The Wylie Family and Religion

February 27, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

Based on the family correspondences, it is fair to say religion was the center of life for the Wylie family. Because Andrew Wylie was a Presbyterian minister, this makes sense. It is also quite possible the Wylie’s were much more religious than the ordinary citizen because of this. Almost all of the letters mention God in one way or another. In one letter, Andrew Wylie wrote to Margaret Wylie on May 25th, 1829,

“I have felt more sensibly than ever since I left you the importance of living near to God & drawing all our comforts hopes & consolations from his mercy in Christ Jesus as promised in the gospel to the penitent & believing. May we feel our need of Christ more & more & live by faith upon him. We have much reason to bless God for all his goodness to us & to our family. There is one thing that we ought to desire for them above all earthly good, that they may become the subjects of divine grace & the King of Eternal life. Give my love to them all, & believe me to be in the bonds of the tenderest & sincerest affection your loving husband.”

Letter Andrew Wylie wrote to Margaret Wylie on May 25th, 1829.

This quote speaks volumes about Andrew Wylie’s strong devotion to God.

For the Wylie family and other nineteenth century Americans, religious faith was a crucial source of comfort. However, it is clear that as the years went on, even Andrew Wylie himself did not completely assuage his grief following the passing of his sons. Andrew Wylie was a man of many talents. He was a minister, professor, president, father, and a laborer. He was an amazing individual who somehow managed all of these roles. But it is clear he faced grief and had problems coping with it just like anyone else.  After Samuel’s death, Andrew writes in a letter to John H. Wylie on January 4th, 1851, “I have begun feel the weight of the years. I eat not with the relish I once enjoyed.” Even through all of this, Andrew Wylie does not forget to remain humble and thankful for all he does have as he says,

“I look back over the varied scenes of a life of toil and care; & can see in the way in which God has led me “these forty”—more than that—“years in the wilderness” much, very very much, for which I ought to be thankful; and also humble.”

In the above passage, Andrew Wylie references Deuteronomy 8:2 which says, “And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.” Andrew Wylie views his troubles and tribulations as a test from God, and his triumph represents his faith and loyalty to God.

The early nineteenth century was a time of much uncertainty. Concepts like vaccination and pasteurization were either still developing or brand new. Many people died at young ages of various diseases like measles, scarlet fever, and consumption (tuberculosis). Infant and child mortality rates were high, and outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, and other fevers were very common. Four of Andrew Wylie’s twelve children died at fairly young ages, and one of them, John Hosea, died of consumption.

All in all, the nineteenth century was a dangerous era to live in. Andrew Wylie’s ninth daughter, Irene Catherine died in 1878 after falling out of a carriage at the age of 49. It is obvious why, in this era, people constantly looked to God for comfort.


[Letters], Wylie Family Correspondences, Collection C203, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Technology and Gossip in the 19th Century

February 25, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

Letter Andrew Wylie wrote to Samuel T. Wylie. Bloomington, IN, February 21st, 1847. Courtesy, Indiana University Archives Collection C203

These days, it is so easy to find out information. You may even find something you are not looking for! With internet accessibility and everyone posting readily on every social media outlet that is available, it’s simple. The internet is still relatively new, from its birth in the early 1990’s. Before this, people used much slower methods to obtain information, such as paging, telephoning, and letter writing. Going back even farther to the 19th century, the only form of communication that existed was letter writing. The railroad did not arrive to Bloomington until 1853, and so horse and buggy was the method of transportation used to deliver letters.

It can be assumed that gossip was a common theme of the 19th century, as the Wylie family correspondence contained a lot of it. The Wylie gossip varied greatly; from talk about townspeople to talk about other members of the family. Even in the 19th century, daughters were rebelling against their fathers. In one correspondence dated February 21, 1847, Andrew Wylie says, “Irene learns well: but has gone to balls: a thing of which I do not approve.” Irene was the 9th child of Andrew Wylie, and would have been 18 when Andrew wrote that letter to Samuel Theophylact Wylie.

