One of the very important literary persons in the history of Knox County was Philander Chase, first president of Kenyon College. Chase was born in 1775 in New Hampshire, the son of Dudley and Alice (Corbett) Chase. Dudley was a farmer and a deacon in the Congregational Church. Philander early decided he wanted to be a farmer but yielded to his father’s wishes and enrolled in Dartmouth College in 1791, graduating in 1795. During his college days he joined the Episcopal Church and declared his intention to enter the ministry. In 1796 he married Mary Fay. He was ordained as a deacon in 1798 and as a priest in 1799.
Chase began immediately to engage in a whirlwind of ministry activity, a lifelong compulsion of preaching, organizing, raising money, and governing. He was captivated by the western frontier. The year 1817 found him in Ohio. Coyle (Ohio Authors) remarked that he “thrived on wilderness hardships.” At that time he was living in Worthington, farming for a living, while he rode horseback to visit the parishes he had established. He was also serving as principal of Worthington Academy.
There are many biographical accounts of Chase’s activities. In 1818 his wife Mary died. Shortly after this devastating loss he was appointed bishop of the new Diocese of Ohio. Bishop Chase continued to pursue his goal of establishing a college for the training of ministers, traveling to England in 1823 to raise money in support of this venture. The next year he was able to start a preparatory school and seminary in Worthington. In 1826 he discovered, with the assistance of Henry Curtis, his “hill in the wilderness” in Knox County. This was the beginning of Kenyon College and the village of Gambier, both names honoring his English benefactors, Lord Kenyon and Lord Gambier. Philander Chase was thus the founder and first president of Kenyon College since its beginning as a seminary in 1824.
Various biographers have had much to say about Philander Chase as a person. He was “patriarchal” and “domineering,” but withal a “gentleman.” Smythe, in his history of Kenyon, quotes one of Chase’s fellow bishops: “It was given him to lead, and he was impatient when men were slow to follow.” (Bishop George Burgess). He was a great man who left a great and lasting legacy.
In 1831 Chase retired as president of Kenyon College and moved to a farm in Michigan. But his work was not finished. He served as bishop of Illinois and in 1843 became presiding bishop of the Protestant Episcopal Church. Bishop Chase died in 1852.
Bishop Philander Chase was an extensive writer. However, most of his writings were articles, directives, letters, and observations. They were often in the form of pamphlets. He made many responses to controversies. Some of these miscellaneous writings have been, and are still being, collected and published.
A Plea for the West (1826)
Star in the West, or Kenyon College (1829)
Defense of Kenyon College (1831)
A Plea for Jubilee (1835)
Reminiscences of Bishop Chase (first pub. in 7 issues, 1841-1844; in 2 vols., 1848)