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MEMORIAL TO THE LATE REVEREND AMOS DOXSEE

1811-1881

Read by P.J. Hawkins before the South Side Teachers Association at Islip

(Newspaper clipping, undated, and from unnamed newspaper, in the possession of Gifford B. Doxsee)

John T. Doxsee and Betsy Doxsee, his wife, lived in the early part of the present century on the farm lately occupied by Henry Sands and now owned by John Sutto.  They had seven children, only two of whom, Benjamin and Leonard, are now living.  Amos, the subject of our sketch, was one of their children.  He was born seventy years ago last May, and worked on the farm with his father until his eighteenth year. Nothing is especially known of his boyhood, except that he must have been fully as mischievous at school as boys of our time, as there is a story, pretty well authenticated, that he was whipped by his teacher, Squire Brewster, so severely as to draw blood.

That is nothing strange for those days, however, when the rattan was so painfully common. The young farmer must have shown some ability beyond the common rank and file of young men, for in his eighteenth year, while carting cordwood, he was accosted by Jonathan Smith, who was at one time supervisor of this town, and owned what is now Alexander Place, in West Bayshore.  Mr. Smith induced him to quit the cordwood  business and teach school.  This was just fifty one years ago last April.

He taught just one and one half years in this school and then removed to Bluepoint on September 5, 1831, Just fifty years ago last fall.

He commenced teaching in Islip Village about one year afterward.  The school house where he taught was built in 1828, and was just opposite the house of Captain John C. Clock, and was on the line of the sidewalk.  It was only about twenty years previous that the very first school house ever known in Islip Village was put up on about the same site as the later one.  It was twelve feet square, and was made of rough pitch pine slabs.  It had a fireplace at one end and was furnished with saw bench seats and desks to match, nailed up against the wall on three sides of the school room.

This temple of learning was erected about 1808. There were then only or ten houses in the district.

The schoolhouse of 1828 cost $400,00 and was considered by many a very extravagant affair. It was only four or five years old when Mr. Doxsee commenced his long service within its walls. I give from the official record the names of all the parents of children of school age in the district at that time:


Eliphalet  Moubray,   Micah Wheeler, Jeremiah T. Smith, Moses  Benjamin, Charity Jarvis, Elisha Smith, Noah Smith, Israel Thurber, Atephen Abbott

John Ruland, Henry C. Smith ,Wm. Garret, Isaac Ruland, Nathaniel Barto, Jacob Smalling, Henry Clock, C.L.A. Betlenger, Wm. C. Brown, Elijah Smith

Ebenezer Hawkins, Henry Smith, Eliphalet Smith, Richard J. Scudder, Silas Whitman, Luther Vandermak, David Oaks, Steve Johnson, Joshua Brown

Luther Loper, Elizabeth Valintine, Nathaniel Brown, Issac Brown, Robert Wicks, Timothy Cornish, Archelaus Doxsee, Charles Strong

The teacher’s wages were about $165.00 per year, according to the record.

In the old school house above alluded to, Mr. Doxsee spent many busy years. He was engaged for sixteen consecutive years, and it is believed that his entire term of service in this district did not fall much short of a quarter of a century. He was instrumental in the erection of the present building in 1854, and taught five years afterward. In 1858 or 1859 he left Islip and taught at Penataquot, now Bay Shore, and in 1861, at the outbreak of the rebellion, he built the Nassau Institute, a large and handsome two story building, on his own premises. The school was large and outwardly prosperous, but after six years of unwearied labor the enterprise broke down for want of funds. He sold the institute building twelve years ago; it was converted into a dwelling, and stands now on the corner of Brentwood Ave. and Country Road. Since that time he worked at surveying and map making. His eyesight was much impaired in his later years, but his unconquerable activity of mind continued to the end.

A few weeks before he died he finished several large and valuable maps of Oakwood cemetery. That was his last work. He took a severe cold while attending a funeral, and after eight days  of suffering went home to rest. He died on the 28th day of last April, beloved by all his neighbors and sincerely mourned by that vast number of persons, in different parts of the world, who had been his pupils.

