ALONZO DECATUR CHESTERMAN - THIRTEENTH PRINCIPAL, 1874-1881
Marshall Colleges thirteenth Principal was thirty-two-year-old Alonzo Decatur Chesterman, who came from Richmond. He began his tenure in 1874. He was "hired to take charge of Huntington public schools, was to board and room in the college, have some classes before school hours and other classes after school hours and be the Normal School principal." He was described as "a man of more than ordinary executive ability, and was well equipped for the duties of the position…[and] under his competent management we find some of the prosperous years of Marshall College. Certainly, never before had the school been so successful." He stayed until 1881, when the fortunes of the College began to decline. In 1879 the Legislature failed again to appropriate the teachers’ salaries. He "bravely kept the school in operation, in spite of these discouragements," the only funds coming from student tuition and fees. After a smallpox outbreak in 1880, which greatly reduced enrollment, he apparently had had enough and left the College in 1881, having served the longest tenure since the state assumed control of the college.
Alonzo Decatur Chesterman was born on January 15, 1840, in Hanover County, Virginia. He was the son of John L. Chesterman and Mary F. Chesterman. He graduated from Hampden-Sydney College, Virginia, with both bachelors and masters of arts degrees in 1860. He may have taught school in Richmond after graduating. At the outbreak of the Civil War, he enlisted in the 1st Company of the Richmond Howitzers in 1862. Never rising above the rank of private, he served throughout the rest of the war, and was paroled with his company at Appomattox on March 9, 1865.
On April 13, 1865, a month after his parol, he married Elizabeth "Bettie" Logan Guthry, at Farmville, Virginia. To this union were added ten children—six girls and four boys. After the war, he again taught in Richmond public schools. He left Richmond in 1874, when he accepted the position at Marshall College, bringing his large family with him.
After leaving West Virginia, he apparently moved to Florence, Alabama, where he was the principal of the Florence Normal School. He moved again, this time to Mississippi, taking a position at the Holly Springs Normal Institute. The school, established in 1870, was designed for training African-American school teachers. Apparently Chesterman remained with the school for a number of years. He was listed as the assistant principal in a 1888 report, and other sources indicated that he may have also served as principal at one time. It is not known if he was there in 1904 when the Institute closed, because the state legislature failed to provide funds for its continued operation. One source indicated that he taught at a "classic school" after leaving the Holly Springs Normal Institute. The 1910 Federal census indicated that he and his wife were living in Holly Springs, and by that time he had retired from teaching. The 1920 census indicated that the couple were then living with their son-in-law, Walter E. Daugherty, at Claiborne, Mississippi. He died on June 8, 1928, at Port Gibson, Mississippi. He is buried at the Hill Crest Cemetery, Holly Springs, Mississippi.
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