^ Lord, Gary Thomas (1995), History of Norwich University—Images of Its Past, archived from the original on November 3, 2010, retrieved October 8, 2010
  18. ^ Coulter, John A. (March 24, 2017). Cadets on Campus: History of Military Schools of the United States. Texas A&M University Press. p. 39. ISBN 978-1-62349-521-3.
  19. ^ Andrew, Rod Jr. (2001). Long Gray Lines: The Southern Military School Tradition, 1839-1915. Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press. p. 20. ISBN 978-0-8078-2610-2.
  20. ^ Betros, Lance (2004). West Point: Two Centuries and Beyond. McWhiney Foundation Press. p. 155. ISBN 978-1-893114-47-0. Retrieved August 30, 2014.
  21. ^ Ellis, William Arba (1911). Norwich University, 1819–1911; Her History, Her Graduates, Her Roll of Honor, Volume 1. Capital City Press. pp. 87, 99. Retrieved August 30, 2014. norwich university new hampshire militia.
  22. ^ Goddard and Partridge, A History of Norwich, p. 233
  23. ^ Stier, Maggie and McAdow, Ron, Into the Mountains: Stories of New England's Most Celebrated Peaks, p.88
  24. ^ Dickerman, Mike (2013). White Mountains Hiking History: Trailblazers of the Granite State. Arcadia Publishing. p. 17. ISBN 978-1-62584-533-7.
  25. ^ Index to the Papers of the Surveyors General, published by Vermont Secretary of State, 1918, page 141
  26. ^ A History of Norwich, Vermont, by Henry Villiers Partridge, 1905, pages 270 to 271
  27. ^ History of Windsor County, Vermont, edited by Lewis Cass Aldrich and Frank R. Holmes, 1891, page 484
  28. ^ Tucker, Spencer (2012). The Encyclopedia of the War of 1812: A Political, Social, and Military History. ABC-CLIO. p. 560. ISBN 978-1-85109-956-6.
  29. ^ Goddard, M.E. and Partridge, Henry V., A History of Norwich, Vermont, 1905, p. 233
  30. ^ "Norwich University". www.norwich.edu. Archived from the original on March 9, 2012. Retrieved February 5, 2008.
  31. ^ Goddard, M. E.; Partridge, Henry V. (1905). A History of Norwich, Vermont. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England. p. 94. alden partridge died 1854.
  32. ^ "In Norwich, They Remember". Valley News. Lebanon, NH. May 26, 2014.

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Military offices
Preceded by Superintendent of the United States Military Academy
Succeeded by