Chapter XXIV - Educational Affairs

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

PART 2 County History
Pages 287-301

The tracks of the Indians were scarcely effaced from our valleys and hills before the pioneer pedagogue appeared upon the scene. Who the first teacher was that ever meted out learning in the county of Hampshire will never be known. Even the names of these early teachers have be come mere traditions, and we can only describe them as a class, making abundant allowance for exceptions.

In those early days that a man was a teacher did not signify that he was educated or cultivated. In fact these were often his least important qualifications. He must, however, be a man of courage and muscle, able to hold his own "when the "big boys" entered upon the precarious pastime of "putting the teacher out." He must, moreover, be expert in the use of the rod and skilled in making quill pens. While he was not always of the most religions turn of mind, he had no shadow of doubt but that Solomon's saying: "Spare the rod and spoil the child," was a divine revelation.

This primitive apostle of education, the forerunner of the present educational system, labored under many disadvantages. His remuneration was small, arid a place to hold his school was not always to be had. Sometimes a rude hut near a fort answered the purpose, or sometimes a public-spirited citizen would allow the use of his cabin a few hours each day.

It was not many years, however, until the backwoods school house was built. It was not an elegant building, but it served as a place for holding schools, religious and political meetings. The structure was usually of unhewn logs with the cracks between more or less closed by puncheons and mortar. The floor was made of puncheons placed with the hewn side up, and the door made of clapboards. Somewhere in the wall a part of a log was left out and pamper greased with lard served to close the aperture and let in the light. There was a huge chimney at one end large enough to accommodate a child or two on each side and yet have a roaring fire in the middle. Nor was the furniture more inviting than the building itself. The seats were made of split log's, hewn smooth on one surface, which was placed upward and supported by legs thrust into auger holes on the under side. These benches had no backs, and as they were rather high the position was not an easy one, especially for the smaller pupils, who sat all day dangling their tiny feet in a vain effort to reach the floor. Writing was done exclusively with pens made from quills, and a slab supported on pins driven into the wall served as a writing desk. Among the earlier text books there was a United States speller, the New Testament, the English reader and. an arithmetic.

These early schools received no state aid, nor were they regulated by law. They were made up in something like the following manner. A peripatetic pedagogue appeared in a neighborhood with a subscription paper and each family "signed" whatever number of pupils it felt able to send. If enough "signers" were secured the school would begin; if not, the teacher wandered on to another neighborhood to try his luck again. Not infrequently the teacher took his pay in "produce," and the meager pay he received was made to go further by what was called "boarding round." By this system the teacher stayed a part of the time with each of his patrons. He frequently contributed to the comfort of the families with whom he stayed by chopping wood and doing chores.

The instruction given was usually of a very rudimentary nature, embracing the three R's, "reading, 'riting and 'rithmetic," and some knowledge of spelling. In mathematics the study extended as far as vulgar fractions, before which came proportion in the old arithmetics. But proportion was not proportion in those old books; it was the "singie rule of three" and its mastery was considered an intellectual feat. There were no blackboards, no globes and charts, no steel pens, in fact hardly any apparatus and yet these primitive schools were the places where many a man got his inspiration that in after life made him a giant among his fellows.

It was not until 1810 that Virginia gave any recognition to popular education. It was then that the general assembly created what was known as the "Literary Fund." One of the provisions of the act was that all escheats, confiscations, fines and pecuniary penalties and all rights in personal property, accruing to the commonwealth as derelict and having no rightful proprietor should be used for the encouragement of learning. The auditor was instructed to open an account with the "Literary Fund." The management of this fund was vested in the governor, lieutenant governor, treasurer, attorney general and president of the court of appeals.

By an act passed 1818 it was provided that "it shall be the duty of the courts of the several counties, cities and corporate towns * * * in the month of October or as soon thereafter as may be, to appoint not less than five nor more than fifteen discreet persons to be called school commissioners." These commissioners had charge of the disbursement of their pro rata share of the fund which was distributed annually. In 1819 the "Literary Fund" amounted to four thousand five hundred dollars. That portion received by each county was used to pay the tuition of indigent children at the subscription schools. These children were selected by the commissioners and apportioned to the different schools of the county. Here we see the first instance of the state taking it upon itself to educate its citizens, a work which at the present time seems so necessary. These "poor" or "primary" schools were what in 1863 developed into the free school system.

