About John Hart Hunter

Early Life

I was born in the year 1804 or 1805, I could never determine which, since my father's record gave the one date, and my grandfather's the other, on the third of May, a month which gives birth to many a tender flower unfitted for the storms of life. I had the misfortune to be an only child which I take to be a passport to trouble of many kinds, was petted by my mother and pretty roughly treated by my father, neither of which was the wisest discipline for a sensitive boy.

John Hart Hunter (ca. 1805-1872) was the son of John Hunter, of Dublin, Ireland, and Sarah Hunt, of White Plains, New York. Very little is known about his early life--even his year of birth is uncertain, with dates ranging from 1804 to 1807--other than as a young man he exhibited a love of learning and literature. His early education was largely self-determined, and took the form of long hours spent with books from the Apprentices' Public Library in New York and from acquaintances. Of this period, Hunter writes

Thus at thirteen or fourteen years of age I had devoured a large part of the Waverly Novels and I know not how many others. I was already, for a youth, a very "Heleno librorum." For one of my imaginative turn of mind this was the worst kind of intellectual provender in the world.

Our Founder

We do know that Hunter matriculated at Union College directly into the junior class in the year 1824. It was at Union that he found himself in such an intellectual atmosphere and with such a crowd of like-minded individuals that he founded a "literary society," which he came to call Kappa Alpha.

Founded on 26 November, 1825, The Kappa Alpha Society was the first social fraternity in the United States. Hunter and his cohort--which included Arthur Burtis, Jr., Hunter's college roommate, Thomas Hun, Isaac W. Jackson, John McGeoch, Orlando Meads, James Proudfit, Joseph A. Constant, and Joseph Law--were inspired by the earlier Phi Beta Kappa, but determined to keep The Kappa Alpha Society an institution for and by its undergraduate members. It is this legacy that the current members of The Kappa Alpha Society strive always to uphold.

Hunter graduated from Union near the top of his class in 1826. From Union he went to the Princeton Theological Seminary, whence he was called in 1828 to be a pastor at the Congregational Church of Fairfield, Connecticut. Hunter was only 21. He held a six year tenure in Fairfield, where he met Julia Maria Judson, a member of a prominent Stratford, Connecticut, family, whom he married.

A lifelong lover of literature--and, like all Kaps, a free-thinker with a touch of rebelliousness--Hunter's career as a pastor was not without its upheavals. Hunter was frequently frustrated by the "dogmatic and ecclesiastical systems with which I found myself connected." Eventually, in 1845, Hunter retired from the pulpit and began a career as a teacher, as his father had been before him.

Hunter did return to The Society to speak, most notably at the New York Dinner in 1848 and at his alma mater in 1851. Through all of this time, while he was still alive, both he and the rest of the Society recognized he had been not only primus inter pares among the founders of KA, but in fact, "The Founder of the Society" and thus of the entire Greek fraternity system.

In the hopes of improving the financial situation of his ever-growing family, John Hart Hunter heard the call to go West, and moved to Missouri with his son James in 1857. They hoped to capitalize on land that Hunter had bought on speculation several years earlier. Always forward-thinking, Hunter tried to make his investment more profitable not through simple farming, but through industry. Unfortunately, his efforts proved fruitless and he traded his land for deeds to land in Texas. The Civil War was unkind to Hunter's assets, leaving him in Texas nearly penniless and in deteriorating health. He died on either 11 or 22 February, 1872, in Galveston, Texas, of sudden congestion of the lungs.

It is only fitting that our founder's exit from this world, just as his entry into it, are shrouded in mystery. He was presumably buried in Galveston, but both the records of his death and his grave were obliterated by a hurricane in 1900. Thus John Hart Hunter, founder of our great Society, was swept away into the mists of time.

This information was based upon an article in The Spirit of Kappa Alpha by Robert S. Tarleton, Copyright 1993 (used with permission of the author)