Report on the condition of Common Schools as they have been and as they now are, made to the Common School Association of Washington County, November 1843, by A. T. Nye.
Materials for stating the past condition of Common Schools in this county are by no means abundant; and what there are, which relate to schools at an early period, not readily obtained. No public record relating to the earlier schools, can be found. We must therefore depend chiefly upon the recollection of some of the oldest inhabitants of this place, for any account of the first schools taught in this country, which were also the first in the State.
The Ordinance of Congress of 1787 wisely provides that "Religion, morality and knowledge being necessary to good government, and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged." The same declaration is to be found in the Bill of Rights, in the Constitution of Ohio. The subject of education was brought before the Territorial Legislature by Gov. St. Clair, at their first Session.
The principles recognized in the Ordinance of 1787, were carried out in practice by our fathers who first settled at Marietta. They were mostly men eminent for their patriotism and general intelligence. The largest number of them were men who, having served their Country in the Revolutionary War, sought in the West, a home for themselves and their children. Having sacrificed for the good of their Country a large portion of their time and property, to secure the blessings of a free government, they were by no means indifferent as to the means of perpetuating these privileges.
The difficulties attending a new settlement so remote from the then inhabited portion of the Country, necessarily delayed the establishment of Schools. The Directors of the Ohio Company had indeed stipulated in their contract with the old Congress that Section No. 16, in each Township should be appropriated for the support of Schools. This measure so important and beneficial to us at this day, was of no immediate benefit to our fathers. These lands could not be made immediately productive. If the organization of schools should be delayed until the School lands should become productive, children would grow up untaught, and the evils of ignorance would be perpetuated, as they have been in some other States; a state of things not to be endured by our fathers. Accordingly measures were taken by the Directors of the Ohio Company, to have Schools taught in the Stockade from time to time, as the situation of things would justify.
The first school taught within the N. W. Territory was in 1791, and the first Teacher was Maj. Anselm Tupper, eldest son of Gen. Benjamin Tupper, both Revolutionary Officers. The room occupied was the same in which the first Court was held, and was situated on the N. W. side of the Stockade, adjoining the west bock house. That year a School was taught three months. The next year William R. Putnam, Esq. taught a School for three months, and some other Teacher for three months, making six months in that year. For several years thereafter schools were taught about three months each year. Major Tupper was employed in Teaching for several seasons, but among the early Teachers were Benjamin Slocum, since dead, and Perley Howe, Esq. of Belpre.
At that period when our fathers were contending against difficulties of which many of us have very imperfect conceptions; when it was many times doubtful in the morning whether parents or children would be alive at night, or who that lay down at night would live to see the light of the morning, it was not to be expected that they would stand in our light, or enjoy the privileges of this generation. It may however be said of them "they did what they could" -- more than can be said of all who live at this day. One fact is worthy of note, and that is that the children of that day improved their privileges, small as they may appear to us to have been.
The branches usually taught at that period were reading, writing and arithmetic, with spelling, once a week. More advanced studies were sometimes taught, though ordinarily few could avail themselves of the opportunity of receiving instruction. Children old enough to pursue the more advanced studies, were generally needed by their parents at home.
As the settlements at Waterford and Belpre increased, Schools were commenced at those places. Among the first, if not the first Teacher at Waterford, was the late Joseph Fry of that place, and the first in Farmer's Castle, Belpre, was Joel Deming, Esq., now of Cleveland, Ohio, brother of Col. Deming of Watertown.
However limited the education of children at that day may have been, it has ever been a difficult matter to find a native of this county, arrived at the age of manhood, who could not both read and write; in fact in these branches it is believed they were superior to children taught at this day in our common schools. The limits of common school instruction were to be found, not in the disposition of the parents, or lack of suitable qualification on the part of Teachers; but in the want of means on the part of parents to employ Teachers.