Poor white children only received benefit from the "Literary Fund." No provision was made for the education of colored children, in fact it was discouraged by sentiment and statute. An act passed by the general assembly, March 2, 1819, provides, "that all meetings or assemblages of slaves at any school or schools for teaching them reading or writing either in the day or in the night shall be deemed and considered an unlawful assembly." Corporal punishment to the extent of twenty lashes was to be inflicted upon the offenders. This was likely to make it unpleasant for the philanthropic teacher who sought to give instruction to his African brother.

There was a semi-compulsory provision connected with the distribution of the "Literary Fund" by which the commissioners were allowed to select children whom they considered as standing in need of help. After these children had been selected by the board of commissioners it became the duty of the parents or guardians to send such children, and if they failed they were made to pay a sum equal to the tuition for each day the children were absent. Many persons objected to this system of schools as when they received aid it placed them in the light of paupers. There were unquestionably many grave faults in the system, but it was a step toward that system which sets forth the idea that there is no child either too rich or too poor to receive an education at the hands of the state.

There was little change in the school system from 1819 to 1845, when we find an act passed by the state legislative body authorizing the county court to redistrict the counties and appoint a commissioner for each district. These commissioners were to meet at the court house of their respective counties at the October term of court, and proceed to elect viva voce a county superintendent of schools. This is the first officer of that kind provided for in the school system. His duties were numerous, among them was to keep a register of the children in his district and report annually to the "Literary Fund" the condition of the schools under his care.

Still another step toward the free school system of today was an act for the establishment of a district public school system. This act was passed March 5, 1846. It provided that if one-third of the voters of a county should petition the county court, the court should submit to them at the next regular election the question of establishing district public schools. If two-thirds of the votes cast were in favor of such schools they were established. The maintenance of these schools was accomplished "by a uniform rate of increased taxation" upon the taxable property in the county. This additional levy was laid by the school commissioners. There was also a provision for three trustees in each district, two of whom were elected by the voters of the district at the annual election, and one of whom was appointed by the board of commissioners. These trustees were authorized to select a site for a school house in the district, build and furnish the same, and to employ a teacher, whom they could discharge for good cause.

It was also a part of their official business "to visit the school at least once in every month and examine the scholars and address the pupils if they see fit, and exhort them to prosecute their studies diligently and to conduct themselves virtuously and properly."

We see, then, how nearly the plan of the present system of schools was evolved more than fifty years ago, but its weak point was that it was left to the option of each county to accept or neglect it as the people saw fit, and we may safely say it was more often neglected than accepted.

The boom of cannon had scarcely died out of our hills when the arts of peace began to be taught in every county in the state. During the horrors of civil strife, in which, time our state was born, the free schools had been established. The system was in operation before the war in many states of the union, and in the neighboring states of Pennsylvania and Ohio. When those men who refused to follow the old state in seceding from the union met to frame a constitution for the new state they comprehended the advantages of a uniform system of free education. Well knowing the opposition such a system would meet with and the obstacles it would have to surmount, they builded on a sure foundation by inserting in the first constitution this declaration: "The legislature shall provide, as soon as practicable, for the establishment of a thorough and efficient system free schools by appropriating thereto the interest of the invested school fund, the net proceeds of all forfeitures, confiscations and fines accruing to this state under the laws thereof, and by general taxation on persons or property, or otherwise. They shall also provide for raising in each township [district], by the authority of the people thereof, such a proportion of the amount required for the support of free schools therein as shall be prescribed by general laws." When the first legislature met, December 20, 1863, they showed their desire to co-operate with the framers of the constitution by passing an act establishing the free school system. The voters of each township were to elect a board of education, and the voters of the county were to elect a county superintendent of free schools. The first board of education for Hampshire county was that of Romney district and was composed of Rev. O. P. Wirgman, president; William S. Purgett, Dr. Leatherman and J. D. McIlwee, secretary.

The first county superintendent of free schools was William Head, who was elected in 1865. At this time there were less than a dozen schools in the county. This system, which all now consider so necessary and which all heartily support, met with vigorous opposition for several years after its introduction. The duties of the board of education at that time included those now performed by both board and trustees. It was not until 1866 that an act was passed providing that the board should appoint three trustees for each sub-district. The powers of these trustees consisted in caring for school property, hiring teachers and visiting the schools under their charge.

