Typed by Frank Manning.
Early Teachers - Some of the Early Schools - Lancasterian Academy - Noah Linsly - The Lancasterian System - The Public School System Under the Old Regime.
The early settlers of Ohio county and the city of Wheeling were impressed with the importance of a practical and useful education and especially was this the case with that portion of the population known as the Scotch-Irish, many of whom had settled in Ohio county and its vicinity. The first school established in Ohio county, and indeed in the whole region of Western Virginia, was one located in the vicinity of West Liberty in the neighborhood of the year 1800, and was taught by the grandfather of the late Thomas Ewing, of Ohio, the distinguished politician and statesman who supplemented his mental with manual accomplishments, being in the habit of engaging in his leisure hours in the laudable task of mending and cobbling the defective shoes of his neighbors in which he was as successful as he was at school teaching, for he is said to have been an adept cobbler, and to have turned many an honest penny in that occupation. But this was not unusual among the teachers of that early day who were prone to eke out a scanty living by engaging at such employment as might contribute to their support. Therefore in the intervals of keeping school, they manufactured the boots and shoes of their patrons. Their learning as a rule was limited, generally extending in arithmetic as far as the "rule of three," and in orthography to the spelling of words in three syllables. They had great faith in the use of the rod and applied it assiduously, not alone to enforce obedience, but also as a means to sharpen the intellect, and these coercive measures won for them a distinct notoriety.
The school-houses were architecturally of the most primitive character, being built of unhewn logs, and containing sometimes one, and sometimes two windows, but oftener one, with glazed or greased paper for panes of glass, with a clapboard roof, a door of the same material, with a wooden latch and swung on wooden hinges, and the school room was furnished with rough seats manufactured from split logs, which were destitute of any support for the back, thus compelling the pupils to sit upright. The boys and girls would gather at these seats of learning from miles around, with their dog-eared, dirty “Dilworth,” and their blotted and illegible copy books, these latter often made of coarse brown paper, but which were as much appreciated as if made of the finest letter paper.
But in the course of a few years a great improvement was manifested. The teachers were more competent and were not compelled to depend on manual efforts to secure a reasonable support, and an advance was made in the curriculum of studies, and little by little better and more comfortable school-houses were erected, which were provided with letter accommodations. In a few years schools and academies multiplied, and the attention of the people gradually began to be directed to their value and importance. They were not, however, fostered by the state to any extent, but were supported by private means and influence.
SOME OF THE EARLY SCHOOLS.
In the years 1817 and 1818, a gentleman named Remington conducted a school in North Wheeling at the southwest corner of Main and Ninth streets on the site of the Goshorn property, which was then occupied by a building partly of logs and partly frame, the lower story of which was below the level of the street, and which was occupied as a boat store. The school-room was in the second story of the building, and was reached from below by a flight of steps on the outside of the building It was furnished with double doors above and below. How long this school. was continued we are unable to state, as there is no data in existence by which we can determine.
The next school of importance was that of which Rev. Wallace was the principal, and which was located on Market street. This gentleman was a fine scholar and one who thoroughly understood his business. Some of our older citizens doubtless remember his earnest character, and genial and attractive manners.
About the same time a school was carries on by a Mr. McKay, who was familiarly known as "Father McKay." His school was located near the head of the present Chapline street. He was a man of venerable appearance, gentle in disposition and was beloved not only by his pupils but by the general community.
Another school was conducted for a time by a gentleman of the name of Channing and was located on the present Eoff street near to the old jail property.
One of the ablest and most competent instructors this community ever had was Professor Hildreth, who was a relative of the late S. P. Hildreth, the historian, and the father of the late Dr. E. A. Hildreth, and whose wife was Sarah Zane, a daughter of Jonathan Zane. His “Academy,” as it was styled, was located on the present Eoff street, a few doors south of the present Twelfth street. He was a stern and inflexible disciplinarian, a thorough teacher and a successful educator. He was, too, a person of fine literary taste and discrimination and was the author of a work on language which was entitled the “City of Words.”
