Samuel Sterling Sherman
Samuel Sterling Sherman was born on November 24, 1815 and grew up on his family's farm in Bennington County, Vermont. He attended Middlebury College in Vermont where he studied Latin, Greek, Philosophy, and Mathematics. By teaching in a district school, he was able to earn money to help pay for much of his education. In 1838, at the invitation of Dr. Basil Manly, a prominent Baptist minister and President of the University of Alabama, Sherman accepted an appointment as a tutor at the University.
In November 1841, the Baptist State Convention met in Talladega. James H. DeVotie, a Baptist minister and co-founder of Howard College, offered the convention the use of a building in Marion, Alabama for the establishment of a male college. At the suggestion of Milo P. Jewett, founder and first president of Judson College, Sherman was asked to take charge of the school named Howard College.
University of Ala. Dec 5th, 1841.
Rev. J. H. DeVotie,
I received on the 4th inst., a letter from Mr. Jewett, stating that he had been requested by you, as Chairman on the Com. of the Board of Trustees, to offer me jointly with Mr. E. W. Sherman the gratuitous use of a building for the purpose of offering an English and Classical School, Prepatory to the College contemplated at Marion. He also adds that, an immediate decision is necessary.
It would have been agreeable for me to have had a longer time for reflection, inquiry, and especially to have communicated more particularly with my friend. Mr. S. But as I understand that he is willing to engage in the undurtaking with me, I very cheerfully accept the offer of your Board.
Should Mr. S. not find it convenient to join me at the beginning of the year. I am willing to command and to continue alone, until he can join me, or other arrangements be made.
The letter is continued on next page.
I shall be ready to command the school on the first Monday of January, or at any other time the Board may direct.
Please inform me when it will be necessary for me to be in M. And whatever else you may deam it proper for me to know before leaving Tuskaloosa.
Your obt. Servant.
S. S. Sherman
By the end of the first year of operation, Howard College had 31 students. For most of that year, Sherman was the college's only professor, and the combined revenue from tuition was not enough even to pay his room and board. It is said that Sherman had to push a wheelbarrow door to door in Marion begging for books to create a library for the college.
Sherman resigned his post in June of 1852 and moved to LaGrange, Georgia stating that “an increasing family had higher claims on me.” Sherman died in Chicago in November of 1914.
In February 1915, Dr. J. M. Shelburne, president of Howard College, chose the largest oak tree on campus and dedicated it to Samuel Sterling Sherman. From that time on, it was called Sherman Oak.
When Howard College left East Lake, acorns from the oak were planted at the current Homewood campus in front of Samford Hall. In 2015, Samford University hosted a "Centennial Tree" planting ceremony, at which Dr. Westmoreland, former Samford University president, reminded faculty and students that “We sit in the shade of trees we did not plant.”
The Special Collection Department houses several pieces of the Oak’s history.