“Back to School” with Dr. Calvin Jones

Calvin Jones, the planter who invented the name “Wake Forest,” was a physician, educator, journalist, military strategist, and politician.

But Jones was also a father and–like most fathers–he was full of good, strong, fatherly advice. In these excerpts from letters to his son Tom (who at age thirteen was away at school), Calvin Jones sets forth an exacting and brilliant set of rules for excellence in speaking and writing.

Wake Forest, September 16, 1824

More than ever, try to attain a distinct elocution…. In reading and speaking make not only every word but every syllable and letter sound distinctly…. Make speeches to the trees and to one judicious boy. Open your mouth well when you talk or read. Always do your very best…. Use the best words you are master of, arrange them with care and speak with spirit and distinctness.


Wake Forest, May 5, 1825

I want you to speak handsomely, and distinctly, and compose with neatness and correctness. Pay particular attention to elocution. Above all things be a correct and an elegant reader–not merely a correct reader but an elegant one. Read much to yourself and to the trees. A large oak tree in the midst of a forest is an excellent professor of rhetoric. Let me hear of each of your studies and your progress in them, as well as your desultory reading.

Write to me often and pay more attention to correctness. In the first place write straight lines. Secondly, preserve the same distance between them. Thirdly, place capital letters at the beginning of sentences and full stops when the number of a subject is concluded. Fourth, spell correctly and fifth, omit as few words as possible. The faults of your last letter in these respects I do not charge to the amount of want of better knowledge but to haste and inattention.


Calvin Jones

Ask your grandfather if he can conveniently send me my two barrels of fish and three ploughs when they come. I have not the means of sending. I wish your grandmother to keep one barrel of the shad.

The museum holds in its collection copies of many letters written by Calvin Jones.


    1. We would love that! I’m currently working on an article that includes mention of Temperance and her sister Marina from Cherry Hill. Please call or email any time you’re in Wake Forest. We’d be so happy to show you the home!!!

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