Rensselaer President Eliphalet Nott

Eliphalet NottEliphalet Nott was born on June 25, 1773 and became a famed Presbyterian minister, inventor, and educational pioneer. Nott was the third president of Rensselaer and at the same time, president of Union College in Schenectady, New York.

Nott was to a great extent self-educated, having never received college training. He studied divinity and at the age of twenty-one was sent out as a domestic missionary to central New York state to offer evangelical views. In 1796 Nott married Sarah Maria Benedict of Plainfield. Soon after, while passing through Cherry Valley, he was asked to take charge of the Presbyterian Church. He accepted the offer to be pastor in addition to becoming a teacher in the Cherry Valley Academy. In 1798 he was invited to preach at the Presbyterian Church in Albany, N.Y. where he remained until 1804 when he became president of Union College. He served as Union’s president for 62 years.

In 1804 his wife Sarah died, and in 1807 Nott married Gertrude Peebles Tibbits of Troy. In 1829, while president of Union College, Nott was invited to be president of the Rensselaer Institute. He visited the school at least every third week and was compensated with one dollar per visit plus all graduation fees. Rensselaer became the first civilian school to graduate civil engineers in 1835. Union began offering a degree in civil engineering after Nott’s resignation from Rensselaer in 1845.

In 1841 his wife Gertrude died after a lengthy illness, and in that same year Nott married Urania E. Sheldon of Utica, N.Y. Nott died in Schenectady on January 25, 1866.

Excerpt from Nason, Henry B., ed. Biographical Record of the Officers and Graduates of the Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, 1824-1886. Troy, NY: William H. Young, 1887, pp. 29-30.