The first educational institution of importance started in Wheeling was the Lancasterian Academy, through the munificence of Noah Linsly, which was erected on Fourth street and was located between where the present Fourth Street Methodist Episcopal church now stands and the First Presbyterian church. I was commenced in the year 1818, but was no finished for some time after it was commenced It was here that the system of object teaching was first practiced in this section of the country. The young idea, which under the ordinary method of learning letters from a book is frequently very slow in the development of its capacity found no difficulty under the new In rapidly acquiring the desired knowledge. Besides the manner of teaching was such as corresponded with the free and easy disposition of the young. Great boxes filled with sand were ranged around the class-room and above them were hung the letters of the alphabet in conspicuous prominence and of a large size. Monitors were chosen from the larger and more advanced pupils to superintend the younger while engaged in their duties. The little ones kneeling before these boxes of sand would go vigorously to work and take their first lessons in making their letters. The ludicrous mistakes made by the unpracticed were easily effaced in the yielding sand, where the effort was renewed until success crowned their efforts. There are some here today on whose brows Time in his flight has left the impress of his visitation who loved in their early years to make their letters in the yielding sand which was placed in the school-room of that old academy, and who keep green in their memories the names of Dake, John S. Truax and Scott, and others who at times were principals of this worthy institution.
Another institution, of which the Lancasterian Academy was the germ, is the present Linsly Institute, whose generous founder was this same Noah Linsly.
The Lancasterian Academy was incorporated by an Act of Assembly passed October 10, 1814. On the 25th day of May, 1815, a meeting of the trustees was held at which the following persons were present, viz: Daniel Smith, John Good, Noah Zane, Samuel Sprigg, George Knox, Joseph Caldwell, James H. Rolf, Josiah Updegraff and William Chapline, Jr., trustees.
At this meeting William Chapline, Jr., was appointed secretary; Noah Zane was elected I president: and Thomas Woods was elected treasurer, the last named of whom gave a bond in the penalty of $1,000 for the faithful performance of the (lutes of his office. At the same meeting the president was instructed to sell “The tract of land on which Ignatius Gadd now lives, devised by Noah Linsly, Esq., deceased, for the use of the Lancasterian Academy, with authority to enter into such contracts as may be necessary to effect the sale.” At another meeting of the trustees, a committee was appointed consisting of Samuel Sprigg, Josiah Updegraff and James H. Rolf, to report at the following meeting of the trustees a plan for the building of the academy and the sale of the farm so devised as aforesaid. At a meeting of the trustees held March 23, 1816, the president reported that he had effected a sale of the tract of land, hereinbefore mentioned, to Samuel Sprig, for the sum of $6,000, $1,000 of which was paid in cash and the residue in annual payments of $1,000 each. At this meeting a plan for the academy was submitted by the committee appointed for that purpose, which, with seine slight modifications, was adopted and commissioners, to-wit : Noah Zane and Joseph Caldwell, were appointed to contract for erecting the building and superintending the same.
But at a meeting subsequently held on the 2nd day of May, 1816, another plan than the former one which bad been adopted was substituted for this last.
On the 26th of March, 1818, at a meeting of the trustees, Alexander Caldwell was elected president to fill the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Noah Zane at the meeting held May 2, 1816. At this meeting of March 26th, Archibald Woods, Samuel Sprigg, Maj. John Good and Joseph Caldwell were appointed a committee to select suitable ground for the erection of the buildings of the Lancasterian Academy, and also to ascertain the price at which it could be obtained and report. At the same tune a committee was appointed consisting of Alexander Caldwell and Peter Yarnall to solicit subscriptions for the erection of the building.
