John Phillips was the primary founder of Phillips Exeter Academy. Together with his brother, Hon. Samuel Phillips, and his nephew, Samuel, he also helped found Phillips Academy, Andover(6), and Andover Theological Seminary(5). Here is his story from the 272 page book, Phillips Genealogies; Including the Family of George Phillips, First Minister of Watertown, Mass., through most of the traceable branches from 1630 to the present generation; (et al.) Compiled by Albert M. Phillips, Auburn, Worcester Co., Mass., Sept. 22, 1885, pp. 19-20–
(V.) Hon. John Phillips (son of Samuel and Hannah: No. 4,) was born December 27, 1719; graduated Harvard College, 1735. He taught in public schools in Andover, Exeter and other places, after which he had a private Latin School in Exeter. He fitted himself for the ministry, and received a call from the church in Exeter, but for some reason relinquished all plans for preaching and entered extensively into mercantile life. He was a justice of the peace, a trustee of Dartmouth College for twenty years, from which he received the degree of LL.D. in 1777, “and founded and endowed in that College, the Phillips Professorship of Theology.” He “was authorized to be, in some singular cases, one of the Judges of the Superior Court.” In his business he was eminently successful, and accumulated a large fortune, all of which he devoted to benevolent objects. He gave liberally with his brother for the founding of Phillips Academy, Andover, in 1778, and in 1789, gave it the further sum of twenty thousand dollars, “for the virtuous and pious education of youths of genius and serious disposition.” He bequeathed, by his last will, one-third of all the estate of which he died possessed, “for the benefit more especially of charity scholars, such as may be of excelling genius and good moral character, preferring the hopefully pious, and for the assistance of youths liberally educated, designed for the ministry, while studying Divinity under the direction of some eminent Calvinistic Minister of the Gospel, until a professor of Divinity, able, pious, and Orthodox, should be supported in this Academy, or at Exeter, in New Hampshire, or in both.” It was this purpose of the founders, of securing, permanently, instruction in Theology, which led, about thirty years later to the founding of the Andover Theological Seminary.
He was the founder of the Academy in Exeter. In 1781, he
“secured the incorporation of Phillips Exeter Academy from the New Hampshire Legislature, giving to the school in life and by bequest property amounting at the time to about sixty-five thousand dollars, but now, under admirable management, greatly enhanced in value.”
In speaking of his acts in connection with this institution, a writer before quoted says:
“Phillips Exeter Academy has its own history and characteristics quite independent of Andover. It is almost wholly the child of Dr. John Phillips. . . . Dr. Phillips was one of the trustees at Andover from its first organization till his death, and for the last five vears of his life president of the board. His endowment of Exeter thus was an act in generous emulation of his own beneficence. The wise provision which he made for the support of the school, and the care exercised by those in charge of the endowment, have given to the Academy a wholesome independence, so that it occupies to-day a position of self-reliance and integrity, having funds sufficient for its support irrespective of its receipts from tuition fees. During the century which has nearly closed since its incorporation it has had, until recently, but three principals in succession Dr. Benjamin Abbot, the former of these, graduated at Harvard in 1788, and immediately went to Exeter as principal. The choice of this man hints at one distinction between Andover and Exeter. Dr. John Phillips, like his brother and nephew, was a firm adherent to the old school of New England orthodoxy. He was also a man of deep humility and large-mindedness. He saw in Benjamin Abbot, an Exeter youth, the qualities which constituted a wise teacher, and he chose him to the place, although their theological preferences were at variance,— Abbot belonging to the new school which in process of time became organized Unitarianism. To measure Dr. Phillips’s liberality, one must needs place himself among his contemporaries, and not among his descendants. Not only did Mr. Phillips make this appointment, but two of the trustees originally chosen by himself, and three others chosen during his lifetime, held theological opinions opposite to his own The connection with Harvard University has always been a close one, and no other school in the country, save the Boston Latin School, has sent so large a number of students to Cambridge, while the standard of scholarship has been of the highest. The largest proportion of boys at Exeter has Harvard in view, and the reputation for scholarship which Exeter enjoys at Harvard has been unbroken for nearly a century.”
[The founder of Phillips Exeter Academy defined its mission more than two centuries ago. “Above all,” John Phillips stated, “it is expected that the attention of instructors to the disposition of the minds and morals of the youth under their charge will exceed every other care; well considering that though goodness without knowledge is weak and feeble, yet knowledge without goodness is dangerous, and that both united form the noblest character, and lay the surest foundation of usefulness to mankind.”]
He married (1st) Mrs. Sarah (Emery) Oilman, daughter of Rev. Mr. Emery, and widow of Nathaniel Gilman. He married (2nd) Mrs. Elizabeth (Dennet) Hale, daughter of Hon. E. Dennet of Portsmouth, N. H., and widow of Dr. Hale. He died Apr. 21, 1795, aged 75. No children.
- Genealogies of Watertown– Genealogies of the Families and Descendants of the Early Settlers of Watertown, Massachusetts.
- Lawrence American, June 7, 1878.
- Harper’s Magazine, Vol. 55, p. 564.
- Phillips Exeter Academy.
- Andover Theological Seminary, now Andover Newton Theological Seminary.
- Phillips Academy at Andover