Samuel Bissell is of Puritan stock; his ancestors among the founders of old Windsor on the Connecticut. In 1806, when he was nine years old, he came with his father into the wilderness of Portage county, where he helped to clear up the woods. He was educated at Yale, took charge of a then feeble Congregational Society at Twinsburg and taught school. The church grew under his ministrations, and after a lapse of fourteen years he gave up his pastorate and devoted all his time to the "Twinsburg Institute." He has devoted himself to the institute for over fifty-two years,during which time more than 6,000 students of both sexes have been under his instruction. The details of his work are here given from the history issued in 1881.
It was in 1828 that he came to Twinsburg, when the Society erected a block-house for his family, and he took for his school a rude log-house twenty by thirty feet. It had for windows three small opening in the logs, each with rude sashes and four small panes of glass. The furniture consisted of rude seats and desks hastily constructed. The dismal room had a broad fire-place, with chimney built of stones and clay. He thus began his work of philanthropy. The school was opened free of any charge to all young people desirous to attend, except from those disposed to pay, in which case the tuition for the term was to be two dollars. From the first, it was a success. Three years later a combined church and school-house was erected. In 1843 a large two-storied frame building was secured, and in the lapse of five years two others. The reputation of the Twinsburg Institute was now so extended that he had about 300 pupils of both sexes largely from abroad. Seven teachers and assistants were under him, and the students wherever desired fitted for college. No charger was obtained and no public money given -the entire institution rested upon the shoulders of one man. the ordinary tuition charged was two dollars for the term, and when the classics were taught never more than four dollars.
More than six thousand students have been in attendance at the institute during its continuance, and out of these about two hundred have been Indians of the Seneca, Ottawa, Pottawatomie and Ojibway tribes. Ministers, statesmen, generals, lawyers, professors, physicians and artisans, in all portions of the country, trace the beginning of their education to the door of the Twinsburg Institute. A good library was secured, and literary and other societies were instituted.
The benevolence of Mr. Bissell was such that he not only greatly lowered the tuition, but even educated hundreds at his own expense who were unable to pay their own way. He was accustomed to give such students a few light chores to do, and these, trifling duties were so divided and subdivided that the work was more in name than in reality. It is related that on one occasion Mr. Bissell having gone to extremes in this respect, some of the students thus detailed grumbled about having more to do than others. Considerable ill-will was thus incited. One morning Mr. Bissell arose at his usual hour, five o'clock and, beginning with these chores, completed the entire round before the time for opening the school. Not a word was said; but the act spoke in volumes to the fault-finding students, who, after that, vexed the ear of the principal with no more grumblings.
Among the Indian youth was George Wilson, a Seneca, about whom a great deal has been said. He became a fine scholar -superior in many important respects to any other ever in the institute. His presence was fine and imposing, and he displayed rare gifts in logical force and fervid eloquence. Mr. Bissell says that the quality of his eloquence, the unusual power of his intellect and the force of his delivery, resembled in a marked manner those of Daniel Webster. He afterward became chief of his tribe, and was sent to represent their interests to the New York Legislature and to the New York Historical Society, receiving from the latter several thousand dollars for his people, who were in a starving condition in the West.
Another one, named Jackson Blackbird, or "Mack-a-de-bennessi," was an Ottawa, and a direct descendant of Pontiac. He excelled in composition,and composed a comedy, three hours in length, that was presented by the societies of the institute publicly to large audiences with great success.Mr. Bissell became know throughout the Reserve for his philanthropy in the cause of Indian education. Some two hundred were educated at the institute, from whom no compensation worth mentioning was ever received. all their expenses were paid-including board, tuition, room, fuel, light, washing, books and stationery, and some clothing -at the fair estimate of $200 each a year. This expense, borne by no one except the Principal, estimated at these figures, has amounted during the history of the institute to over $40,000. Almost as much has been expended on indigent white youth; and when the cost of erecting the various buildings is added to this, the total amount foots up to the enormous sum of over $80,000; all of which has been borne by Mr. Bissell. To offset this not more than $12,000 have been received from all sources.
When the rebellion ensued the institute received an almost ruinous blow. Several of the buildings were sold to pay its debts. From the materials of the wreck he saved a few hundred dollars, obtained a loan of $1,500 and erected the present stone building, largely doing the manual labor himself, he then a man of seventy years. Without any previous experience he put on the roof, made the doors, window frames,etc. The entire cost was about $8,000. "Not only," says the 'County History,' "was the undertaking gigantic, but its wisdom may be doubted. The institute is likely to fail altogether when the Principal's hand is removed by death from the helm.
"Mr. Bissell is now almost penniless, and is compelled to teach for a living at the age of more than eighty years. Considering the invaluable service he has rendered the village and township in the past; how scores of people now living there have been the recipients of his generous bounty; how patient self-denial and faith in God have been the watchwords of this venerable old man; it is unquestionably due from the citizens to provide him with a least the necessaries of life.
Hiistorical Collections of Ohio By Henry Howe, LL.D.