The duties of the county superintendent were many and diversified. He was "to examine all candidates for the profession of teacher and to grant certificates to those competent." There was at that time a wide range in securing a certificate. There were five grades, known as number ones, twos, etc., up to number fives. Many of those who applied for certificates were woefully unprepared and few number ones were granted. The lower grades, however, made it almost impossible for a candidate to fail if he could write his name and knew the date of his birth. There is a current tradition of a teacher who presented himself to the county superintendent for examination in those early days. When he returned home some of his neighbors inquired how he had succeeded. He replied that he had done very well, having made a number four, but that he intended to return to the next examination and try for a number five, as he thought he could do better a second time.

Other duties of the superintendent were to visit the schools "at least three times during each term of six months," to "encourage the formation of associations of teachers and teachers' institutes," and "to secure as far as practicable uniformity in the text-books used in schools throughout the county". His salary for this service was to range from one hundred to five hundred dollars.

While these schools were established for persons from six to twenty-one years of age, they were even more liberal than this. In 1865 union soldiers honorably discharged from the service could receive instruction in the free schools without charge. It was also provided that other persons over school age could receive instruction upon the payment of a stipulated amount.

At the present time the district levies are laid by the board of education for each district. This has been the case since 1868, but previous to that time they were laid by the annual township or district meeting's and could not go beyond twenty-five cents on each hundred dollars valuation for building fund and twenty cents for the teachers' fund. In 1867 the maximum for each fund was fixed at fifty cents on the hundred dollars valuation, and the moneys of the funds were to be kept separate. Uniformity in the textbooks was aimed at in a law enacted in 1865, enabling the state superintendent to prescribe a series of class books to be used. The question of providing suitable textbooks has been one that has always confronted and hindered the advance of education. There is probably not a state or territory in the United States that has a series of text-books which are wholly satisfactory. When some satisfactory solution to this troublesome problem has been reached the free schools will make still more wonderful steps forward than have been made in the past.

We have seen that under the laws of Virginia, while there was in reality no free school system, yet there was a provision whereby district schools might be established, and later there was an act calling for three trustees to be appointed to care for each district. Trustees were provided for as early as 1866 by the new state, and it became the duty of the board of education to appoint three trustees for each sub-district.

In introducing the free schools the legislature and friends of education overreached themselves by passing a law requiring the schools to be kept open uniformly six months each year. This could not be done by the maximum levy laid, and thus one law made another null and void. It was therefore enacted in 1867 that the schools should be kept open at least four months in the year, but even this could not be done, and in some districts of counties in the state there were not more than two months' school a year. The constitution of 1872 reaffirmed the position of the former one and enjoined upon the legislature to provide by general law for a thorough and efficient system of free schools. When the legislature assembled after the adoption of this constitution, among its first acts were those intended to carry out this clause of the constitution. A board of education was to be elected in each district, composed of a president and two commissioners. At the same time one trustee was to be elected. This number was afterwards changed to three and they were appointed by the board.

The county superintendent had enjoyed a monopoly on holding examinations for candidates for the profession of teaching up to the year 1873, but the acts of that year provided two examiners to assist him. His office heretofore had some possibilities of being moderately lucrative, but in 1879 he was reduced to a maximum salary of one hundred and twenty-five dollars, but as an offset he was excused from visiting school and his duties became very few. This office has always been so poorly paid as to render it almost useless by not holding out inducements sufficient to lead men of education and ability to devote their time and attention to it. A little more dignity was added to the office and a little better salary attached by an act passed in 1831 when it was made to pay not less than one hundred and fifty dollars nor more than three hundred dollars, and the superintendent was again required to visit the schools. Just where and by whom the first school was taught in Hampshire cannot now be stated with any absolute certainty. There are many traditions and facts, however, concerning these schools, some of which will be given.

Even after the civil war the school houses in this county, perhaps, did not exceed a dozen. In earlier times they were exceedingly scarce. There was a school house on Sandy ridge where some of the oldest persons now living attended school. This was built about 1835. Another at Forks of Capon near John Hiett's was scarcely less old. A very old school house with dist floor and a chimney built of mud and sticks was standing as early as 1845 three miles from Forks of Capon, near North river. On the Bright's. hollow road, one mile from Levels Cross roads, was built a school house in 1840. Outside of the towns these were, no doubt, among the first, if not the first, school houses built in the county.