A faster form of communication came about when the Morse telegraph connected Baltimore to Washington, D.C., in 1844. Now, there was a way for people to get in contact with each other quickly when there were emergencies. Telegraphic speech is simple; consisting of only about 3 or more word sentences. It would not have been practical to send long-winded, elaborate messages like the ones seen in the family letters. The telegraph was quickly outshined and became obsolete, however, by other forms of communication like the telephone.

The telephone was not invented until 1876, 25 years after Andrew Wylie had already passed, and so gossiping in the early-mid 19th century was done through letter writing. Gossip may have been a few weeks or even months old (if it got lost on the way) by the time the news got to the recipient. It is hard to imagine receiving news in such a delayed fashion when this day in age, we are constantly being overloaded with new information every few seconds. Often times, letters would be sent, only for the sender to wonder if the recipient still resides in the same dwelling. In those cases, the letter may never reach the recipient, and the news would be lost forever. In one such instance, Margaret Wylie Martin writes in the first sentence to her sister Elizabeth Wylie McCalla, “enclosed I send a letter to bro. Anderson for you to direct as I do not know whether he is still living at Le Roy N.Y. or not.”

Various family members do their fair share of gossiping, from Andrew Wylie to John H. and Elizabeth Wylie. It is refreshing to note that John H. Wylie would not allow himself to gossip about the dead. He wrote to his sister Elizabeth on April 28, 1851; “Poor Sam, when I write of him or speak of him my tears flow—in reading the other day a book entitled “The Reveries of a Bachelor” I met with the following which reads off my own heart so perfectly…’there are some that talk at table and in their gossip, of dead friends; I wonder how they do it; For myself when the grave has closed its gates on the facts of those I love—however busy my mournful thought may be, my tongue is silent. I cannot name their names: it shocks me to hear them named. It seems like tearing open half-healed wounds and disturbing with harsh worldly noise, the sweet sleep of death.’”

References Staff. 2009. Morse Code & the Telegraph. A+E Networks. Retrieved from Accessed on 23 February 2017.

[Letters], Wylie Family Correspondences, Collection C203, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Wylie Family Tree

February 20, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

In order to truly relive the 19th century and understand the Wylie family, we must first understand the Wylie family tree. The family was quite large, with Margaret birthing a total of 12 children in a span of 22 years. William, Craig Ritchie, John Hosea, Samuel Theophylact and Jane Melheme all died at fairly young ages: 19, 21, 32, 25 and 29, respectively. John suffered from TB most of his life, and eventually succumbed to the disease in 1855.


[Letters], Wylie Family Correspondences, Collection C203, Indiana University Archives, Bloomington.

Artifact Spotlight: Toothbrush

February 8, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

Bone Toothbrush. Courtesy, Wylie House Museum Flickr page, Indiana University, Bloomington, IN

Sherry Wise, outdoor interpreter at the Wylie House, spent years of her own time researching artifacts she uncovered during the construction of the Education Center in 2009. The construction of this Center led to the reveal of hundreds of hidden artifacts, but unfortunately many were broken in the process.  Sherry recovered some of the artifacts and stored them away. The basement of the Center is filled with boxes and boxes of broken pieces of dishes, teapots, bones, children’s toys; you name it.  The Glenn A. Black Laboratory of Archaeology and the Wylie House are working diligently to ensure any possible archaeological discoveries are not disturbed with construction in the future.

One of the many things that was found was a toothbrush. Although a toothbrush was one of the many original items donated by descendants’ of the Wylie family, it just reiterated the importance of hygiene in the Wylie house. The idea of the toothbrush has been around since 3000 BCE, when Egyptians brushed their teeth with twigs. However, the more modern toothbrush was invented in 1780 by William Addis in England. The handle was carved from cattle bone and the brush portion was made from swine bristles. The toothbrush pictured above is also made of swine bristles. It is evident that the Wylies made it a point to maintain their hygiene, especially as a toothbrush can be found in almost all of the bedrooms of the Wylie House, along with a basin and wash-cloths.  In fact, when it came to hygiene in general, the Wylies were way ahead of their time. When planning the layout of their home, the Wylies made their sickroom in the corner of the upstairs. Most houses during that time made their sickroom adjacent to the kitchen, which increased the likelihood of infecting others, as people constantly travel in and out of the kitchen.


