The Central Asylum for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, Canajoharie, New York, 1823-1835

By Campbell, Colin D. | American Annals of the Deaf, December 1999 | Go to article overview

The Central Asylum for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, Canajoharie, New York, 1823-1835


Campbell, Colin D., American Annals of the Deaf


The Central Asylum for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, Canajoharie, NY, was a public school for the Deaf that existed from 1823 to 1835. little has been written about it. This study draws upon as much information as appears to be available on the history of this school. The history of the Centra Asylum adds to the understanding of the beginnings of public education for the Deaf in the United States.

The Central Asylum for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb in Canajoharie was founded by the State of New York in 1823; it was the second public school for the Deaf in the state. It was in existence only 13 years. The state legislature had founded the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, in New York City, 5 years earlier, and in 1836 it merged the Central Asylum with the New York Institution.

The principal sources of information about the Central Asylum are the correspondence of Oran W. Morris, the school's principal during its last 3 years and a teacher at the New York Institution after the merger; the archives of the Canajoharie Library and Art Gallery; and the Campbell family papers (1990) at the New York State Historical Association Library, Cooperstown, NY. One of the students at the Central Asylum was George W. Campbell, a son of James S. Campbell, of Cherry Valley, NY. George W. Campbell was my great-grandfather.

The beginning of public education of the Deaf was a major change in the lives of deaf people. Morris wrote that in 1817, when the New York Institution for the Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb obtained its charter, the idea of educating the Deaf was "a thing, at that time, hardly thought of in this country" (Morris, 1856, p. 4). The objective of the present study is to illustrate this important social reform, using details about the Central Asylum in Canajoharie. The history of the Central Asylum is in many respects similar to that of the other early schools for the Deaf described in Educating the Deaf: Psychology, Principles, and Practices (Moores, 1996).

The Founders

The act incorporating the Central Asylum stated that a petition to found the school had been presented to the state legislature by "certain inhabitants" of Montgomery, Otsego, and Schoharie Counties (An Act, 1823). The trustees of the Central Asylum appointed in the act of incorporation were among the most prominent men in these counties, and most of them were active in politics. Four of them-William Beekman, of Sharon, William 1. Dodge, of Johnstown, Michael Hoffman, of Herkimer, and Oliver Judd, of Cherry Valley-served either as senators or members of the Assembly of the State of New York (Werner, 1883). Five of them were county judges-James 0. Morse and James S. Campbell, of Cherry Valley, the aforementioned Beekman and Hoffman, and Phineas Randall, of Canajoharie. Another trustee, Noah Dodge, was justice of the peace in Canajoharie. Henry Hamilton, of Schoharie, and George Feeter, of Little Falls, were district attorneys. John Smith was pastor of the Presbyterian church in Cooperstown. Robert Bowman, of Canajoharie, was a lieutenant colonel in the Montgomery Country Militia

The most noteworthy of the founders of the Central Asylum was the president of the Board of Trustees, James 0. Morse. He had migrated to Cherry Valley from New England after the Revolution and became a wealthy lawyer. At that time, Cherry Valley was an important center of activity for the turnpikes crossing the state of New York, and a thriving community. In his History of Cherry Valley from 1740 to 1898, John Sawyer wrote that Morse "through his pen exerted a wide influence on the politics of the state" (p. 93). Morse was one of the principal spokespersons for the reform movement of that time. He supported not only the education of the Deaf but the education of women, as well as the emerging Protestant missionary movement (Campbell, 1844).

Morse's interest in social reform is mentioned by George W. …

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