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The Lost Chapter at Ole Miss

By Towner Blackstock (Davidson 1994), Curator of Archives
November, 2004

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Why did Phi Gamma Delta forget it established a chapter at the University of Mississippi in 1855?

Almost immediately after the Grand Chapter gave the Union chapter the right to grant charters, the Union brothers founded chapters at the University of Mississippi and the University of Alabama. The Grand Chapter minutes first mention these two new chapters in the minutes of May, 1855, noting the receipt of a letter from each.

Alabama remained an active chapter for another four years. Ole Miss sent a few letters to the Grand Chapter - the last read in the March 24, 1856 meeting - but is noted only one other time in extant Grand Chapter records. In the published minutes of the 1856 Convention, William E. McLaren (Jefferson 1851) reported the chapter's demise without giving a reason for it. He noted that the "graduates were in receipt of the charter" and were looking to reestablish the chapter as was possible.

Inexplicably, the Mississippi chapter disappeared from the Fraternity record. It was not mentioned in the 1856, 1862, 1870, or 1878 catalogues. Then, at the turn of the century, three names appeared without explanation in the "Unfinished Catalogue" as members of the Eta Deuteron Chapter (1868-1879).

Why the addition? Someone had either read the names as noted in the original Grand Chapter minute books, or they saw an article in the May, 1879 Phi Gamma Delta magazine. The unsigned article mentioned two lost chapters, one at Soule University in Texas (article) and the other at Ole Miss:

It is reported that on the 15th of May, 1855, Bro. R. W. Williamson, of Delta [Union University], '52, as a properly authorized legate, duly established a chapter of the Fraternity of Phi Gamma Delta at the University of Mississippi, Oxford, Miss., and that among the charter members who were duly initiated, and whose names have fortunately been recorded, we find Bros. John Roach, M. L. Weller and Lewis Guion. This chapter is known to have existed as a chapter up to and including the month of January, 1856. Whether it existed any longer or not we cannot say; but certain it is that at the Convention of '56, held at Cincinnati in April of that year, this chapter was reported to have returned its charter, and to have become extinct.

While the article does not give its sources, the content is clearly from the Grand Chapter's minutes of 1855, now found in the Fraternity Archives. They note the three brothers as "charter members".  They were John Roach, Jr. 1856, Mirza Leander Weller 1855 (also spelled Merza), and Lewis Guion 1858 (although his name was mistakenly spelled 'Louis'). We have located biographical information on all but Roach.

So what happened to the original Ole Miss chapter? This is lost to mystery, save the fleeting mention in the April, 1856 convention minutes.

The only additional clue is a biography of Lewis Guion that claims him as "a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon fraternity of the Universities of Mississippi and Virginia . . . ." DKE's Chi Chapter was founded at Ole Miss in 1850, and its Eta Chapter started at Virginia in 1852.

We may surmise that Guion joined DKE after the dissolution of his Phi Gamma Delta chapter. His biography states that he entered the University of Mississippi in January, 1855. Our "Unfinished Catalogue" indicates he joined Phi Gamma Delta as a freshman in March. Roach is shown as having joined as a freshman that same month. But the month is suspect because the chapter was formed in May of 1855. Weller is indicated as having joined in May as a senior.

Additional information may exist about this chapter. But where? A good starting point is the three men we know were members. More biographical information must be available on Roach and Weller. Perhaps something is available from DKE and other fraternities present at Ole Miss in 1858. For example, does any correspondence or minutes mention Phi Gamma Delta? Did Roach join another fraternity? When did Guion join DKE? Regretfully, previous requests for information from the DKE staff have not resulted in any substantial reply from that fraternity.

Another source is the University of Mississippi itself. While their archives have provided copies of alumni catalogues, are there additional records such as class histories or recollections? We might also research others attending the University in 1855 and 1856. Who joined other fraternities? Of those who did not, are biographies available? Might one indicate that the person joined Phi Gamma Delta?

Perhaps the story will someday be discovered. Until then, we have the following information about the three men we know joined in 1855 and 1856.

Mirza Leander Weller (Mississippi 1855) was born on July 17, 1829 to Rev. Sidney Weller (1791-1854) and his second wife, Elizabeth McCarroll (1803-1870).  His father founded the Medoc Vineyards, a major winery in Halifax County in eastern North Carolina. A history of the Vineyards says, "After Sidney Weller's death, three of his sons, John H., Merza Leander, and Joseph McCarroll, operated the Vineyards. The oldest son Merza was a salesman and did much of the traveling. He was active in the local church and he was a leader in building Bethesda Methodist Church in 1857 at Brinkleyville. In the late 1850's, he settled in Hernando, Mississippi, where he not only sold wine, but also like his father, became a minister. He also became a member of the Hernando Masonic Lodge." Weller graduated from the University of Mississippi in 1856. One source indicates he was a rector of the Episcopal church in Clinton, Mississippi, although this might be a confusion with others by the same last name who pastored there in the 1850s. Minutes of the Episcopal diocese of Mississippi from April, 1861 indicates he was "ministering at Hernando and Panola, and intervening places." These minutes also record the bishop's daily journal; he wrote on May, 1860 of "the zealous labors of Mr. Weller" as deacon for Hernando, and on July 29, "In St. Andrew's Church, Jackson, I conferred the office of Priesthood upon the Rev. M. Leander Weller." He served as Chaplain in the 9th Mississippi Infantry until his death in battle at Shiloh, April 6, 1862. Brigadier General James Chalmers noted Weller's death in his field report, calling him "a pure man and ardent patriot and a true Christian . . . ."  He is reportedly buried in Halifax County, NC.

John Roach Jr. (Mississippi 1856) was killed while serving in the Confederate forces.  He was from Yalobusha County, Mississippi.  In 1858, the Yalobusha Baptist Association appointed an executive board including one John Roach. No other information is available regarding this brother.

Lewis Guion (Mississippi 1858) was born in 1838, son of George S. Guion (1815-1861), lawyer and judge of Concordia Parish, Louisiana, and his wife Caroline L. Winder. One uncle of Lewis was John I. Guion, a former governor of Mississippi. Lewis graduated from Ole Miss in 1858 and attended the University of Virginia law school for one year (1858)and subsequently what is now Tulane's law school. In 1861 he served as second lieutenant in the 1st Louisiana Infantry, resigning to administer his deceased father's estate. He helped organize and became a lieutenant and later captain in Company H, 26th Louisiana Infantry. His service included the siege of Vicksburg. He later planted sugar on his father's plantation and practiced law in Thibodaux and New Orleans, Louisiana. President Cleveland appointed him an official at the New Orleans Mint in 1893. He served there for over five years. Walter Guion, his brother, became attorney general and appointed Lewis to his staff in 1900. In 1908, President Roosevelt appointed Lewis as Park Commissioner overseeing Vicksburg Military Park. Lewis Guion died in January, 1920, in New Orleans. Louisiana State University has in its collections the diary he kept during his Confederate service, a book with notes taken while in law school, the official record book of his regiment, and some family letters concerning his military service. Biography quoted from Louisiana: Comprising Sketches of Parishes, Towns, Events, Institutions, and Persons, Arranged in Cyclopedic Form, Volume 3 (Century Historical Association, 1914), pp. 756-758.

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