On the 4th of April, 1818, the plan of the building as suggested by the committee was altered, making its length to be 66 feet and its width 32 feet, the lower story of which was to be in one room and the upper story to be divided into two rooms; and Joseph Caldwell and Peter Yarnall were appointed a committee to draft a particular plan of the said building, confining themselves to the above plan, and that they endeavor to procure the assistance of John McLure in performing the above duty and that they report the plan adopted by them at the next meeting of the board. The committee on plan reported on the 9th clay of April, 1818, a plan styled "Plan No. 5," which was approved and adopted, James Hersey was elected president June 3, 1819, to fill the place of Alexander Caldwell, resigned.
The building was erected in the year 1820 on two lots of ground donated by Noah Zane for this purpose and which were located on Fourth (now Chapline) street, and between Twelfth and Fourteenth streets on the west side of Chapline street. The south room of the second story was occupied by one Robison for a classical school for a brief period, but the first regular teacher was John S. Truax, who operated the school from the year 1822 to 1827, when Daniel Deady became the principal on the 23rd day of April of the same year named. He was followed by Alexander Magee as principal, and this last by Thomas J. Rees.
But we do not purpose to follow further the proceedings of the trustees and the change; which have occurred in the control of the institution except to remark that under the efficient board of trustees it is in a flourishing condition and is a source of much influence in the community by whom it is regarded with much pride. The building is now located on Eoff street, having been some years since removed from its original site on Fourth to the one now occupied by it, between Fourteenth and Fifteenth streets. In 1863 the present building was occupied as the Capitol of the new State of West Virginia and it was in it that the first Legislature of the new state for a time held its sessions.
The public, as we understand the provisions of Linsly's will, are indirectly, if not directly, the real beneficiaries under the same of the fund therein provided, but the public have been left in comparative ignorance so far as its character and disposition is concerned. We append hereto a brief record of the character and life of this friend and benefactor of Wheeling, ? a man whose name and memory has been kept green through the lapse of years in the noble monument erected by his munificence to the cause of education in our midst, which has proven to be a boon to our fellow citizens and will be, we trust, for all coming time to the youth of this community.
In Mount Wood Cemetery, Wheeling, West Virginia, stands a plain marble shaft bearing the inscription:
A native of Connecticut
The founder of the Lancasterian Academy
The friend of youth and the benefactor of Mankind.”
Noah Linsly was born in Branford, Connecticut, February 9, 1772. His family was of English descent, his earliest ancestor in this country, John Linsly, having emigrated from the vicinity of London and settled in New Haven in 1644. Noah Linsly was the third son of Josiah Linsly, but we have no additional knowledge of his family other than that Mr. Jared Linsly, of New York, was his nephew. Mr. Linsly graduated at Yale College in 1791, was tutor in-that institution in 1794-95 and afterward studied law at the Litchfield Law School, under Tapping Reeve. After completing tits studies he removed to Western Virginia and settled at Morgantown in 1797-98, where he remained two years, and then removed to Wheeling, where he passed the remainder of his life. He is described as a man of flue presence, six feet in height, with florid complexion and auburn hair, which he wore in a queue, he was extremely particular in his dress and very dignified in manner. In politics he was an old Federalist; in religion of Presbyterian lineage, though we have no means of knowing his private feelings and opinions upon the subject. He never married, and his personal, friends are all gone, but his life speaks for him more eloquently than could tongue or pen. He died at his residence in Wheeling, of hemorrhage of the lungs, after a very brief illness, March 25, 1814. Two letters, addressed to his brothers, William and Josiah, are interesting as a candid expression of his first impressions of the West. In the first, addressed to William, and dated Morgantown, June 27, 1798, after some discussion of purely personal matters, he says: “I began business here some time in January. My success thus far has been as good as I could reasonably expect, but money here, as well as everywhere else in America, is extremely scarce and fees come in very slowly. In answer to your inquiries, I will state that Morgantown is the county town of Monongalia, situated on the Monongahela River, about nine miles from the Pennsylvania line, 215 from Alexandria and about 300 from Philadelphia. The Monongahela is a main branch of the Ohio, uniting with the Allegheny at Pittsburg. In summer it is generally low, but in the spring and autumn, and occasionally at other times, it is high enough to carry boats of any size. I have known it 30 feet deep upon a shoal opposite Morgantown. Boats go from this place to Kentucky very frequently, and now and then one goes to New Orleans, near the mouth of the Mississippi. Our winter here is almost as long as in New England, hut much milder; we have but little snow and what falls scarcely ever lies for any considerable time. The climate is very healthy; the land is much of it good, but very hilly, better adapted to grass and the raising of stock than for any other purpose. Beef may very well be driven front this country to Alexandria and Baltimore, but flour must go down the river to New Orleans. I am happy to hear of your health and prospects. Give my compliments to Mrs. Linsly and love to the brethren.
