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Colonial Schools Systems

( Originally Published 1907 )



IT appears that the Maryland legislature was not content with setting up a single school at Annapolis, but proposed to make this the beginning of a comprehensive system, embracing a similar school in every county of the colony. The scheme failed, to be sure, getting no further than the establishment of King William's School. But the idea was not lost, and a colonial county system was realized in the following century, as we shall see. Even if nothing had come of it, such legislation would be worthy of further notice.

For here we have the civil power undertaking to establish, not only a school, but a territorial system of schools, at a time when in the mother country such a system existed only in a fragmentary fashion, and that in close dependence upon the ecclesiastical establishment. Besides, this action of Maryland's was not the first nor the most important step that the colonies had taken in this direction. Already colonial systems of education were part of the established order of things in New England. Such a break with the past calls for some explanation, especially as the modern movement in education has so largely taken this same direction.

The old order of school administration in England was described, in few words, by DR. KNIGHT in his Life of Colet : "The State of Schools in London before Dean Colet's Foundation was to this Effect : the Chancellour of Paul's (as in all the ancient Cathedral Churches) was Master of the Schools (Magister Schola rum) having the Direction and Government of Literature, not only within the Church, but within the whole City ; so that all the Masters and Teachers of Grammar depended on him, and were subject to him."' This describes the practice that had been followed for centuries, with many minor variations, in Roman Catholic lands. The system of church government was an episcopal system ; and the schools, like other spiritual concerns, when not under the direct oversight of the See of Rome, were subject to the bishop of the diocese, either directly or through some intermediate functionary.

The Protestant movement was marked by many divergent views of the episcopal system of church government; and the Protestant reorganization of the church was attended with grave practical difficulties. Out of it all there arose several strongly marked types of ecclesiastical polity, associated with various systems of Protestant theology. Three of the most notable of those types and systems are the Anglican, the Lutheran, and the Calvinistic.

These familiar facts are reviewed because of their bearing on our educational history. Long before the Reformation, a decided movement toward the increase of educational facilities was in progress in various countries of Europe, England included. The Reformation gave new impetus to this movement through its insistence upon the demand that every person should understand the way of salvation, and that the entrance upon that way should be a matter of intelligent choice. Secondarily, it reinforced the educational movement in both Protestant and Catholic countries, by making a new demand for such trained intelligence as should successfully combat theological errors and heresies. But the systems of school administration followed the fortunes of the episcopal system of which they formed a part.

In the Anglican Church the diocesan organization was continued after the Reformation with but little change of form. The schools accordingly continued under episcopal, and therefore ecclesiastical, control. Lutheran Germany was not averse to the episcopal system, but was compelled by circumstances to commit the episcopal functions to the hands of temporal princes. This arrangement bridged the passage of the schools from ecclesiastical to civil control, and resulted in the building up of strong state systems of education. Calvinism, finally, tended in varying degrees toward the rejection of the episcopal system and a virtual division of the episcopal functions between representative presbyteries and synods of the church and a civil power dominated by religious ideals. This system, too, facilitated the transfer of educational control to the civil authority. At the same time, by the strongest possible emphasis on the sacred scriptures as " the only infallible rule of faith and practice," Calvinism pushed to the front the demand for instruction, and particularly for linguistic training. The result was the remarkable development of public education in Holland and Scotland and other Calvinistic portions of Europe, and in the American colonies.

The ecclesiastical and educational setting of American colonization may be briefly sketched as follows : The Puritan movement within the English Church had been very far-reaching in the days of Elizabeth ; and Puritanism was almost universally Calvinistic. The Puritans had hoped for countenance and aid from James I., but they discovered their mistake at the very beginning of his reign. James proved himself an ardent supporter of the episcopal system. His oft-quoted saying, " No bishop, no king," was uttered at the Hampton Court conference, in January,' 1605. Even earlier than this, the episcopal control of education had been expressly confirmed in the Canons of 1603. The seventy-seventh of these Canons read as follows :

"No man shall teach either in publike schoole, or private house, but such as shall be allowed by the Bishop of the Diocese, or Ordinarie of the place vnder his hand & Seale, being found meete as well for his learning and dexteritie in teaching, as for sober and honest conuersation, and also for right understanding of Gods true Religion, and also except bee shall first subscribe to the first and third Articles afore mentioned simply, and to the two first clauses of the second Article."

