The Lost Chapter at Soule University

By Towner Blackstock (Davidson 1994), Curator of Archives

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Recent evidence has demanded reassessment of the old question, "Did Phi Gamma Delta have a chapter at Soule University, Chappell Hill, Texas?"  William Chamberlin, in The History of Phi Gamma Delta, Tomos Beta, determined that a "pseudo-chapter" seems to have existed there. However, his analysis was based on limited facts. It now appears that Phi Gamma Delta established an authorized chapter at Soule University, and that its members founded the chapter at Washington and Lee University.

The Baylor University Chapter in Texas had written a letter to DePauw chapter on April 5, 1860, noting expansion prospects at a nearby campus:

One of the members of our chapter has been at Soule University, located at Chapel Hill in the Co., about sixteen miles distant, and he thinks that the present is a favorable time for honoring said university by establishing a chapter within her walls. We have the matter under consideration and should circumstances continue favorable, we shall take the proper steps for carrying the plan into effect.

In November, 1860, Abraham Lincoln’s election to the American presidency sparked a national crisis. By February seven southern states had seceded from the Union. That month, amidst such turmoil, the Soule chapter was reportedly organized. According to an article in an 1879 issue of The Phi Gamma Delta magazine, it "was duly established by the granting of a charter, on the 18th day of February, 1861, to Thos. T. Norris, W. S. Oldenham [Oldham], Jr., E. T. Giddings, A. E. Stratton, Jr., and A. G. Beaumont as charters members, and their subsequent initiation into the fraternity by Presley C. Baker, now of Galveston, Texas, and a graduate member of Delta [Union] of ’60."  Presley Baker was 23 years old and occupied as an attorney in Chappell Hill.

The interest expressed by Baylor chapter combined with a Union graduate as legate suggests that the chapter at Union University, Tennessee granted the charter (article). This same pattern had occurred when Union, acting under authority granted to it by the Grand Chapter in 1854, granted charters to chapters at Alabama (1855), Mississippi (1855), and Baylor (1856).  In researching The History of Phi Gamma Delta, Fraternity Historian William F. Chamberlin missed this important connection.  He did note that the Grand Chapter minutes lacked any mention of Soule University. This is true in part because, unfortunately, the Grand Chapter minute book contains a lapse between the minutes of December 1860 and May 1861.

Preston C. Baker (Union 1860), 
Legate for Soule. He later served in the 8th Texas Cavalry with several other Phi Gams, practiced law in Galveston, and died in Pasadena, California. His wife Clara was a founder of Alpha Phi.

Also, the imminent secession crisis may well have prevented the Grand Chapter’s receipt of any notification about the chartering. Before the fall of Fort Sumter in April, students (especially those in the South) left classes to form regiments and perform military drill. Chamberlin did not consider this tumultuous state of affairs across the nation.

The statements of several initiates of the chapter further validate a chapter at Soule. Correspondence from James Harvey McLeary, former attorney general of Texas and justice of the Porto Rico Supreme Court, reads ". . . in regard to the Phi Gamma Delta at Soule University. I became a Phi Gamma Delta at that institution. There were twelve or fifteen members at the time."

In The History of Phi Gamma Delta, Tomos Beta, William Chamberlin questions this claim, as many accounts of Soule note the school ceased operations at the outset of the Civil War and did not resume until 1867.Correspondence with Nath Winfield of the Chappell Hill Historical Society has revealed a range of historical documents, including the original minute book of the University Trustees. These records show outbreaks of yellow fever in the region disrupted classes over the years, as did the economic and physical ravages of the Civil War. But Soule indeed operated during part of the War and during 1865.

After the war, several men transferred from Soule to Washington College at Lexington, Virginia, later called Washington and Lee.  These included McLeary, Duncan McIntyre, Christopher C. Garrett, and Edwin T. Dumble.  All were brothers except Dumble.  There they met at least one transfer from the Nu Chapter, W.P. Gaines (Bethel 1869).  They appealed to the Grand Chapter for a charter; it was granted in 1868 to form the Zeta Deuteron Chapter.  Gaines served as Legate, McLeary was elected president, and Garrett became secretary.

Dumble was initiated into the new chapter, and he attests to these events in letters written to the Fraternity in the 1920s.  He claimed McIntyre had a Phi Gamma Delta badge, a rarity among many undergraduates in those days. However, McIntyre never joined Zeta Deuteron Chapter. His health flagged and he returned to Texas, where he died in January 1867.

The original minute book of Zeta Deuteron has survived and gives initiation dates for all the members of the chapter, including McLeary and Garrett.  McLeary joined at Soule in May,1861, while C. C. Garrett joined in June, 1866. This is in keeping with Nath Winfield's evidence showing the school in operation early in the war and afterwards. It also meshes with biographical accounts of McLeary's attendance at Soule in 1861 and again in 1865.

Hopefully in time additional information about our chapter at Soule University will come forth.  In the meantime, we do have biographical information regarding some of the initiates of the chapterAnd we may draw the reasonable conclusion that yes, Phi Gamma Delta did have a chapter at Soule University, it was probably chartered by the Union University chapter, and brothers from Soule established the Zeta Deuteron Chapter at Washington and Lee University.

Our thanks to Nath Winfield and the Chappell Hill Historical Society for their assistance; the majority of the biographical information comes from their records. If in the vicinity drop by the Chappell Hill Museum:

Chappell Hill Museum 
Church Street, Chappell Hill, Texas 77426
(409) 836-6033 

Open: Wednesday-Saturday: 10am - 4pm; Sunday: 2 - 4pm. 
No admission charge; donations are appreciated

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