Cerro Gordo County Iowa
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1883 History of
Franklin and Cerro Gordo Counties, Iowa


In the fall of 1858 Rev. Thomas Tenney was elected superintendent of schools and served until Jan. 1, 1860. Rev. Thomas Tenney was born in Bradford, Mass., (now Groveland), in 1798. His parents soon after removed to Chester, N. H, where he was reared on a farm.

When eighteen years of age he became interested in spiritual matters. His mother, a true daughter of the Puritans, and one of the most prayerful women of that age, earnest in her teachings and consistent in her example, led him by her influence to commence his career as a Christian, with the resolution to devote his life to the glory of God. This became the watchword and aim of his life. He now began to feel the need of an education, which would then better fit him for his chosen life work. Through many hardships and much self denial he obtained an education, graduating at Dartmouth College as valedictorian of his class, as well as taking two other college honors. There were several members of his class who were afterward quite distinguished. He afterward assisted a younger brother through the same school and was always very considerate in helping, not only his kindred, but other young men of promise who were seeking an education.

He was married in 1827 to Martha T. Parker, of Dunbarton, N. H. After completing his theological studies he was principal of an academy in Hampton, N. H., during 1827-8, and the following year he presided over a school of high order in Portland, Maine, after which he settled in Standish, where he served as pastor for six years. The Unitarian question was at that time disturbing the churches of the northeast, and though a remnant in Rev. Tenney's church clung to their beloved pastor and the religion of their parents, yet the agitation led to his leaving Standish and accepting a position as teacher in Gorham Academy, Maine, in which a female department had just been organized. He remained here four years as a teacher.

At the close of this period, 1839-40, he accepted an invitation to become principal of a prominent school in Austinburg, Ohio, where one of his pupils was John Brown, Jr., a son of Ossawattamie Brown. Austinburg was an important town on the underground railroad, and many of the colored people escaping from slavery were assisted by the citizens and students. Mr. Tenney's views on slavery were in advance of those generally held in the northeast, and though never adopting the extreme views held by the Garrison school, yet he keenly felt the shame of the north in being linked with slavery, and was fearless in speech and efforts for the abolition of human bondage. He remained principal of Grand River Institute in Austinburg for seven years, training up a corps of young men and women as teachers and workers for God. But the desire to preach the gospel became as a pent up fire within him, and about the year 1847 he went to Wisconsin, preaching in Beloit, Waukesha and other places, and then settled in Somers, Wis. Here, amid a fluctuating population, he was very successful. Feeling that his talents and energies would be of use in nursing the then feeble churches of Iowa, he with his wife and two children, Henry M. and Emma Maria, followed his son, Charles W., to Cerro Gordo county, where he was the pioneer in founding the Congregational churches in this section, and assisted materially in the building of several church edifices, in Mitchell, Mason City, Rock Falls and other places. The Congregational Association for this district was in session when the news of Rev. Tenney's death reached them, and nearly the entire Association attended his funeral.

His Wife and companion in all his labors, Martha T. (Parker) Tenney, only survived him about two years. She was born in Bradford, Mass., Jan. 23, 1804, and afterwards graduated at Bradford Academy, near Boston, where she was engaged several years as a teacher. She was a true helper in all his toils.

They had eight children; three of them were buried in Maine, and the youngest, Emma Maria, died at Plymouth, Iowa, Oct. 9, 1863, being a young lady of remarkable intellect and lovely disposition. Of the four surviving children, the eldest, Mary Eliza, has never resided here. She was educated at Austinburg and Mt. Holyoke. She was an anti-slavery writer under the nom de plume of Mary Irving, and was a teacher in Shibideaux Female Seminary, near New Orleans, at the breaking out of the rebellion. She then went as a missionary to Asia Minor, and was afterwards married to Cyrus Hamlin, D. D., of Constantinople, who is now president of Middlebury College, Vermont Henry M. came to Iowa with his father, and now resides in Falls township. He was educated at Oberlin College, Ohio. He enlisted in company B, 32d Iowa Volunteer Infantry, was promoted to first lieutenant in a colored regiment, but having lost his health, he resigned about the close of the war, and returned to his farm. He married Louisa La Due, by whom he has six children.

SOURCE: History of Franklin and Cerro Gordo Counties, Iowa. p. 682. Union Publishing Co. Springfield IL. 1883.

Transcription by Susan Steveson



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