A new era in relation to common schools, may be said to have commenced with the establishment of the Muskingum Academy in 1800.* The same spirit which actuated the first inhabitants in the early establishment of schools in the Stockade, led them to erect and establish what was called the Muskingum Academy. As a school of higher grade than any other in the State at that time, it exerted a happy and salutary influence, and that influence was felt for some distance around. It served to increase the number and qualifications of Teachers, and hence the standard of common school instruction in the county was elevated. Among those who were employed as Teachers in the Academy were David Putnam, Esq.; the late Judge Putnam of Muskingum County; B. F. Stone; N. K. Clough, late of Portsmouth; M. B. Belknap of Penn.; T. E. Donaldson, afterwards of the U. S. Army; David Gilman, since deceased; and Caleb Emerson, Esq. At a later period Doct. Elisha Huntington, now of Lowell Mass. was employed for several years as principal. Many of the present inhabitants of the Town were his pupils. He was succeeded by the President of this Association, William Slocomb Esq.
During the period now under consideration, schools were much increased in number, and the studies pursued in them enlarged. Until the publication of Lindley Murray's School Books, the study of English Grammar received but little attention in our Common Schools. The "Grammars" previously in common use were not very attractive to children. The publication of Murray's grammar, gave a new impulse to the study of that science, and since that time it has been taught in a large proportion of our common schools where scholars were old enough to engage in the study.
The study of Geography also became much more general. To those indeed who had not access to good maps, the study was much less profitable and interesting than it has been made at this day, as our School Geographies formerly had no atlases while at this day works on that subject are greatly improved and multiplied, and good maps are an every day thing.
The duty of reporting upon the present condition of common Schools in this County, might be committed with more profit and advantage to some one more intimately conversant with their situation. An attempt to make comparisons between Schools as they have been, and as they now are, may possibly be deemed invidious, but the subject seems to contemplate a contrast.
The first thing to be noticed under this branch of the subject, is the great increase in the number of Schools in the county. In 1842, there were in the county of Washington, 161 School Districts containing 9,263 children and youth between the ages of 4 and 20 years. The amount of public money appropriated for the support of schools in the County for 1843 exceeds $5000. The present Common School system as regulated by the law of the State, was commenced in 1825. In procuring the adoption of the first plan, by the Legislature, our respected fellow citizen, Judge Cutler, took an active and prominent part. To him more than to any other single individual do we owe it that our Legislature were induced to pass the first act for the support and regulation of Common Schools. The law of 1825 was repealed in 1836, when an entirely new enactment took place. That Law was repealed by the Law of 1838, which with sundry amendments is now the Law of Ohio in regard to Common Schools. This law made liberal provision for their support, and placed them on a more permanent basis, than had been the case before. That all its provisions were wise cannot be said with truth. The most important features of the system are the provision of a suitable fund for their support, the requirement that Schools shall be taught in all the districts, and the measures taken to provide Teachers of suitable qualifications, by requiring that no one shall teach a District School who has not been examined by one of the Board of Examiners, and received a certificate authorizing him to teach. Several requirements of the Law seem however to be entirely neglected, especially those relating to annual reports, by officers of school districts and others. In very few instances is this attended to, as the papers in the Auditor's office will show. If the requirements of the Law were properly observed by officers of School districts, the present State of Common School instruction would be much better understood.
* The first measures for erecting the Muskingum Academy were taken in 1797. The subscription is dated May 13th 1797. The building appears to have been completed in 1800. Among the largest contributors were Rufus Putnam, Charles Green, Return J. Meigs, Jr., Jabez True, Ichabod Nye, Ebenezer Sproat, William R. Putnam, Joseph Gilman & Son, William Skinner, Dudley Woodbridge, Daniel Story, Joseph Lincoln, Joshua Shipman, Paul Fearing, Benjamin Tupper, Joseph Buell, Gilbert Devol, Nathan McIntosh, Joel Bowen, Christopher Burlingame, John Mathews, David Putnam, Ezra Putnam, &c.