“P. S. If you address me in any other manner than in your last letter, you can give me the old-fashioned title of Esquire, which seems to be given to lawyers in every part of the Union. However, it is not a farthing's consequence anyway. My health is at present pretty good; my headache has about left me.
The next letter is dated Morgantown, August 16, 1799, more than a year later; it reads: “Dear Brother: It is with great pleasure that I acknowledge the receipt of your letter dated July ?. My business here, considering the change of times, is as good as I can expect. I suppose that at least six or eight hundred must he clue me, but mostly in small debts, and if I should happen to die the greater part of it might be lost. The country is perfectly healthy. The society in this place is tolerably good and my situation is, on the whole, very agreeable. The disputes respecting land will, for many a day, afford a harvest for honest lawyers in this district, and such I mean to he. In short, though money is scarce and the country poor and distressed at present, I do not despair of making a handsome property in the course of eight or ten years. Respecting politics, I am not noisy, but in the present situation of things I am firmly attached to the present measures of government [times of John Adams]. It was impossible for an independent nation any longer to endure the unexampled depredations, injuries and insults which have been heaped upon us by the French; and sooner than see my country reduced to the wretched condition of Holland. Switzerland, Italy and other countries which have been doomed to fall under the French revolutionary scourge, I will sacrifice my little all and offer myself as a voluntary sacrifice to the independence and liberty of my country. A monarchy and all that belongs to it I abhor as much as any man breathing. I have no fear that anything of that kind will take place in America. So long as the people remain virtuous and well informed it is impossible. I expect, if God spares my life, to see you the winter after nest. I am happy to hear you are well and happy. G?, I fear, has ruined himself, but I cannot help it. The others of my brothers are near you, and you must be a father to there as you have been to me. I still remain single and probably shall, at least there is no probability of my being married for years to come. My constitution is not strong, but I am much more healthy than during the last two years I lived in Connecticut. If you should ever think of moving from Connecticut I would endeavor to bring you to this country. However, the state of society in most parts of the country is such that I do not wish to see you here with your family, unless you could be placed in very independent circumstances, for schools, religious instruction, the decency of manners, etc., are not to be found among the generality of the people of this county. For I myself, I can say that if I am prosperous I shall probably return one clay to my native country, unless I should get the political itch and try to embark on the stormy sea of political life [Mr. Linsly was defeated for Congress in 1813 by a fete votes]. However, in every community I find some good people, and have generally in every place I have lived been fortunate enough to gain their esteem and friendship, and in every community can make tolerably well contented. Write to me frequently.
“I am your affectionate brother, “NOAH LINSLY.” Mr. Linsly's will, which is on record in the Wheeling Court House, contains several clauses which strikingly display the prominent features of character, generosity and unflinching integrity. He certainly succeeded in being what he said to his brother he hoped to be, “An honest lawyer.”
After legacies to relatives and friends, he says: “I give to my trusty friend, George Miller, in consideration of his friendly attention to me in my sickness, my riding horse, saddle, bridle, martingale and spurs.”
Another bequest is $3,000 to Yale College, ? this sum his nephew, Jared Linsly, increased, and it constitutes the Noah and Jared Linsly fund, devoted to Yale library.