All shades of religious belief were represented in the movement toward America in the seventeenth century ; but the most vitally and widely influential was undoubtedly the Calvinism of the Puritans, which appeared not only in New England, but penetrated almost every region, and made itself felt in the affairs of all of the earlier colonies. While the first Puritans were devoted adherents of the Church of England, the progress of events on both sides of the water tended to drive them into separatism. This tendency went its full length more quickly in the colonies than in the mother country, and the distinctively Puritan colonies were soon far beyond the reach of any sort of ecclesiastical control from the side of the English Church. For a long period such control was, in truth, but little felt in any of the colonies.

For various reasons, no bishopric of the Church of England was set up in America. Such ecclesiastical jurisdiction as was exercised by that Church in this country was in the hands of the Bishop of London. This seems to have been an informal arrangement ; but it was the ground of the claim occasionally met with that no schoolmaster should be allowed to teach in this country who did not hold the Bishop of London's certificate (under the provisions of the canon quoted above). Such is the explanation of the closing of Mr. Taylor's school in Pennsylvania. The instructions issued to Governor Dongan of New York, in 1686, contained the following injunction : "And wee doe further direct that noe Schoolmaster bee henceforth permitted to come from England & to keep school within Our Province of New York without the license of the said Archbishop of Canterbury." Similar instructions were issued to Governor Sloughter in 1689, to the Earl of Bellomont in 1697, and to Governor Hunter in 1709; but these all required the license of the Bishop of London instead of that of the Archbishop.

It was in New England that the power of the English Church was weakest and Calvinism at its height. What English Puritans dreamed of as of things far off, their friends in New England could forthwith bring to pass. The plan of government drawn up by the democratic party in England in 1647 declared, with reference to Parliament, "That matters of Religion, and the wayes of God's worship, are not at all intrusted by us to any humane power, . . . neverthelesse the publike way of instructing the Nation (so it be not compulsive) is referred to their discretion." That same year, the General Court of Massachusetts passed its epoch-making act providing for public instruction.

This act read as follows :

" It being one cheife piect of yt ould deluder, Satan, to keepe men from the knowledge of ye Scriptures, as in form' times by keeping y°' in an unknowne tongue, so in these lattr times by pswading from ye use of tongues, yt so at least ye true sence & meaning of ye originail might be clouded by false glosses of saint seeming deceivers, yt learning may not be buried in ye grave of or fathrs in ye church & coxnonwealth, the Lord assisting or endeavors, —

"It is therefore ordred, yt ev''y towneship in this jurisdiction, aft= ye Lord hath increased ym to ye number of 50 housholdr°, shall then forthwtb appoint one wt''in their towne to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and reade, whose wages shall be paid eithr by y° parents or mast" of such children, or by ye inhabitants in genrall, by way of supply, as ye major pt of those yt ordr ye prudentials of y° towne shall appoint ; pvided, those yt send their children be not oppressed by paying much more yn they can have ym taught for in othr townes ; & it is furthr ordered, yt where any towne shall increase to ye numbr of 100 families or househouldr, they shall set up a grainer schoole, ye mr thereof being able to instruct youth so farr as they may be fited for ye university, pvided, yt if any towne neglect ye pformance hereof above one yeare, yt every such towne shall pay 51 to ye next schools till they shall pforme this order." 1

This was the first act of Massachusetts Bay Colony providing for elementary and secondary schools, but not the first act relating to education. Harvard College had been established, and provision made for its support and management. An act of 1642 had charged the selectmen in all of the towns to see that parents and masters provided for the education of their children, to the extent of teaching them to read and understand the principles of religion and the capital laws of the country, and to engage in some suitable employment. In 1645 it had been ordered that all youth in the colony from ten to sixteen years of age should receive military training, including instruction " in ye exercise of armes, as small guns, halfe pikes, bowes & arrowes, &c."

