Lloyd Hunter is professor emeritus of history and American studies at Franklin College. While at Franklin, he founded and directed the American Studies Program and occupied the Roger D. Branigin Chair of History. His new IHS Press book, For Duty and Destiny: The Life and Civil War Diary of William Taylor Stott, Hoosier Soldier and Educator, explores the career of Stott, a native Hoosier and an 1861 graduate of Franklin College. Stott later became the president who took the college from virtual bankruptcy in 1872to its place as a leading liberal arts institution in Indiana by the turn of the century.
Hunter recently took some time to answer questions about his book.
Do you remember when you first became interested in telling William Stott's story?
My first awareness of William Taylor Stott occurred when I arrived on the Franklin College campus as a "rookie" assistant professor in the fall of 1978--thirty-three years ago! As I was moving into my office on the third floor of Old Main, I learned that the win I was in was 131 years old and that the center wing was called Stott Hall after the longest-term president of the college, William Taylor Stott.
Although my appointment was in the Philosophy and Religion Department, I was really an historian, with an M.A. in history and a Ph.D. in American studies. Right away, I wanted to find out about Franklin College's history and this man Stott. Over the years this led to a series of encounters with Stott in unforseen ways. In 1984, the college's sesquicentennial year, Professor of Music Sam Hicks and I were asked to write a musical drama based on the history of the school. We called it Jubilee III. I wrote the book, Sam composed original music, and the two of us collaborated on lyrics. All along the way, as I compiled the story, I ran into Stott throughout the entire nineteenth and early twentieth century chronicle of the college--a leading student, pioneering faculty member, and, of course, longtime president.
Then, in the 1990s, I joined the Johnson County living-history group, "Telling Our Story," and portrayed Dr. Stott. As Stott, I talked about being the president of Franklin and about having served in the Eighteenth Indiana Volunteer Infantry during the Civil War. I knew enought about Stott's wartime experience to share some of its highlights. But then, on an autumn day in 2001, John Erickson of the college's media relations department told me that he had a Civil War diary I might like to see. When I asked him whose it was, he said, "Dr. Stott's." Amazingly, he did not have to pick me up off the floor! The rest, as they say, is history. The Stott descendants threw their full support behind my efforts to prepare the diary for publication, and it was at that moment that I decided to tell the whole story of William Taylor Stott.
Was there anything about Stott that attracted you to his story?
In some respects, I have already answered that question, namely my interest in this man who played such a formative role in Franklin College's history for such a long time. But as I also discovered as I studied his wider influence, Stott played a prominent role in the growth of the Baptist Church and higher education in Indiana and the "West," as the Midwest was called in those days. Some of his endeavors even had national implications.
I also shared some personal characteristics with Stott that made his life particularly interesting to me. For one thing, like Stott, I am an ordained minister who served churches before shifting my ministry into higher education. I could identify with what I saw in Stott's teaching and administration as sort of pastoral presence. Stott was a Renaissance man with wide interests and teaching capabilities, and such has been my career.
There was a seriousness to Stott, but also a kind of playfulness to which I could groove. And, interestingly, in his last years Stott and his beloved Bel lived at 847 East Jefferson Street in Franklin, and there he died. I lived at 800 East Jefferson Street--many years later, of course--but I would sit on my front porch, look across the street at 847, and think fondly of Will Stott.
Were you surprised by anything you discovered about Stott?
Until I read the diary, I really did not get a full picture of Stott's personality. So his playfulness was a pleasant surprise, and the fact that he liked to play a few practical jokes. This may have been one of the reasons he tended to handle disciplinary matters with students with appropriate judiciousness, but at the same time a sense of understanding; in theological terms, he balanced law with grace.
I also did not know that Stott suffered the rest of his life from the illnesses he contracted during the war. While he was never injured during combat, despite being under heavy fire in multiple battles, the lingering effects of malaria, rheumatism, dysentery, and other ailments occasionally interfered with his work. There was also some pathos in his personal life that often saddened his later years.
How long did it take for you to write the book and what difficulties did you encounter, if any, during your research?
Basically, it took eight years, if you count from the time I heard about the diary. I began by reading the edited, typescript version that had been done by Stott's grandson in the 1940s, but I could not really begin until had the original handwritten manuscript by Stott himself, which the family gave to the Franklin College Library about a year later. My work, of course, was based on the original.
There was no way I could verify the diary information without visting the battlefields and other sites Stott mentioned. So in the fall of 2003 I received a sabbatical leave to travel to these places, supported by a travel grant from the college and funds from my Roger D. Branigin endowed chair. This allowed me to walk where Stott walked at Pea Ridge, Vicksburg, Cedar Creek, and other battle sites, and also to visit excellent research repositories along the way. It also gave me a chance to get stuck in the mud at Port Gibson, lock my keys in my car in pouring rain at Grand Gulf, and have my car hood and trunk lifted during a thorough search at the U.S. Army Military History Institute at Carlisle Barracks because Tom Ridge of Homeland Security would be there that day! Who said history research was dull? Of course, the biggest difficulty was the fact that teaching a full load at a small liberal arts college leaves little time for writing. So, actually, all my writing was done in retirement in Florida between 2005 and 2009.
How well is Stott remembered by Franklin College today?
Frankly, I'm probably the primary reason Stott is remembered at the college today--other than Stott Hall, that is. Even Stott Hall is recognized mostly as part of Old Main. No, Stott is largely ancient history. But I'm hoping that the book will help all of us connected with Franklin remember that, without William Taylor Stott, Franklin College would not be around today. It could well have ended in 1872.
Now, Stott would tell you that it was that handful of ardent believers in Johnson County that year who rallied around the dying school who made it all possible, but they had to find someone to take the helm, and that was Stott. He deserves to be remembered.
Are you working on another project?
Right now, I do not have another writing project in mind. I still have an interest in the Eighteenth and Seventieth Indiana Volunteers, but only because those two units happened to have Franklin College men in them, all of them classmates of Stott, by the way. But that is just an interest, not a writing plan.
I'm thorougly enjoying my retirement--on the links, in the pool, on the bicycle, with my wife and family. I'm also president of my homeowner's association board--a time consuming job I do not recommend, but one that has to be done. I still have a large library with many books I have not yet read. My goal is to read them and donate many to libraries, public and university. I also want to pursue my love of southern literature--Faulkner, Warren, Wolfe--and Russian literature--Dostoevsky and Tolstoy.