The next clause is in regard to a claim, which some years before had been put into his hands for collection. The circumstances are minutely detailed, and then he adds, “As in the transaction of this business I may have granted indulgences to the injury of my client, I do hereby request Samuel Sprigg, Esq., to collect on the judgment aforesaid as much of the said debt as is practicable, and if the amount thereof cannot be obtained on execution of otherwise from the said C., I do request Samuel Sprigg to collect as much of the said claim as is practicable and my executors to pay Naylor, the client, the full amount of his claim.”
The following clause concerns Wheeling as a city so closely that it is given in full: “I devise to Samuel Sprigg and Noah Zane or the survivors of them or their executors, my farm in the county of Ohio and state of Virginia, whereon Ignatius Gadd now lives, also my farm whereon Abel Notten now lives, together with all my stock and farming utensils thereon, in trust for the use, benefit and advantage of the Lancasterian school, to be established in the town of Wheeling, as herein after mentioned. In order to carry into effect my intentions for the establishment of a Lancasterian school in the town of Wheeling, as aforesaid, it is my request that Samuel Sprigg and Noah Zane, Esqs., do make application of trustees for such institution, and upon such act being passed that all the funds herein given and devised for the use thereof shall be conveyed and given over by said Samuel Sprigg and Noah Zane to such trustees as may be appointed by or under the provisions of such act, to be held by them and their successors forever, for the benefit of the institution.
“And in the meantime if no such act can be obtained it is my will that all the funds herein given and devised for the benefit of such school be held by the said Samuel Sprigg and Noah Zane in trust as aforesaid for the use of such Lancasterian school (and only such) as may be established in the town of Wheeling, until such principles as they or the survivors of them may approve, and the said Samuel Sprigg and Noah Zane are hereby authorized and empowered to sell the farm on which Ignatius Gadd or any part of it they or the survivors may think necessary for the purpose of erecting buildings for said school. After the payment of my debts and legacies herein given, all the balance of money from my estate, real or personal, not otherwise disposed of, I allow to be held by Samuel Sprigg and Noah Zane, in trust for the benefit and use of the Lancasterian school, to be established in the town of Wheeling, as before mentioned.”
The Lancaster system is a thing of the past, superseded by the free school system, yet its most prominent features (object teaching and the employment of pupil teachers) are today in force among skillful educators. Mr. Linsly’s bequest was the first money ever spent for free instruction upon slave territory, and preceded the public schools by many years. Immediately after his death the trustees named in the will applied to the Legislature for a charter for the Lancasterian Academy. It was granted in the fall of the same year, 1814. The farm was sold and a lot, 66 by 264 feet, purchased. This embraced all the ground between Market and Chapline streets in the line of Alley 11. The school building was brick, 33x66 feet, and two stories high. The proceedings of the trustees are recorded in the minutes of the meetings. They are a curious picture of the changes which time has wrought in school keeping, as in all things else beneath the sun. The house finished, a contract was made with a teacher for $100 per quarter from the fund, together with the tuition of the paying pupils (which was fixed at ale dollar per quarter), he being required to instruct such charity pupils as the board saw fit to direct. After a time the teacher's salary was increased to $130 per quarter. The position seems to have been very unpopular, as every year records a change. There is mention of assistance from what was known as the "Literary Fund." a government provision for the benefit of schools, which has long been discontinued. After a while repairs became necessary, and finally there is a record of directions given to a committee to sell the old building. The materials brought $130. At once a new location was selected, it being to their advantage to sell the first site for residences and remove to a more quiet part of the city. The present building corner of Eoff and Fifteenth streets, is large enough to accommodate a school of vastly greater pretensions than has ever yet been gathered within its walls, and is kept in go good repair. The following notes have been kindly furnished by Col. H. B. Hubbard, who is, as far as can he ascertained, the oldest surviving pupil of the “Academy” in our city. They are very entertaining and give a graphic picture of the school as conducted in 1814 and onward.