The law of 1647 is significant in that it required all of the larger towns to act after a pattern already set by the voluntary action of the more enterprising communities. It may, perhaps, be added to this, that it is significant as proceeding from the civil authority. I do not know of any earlier act establishing a school system in any country of modern Christendom, which was so distinctly civil in its character.

Care must be taken, however, not to claim too much for such an apparently new departure as this. It is glory enough for any historic act, if it turn the current of human affairs to any appreciable degree in a direction along which noble achievements shall be wrought out by later generations. The Massachusetts law went only a little further than the exhortations and charges sometimes addressed by princes in Catholic lands and times to the higher clergy and monastic orders of their realms. Charles the Great is a conspicuous example of a Catholic king who participated directly in matters of education. In more ways than one the traditions of the Roman Empire were resumed under his rule. Education had been recognized under the Roman Empire as a civil function. In some sense the gradual assumption of educational control by the civil power since the Reformation is the resumption of a civil function which had been in abeyance through the intervening centuries, save in occasional and scattered instances. It was, undoubtedly, both more and less than this.

When the Massachusetts act was passed, important beginnings in this resumption of civil control had been made in other lands, both Lutheran and Calvinistic. In some of the German states the sovereign power had already set up systems of schools). But we can hardly say that, previous to the eighteenth century, any German prince had issued decrees relating to education in his civil, as distinct from his ecclesiastical, capacity.

Great, efforts had been put forth to provide education for the people of Holland, and for that age the endeavor had met with considerable success. But the system was still primarily ecclesiastical in character. The Synod of Dort, in 1618, had laid great emphasis upon school instruction ; but what that synod had in view was mainly instruction in the catechism, as carried on in parochial schools.

Such references as we find to educational activity on the part of the state are exceedingly vague.

The educational history of Scotland is peculiarly rich in examples of the interaction of civil and ecclesiastical authorities, and one finds great difficulty in the search for a leading clue through the mass of royal decrees, acts of parliament and of general assembly, and records of municipal proceedings with which it has to do. Even before the Reformation, this interaction had begun. After the Reformation the reorganized national church' repeatedly urged the civil authorities to lend their aid in the effort to educate the people. The First Book of Discipline, prepared under the immediate influence of Knox and others of the early reformers, presented a comprehensive scheme for a system of public schools, elementary, secondary, and higher, and called on the state for authority to put the plan into effect. In 1616 the Privy Council passed a decree imposing on each parish the obligation to support a school. This decree was ratified by an act of the Scotch parliament in 1633. These proceedings, taken upon the urgent call of the national church, seem to have treated the school primarily as a dependency of the church. Still more active efforts, put forth by ecclesiastical assemblies, were followed in 1646 by a more definite parliamentary enactment. The most important provisions of this act read as follows :

" The Estates of Parliament now conveened, in the fifth Session of this first Triennall Parliament, Considering how prejudiciall the want of Schools in many congregations hath been, and how beneficiall the founding thereof in every congregation will be to this Kirk and Kingdom ; Do therefore Statute and Ordain, That there be a Schoole founded, and a Schoole master appointed in every Parish (not already provided) by advice of the Presbyterie : And to this purpose, that the Heritors in every congregation meet among themselves, and provide a commodious house for a Schoole, and modifie a stipend to the Schoole master, which shall not be under Ane hundred Merks, nor above Tua hundred Merks, to be paid yeerly at two Terms : And to this effect that they set down a stmt upon every ones Rent of stock and teind in the Parish, proportionally to the worth thereof, for maintenance of the Schoole, and payment of the Schoole masters stipend ; Which stipend is declared to be due to the Schoole masters by and attour the casualities which formerly belonged to Readers and Clerks of Kirk Sessions. And if the Heritors shall not conveene, or being conveened shall not agree amongst themselves, Then, and in that case the Presbyterie shall nominate twelve honest men within the bounds of the Presbyterie, who shall have power to establish a Schoole, modifie a stipend for the Schoole master, with the latitude before expressed, and set down a stent for payment thereof upon the Heritors, which shall be as valide and effectuall as if the same had been clone by the Heritors themselves."

