SUSAN NYE HUTCHISON 1790 — 1867
Susan Nye grew up in South Amenia, Dutchess County, NY. She attended local schools and, most likely, the Litchfield Female Academy as well, for teacher training. In 1815, at the age of 25, Susan left the security and comfort of her home and traveled to Raleigh, NC, in order to teach young women at the Raleigh Academy.
Susan kept a journal throughout the 30 years she spent as a teacher in the antebellum South. Her early journal entries describe her impressions and experiences when leaving home and traveling by boat on rough seas, when entering into the southern society and when struggling to succeed as a new schoolteacher.
Though hired to teach young ladies from well-to-do families, Susan was also aware of the culture in which she was living. She could not help but write about the ill treatment of slaves. She described scenes that she witnessed in the home where she was staying and also in the streets of the city. Susan felt compelled to reach out to the slaves in her neighborhood. She would visit their dwellings on Sunday afternoons and read the Bible to them. Even though it was against the law, Susan taught them to read.
In 1823, after eight years of teaching young women in Raleigh, Susan Nye moved to Augusta, Georgia, where she opened her own school, “Miss Nye’s School.” She was assisted by her sister, Amanda Nye.
Susan believed that young women should receive an education equal to what young men were receiving in those days, including instruction in higher mathematics and in diverse science courses, such as astronomy and chemistry. Susan Nye published her thoughts on female education in a treatise, which she wrote in 1828.
While in Augusta, Susan met Mr. Adam Hutchison, a widowed businessman from Scotland, who was living in Augusta with his three children. Susan and Mr. Hutchison married February 10, 1825. The first of their four sons was born in December of that year, and the second son was born 18 months later.
In her journal, Susan commented on her husband’s angry outbursts, the loss of his job as a cotton merchant and his penchant for buying unnecessary, expensive items for himself, while she lacked the money to feed the children and the others in the household. Susan had to resume teaching, just three months after the birth of her second child, in order to support her three stepchildren, her two infants, her sister Amanda and two servants.
Susan’s life as a mother and stepmother was fraught with difficulties. She recorded in her diary the anxiety and grief of trying to cope with a colicky baby, a son with epilepsy, a child dying suddenly of a respiratory illness, and a teenager deciding to leave home. Her husband’s health was failing, as well. Mr. Hutchison went to Florida for treatments at the mineral springs.
In 1834, while Susan and the children were in Amenia, NY, residing temporarily with her parents, she received word that Mr. Hutchison had died. A few months later, Susan returned to North Carolina where she continued her professional career for another decade.
In 1847, Susan retired to her hometown of Amenia, where she lived out her years, passing away in 1867. In her last years, she remained a strong voice in the Presbyterian Church, and she was highly respected in the community.
As Susan’s two older sons matured, they acquired an excellent education and became educators themselves. They graduated from Davidson College in the same class, one as valedictorian and one as salutatorian. Sylvanus became a lawyer, teacher, farmer and minister, while Ebenezer became a physician and a trustee of Davidson College.
Susan’s third son, Adam, died at age 16. Her fourth son, John, chose to go to California, rather than fight in the Civil War. Though they were all separated from her, Susan was comforted in knowing that they loved her.
Susan Nye Hutchison experienced many of the hardships that women face today. As a professional woman of courage and commitment and as a woman of faith and compassion, she remains a shining example for us today and for the generations to come.
For a more detailed account of Susan’s life, Kim Tolley’s book, Heading South to Teach, The World of Susan Nye Hutchison 1815-1845, University of NC Press, 2015, is an excellent biography about this remarkable woman. Kim Tolley is a professor at Notre Dame de Namur University in California.
Quotes from the Journal of SNH —
South Amenia and Family
19th Aug. 1818 — Attended church meeting, I fear, for the last time – bade farewell to the seat (pew) of my venerable grandparents. (Barlow)
27th – Bade farewell to my dear uncles and aunts, my mother and I drank tea with them.
28th – Houseful of company to take leave, a sad day.
29th – Bade farewell to the best of mothers, brothers and sisters and all I hold dear on earth.
2nd May 1815 – In the latitude of Cape Hatteras… the wind had risen to a tremendous hurricane …the dangerous, deathful shoals on one side, the Gulf stream on the other. I viewed death as certain.
3rd – A dead calm. Almost all sick on deck all the time, for the close cabin is more sickening….
29th July 1815 — Awakened this morning by the screeching of a female slave who was fleeing from the whip of her enraged master. … Oh how callous are the hearts of this people! … her neck torn and bloody, her eye swollen. … I live, it is said, with one of the best masters.
3rd Aug. 1815 — This evening at prayer meeting. Oh that God would pour out his spirit upon me and remove this spiritual darkness under which I labor. My mind is not at ease. …Oh appear for me, Saviour of men, take out this flinty heart of mine and give me a new heart.
10th June 1827 – The black people’s meeting in the kitchen, unusually solemn, the groans and cries of the mourners kept us awake until a very late hour.
24th June 1827 –The black people held their monthly meeting here, and it was near morning before they left the kitchen.