The names of the early teachers have almost been forgotten. In the eastern part of the county we hear of the names of Barrett, Warren and Higgins as teachers, but the dates when and places where they taught are now forgotten. It was without question near the beginning of this century. Jeduthan Higbee, who taught in this country as early as 1830, came here from England. He had been educated for an Episcopal minister, but chose the profession of teaching. An entry made in an old note book shows that William Dunn taught school in Romney in 1813. Other early teachers who have long since passed away were a Mr. Chad wick and James A. Cowgill, the latter an able preacher of the Disciples' church.

Some of the pioneer educators of Hampshire are yet alive and can contemplate with pleasure the harvest now being gathered from their sowings in former years. Among these is Mrs. D. W. Swisher (nee Katharine Bonnifield) who taught her first school in Hampshire county, near Higginsville, in 1845, something over a half century ago. Miss Mary E. Keckley is another of our aged and respected early lady teachers. Colonel Samuel Cooper began teaching in 1843 and Colonel Alexander Monroe about the same time. Another of the veteran educators of this county is B. F. McDonald, who began teaching in 1852 at the age of eighteen. All honor to these early workers in the educational vineyard. May they share with the present generation the advantages that have come to us from their labors.

The first public school taught in the county had for its home the law office of Andrew Kercheval in Romney and the teacher was Rev. O. P. Wirgman. This was in 1864-5. The six or seven schools opened the year after the war have grown to be more than a hundred at the present time. The county is now divided into seven school districts as follows: Gore, Bloomery, Capon, Sherman, Springfield, Romney and Mill Creek. Some mention of the academic schools is here in place and they will be considered in the order of their foundation.

Romney Academy. — Just back of where the present court house stands, for many years there stood a stone building, constructed so long ago that all remembrance of when it was built is now forgotten. This was the Romney academy. Many of the oldest inhabitants of the town went to school there in their youth. John G. Combs remembers attending school there as early as 1823, at which time he was ten years old. He has, however, no recollection of when it was built. It was undoubtedly the oldest school house in the county, and perhaps was built about the beginning" of the present century. The rough, unhewn stones of which the academy was built, gave it a very uncouth exterior. The name of its founder, as well as of the first teachers who wielded the rod and saved the. child within the walls of this early structure, are lost in oblivion. The remembrance of some of those early disciples of learning and knights of the birch is yet fresh in the memory of persons now living. Henry Johnson, an Englishman, was for years a teacher there.

Rev. Win. H. Foote became principal about 1826 and continued in that position for many years. The following named gentlemen were either principals or subordinate teachers in the academy at sundry times in its history: E. W. Newton, Silas C. Walker, Brown, Thomas Mulledy and Samuel Mulledy.

After it ceased to be used as a school building the old academy was put to various purposes. For a time it was the home of the Virginia Argus. Its upper hall was also used for years as a meeting place for secret orders. The walls stood for years after it ceased to be used at all, and the place where it stood is yet to be recognized.

Romney Classical Institute. — It was through the educational forces put into operation by the Romney literary society that this school was established. Before any considerable progress can be made in any enterprise it is essential that people first think along the line of progress desired. The thought concerning educational advancement provoked by the discussions in the literary society at length materialized in the above-named school.

It was in 1845 that the matter took definite shape. In a local paper of the date April 4, 1845, we find a notice asking for bids from contractors "for the erection of a building for the Literary Society of Romney." This was, in the words of the advertisement, to be "a brick building, 36 feet by 40 feet, 22 feet high from the foundation of the square, to consist of two stories, to have a tin roof and be surmounted by a cupola. The end to be the front and to be embellished with a handsome portico the whole width of the house." The notice is signed by E. M. Armstrong, John B. Kercheval, David Gibson, committee.

All bids were to be in by the 24th of May of the same year, and it was on this day that the deed for the land on which the building was to stand was made to the trustees. The school opened the following year.

Rev. Wm. H. Foote, who at that time was teaching an academic school in the old court house which stood on the present site of W. N. Guthrie's store, was induced to become principal. He continued in this capacity until the fall of 1849, when he withdrew and, soon after established the Potomac seminary.