There is much in the spirit and direction of this educational movement in Scotland which reminds one strongly of the parallel movement in Massachusetts, though there is but little in the wording of the Massachusetts act of 1647 to recall the Scotch act of the preceding year. It would seem almost certain that the men of Massachusetts must have acted with full knowledge of what their fellow Calvinists of the north country were doing. Direct evidence of such knowledge may not be found ; but the close connection of both the Scotch Presbyterians and the colonists of New England with the Puritan revolutionists of Old England, makes it altogether probable that each group was pretty well informed as to what the others were doing.

The action of the civil power in Scotland, in the legislation recorded above, went further in some respects than the Massachusetts enactment of 1647, and nearly as far in other respects ; but the antecedents and the specific provisions of the Scotch law show more of ecclesiastical connection than does the Massachusetts statute. It was not until the passage of the acts of 1693 and 1696 that a national system of education was really established in Scotland, and even those acts continued much of the earlier ecclesiastical participation in the management of the schools. The Massachusetts law, on the other hand, while pushing religious considerations to the front, addressed itself to the civil authorities, and made no reference to the churches nor to the clergy in connection with the school administration.

But it was not to be expected that Massachusetts, in the seventeenth century, would bring into being a public school system in the modern sense of the term. Its education act was the act of a legislature elected by members of churches of a recognized faith and order; a legislature which looked upon the furtherance of true religion as its highest end and aim. The religious purpose was its chief concern in the provision for schools, and the obligation to establish schools and maintain them was laid upon towns which were at the same time congregations. The public school systems of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries are systems suited to a people of diverse religions, and they have grown up with the growth of religious difference. The Puritan fathers would have been horrified at the thought that their legislation was preparing the way for any such thing.

Yet it cannot be doubted that the germ of much of our later school legislation is to be found in the Massachusetts law of 1647. It was not a royal decree, but the act of the people of the colony, who took upon themselves the burden of providing a relatively expensive system of liberal education. However many ecclesiastical implications and connections it may have had, it was a civil act, such as might serve as a precedent in states differently constituted, and where the conditions of admission to the electoral body were not pitched so high.

There is abundant evidence that it did serve as such precedent. In official documents and in private publications relating to education, east and west, north and south, all through the formative periods of our public education, the example of Massachusetts has been held up for emulation. It is doubtful whether there is any large section in the whole land where its influence has not been felt. Such being the case, it will be well to trace somewhat in detail the later colonial history of the Massachusetts system.

Subsequent education acts in the colony and province followed the general lines laid down in the law of 1647. In 1654, the general court of the colony made it the special care of the overseers of the college and the select-men of the several towns to prevent the appointment or the continuance in office of teachers who " have mannifested themselves vnsound in the faith or scandalous in theire lines, and not giving due sattisfaction according to the rules of Christ."

The meeting of the general court on the 12th of November, 1659, marks another epoch in our early educational history. Individual grants of land, of two hundred acres each, were made for the relief of two schoolmasters, Daniel Weld and Elijah Corlett, out of consideration for " the vsefullnes of the peti`coners in an imployment of so comon concernment for the good of the whole country, & the little incouragement that they have had from theire respective tounes for theire service and vnwearied pajnes in that imployment." And grants of one thousand acres each were made to the towns of Charlestown, Cambridge, and Dorchester for the support of grammar schools .

In 1671 the fine of five pounds imposed on towns of one hundred families for neglect to provide a grammar school was increased to ten pounds . This penalty was again in-creased, in 1683, to twenty pounds in the case of towns of two hundred families, and it was further provided at the same time that every town of more than five hundred amilies should " set vp & mainteyne two graffiar schooles and two wrighting schooles."

After the colony had become a royal province, the colonial school law was reenacted, in substance, though somewhat modernized in wording. A grammar school was to be maintained in every town of one hundred families, under penalty of ten pounds for each conviction . One half of the receipts from fines for the selling of liquors without license and for certain other offences, was devoted to the support of grammar or writing schools . The provision relating to the maintenance of grammar schools having been "shamefully neglected by divers towns," the penalty for non-observance was increased in 1701 to twenty pounds per annum. It was further provided that every grammar master must be approved by the minister of the town or the ministers of two adjacent towns, and hold a certificate to that effect ; and that the minister of a town should not serve as schoolmaster. In 1718, "by sad experience it is found that many towns that not only are obliged by law, but are very able to support a grammer school, yet choose rather to incurr and pay the fine or penalty than maintain a grammer school." A law of that date accordingly increases the fine to thirty pounds for every town of one hundred and fifty families, forty pounds for such as have two hundred families, and so "pro rato" (sic) for a town of two hundred and fifty or three hundred families.