THE LANCASTERIAN SYSTEM.
It has been suggested to the writer, who learned his A, B. C's while teaching them in the old Lancasterian Academy, that a description of the peculiar method of teaching as well as the cruelties inflicted in the way of punishments by the masters would be of interest to the present generation, and stir up memories in the minds of graybeards which to some would not he unpleasant, though to others the cruel punishments to which they were subjected will bring a flush of anger to the face, followed by an eager "Thank God" that the days of such heartlessness have passed away forever. Leaving the history of the school for another occasion, we will endeavor to describe the manner in which it was conducted as we see it now in memory. Though fifty years and more have thrown their shadows over many of the minor points, yet the salient ones remain fresh and distinct as when we sprang from the door with a whoop on the dismissal at noon or evening of the school. The room was large, being 32X66 feet, with good height of walls, nearly one-half of which was made up of windows. An aisle six feet wide skirted the walls, excepting at a platform midway on the eastern side, on which was the seat of as great a tyrant as ever disgraced God's green earth. In front of this platform was a cross aisle extending to the main entrance opposite. The benches and desks were arranged parallel to the shorter way of the room, and extended from aisle to aisle without any intermediate passages, the benches being filled from the ends. At close intervals, blackboards six feet square were placed along the walls, in front of which semicircles were struck with chalk on the floor for the class to toe when called inn to read or recite. The reading lessons, which were all from the Old Testament Scriptures were printed and posted on boards 14X18 inches in size, each board at its upper end having a hole with a string on it by which to suspend it to a nail in the blackboard. Each class had a commandant, styled a monitor, whose lousiness it was to keep order in the class and instruct it. On one end of each desk was a "telegraph" with signals. These telegraphs were rods one and a half inches in thickness and six feet long surmounted by a painted hexagonal block, the roots turning freely in the holes in the desk in which they were inserted. On the platform on either side of the master's were the monitors desks. One was occupied by the monitor of order; the other by the monitor of reading. These monitors were selected from; among the older scholars, and each was furnished with a whistle. In addition to these two, each class was provided with a monitor, who acted as a signal operative for two stations, and took his cue from the one on the platform. At the sound of the whistle each class monitor turned his signal to correspond to the one shown on the platform and governed himself accordingly. If the signal was for reading each monitor formed his class toeing the chalk mark, and the monitor within the circle facing the class. At a signal from the whistle each class monitor wheeled and took a pointer or long wooden rod and placed its end on the first word in the lesson. At a second signal the head boy or girl of the class commenced to read aloud, and as every class was reacting a different lesson it took pretty good lungs to mask the noise made by the adjacent classes so as to enable the monitors to hear their own readers.
At the end of the room and forming the first row of benches were the sand-boxes. These were shallow and of convenient width, containing enough sand to form a layer one fourth of an inch thick over their upper surfaces. In front of these, above the heads of the scholars, in the next row of benches, and supported on posts, were boards on which were painted the alphabet in large and small characters, also the numerals, which the beginners copied, making the characters in sand with their fingers. All studying was done at will, bit mostly aloud, and to the uninitiated would have been a perfect Babel, but each soon learned to heed none but his own voice, and prosecute his studies as well as if no others had been studying aloud around him. The peculiar feature was the advanced scholars acting as teachers, the master teaching only those advanced scholars not engaged as monitors. Nothing was taught but reading, writing and arithmetic.
The instruments of punishment were not necessarily connected with the plan of teaching, bit belonged to the times rather than to the system, they consisted of the cowhide, ferrule, cat, and rattan, with the sustaining of weights in the hands, amts extended, standing on One foot and one hand holding up the other foot with the other hand at the same time, etc.