[Manual], [Wylie House Museum Docent Manual], Reference Files, Indiana University Archives, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Biography of Andrew Wylie

January 28, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

Andrew Wylie was born in 1789 and was the son of an immigrant Irish farmer. He grew up in Washington County, Pennsylvania, where he was a licensed Presbyterian minister. In 1812, he was unanimously elected the president of Jefferson College. In 1813, Andrew Wylie married Margaret Ritchie, and together they had 12 children. Only 10 of the 12 lived in the Bloomington home. In 1828, Wylie was invited by the trustees of Indiana College to be its first president. This would be the beginning of a 21-year term as President. Andrew Wylie remains IU’s third longest serving president, and its longest non-Hoosier chief administrator.

Imagine this: Bloomington with no cars, a few brick houses and tiny farms everywhere. Two hundred years ago, this is exactly what Bloomington looked like. When Andrew Wylie arrived in Bloomington with Margaret and 9 of his children, the population of Bloomington was a mere 1000 people. Andrew Wylie, to the dismay of his wife, was a frontier settler.

By the 1840s, the population had increased to a few thousand. To think, the first class at Indiana University (then Indiana College) had 10 individuals. Today, there are roughly 38,000 undergraduates enrolled at Indiana University. Indiana University has truly come a long way.

Not only was Andrew Wylie the college administrator, but he also taught 3 classes: moral and mental philosophy, political economy, and literature. He also stayed highly involved with his church as a Presbyterian minister. Andrew Wylie was one busy man! Under his guidance, the student body increased, the curriculum was expanded and the college became a University in 1838. In 1835, Andrew Wylie built the house now named in his honor, Wylie House, located at 317 E. Second Street. The architectural style of the house reflects Wylie’s Pennsylvania origins. It is believed he did this to make his wife feel more at home. When Andrew Wylie built the beautiful “mansion on a hill,” Bloomington’s streetscape mainly consisted of log cabins and a few brick houses. Wylie’s house definitely stood out in the community. As the weeks go on, I will be travelling back in time to 19th century Bloomington and telling the story of the esteemed Wylie family and life on the frontier.

Recently, in 2009 (which actually isn’t so recent now that I think about it), during construction of the Morton C. Bradley Jr. Education Center next to the Wylie House, Sherry Wise, the outdoor interpreter of the Wylie House, found artifacts including teapots and bowls. These finds have the potential to give us a new perspective and insight into the lives of the Wylie family. With the help of the Glenn A. Black Lab and the Wylie House, I will be analyzing these artifacts along with compiling historical information about the Wylie’s daily lives for my bicentennial project. The Glenn A. Black Lab will be writing a proposal to begin a more in depth project on the property. As Robert Mazrim said, “Archaeological excavations…help to better define a place and a time…archaeology has a peculiar ability to enhance and also challenge the written word, to uncover the aspects of daily life long since passed.” This is the exact goal of the Bicentennial Project; to bring to light the rich history of our amazing university.



Mazrim, Robert. The Sangamo Frontier: History & Archaeology in the Shadow of Lincoln. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 2007. Print.

[Museum Brochure], [The President’s Homes Indiana University: Wylie House Museum], Reference Files, Indiana University Archives, Indiana University, Bloomington.

Introduction from the Bicentennial Intern

January 20, 2017

by Rachna Chaudhari, Bicentennial Intern, Spring 2017

Today is IU’s 197th birthday. In three years, it will be the bicentennial. This is very relevant to me, as a Bicentennial Intern. I will be posting on the Glenn A. Black Laboratory’s blog this semester documenting my journey on my bicentennial project involving the Glenn A. Black Lab and Wylie House. Together, they are proposing an archaeological project at the Wylie House, led by the Glenn A. Black Lab. My job is to research relevant historical archaeology pertaining to the 19th century. Shockingly, not as much information exists as there could be. Throughout the semester, I will hopefully find some interesting things I can share with you all, and I will be travelling to different places in Bloomington to aid my research. I will be doing spotlights on these potential partners of this bicentennial excavation!