A new Massachusetts was by this time growing up, as the frontier settlements were pushed farther and farther into the interior. The new towns did not all take kindly to the compulsory maintenance of schools, and the older towns were not unanimous in their adherence to it. The legislature and the courts of the province had much to do, as the records show, in the effort to make these independent-spirited Massachusetts communities live up to a law which was one of the chief glories of the commonwealth.

The Massachusetts act of 1647 was copied almost verbatim in the Connecticut code of 1650. After the union of the Connecticut and New Haven Colonies, the county instead of the town was made the territorial unit in the maintenance of grammar schools. In May, 1672, the general court granted each county town six hundred acres of land for the support of such a school, and later in the same year the requirement of a grammar school in each town of one hundred families was changed to one in each county town. From time to time various colony funds were voted to the support of these schools ; and a fine of ten pounds was imposed on any county town which should fail to comply with the law. It was on these lines that a general system of secondary schools was maintained in Connecticut throughout the remainder of the colonial period.

New Hampshire was a part of Massachusetts when the law of 1647 was adopted, and for many years thereafter. When the separation took place, the northern colony continued the same educational policy, in the face of all the obstacles to be met with on an exposed frontier in times, fretted with wars against the French and Indians. In 1719 an act was passed which was in the main a reproduction of the original Massachusetts law, but the penalty for failure to maintain schools was increased from five to twenty pounds. Two years later, the selectmen of the towns were made individually liable for such failure. These laws were still in force at the time of the Revolution.

Another powerful and pervasive spiritual force in the colonies, after Calvinism, was the doctrine and life of " the people called Quakers." Of especial significance in the history of education was their doctrine of the inner light, and their insistence upon the separation of church and state. Revelation, for these people, was not brought to an end with the completion of the New Testament. It was continued in the spiritual illumination of each individual Christian. The Scriptures, then, though a true revelation and of the greatest value, were not the only guide of life. Such doctrine would lead some to lay great emphasis on the higher learning, but would lead all to give to learning the second place, while an enlightened conscience was held to be the principal thing. As early as the seventeenth century there was a spirited discussion of the question of " an educated ministry." And members of the society of Friends, quite consistently, took the ground that the education of the minister was a matter of secondary importance. It is not surprising that some members of this society went further, and developed a positive opposition to education beyond the merest rudiments ; yet the more intelligent of their number manifested from the beginning a lively sense of the importance of schools of every grade, from the lowest to the highest.

The Quakers made themselves felt at an early day in the life of the several colonies. George Fox came to America in 1671 for an extended preaching tour. His followers were influential in the affairs of Maryland. William Penn was one of the company of Friends which for a time exercised proprietary rights over West Jersey ; and finally Quaker influence in the colonies culminated in the magnificent grant which Penn received, in 1681, from Charles the Second.

There is much that has a very modern sound in the Frame of Government which Penn drew up for his colony : Freedom of religion (except for " Papists ") ; large powers granted to an elective legislature ; and intimately connected with these, a system of education under civil control. " The Governor and Provincial Council shall erect and order all public schools, and encourage and reward the authors of useful sciences and laudable inventions iu the said province." And one of the committees into which the Provincial Council was divided for purposes of administration was " a committee of manners, education, and arts, that all wicked and scandalous living may be prevented, and that youth may be successively trained up in virtue and useful knowledge and arts."

Penn's first legislature (1682) confirmed his Frame of Government and passed the " Great Body of Laws." One of these statutes provided that the laws of the province should be taught in the schools of the province. The second legislature, meeting March 10, 1683, passed a bill requiring parents and guardians to have their children instructed in reading and writing and "taught some useful trade or skill, that the poor may work to live, and the rich, if they become poor, may not want." Some months later, the Governor and Council engaged Enoch Flower to teach reading, writing, and casting accounts, in Philadelphia.