When Dr. Foote resigned E. J. Meany was chosen principal. He had for his assistants John J. Jacob, Mrs. Meany and Miss Kern.

For some years there was a literary organization known as the Phrena Kosmian society in connection with the institute. On November 15, 1850, this society discussed the question, "Would the Southern States be justified in seceding from the Confederacy under present circumstances?" There is no record of the conclusion reached, but we all know too well, alas, the decision of the states themselves little more than a decade after the debate.

John J. Jacob, afterwards governor of West Virginia, "became principal of this school in 1851. At this time Romney had two academic schools, the seminary and the institute, both in a flourishing condition.

Mr. Jacob was succeeded by J. Nelson, who was teaching in the institute when the war broke out in 1861. The doors of the school were then closed until peace once more came to possess the land. About 1866 William C. Clayton became principal and held school for a few terms. Mr. Dinwiddie was also a teacher in this school after the war.

When West Virginia decided to establish a school for the deaf and blind, Romney put in its bid for the location. One of the inducements was the offer on the part of the trustees of the classical institute to give the building and grounds of that school to form the nucleus of the new school for the deaf and blind. Romney was finally chosen as the site for the state school for these unfortunates, and with the foundation of the institution we loose sight of the Romney Classical institute which was them absorbed by and became a part of the new organization.

Potomac Seminary. — Owing to some friction between Dr. Foote, principal, and the governing body of the Romney Classical institute, he resigned the principalship of the institute in 1849 and established the Potomac seminary in 1850. The deed for the land on which the building's stand was made a year after the building was erected. It was expressly stipulated in the deed that the principal of the seminary should always be a member of the Presbyterian church, and that the government of the school should be in the hands of the pastor and sessions. Such has always been the case, and the school is yet governed and presided over in the manner originally intended.

In the opening session in the fall of 1850 Rev. W. H. Foote was principal, Rev. Edward Martin professor and Mrs. Foote and Mrs. White assistants. Dr. Foote continued as principal until June, 1861, when the breaking out of the civil war turned the minds of the people to things other than education.

J. M. Diffenderfer took charge of the school soon after the war, but his success was not great owing largely to the financial stringency of the times. For a few years after Mr. Diffenderfer's resignation no academic school was held, but primary instruction in the form of a subscription school was still given.

About the year 1870 S. L. Flournoy took charge of the school and met with considerable success. He was succeeded by Dr. John Wilson, who continued for some years when the school was again given over to primary instruction.

W. H. Morton, of Kentucky, in 1890, placed the school once more upon an academic basis and it has so continued until the present time. Mr. Morton had charge of the seminary until 1894 when he was succeeded by Professor J. B. Bentley, who served as principal for a singie year.

The present efficient principal took charge of the seminary in the fall of 1895. Under Rev. W. S. Friend, the gentleman now in charge, the name of this institution of learning was changed from Potomac seminary to Potomac academy. Under his administration the tendency has been decidedly progressive and the future outlook of the school is encouraging.

Springfield Academy. — This school might almost be called a branch of the Potomac seminary as Dr. Foote, who shaped the destinies of the seminary, also took an active part in founding the academy. The deed for the ground on which this school was built was made in 1854 by William Abernathy to William Henry Foote, William Walker and William Earsom, trustees. The deed conveys "the said land to be held for the purpose of erecting such buildings as may be thought necessary for carrying on a school or schools of such order and grade as may be deemed advisable for the welfare of the community."

The following gentlemen were principals of this school in the order named: Rev. Conkling, John Q. A. Jones, J. M. Diffenderfer and Rev. Mr. Chadwick. The academy closed its doors during the late war and they were never reopened.

We have passed in hasty review the various educational movements within our county's borders. It is gratifying, to be sure, that so much has been done and the past augurs well for the future. The principal drawback to educational advancement at the present time is the meager salaries of the teachers. Such salaries as are now paid are not calculated to encourage persons to thoroughly prepare themselves for the profession of teaching. But let the friends of education be patient. Teachers are paid as much perhaps as the people are able to pay, or at least as much as they are willing to pay, at the present time. Public schools have long ago proved their raison d'etre and we can but hope and believe that in the future those who have shared in their blessings will see to it that they are well cared for. An institution that has its foundation in the affections of a people cannot be easily destroyed.

Residence and family of Franklin Herriott

Photograph - residence and family of Franklin Herriott

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