NU grad's family traces roots to school's founder

Captain Alden Partridge, founder of Norwich UniversityKidnapping, ransom and an unsolved murder are part of an intriguing tale of the family history of 2004 Norwich University graduate Gretchen (Herrboldt) Hahn, whose ancestors trace back to the founder of the University.

Gretchen is a seventh-generation descendant of George Musalas Colvocoresses, a Greek boy who was adopted and raised as a son by Norwich University founder Capt. Alden Partridge in the early days of the institution.

George M. Colvocoresses was born in Scio, in the Grecian Archipelago in 1816, but was kidnapped along with his mother and two sisters and ransomed by the Turks in the Greek War for Independence. Colvocoresses was shipped to the United States in 1823, where a sympathetic Partridge took him in and raised him, educating George at Norwich University, which was known as "The American Scientific, Literary and Military Academy" until 1834.

Captain Alden Partridge, founder of Norwich UniversityWhen Gretchen receives her commission as a 2nd lieutenant in the US Army on May 8th, her great-great Uncle, Col. Alden Partridge Colvocoresses, USA (Ret.) will give her the commissioning oath. Alden is the great-grandson of George M. Colvocoresses and a key link in a military family whose roots are entwined deep in the Norwich tradition.

"I was really pleased to learn of Gretchen's connection with our University's founder," said Norwich President Dr. Richard Schneider. "When you move seven or eight generations down the family tree, it is easy for these connections to be lost, but at Norwich we value our history, and the fact that our mission has not changed since Capt. Alden Partridge founded the school 185 years ago makes this connection even more significant.

"Although Alden Partridge Colvocoresses is not a graduate of Norwich, we will celebrate his presence on campus as a link to our past, and we are thrilled that he is able to come to the campus for the first time to be a part of Gretchen's graduation and be able to see the University with which his family has been so involved."

Gretchen's ancestors have been involved in a number of significant events in Norwich, United States, and US Military history.

George Musalas Colvocoresses (NU Class of 1831) was appointed to the US Navy in 1832, and from 1838-42 served in the United States Exploring Expedition, better known as the Wilkes Expedition of the Pacific Ocean. Three separate geographical features, two on the west coast of the US and another in Antarctica, were named for Colvocoresses.

The United States Exploring Expedition of 1838-42 is a milestone in American science. Often referred to as the Wilkes Expedition, this expedition brought back to the United States a wealth of geological, botanical, zoological, anthropological and other materials that created a foundation upon which much of American science was formed. The expedition sighted land on several occasions as they sailed along the edge of the ice pack south of Antarctica for some 1,500 miles, thus providing the first proof of the existence of an Antarctic continent.

Colvocoresses published a book about the trip: "Four Years on a Government Exploring Expedition," and other papers of his are on file at Yale University's library.

Later, George M. Colvocoresses was a commander on the Atlantic Coast for the Union forces in the Civil War, capturing the blockade-runner "Stephen Hart," and he later performed a raid on Savannah, capturing 26 prisoners and 22 horses, destroying a bridge to cut off the Confederate Cavalry, and returning safely to the Union ship "Saratoga." He also served in India and helped capture the Barrier Forts on the Canton River.

After his retirement from the Navy, Capt. Colvocoresses met an untimely death, as his body was found shot to death in 1872 on a busy street in Bridgeport, Conn., less than an hour before he planned to board a ferry to New York City. His death was initially reported as a murder by the New York Times, as a large sum of cash and bonds which he was carrying was stolen; however, his insurers later contested that his death was a suicide, as the bullet wound he suffered was conveyed at close range through his heart, without the bullet penetrating his outer garments.

The case remains unsolved to this day.

George M. Colvocoresses' son, George Partridge Colvocoresses (NU 1866), named for his father's benefactor, also led a distinguished military career, rising to the rank of Admiral in the US Navy.

Adm. Colvocoresses served under then-Commodore George Dewey (NU 1855) in the Asiatic Fleet, and distinguished himself in service as a junior officer on the cruiser Concord at the Battle of Manila Bay, May 1, 1898 in the Spanish-American War, where the US won a decisive victory over the Spanish Armada, helping to end the Spanish Naval Threat and establish the US as one of the world's military "super powers."

Adm. Colvocoresses, whose name appears on the Centennial Staircase at Norwich, returned to University in 1919 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the founding of the college to deliver an address about Capt. Alden Partridge.

Adm. Colvocoresses had two sons: Harold, and George M. (II).

l-r, President Schneider with Alden Partridge ColvocoressesAlden Partridge Colvocoresses was born the son of George M. Colvocoresses II and Alice Hagen in Humbolt, Ariz., in 1918, and was named in honor of Norwich University's founder.

Alden P. Colvocoresses served in the United States Army in WWII, in the 16th Armored Engineer Battalion of the 1st Armored Division. He served in North Africa and Europe and was twice wounded in combat; he received the Purple Heart as well as two Silver Stars with Oak Leaf Clusters, the second awarded under the command of Maj. General Ernest N. Harmon, who later served as president of Norwich University for 15 years, from 1950-65.

Alden became involved with aerial photo mapping for the 1st Army, and oversaw some of the photo mapping as preparation for the D-Day assault on Normandy.

After leaving the Army, Alden was a pioneer in satellite mapping techniques, including the Space Oblique Mercator projection that maps images from Landsat satellites, which he used to develop the first satellite map of the United States.

Alden is the brother of Gretchen's maternal great-great grandmother.

l-r, Alden Partridge Colvocoresses swears in Gretchen HahnOn May 8, Gretchen will keep the military tradition in her family alive, as she receives her commissioning oath from her great-great uncle Alden P. Colvocoresses. On May 9, she will become the first descendent of NU founder Alden Partridge to graduate from Norwich in 138 years.

Gretchen's father, Curtis, is a major in the US Army and is involved with the reorganization efforts in Afghanistan, and therefore will be unable to attend her graduation and commissioning ceremony.

Gretchen, a native of Fort Rucker, Alabama, and a graduate of Daleville (Ala.) High School, came to Norwich as a civilian student and a nursing major on an Army ROTC scholarship.

"I found out about Norwich from my mother, who knew of the connection to the school and suggested that I look into it," said Gretchen.

"I really like the fact that my family is tied to the history of Norwich, and the fact that Norwich was one of the first military schools to admit women. I had looked at Auburn, and South Dakota State, which is my father's alma mater, but Norwich was the right choice. I have lived the Army experience my whole life. That's all I know, and I think it is a wonderful way of life."

Gretchen, whose maiden name is Herrboldt, is married to Norwich alumnus Timothy Hahn '02, who is currently a second lieutenant in the US Air Force, serving at Barksdale AFB in La. Gretchen will be stationed at Ft. Polk, La., after graduation and her commissioning as a lieutenant in the US Army.

by Dave Caspole
May 2004

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