Joshua Lawrence Chamberlan: The Bowdoin College Site


From Joshua L. Chamberlain
to “My Dear Pastor,” Bowdoin College, May 5, 1848.

Chamberlain entered Bowdoin College in 1848. A religious young man, Chamberlain encountered some “frightening” new experiences at Bowdoin, from drinking alcohol to skipping classes. This letter addressed to “My Dear Pastor” is likely to Benjamin Galen Snow, a 1846 graduate of Bowdoin and student at the Bangor Theological Seminary who acted as a mentor to Chamberlain.[1] As this letter demonstrates, Chamberlain stayed just as pious at school, opting to focus on his studies and devotion to God. Attending to his religious duties and helping bring his classmates to “piousness” were of great importance to Chamberlain. In fact, he saw the college education as preparation to attend Bangor Theological Seminary after graduating, so that he could train for the ministry.

Bowdoin College May 5th, 1848

My Dear Pastor

    I am keeping myself so busy that I hardly know how to find time to write ever to those most dear to me. I cannot be otherwise than deeply grateful for the kindness which you have shown me at so many times and in so many ways and for the deep interest which you take in my welfare. And I should indeed be heedless and ungrateful if I neglected to let you hear from me. I wished very much to see you before I left, for I needed your advice and instruction, but in this I was disappointed. The loss of that opportunity, however, was greatly repaired by the reception of a letter from you, which came when most needed.

    I received a letter from Saml. Gardner a few days ago since, and was rejoiced to hear the good tidings which he communicated. It came upon me suddenly and I could not but feel that my faith has not been strong enough, and although such a blessing has been a subject of earnest prayer for years, I have not had sufficient faith to believe it would really take place very soon at least. Still I think I may safely say that since I have been here and especially for a month past I have had peculiar emotions in regard to our own Sabbath School. It seemed to me after I read your letter that the Lord would pour out his spirit, among us. Still the intelligence was

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sudden, and gave me reason to examine myself. A feeling of my own unworthiness and defect strongly impressed me. – What reason have me to bless God for this token that he has not utterly forsaken us. I earnestly pray that the work may go on till none be left.

    It seems, from what I hear that the work is entirely the Lord’s – that there were no particular circumstances that first arrested attention. I did not hear of all who are indulging hope. I should be glad to hear of particular cases. – We have also had a refreshing from the Lord. Four have indulged hope this term. There is still interest. We have had no Class meetings yet. The chief difficulty is in a room. No pious classmate has a room in which it would be convenient to meet. At the beginning of the term there were only two pious persons in the class, there are six now. We shall probably hold our class meetings in the room of one who has lately indulged hope . – I will say a word about my other matters.

    I have met with nothing but the most gentlemanly treatment – could not wish for better. It was necessary for me to take a decided stand at the very commencement and resist the first temptation, nor do I regret having taken much a course. I really think I never have been so faithful to myself + my duty as since I have been at Coll. It seems to me that engaging in Gods service is a delightful employment and that my resolution to serve him is strengthening every day.

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    There have been many trials to undergo, but they brighten the Christian’s hope, and temptations resisted strengthen his faith. – My classmates seem to understand me now. If there is to be a class cut a training or spree. “O! No! Chamberlain wont go into it.” They seem to understand my duty pretty well. I have forward myself sometimes alone but all came out right. –

    I am not without strong and true friends here and I feel well contented though I shall not regret the hour that sees me leaving for home. My health has not been very good but I am thankful that I have able to keep on with my studies. I am not obliged to study as hard as I did at home and the labor I there accomplished seems now almost impossible. I feel happy in having the sympathy of so many friends and the careful solicitation of parents who have been to me all that parents could be. – I do not attempt to read much – my Bible, Greek Fest, + Upham’s Interior Life are almost my only reading.

    You will perceive the hasty manner in which I have written but I am writing to one who will excuse this for I have written in the midst of noise and interruption. I shall probably see you in two or three weeks. Have had but one letter from home since I have been here My regard to Mr Thurston + family + all other friends

          Yours aff. J. Lawrence Chamberlain

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Pardon the too frequent use of the Ego but I have written freely as to an intimate friend.


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Citation: George J. Mitchell Department of Special Collections & Archives, Bowdoin College, Joshua L. Chamberlain Collection, M27.

Index Terms: Bowdoin College; Religion; Sabbath School; Student Life; Gardiner, Samuel; Mr. Thurston; Bible

[1] Diane Monroe Smith, Fanny & Joshua: The Enigmatic Lives of Frances Caroline Adams and Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (Gettysburg: Thomas Publications, 1999), 14.

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