Quaker School Murder

The Quaker Boarding School
The Murder of Mrs. Cornell

by Dr. Gilbert W. Hazeltine


Back Return to Chautauqua County Gen Web page.

In 1833 Mrs. Mary E. OSBORNE, a widow lady and a  Quakeress, came to Jamestown to establish a boarding school. She bought property of Gen. Allen on what was then known as the Frewsburg road, afterwards as Quaker street, and now as Foote's avenue. This purchase was on the west side of the street and about ten rods beyond the intersection of Mechanic street. Upon the plot of ground here purchased she erected a fair sized but very plain building for boarding school purposes. The next season large additions were found necessary, and small additions of cheap buildings were made year after year, until the establishment had a rambling, peculiar and anything but a neat, Quaker-like appearance. 

Notwithstanding the uninviting appearance of the buildings the school there taught was one of a very superior character. Teachers of a superior class for the most part were employed and young ladies from all sections of the county but especially of the state of New York were there yearly congregated. The methods of teaching there employed were superior to anything the writer had ever before met with-more like present methods so far as he is acquainted with them. Object teaching and by conversations was extensively adopted. If there were any possible means or appliances to illustrate a lesson or fix it in the memory they were at once adopted. The question asked was not, whether the recitation was perfect, but was the lesson understood. Each class read up on, and talked over in familiar conversations, each subject presented until it was perfectly understood by the dullest member of the class. The teachers for the most part were from abroad. Among these probably none ever stood higher than the three Misses Dennis. But the teachers changed frequently; most of them must have been under prior engagements before they came, for when their time was up they could not be induced to remain longer, and were married soon after their leaving.

Among the home teachers were Miss Clarissa D. WHEELER who subsequently taught in the Academy and who afterwards founded the Jamestown female seminary; Miss Elizabeth BREED, Miss Lucy FLETCHER and the writer, who was the only male teacher in the establishment and was engaged to teach Botany, and to lecture on Physiology, Chemistry and Natural Philosophy.

This school was probably the most flourishing from 1836 to 1841. In 1843 a horrible tragedy was enacted here which destroyed the school. Alvin CORNELL, brother of Mrs.. OSBORNE, cut his wife's throat and then cut his own.. Mrs. Cornell ran from the kitchen into the school room and there fell dead. CORNELL, although he had. cut his own throat from ear to ear, severing the wind- pipe, singularly enough missed the carotid arteries. The writer sewed up Cornell's throat and dressed the wound. He was left in charge of Justice W. H. Fenton and our self for about three weeks, when we delivered him up to the jailor at Mayville. He was tried, convicted and sentenced, but his sister clung to him and finally induced Governor Wright to commute his punishment to imprisonment for life. This horrible affair closed the Jamestown Quaker school forever.

Dr Gilbert W Hazeltine,
History of Ellicott

Source:  Submitted by Dolores Davidson, 2002.