The Whitehorne Family

Henry Whitehorne, 1880s
Union College Schaffer Library,
Special Collections Picture File
Henry Whitehorne and Family
(January 6, 1814 or 1815– September 29, 1901)
Professor of Greek Language and Literature, 1868-1901; Dean of the College, 1886-1904

Henry Whitehorne was born in Jamaica. His father, the owner of an indigo plantation, died shortly after his birth, and his mother eventually brought the children to England for their education. Whitehorne matriculated at Wadham College, part of the University of Oxford, in 1833, and had a front row seat for the beginning of the religious upheavals known the Oxford Movement. Though he left the college four years later, it seems that he did not receive a degree.

After Oxford, Whitehorne moved to Canada and cleared land for a few years, then returned to the United States to become a teacher at preparatory schools in New York, Mississippi, and Tennessee.  In 1857, he accepted a position as Professor of Greek and as librarian at the University of Mississippi, but by October of 1861, with the outbreak of the Civil War, the school had practically no students and was shut down. Whitehorne, whose Northern sympathies clashed with the general attitude of the area, was forced to flee so abruptly that he was left without his large classics library and other possessions. Denied passage through the Confederate lines, he traveled to Richmond to appeal to Jefferson Davis, the president of the Confederacy, with whom he was personally acquainted. His petition was granted, possibly through his feigning some support for the South. That ordeal over, he returned to New York City and for the next few years supported his family by doing whatever he could, including serving as a war correspondent for a Russian newspaper.

In 1863, Whitehorne was offered the position of principal of classical department at the Union School in Schenectady, and in 1868, he became Professor of Greek at Union College. Although very exacting, “Old Whitey,” as he was affectionately known on campus, was highly respected by his students and fellow faculty members. “He was a holy terror to freshmen, gruff to the last degree, but this was only on the surface; his great, big, kindly heart could not be hidden for any length of time, and the boys’ fear soon gave way to love and veneration” (Union Alumni Monthly, September-October 1916). His kindness was also expressed in his occasionally lending money to impoverished students. Unfortunately, Whitehorne viewed writing as irksome and so no published works remain as testament to his knowledge. Union, however, showed her appreciation by awarding him an LLD in 1887.

In addition to his professorship, Whitehorne held several other positions at the College. In 1886, he was appointed Dean, having to supervise the buildings and grounds as well as deal with matters now assigned separately to the deans of students and of faculty.  During three separate periods before his resignation from that role in 1894, he was forced to take on the responsibility for running the College as a whole. He stepped down when Andrew V. V. Raymond, a former student of his, became President of the College. From 1891 until 1896, he also served as President of the New York Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa.

In 1845, Professor Whitehorne married Matilda Watts Cooper of New York City. She died in March of 1888. The couple had five children, and all three of their sons attended Union. From 1873 until 1901, Whitehorne and his family lived in a faculty apartment in South College adjacent to his classroom, and so they were near neighbors of the Perkins family. Unfortunately Mrs. Perkins’s letters did not catch him in his prime.  Her comments generally focus on Whitehorne’s advancing age and the difficulty the family had giving up their campus home after he died there on September 29, 1901.  He is buried in the College plot in Vale Cemetery.