12th Nov. 1829 – Jenny, Mrs. Jones’ servant has confessed to setting the fire to Mrs. Walker’s stables….
28th Nov. 1829 – Went with Mrs. Jones to visit poor Jenny in her cell.
4th Dec. 1829 – Jenny was launched into eternity today, on the gallows she prayed….
8th Aug. 1831 – It was unanimously resolved by the Session (of the Presbyterian Church of Augusta, GA) that Mr. Hutchison should be suspended (from attending church)—
The whole community, both in the church and out of it, were excited against him for his conduct toward me whom all regarded as a faithful and an injured and persecuted wife.
(Separated from her two older sons for three years, they were in South Amenia and she in Georgia, S.N. Hutchison wrote)
4th July 1833 – Today if spared, my Ebenezer is 6 years old and I have rededicated him to God whom I ask to make him a missionary of the cross.
(Reunited on Nov. 16, 1833, in South Amenia, with two younger brothers to introduce to them)
17th Nov. 1833 – Sabbath at home. Today I heard my little boys read with great pleasure.
SNH on Female Education
The unfortunate impression, that the female mind is incapable of laborious study, has doubtless laid the foundation, in this country and in every other, for a system of education calculated in all its operations to produce a regard for superficial accomplishments, rather than for those solid endowments which, like unadulterated gold, retain their luster under all circumstances. That there have been, and now are, many illustrious women whose superior talents, elicited by some peculiarly favorable circumstances, have surmounted all barriers opposing their progress in science and literature, I rejoice to say….
Fees per course of study —
Conditions of Admittance and Order of Studies
1st Class: Reading, Orthography, Copy Writing, Blair’s Chatecism of common things, first rules of Arithmetic, Parley’s Geography
per Session $8.00
2nd Class: Kirkham’s English Grammar, Olney’s Geography, Writing, Composition, Arithmetic, 1st & 2nd book of History, Mrs. Phelp’s Geology
per Session $12.00
3rd Class: The Malte Brun Geography, Composition, Barrett’s Geography of the Heavens, Robbins’ Ancient & Modern History, Mrs. Lincoln’s Botony, Newmon’s Rhetoric, Rome’s Elements of Criticism, Euclid’s Elements of Geometry, Day’s Algebra, Sledge’s Logic, Conversations on Natural Philosophy & Chemistry, Mythology, Stewart’s Philosophy, Natural Theology & Evidences of Christianity
per Session $15.00
Extra Branches: Latin $4.00, French $8.00, Spanish $8.00 Drawing $8.00, Music $15.00
This information was compiled by
Elizabeth C. Strauss
Amenia Historical Society
March 3, 2017
The story of this impressive woman was very interesting to me, in small part because of a very very slight personal connection. 100 years after the time of Mrs. Hutchison, My father Reverend Robert E Wanstall was the circuit pastor for the Amenia Presbyterian Church from 1966 until about 1973. His weekly Presbyterian circuit started at 9am Sundays in Wassaic, followed by a 10am service in South Amenia, and finishing with an 11:15 service in Amenia. I remember tagging along with him every week to Wassaic and South Amenia – which back then had a pretty robust Sunday School for all ages of children.
Our family lived in the Manse next to the Amenia Presbyterian Church during those years, and as a curious young boy I spent many hours poking around what I remember being a cavernous church building. I remember an “old man” named Clarence who mowed the Amenia Church yard. We raked leaves every fall under the big maple tree in the yard. At the end of 4th grade, I climbed that maple tree every day all summer and read a love note that a cute schoolgirl handed me on the last day of class. I regularly hopped the fence in the side yard to go visit the Amenia Library. I remember the night the decrepit Amenia Theatre burned to the ground. I remember going to Dube’s Department Store before it closed down, and buying Batman cards in the drugstore on that same street. I remember a phone booth that took dimes sitting on the main Amenia intersection by the traffic light near a gas station. Across the street was the ESSO Station, which – big news – became EXXON! I walked next door from the Manse to the Amenia Grade School for 1st through 3rd grades, where Dick Miller was the Principal (he and his family lived in South Amenia and attended the Sunday School and Presbyterian Church). My father Robert Wanstall became Protestant Chaplain at the Wassaic State School in 1973 until he died of pancreatic cancer in 1979.
I left the area after graduating from Webutuck Central in 1978, and have not returned to the Harlem Valley since graduating from the Naval Academy in Annapolis in 1982. (Except briefly, for a Webutuck Multi-Class Reunion about 10 years ago at the Country Club.) I’ve lived in Tuscaloosa, Alabama since leaving Active Duty Navy in 1988. Tuscaloosa is where my wife and I raised our family and still live. Everyone attended the University of Alabama – Roll Tide!!
Dear Chris Wanstall,
I’m glad you enjoyed the Susan Nye Hutchison story. Some of her descendants have visited us, once in 2009 for the 250th celebration for the South Amenia Church and again a few years later to tell the family history at the South Amenia Church.
Thank you for sharing the wonderful memories about your childhood in Amenia. I am going to print your letter and add it to our historical society archives.
We would love to have you join the Amenia Historical Society, or at least keep in touch.
See website for contact information.
All the best,