As a youngster Sam Armstrong exulted in the outdoor life that the Hawaiian Islands provided. A serious student first at the Punahou School and then at its collegiate branch, Oahu College, he was also a prankster who secretly lowered the flag of the American Consulate in tribute to the death of a family pet and hanged his sisters' dolls to thwart their "i-doll-try."
Armstrong's most important model in shaping his own life was his father, who had become a government servant as well as minister of the largest native church in Honolulu by the time Armstrong was an adolescent. Richard Armstrong was a member of the king's Privy Council, minister of education and, ultimately, superintendent of public instruction. In the schools that the senior Armstrong created for the people of Hawaii, he inculcated the principle of manual labor whereby students helped support the cost of their education and acquired useful skills by farming or practicing crafts such as blacksmithing, carpentry, and barrel making. For most of his teenage years Armstrong was his father's secretary, and the experience influenced his own approach to education.
Richard Armstrong was killed in a horseback-riding accident in 1860. His bereaved son followed his father's last wishes and journeyed to the United States for the first time to attend Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts. There he completed his last two years of college education. He was housed and given special training by the college president, Mark Hopkins, who became another important influence in Armstrong's life and career. Under Hopkins's tutelage he refined his concept of practical or useful education, which played down the academic benchmarks of a classical education in favor of teaching students how to make a living and be good Christians.
Hampton Institute emphasized practical knowledge. Students took courses in English, arithmetic, basic science, geography, and history, including what was then known of African history. In addition, all students were required to work in the school shops or on the school farm. Many critics have charged that Armstrong's program mirrored and even reinforced convictions that blacks were suited only for manual labor. Whereas some of this criticism of Hampton is justified, especially in Armstrong's last years and after his death, his initial design was strictly practical. Hampton had no endowment, and most of its early students were impoverished. Manual labor in the school's fields and shops subsidized their education. Furthermore, most graduates expected to go into teaching, and because most southern schools for blacks remained open for fewer than six months a year, teachers needed supplemental skills to support themselves and their families.
In 1878 Armstrong initiated a program for Native American students at Hampton. Many of the Indian students distinguished themselves, but with that program the nature of the school began to change. As the institute grew, so did its need for donors. Armstrong increasingly gave up supervision of day-to-day operations in order to raise funds to keep the school going. By the 1880s he was much celebrated among northern philanthropists. In 1887 his alma mater, Williams College, and in 1889 Harvard University each honored him with an LLD.
Armstrong married his first wife, Emma Dean Walker, of Stockbridge, on October 13, 1869. She died on November 10, 1878, after many long illnesses. Their two daughters, Louise H. Armstrong and Edith E. Armstrong, both taught briefly at Hampton Institute as adults, and the former married William Scoville, who served as secretary of Hampton's administrative board from 1918 to 1935 and as an institute trustee from 1941 until his death in 1943.
January 30, 1839 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong is born on the island of Maui in the kingdom of Hawaii, where his parents are missionaries.
1860 - Richard Armstrong, a Presbyterian minister and a secretary in the government of the kingdom of Hawaii, is killed in a horseback-riding accident.
April 1864 - By this date Samuel Chapman Armstrong is a lieutenant colonel in command of the 9th U.S. Colored Troops Regiment, stationed in South Carolina.
October 11, 1864 - By this date Samuel Chapman Armstrong is colonel of the 8th U.S. Colored Troops Regiment, part of the Union army's Twenty-Fifth Corps.
April 3, 1865 - Union troops occupy Petersburg.
1866–1868 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong serves as assistant subcommissioner of the Freedmen's Bureau for the district covering the lower peninsula between the James and York rivers as well as Surry and Isle of Wight counties and portions of the Eastern Shore.
April 1868 - The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute, a coeducational school for African Americans, is founded in Hampton.
October 13, 1869 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong marries Emma Dean Walker, of Stockbridge. They will have two daughters.
1878 - The Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute accepts Native American students, most of whom come not from Virginia but from the western United States and territories.
November 10, 1878 - Emma Dean Walker Armstrong, wife of Samuel Chapman Armstrong, dies after many long illnesses.
1887 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong receives an LLD degree from his alma mater, Williams College.
1889 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong receives an LLD degree from Harvard University.
September 10, 1890 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong marries Mary Alice Ford in Montpelier, Vermont. They will have two children.
1891 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong suffers a stroke but survives.
May 11, 1893 - Samuel Chapman Armstrong dies of a stroke. He is buried in the student cemetery on the campus of the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute.
Cite This Entry
- APA Citation:
Engs, R. F., & the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839–1893). (2014, August 10). In Encyclopedia Virginia. Retrieved from http://www.EncyclopediaVirginia.org/Armstrong_Samuel_Chapman_1839-1893.
- MLA Citation:
Engs, Robert Francis and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography. "Samuel Chapman Armstrong (1839–1893)." Encyclopedia Virginia. Virginia Foundation for the Humanities, 10 Aug. 2014. Web. READ_DATE.
First published: April 14, 2014 | Last modified: August 10, 2014
Contributed by Robert Francis Engs and the Dictionary of Virginia Biography.