Everyone who knew him will readily acknowledge that he was one of the most remarkable men this county has ever produced. He did nothing as other people did. There are people who are eccentric from a love of notoriety, but the eccentricity of Amos Doxsee was as natural with him as the circulation of blood. His independent way of doing things was , however, tempered with the gentlest of dispositions. In his business affairs, and with all his contact with society, he was extremely careful to give no offense. He was never known to indulge in boisterous conversation or to speak evil of others. He seemed to be more willing to suffer wrong at the hands of others than to resent it. In his school at Islip, he was best known to us. His best work was probably done here, and is gratefully appreciated by hundreds of persons who attended his school.

It would be idle to say that he was a perfect teacher. His weak point was in discipline. He would become so absorbed in the subject taught as to be oblivious to all else. This was particularly the case while teaching advanced classes. He would often forget everything but the class before him and the subject at hand, while the small boys and girls in the other parts of the room would be in the wildest frolic. Suddenly he would discover that he had used up double time and that the school was in disorder. Then came the reaction. He would seize his long leather strap and go for the wicked boys over the tops of the desks like a destroying angel. There are no doubt many in this audience who remember that strap. The writer of this sketch certainly does. It seems difficult to believe that the man so gentle and mild mannered on most occasions should lose his temper quite so often in school, and become so suddenly so transformed into anything but an angel of light. However, these squalls were soon over, and the pupils respected him, notwithstanding the floggings they received, because they knew that he really tried faithfully to do his duty. 

It may as well be said here, in his defense, that Mr. Doxsee taught school at the time when horsewhip and ferule took the place of the assistant teacher. At that time one teacher must manage 75 or 100 children, comprising 10 or 12 grades in one room, and if there was any idleness or misbehavior, or lack of progress in the lessons, the unfailing remedy was a flogging. Nobody except the scholars objected to it. Trustees generally considered it as a mark of ability in the teacher to be handy with a horsewhip. And so what we would now be unwilling to submit to in a teacher was then considered to be in excellent taste. Mr. Doxsee’s school, as it was called, was noted all over the county.

He was no doubt the best informed man who ever taught school in Suffolk county. Without making any ostentatious pretensions, he was able toi give valuable information on any subject that might be mentioned. When he read a book, he seemed to retain all its contents in his memory. He was an expert also with the pen. His pupils took all three prizes at the county Association at Huntington. He never wearied in providing Apparatus to illustrate his work. If the trustees would not furnish whatever he wanted, he would go get it with his own money. He contrived to get whatever he could hear or think of. If it was not to be bought, he would make it. He constructed an electric machine to act by friction of a revolving cylinder. He accumulated a large stock of chemicals, and delighted in experimenting with them before the school. Wishing a telescope and not feeling able to buy one, he built one of sufficient power to distinguish men walking on a ship’s deck twelve miles distant. This famous telescope was highly appreciated by his pupils. He often invited them to his house to see the stars and moons of Jupiter. He invented what he called a cosmorama, which was the delight of the children. He made sundials and taught the pupils the difficult art of making them. Time would fail to speak of all the wonderful productions of this man’s brain. He had the first printing press first used in Islip

 the Islip Recorder. Not being satisfied with Daboll’s or Tracey’s arithmetic, he wrote one himself and had it published for use in the school and throughout the county. His home was a museum of curiosities, mostly contrived by himself, though some expensive things were purchased with the proceeds of his scant salary. Herein is another unfortunate feature of his life-like many other great geniuses-he was a poor financier. Had he been worth a million he would probably spent it all for science or charity, would have died poor. His devotion to his work was appreciated for he, it appears by the official records, was essentially thanked by the inhabitants at school meeting for the efficient manner in which he discharged his duties. No other teacher appears to have received this compliment in this district.

Amos Doxsee was a Christian man, converted at camp meeting at Roslyn the same year he commenced teaching. He consecrated all his talents to God’s service. At twenty nine years of age he became a local preacher in the M.E. Church. He always opened his school with prayer, and was respected by all as a most devout and sincere Christian. There are today hundreds of people who will remember his fervent prayers and Christian example as long as they live. He walked with God.

When he was taken sick last spring the writer of this paper called to see him. He put out his hand and smiled a welcome he could not speak. His pale face and short breath told the story of his approaching deliverance. My old teacher was dying; his long life of trial and sacrifice on earth was closing, but the beauty and glory of the land celestial was opening before him. His spirit passed away soon after, and I could not help but respond in my heart to the words he no doubt heard as he entered heaven: “Well done, thou good and faithful servant.”  

                                                                                                            P.J. Hawkins

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