Eighty years have passed, each bringing its share of improvement. Times change, but character remains unaltered. Mr. Linsly gave an impetus to education in this state, which we can plainly recognize in our present status. Young and immature in many respects, our school system compares favorably with those of far older states. Our citizens are exponents of the system. Wheeling has a reputation for high integrity and for straightforward business dealing, of which she may justly be proud. And to Mr. Linsly, as much, if not I more, than to any one man, must he accredited the shaping of this character. It is not a vain toast that Mr. Linsly was “the benefactor of mankind.” Could prophetic vision have been granted him, he might justly have said, and we can say for him, “Si quoeris monumentum, circumspice.”
THE PUBLIC SCHOOL SYSTEM UNDER THE OLD REGIME.
It was not until the year 1846 that the state of Virginia passed an Act for the establishment of a district public school system, the preliminary steps to securing which are set forth in the following letter addressed to the writer by James H. McMechen, an able and distinguished educator in his day, as well as a gentleman of erudition and learning. We give the letter verbatim et literatim:
“WHEELING, October 1, 1876.
“Hon. Gibson L. Cranmer:
"Dear Sir: At your request you are hereby furnished with a brief account of the origin and progress of our public school system in Western Virginia.
“In the spring of 1840, as near as the writer can recollect, he was teaching a Female Seminary in Clarksburg, Virginia. He invited Rev. Charles Wheeler, then president of Rector College, Pruntytown, to address his pupils, and the citizens of Clarksburg on the subject of education, which he accordingly did. While Mr. Wheeler was speaking he made some allusion to a system of public schools as something greatly to he desired in the State of Virginia, and suggested the propriety of calling a convention of the citizens of North Western Virginia to meet at Clarksburg for the purpose of deliberating on the subject. At the close of the address and at the suggestion of Waldo P. Goff, Esq., who was acting as chairman, the writer offered a resolution to the desired effect, which was adopted.
“To carry out the purpose of this resolution the chairman appointed the following committee, viz.: James H. McMechen, Gideon D. Camden, William A. Harrison, James McCauley, and on motion the name of Waldo P. Goff was added to the committee.
“Within a few clays after this meeting the committee issued a circular calling a convention to meet at Clarksburg on the eighth day of September following, that being the time of holding the fall term of the United States Court. After a few weeks this circular was cordially responded to in a letter from the city of Wheeling signed by Drs. Thomas Townsend, Calvin Ruter and Ezekiel Hildreth. The committee embodied this letter in a strong appeal to the citizens of Virginia, which was favorably noticed by some of the most prominent papers in the state, but treated with coolness by the majority. When the time fair the meeting of the convention arrived it was found that some sixty or seventy delegates were present from the different counties in Western Virginia, many of whom were men of prominence and high respectability. Hon. George H. Lee was elected chairman, and Luther Haymond and James H. McMechen, secretaries. The delegation from Wheeling consisted of Zachariah Jacob, Redick McKee, Rev. William Armstrong, Hon, George W. Thompson, Dr. Thomas Townsend, Ezekiel Hildreth and C. Ruter.
“During the sitting of the convention very interesting papers were read, one prepared in print by Rev, Alexander Campbell, of Bethany, and another by Hon, George W. Thompson, of Wheeling. After much animated discussion a resolution was passed, calling a convention to meet at Lewisburg the same fall, and delegates were appointed to attend the same. The Clarksburg convention then adjourned sine die, and the Lewisburg convention met according to appointment. The latter convention adopted a resolution calling for a state convention to meet at Richmond the following winter during the session of the Legislature. The state convention met accordingly and adopted a resolution requesting the Legislature to pass a law providing for a general system of popular education. Such a law was passed either by that or the succeeding Legislature. This law provided that it should be left optional with the several counties of the state to adopt the same or not as a majority vote of the citizens might determine. Three counties, Ohio, Marshall and Kanawha, adopted it; but the opposition in the two latter counties was so strong that the law was never carried into effect. Ohio county, however, after considerable opposition carried the school system thus provided for into operation in the year 1849.