Thus far we find the provincial government taking very advanced ground in the matter of public control of education. The new frame of government adopted in 1696, after the brief term of royal administration, renewed the educational provision of the frame of 1682. Then a retrograde movement began. Penn's final frame of government, presented in 1701, omitted entirely the earlier provision for education. The attempt was now made to provide for public instruction through the agency of the several religious denominations in the province. The Charter School at Philadelphia was first put under the control of one of the " meetings " of the Society of Friends. In its final organization it was a privately managed institution, without formal responsibility either to a sect or to the provincial government. The overseers of this institution were empowered to set up a general system of schools for the city and county of Philadelphia. After some difficulty, caused by the opposition of the British government, an act of the provincial legislature was finally put in force, empowering religious denominations to establish and maintain schools. So the early movement toward a system of public education under civil control in Pennsylvania came to an end. If ever the inner history of this effort shall be written, it must prove highly interesting and instructive.

The mixture of civil, ecclesiastical, and private agency in the system of education proposed for Maryland by the act of 1696, invites examination. What we see at first glance is this : A colony which has just set up a quasi establishment of the Church of England within its territory, proceeds, by act of legislature, to provide for public education ; and this it does by erecting a corporation, private in form, but in some sort of co-operation with the highest dignitaries of the English Church, charged with the establishment and administration of schools in the several counties, the officers of government making individual contributions to the support of the undertaking. The notable fact, so far as our present discussion is concerned, is that the really decisive action in Maryland was that taken by the civil power. Miss Clews remarks that "The step from a government church to government schools was short." It must be remembered, however, that this short step was important, for it was taken at a time when in the world at large a church under the episcopal form of administration was apparently incompatible with a system of government schools.

We have here another of those passages in the history of American education which offer promising topics for special investigation. Some Calvinistic influence may have been felt in the movement,l and the example of the New England colonies doubtless had some weight. There was, moreover, a strong contingent of Quakers in Maryland. The educational movement in Pennsylvania must have been felt there. In a new country, among a people much divided in their religious affiliations, where there was but little accumulated wealth, high educational aspirations could be realized only through the co-operation of many forces. Governor Nichol-son's personal influence was powerful, and he seems to have been sufficiently desirous of seeing schools established to be willing to employ any fair means which might be available for the attainment of that end. It seems likely that this was the determining factor in the case.

The matter was the occasion of much wrangling both before and after the passage of the act of 1696. The growing demand for opportunities of advancement for American-born youth in the public service, was emphasized in this discussion. The bill was in all likelihood a compromise. It is clear that especial pains were taken to keep the new system in close relations with the English Church. Even so the act seems to mark another of the early stages in the development of that participation of the civil power in affairs of public education which eventuated in the school systems of the past fifty years.

The act of 1696, as previously stated, failed to secure the establishment of any but the King William school. But it led to later legislation which was more effective. Various duties were imposed from time to time for the benefit of free schools — on imported negroes and on exports of tobacco, pork, tar, etc. Then, in 1723, a new act was passed, providing again for one free school in each of the twelve counties of the colony. A separate board of seven visitors was erected for each of these schools. Each board was required to purchase one hundred acres of land, to be turned over to the use of the schoolmaster, together with a house for his residence and for the school; and to pay the master in addition a salary of twenty pounds a year. The master must be an adherent of the Church of England? The colony was evidently in earnest in this matter, and the schools contemplated in the law were generally established ; but there are indications in the course of subsequent legislation that great difficulty was met with in the attempt to hold them up to even a moderate standard of efficiency.

The four colonies, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maryland, bravely kept up some sort of colonial system of education down to the time of separation from the mother country. The schools were " free schools " in intention. In theory, if not always in practice, they offered instruction in Latin, and pointed forward to the higher education. For the last fifty years of the period, for reasons which will be considered further on, the chariot drave heavily. It was not simply that the colonies were degenerating intellectually. New times had come, and with them the need of a new education and new educational institutions.



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