It All Began with Three Sophomore Men at Yale
Louis Manigault, Yale 1845 (pictured left) and Horace Spangler Weiser (pictured right). There is no known photograph of our third founder Stephen Ormsby Rhea.
Louis Manigault was born in Paris, France, on November 21, 1828, while his mother and father were visiting their ancestral homeland. He descended from French Huguenots who fled La Rochelle, France, because of religious persecution with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. The Manigaults immigrated to South Carolina where they became very prosperous in the occupations of planting, trading, and merchandising.
The Manigault Family and Louis's maternal ancestors, the Heywards, were among the wealthiest American families in the years from the Revolution to the Civil War. Several of the Charleston, South Carolina homes of the Manigaults and Heywards of this era are now preserved and open to the public.
Because of the extreme wealth of the Manigault Family in Charleston, South Carolina nearly every male member received a European education and took many tours and trips overseas. In 1843, Louis began his preparatory school career at Saint Paul's College in Long Island, New York, where he met and became close friends with a fellow student, Steven Ormsby Rhea. In 1845, Louis entered Yale College where his brother had graduated. He stayed there only two years, although he was characterized as being a strong student who worked hard and enjoyed his studies. Louis left Yale in August 1847, to accompany his older brother on a trip to Europe. One of Louis's greatest regrets, however, was not graduating from Yale. In his diary he wrote:
"The termination at Yale College of my career without graduating from that institution has been a source of much regret to me during my life. I had just reached the period in my studies where a greater degree of pleasure would be attached to them than during my freshman and sophomore years. Could I have received my diploma first and then gone to Europe, this is what I have often thought would have been my best plan."
In 1855, Louis took over running the family rice plantation, Gowrie, near Savannah, Georgia. Frequent travels back and forth to Charleston enabled the Manigaults to be a part of and contribute to the culture of the upper class societies of both Savannah and Charleston.
During the Civil War, Manigault served the South as a special investigator of military operations in the field as an assistant to the Surgeon General. The Manigault family fortune, their commercial enterprises, and Louis' plantation at Gowrie were ruined by the war. At the end of the war, Louis returned to Charleston where he unsuccessfully attempted to repair the war damage to Gowrie. He died in Charleston at age 71, on November 29, 1899.
STEPHEN ORMSBY RHEA
Stephen Ormsby Rhea was born in 1825 on his family plantation, Blackacres, located 35 miles north of Baton Rouge, Louisiana. His family was well established in the area and had gained a position of influence in the community. His grandfather and father were able to amass enough land and fortunes for Ormsby and his brother to be financially secure for the rest of their lives.
As a young child, Ormsby was educated on his plantation by several of the best tutors in the Louisiana area. This very formal private education gave him an austere of almost royal presence in the opinion of some of his friends. Louis Manigault often called him Sir Ormsby.
In order to continue his formal education, Ormsby entered St. Paul's College on Long Island in 1842 where he met another southern gentleman who he seemed to have much in common with, Louis Manigault. Ormsby did not decide to attend Yale College until after Manigault convinced him to come.
Rhea remained at Yale only six months after the founding of Alpha Sigma Phi, but stayed in New Haven a few months taking instruction from tutors. During breaks from studying, he devoted his free time to the cultivation of the Fraternity.
Rhea returned to Blackacres in 1846 to run the plantation. Blackacres made it through the Civil War, but like many plantations in the South, it suffered from the War and Reconstruction. Rhea spent the rest of his life rebuilding and maintaining it. He had married and had a son, but his wife passed away on the eve of the Civil War. His son was sent to Virginia where he was reared by relatives.
During Manigault's world travels, Rhea kept in touch with him about the Fraternity and informed Louis on his return from China that Alpha Sigma Phi had become quite successful during the 1850s. Rhea and Manigault continued to correspond up to the Civil War and had planned to exchange long visits.
Rhea entered Omega Chapter in 1873 and was buried in a family plot near Clinton, Louisiana. His son returned to Louisiana for the funeral, but left the area and nothing more is known of him. The Rhea burial plot was disturbed or relocated to accommodate fatalities of a fever epidemic in the late nineteenth century, and its precise location was lost by 1920 and has not been relocated. There is no known photograph of Steven Ormsby Rhea.
HORACE SPANGLER WEISER
Horace Spangler Weiser was the great-great-grandson of John Conrad Weiser who emigrated from Germany to New York in 1710. He settled in western Berks County, Pennsylvania where he learned the languages of local Native Americans and was a leader in negotiations between settlers and Native Americans. He served as a judge in Berks County from 1752 until his death in 1760. His homestead west of Reading is maintained as a state monument.
Horace was the fourth child in a family of 14 children. His father was a merchant and attorney in York, Pennsylvania. Both Horace and his brother, Erastus Hay Weiser, attended Yale. Horace's studies were directed toward preparation for the Law. Initially, he was reluctant to become involved with the founding of Alpha Sigma Phi, but was convinced by Louis Manigault and later viewed as one of the three founders of the new organization.
Weiser's poor health forced him to leave Yale in 1847 and return home to York. While recuperating, Weiser kept in contact with the affairs of Alpha Chapter, in part because of his brother's involvement, and he corresponded with Manigault concerning developments at Yale. He recovered sufficiently and returned to Yale in 1850, but his health again forced him to leave college without graduating. He read law in Pennsylvania, but became dissatisfied and moved to Decorah, Iowa where he operated a land office and subsequently organized the Winneshiek County Bank. The bank is still in existence today. In 1859, he married Louise Amy and they had three children.
With his move to Iowa, his correspondence with Manigault and the Alpha Chapter ceased. This cessation of communication, however, was not a matter of differences between the Founders. Indeed, in letters to others, Weiser commented upon his fond recollections of his days at Yale and the exciting times he had had there. Weiser died suddenly of an apoplectic stroke at the age of 48 on July 19, 1875 and is buried in a family plot in Decorah.