MONMOUTH, Ill. — Born in Scotland and orphaned in Ireland, Edward Fortescue Reid became an itinerant sailor before making his way to America, where he fought bravely for the Union Army during the Civil War. While his colorful youth was the stuff of a Victorian adventure novel, his adult life was devoted to God, teaching and family.
When he died unexpectedly at the age of 53, the Rev. Dr. Ed F. Reid was a beloved professor of Latin and Hebrew at Monmouth College. An entire issue of the May 1889 student newspaper was dedicated to his memory, with tributes by colleagues, students and even the Monmouth City Council, for which he served as alderman.
Shortly after his birth on Christmas Day, 1836, Reid’s parents moved from Kinross, Scotland, to Belfast, Ireland, where his mother soon died. His father died when Reid was just 8, but left a provision in his will that young Ed should be well educated, so he was sent to a select school in England to be trained for the university. While there, he accompanied a group of students on a tour of the Continent, visiting France, Germany, Italy and Switzerland. Thus began a passion for travel that would change the trajectory of his life.
Tiring of the discipline of school, Reid ran away to Liverpool, where he was hired as a cabin boy by the captain of a merchant vessel bound for Calcutta. A scholarly man, the captain had a robust library on board, which sparked a love for learning in Reid that had evaded him at school. When the captain died, Reid signed on as a sailor with the East India Company, but without the friendship of the captain, the sea soon lost its romance. He returned to Ireland, where he studied at Queen’s College in between voyages.
At Queens, Reid carefully weighed the pros and cons of Christianity, a pursuit which he said left him “befogged, thoroughly unsettled in every way — without faith any faith — without hope — reckless.” He took again to travel and sailed with some Americans he had met in Belfast to New York. He wandered south, and then north to Boston, where he began working at a publishing house, but not for long.
Yearning to explore the West, Reid headed to Cincinnati, where he was robbed and left without funds. He was hired by a Kentucky farmer, then became a caretaker for a United Presbyterian Church near Hanover, Indiana. He was stricken by typhoid fever, which again left him penniless, but was determined to earn enough money to return to Ireland. Clearing a field for the church’s pastor, he severely cut his foot with an axe. The pastor took him into his home, where for the first time in his life he experienced the love of family. He lost his wandering urge and found religion.
About that time, the Civil War erupted and Reid, who had an intense sympathy with the North, enlisted as a private in the cavalry. He advanced to the rank of captain and saw action at a remarkable array of famous battles — Cedar Mountain, Rapidan, Second Bull Run, South Mountain, Antietam, Chancellorsville, Fredericksburg and Gettysburg, before illness caused him to become a recruiter at Indianapolis. He later took part in the battles of Franklin, Murfreesboro and Nashville, before being mustered out in 1865.
Reid’s immediate desire was to enter theological seminary, but he was offered the principalship of a high school in Hanover, then took charge of a classical school at Wooster, Ohio, before filling the Latin chair at Ohio Central College in Iberia. When the president of that college left 1870, Reid assumed the college’s presidency. The following year, he married a teacher in the college, Miss Matilda Clark. In 1874, he was called to the professorship at Monmouth.
Reid studied theology privately and in 1881 was licensed to preach, becoming pastor of Smith Creek Presbyterian Church, just west of Monmouth. The Reids had two daughters and built a fine Queen Anne-style house directly across from the college campus. Life at Monmouth must have agreed with Reid, for in 1886 he turned down the presidency of both Tarkio College in Missouri and Muskingum College in Ohio.
In 1888 Reid was elected to the Monmouth City Council and was active on several committees. He also was a member of the board of education and served as registrar of the college. In March 1889, he was preparing to travel to Xenia seminary to deliver a commencement address, when he was stricken by erysipelas of the face, a serious bacterial infection in the days before antibiotics. It affected his larynx and caused him to painfully strangle to death.
The editor of the student newspaper would write: “He was the first professor to be called away while in the active duties of the college and died as he had lived, with his armor girt about him and his face to the foe.”
The funeral was held in the college chapel, with pallbearers consisting of city aldermen and local church elders. The procession to Monmouth Cemetery included old soldiers, city officers and a long line of carriages. The students all marched in twos by classes.
Reid was survived by his wife and daughters Mattie, 16, and Louise, 3. Both daughters would graduate from Monmouth College. Mattie became a Latin professor and eventually was dean of women at the University of Arkansas, before returning to Monmouth, where late in life she served as housemother for McMichael Hall. Louise married John C. Campbell, a bookkeeper at the Second National Bank, who later owned a coal company. They had three children before his untimely death.
The Campbells continued to occupy the family home at 925 East Broadway, along with Louise’s mother, until her death in 1933. Louise’s career was spent as an elementary schoolteacher in Monmouth. She was active on the college’s alumni board and in the Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Association.