James Burrill Angell (1829-1916), professor of modern languages at Brown and later president of the University of Michigan, was born in Scituate, Rhode Island, on January 7, 1829. He prepared at Lapham Institute and the University Grammar School and graduated from Brown in 1849 as valedictorian of his class. He must have been proud of his birthplace, for he was accustomed to inscribe in his college notebooks, “First boy from Scituate.” He had intended to enter the ministry, but, plagued by throat problems, took up surveying. He spent the winter of 1850-51 in the South with his friend and classmate Rowland Hazard 1849, and went to Europe in December of 1851 to study. On his return he was named professor of modern languages at Brown. He was then only twenty-four years old. He began to write editorials for the Providence Journal at the request of Senator Henry Bowen Anthony 1833 and was offered the editorship of the paper in 1860. He resigned from Brown and was editor of the paper through the Civil War years. He became president of the University of Vermont in 1866 and president of the University of Michigan in 1871. In 1879 President Hayes sent him to China to secure the ratification of treaties limiting Chinese emigration to the United States. In 1887 President Cleveland appointed him to the International Commission of Canadian Fisheries to establish American rights in the waters of British North America. In 1886 he became Minister to Turkey for one year. He thought of resigning as president at Michigan in 1905, but was persuaded to remain until 1909, when he retired at the age of eighty. Angell was present at the dedication of the John Hay Library in 1910. He died on April 1, 1916 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.
When Angell married Sarah Caswell, daughter of professor of mathematics Alexis Caswell, in 1855, the students declared that he had won the “mathematical prize.” When their first child was born, his French and German classes presented the child with a mahogany cradle with a lace canopy which went by clockwork. In appreciation, Angell invited them to a party when the child was a year old, and the students sang “The Angell Cradle,” a song written especially for the occasion by John Hay 1858, to the tune, “Cocachelunk.”
Once to earth there came an angel
Wingless he was wafted down,
And his wailings woke the echoes
Slumbering round the walls of Brown.
Chorus - Cocachelunk che lunk, etc.
Then outspoke a reverend senior,
Bending with weight of years,
“We will give him a reception,
Worthy of the name he bears.”
“We will frame a mighty cradle,
Suited to this youthful swell,
(For the student knows how useful
Is the art of lying well). ...”