Skip to main content

History and education in those Highland County hills of yore, Part 13 

The Highland County Press - Staff Photo - Create Article

By Steve Roush
HCP columnist

Ladies and gentlemen, in our last offering we talked about how the Rev. Joseph McDowell Mathews, a pioneer of education in Highland County in the 1800s, had three wives and four children during his lifetime. 

Sadly, his first two children passed away as infants in 1829 and 1830 when the good Reverend was in his 20s. His first two wives also passed away in the 1850s, Elizabeth A. Barry Mathews in 1852 at the age of 41 or 42 and Martha Swing Sanders Mathews in 1858 at the age of 31 or 32. The Rev. Mathews and Martha had been married for just more than three years when she died and they had two children during their marriage, Joseph Jr. in 1855 and Sallie in 1856. 

The Rev. Mathews then married Mary B. Harman on Christmas Day in 1859, less than a year before he resigned his position as president of the Hillsborough Female College because the institution’s financial hardships were causing financial hardships for Mathews and his family, so he packed up and moved to Kentucky. He took charge of Jessamine Female College in Nicholasville, Ky. in late 1860, and it was written that, “He opened his school in Kentucky with fine prospects of success, but the war threw everything into such confusion that in 1863 he returned to Hillsboro and opened a private boarding school.” 

Of course, the “war” was the Civil War. 

While the Rev. Mathews had three wives and four children during his lifetime, one thing he would never have is grandchildren. His son, Joseph McDowell Mathews Jr., graduated from Hillsboro High School and was attending Oberlin College in 1874 when tragedy stuck. 

In the local newspaper on Nov. 26, 1874 it was reported that, “On Friday evening last, Rev. J. McD. Mathews received a dispatch from the President of Oberlin College, stating that his son Joseph, who has been at the school there since the beginning of fall term, was dangerously sick. On Saturday morning, Mr. Augustus Harmon, Mr. Mathews’ stepson, started for Oberlin, but soon after his departure another dispatch came, announcing the sad tidings of the death of young Mathews, which occurred about 4 o’clock Saturday morning. His disease was inflammation of the bowels, with which he was attacked on Tuesday night previous. 

“His remains reached here on Monday, and this afternoon (Tuesday) were followed to the Cemetery by a long train of sorrowing and sympathizing relatives and friends. 

“The deceased was only a little over 19 years of age, and was a youth of most amiable character, and of more than ordinary intellectual promise. He had graduated from the High School last year, and had just entered college with the view of completing his education. To his aged father, who is in very feeble heath, this sudden and unlooked for loss of an only and loved son, must be an almost crushing blow, and he has the heartfelt sympathy of our whole community, as has also his daughter, who is thus suddenly bereft of an only and beloved brother.” 

We’ll move on to the life and times of young Joseph McDowell Mathews Jr.’s sister, Sarah E. “Sallie” Mathews, but let’s pause for now, and we’ll continue next time.

Steve Roush is chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a board member of the Highland District Hospital Foundation, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

Add new comment

This is not for publication.
This is not for publication.

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.
  • Web page addresses and email addresses turn into links automatically.
Article comments are not posted immediately to the Web site. Each submission must be approved by the Web site editor, who may edit content for appropriateness. There may be a delay of 24-48 hours for any submission while the web site editor reviews and approves it. Note: All information on this form is required. Your telephone number and email address is for our use only, and will not be attached to your comment.