“The schools in the city of Wheeling were organized and worked separately from the other schools of the county. The city was divided into five school districts, and the schools were called "Ward Schools," each ward having one commissioner and three trustees elected by the respective citizens annually. These five constituted a board of commissioners. Michael Sweeney, Morgan Nelson, Thomas Johnston, Jr., Alexander Hadden and Henry Echols were the first commissioners elected, and by them Morgan Nelson was chosen president of the board. The schools of the city, if the memory of the writer serves him right, were organized in point of time in the following order: Third Ward, A. J. Hale, principal; Fourth Ward, James McKelley, principal; First Ward, David Wallace, principal; Fifth Ward, James H. McMechen, principal; Second Ward, R. S. Arthur, principal. The whole tune the writer served as principal of the Fifth Ward School under the old and new laws, was about twenty years.
“The above named were successfully operated under the old law until the new law went into effect about the year 1806. Full and correct information as to the history of the schools under the new law may he obtained from the reports of the state superintendents and the records of the different boards of education.
“Before closing this statement, the writer may be allowed to say that during the presidency of Morgan Nelson with a wise forethought lots were purchased with a view of erecting thereon at some future day a Central High School building, but since the new law went into effect those lots have been sold by the board of education and the proceeds applied to the building of district school houses. The wisdom of such a course, to say the least, has been considered very questionable. If we can imagine a human body perambulating the streets without a head, then may we conceive of a system of public schools realizing a very high degree of prosperity without a Central High School.
“Our schools under the old law were worked without a city superintendency. In this respect they were considered defective, and in this also the present school law is considered superior to the old; and if the gentlemen who may hereafter fill the board of education will only consent to let well enough alone and address themselves to the proper work of elevating the character of the schools, they will at least guard against the mistake of doing much harm and more effectually promote the best interests of the community.
“JAS. H. MCMECHEN.”
I have thought that as a matter of history, as well as of interest, it might be a matter of importance to incorporate in this connection an article written by the author for the West Virginia School Journal in March, 1882:
Arbitrary governments are based upon the will of an individual; limited monarchies upon the wisdom and sagacity of their rulers; but republican governments upon the virtue and intelligence of the people. Hence the expansive power and influence of these latter are commensurate with the general diffusion of knowledge among the masses. Sooner or later the recognition of this truth forces itself upon the representatives of this latter and demands that they shall take such necessary steps as will accomplish its success. It was under the influence of such a pressure, aroused by the urgent needs of her population, that the Legislature of the State of Virginia on the fifth day of March in the year 1846 passed an Act for the establishment of a district public school system, which, among other things, provided that where one-third of the qualified voters of any county, oho at the preceding election had voted for delegates to the General Assembly, should petition the county court that it was the duty of the court to certify the same to the commissioners of election for the county, when, at the succeeding election the commissioners were required to open a register for the votes of the electors qualified to vote for delegates. In this register two columns were required to be kept, one in favor of the establishment of district schools, and the other for those opposed to it.
It was provided that where two-thirds of the legal voters are in favor of adopting the district system, certain regulations for the introduction and maintenance of the system should be established, among which were the division of the county into school districts, regulating their size, the alteration of districts, dividing the county into precincts, in each of which a school commissioner was to be elected, fixing the time of election and the notice to be given of the same.
The school commissioners were made a body corporate and their powers and general duties were defined. The curriculum consisted of reading, writing, arithmetic and (where practicable) English grammar, geography, history (especially of the State of Virginia and of the United States), the elements of physical science, and such other and higher branches as the school commissioners might direct; and all white children, male and female, resident within the respective districts, were entitled to receive tuition free of charge.
Every district was to be under the charge of three trustees, to be appointed annually, ? two by the qualified voters of the district at the annual election of school commissioners, and one by the board of school commissioners at the first meeting after the election. The duties of these trustees consisted in the purchasing of a site, erecting suitable school houses, furnishing the school with proper fixtures, books, apparatus and fuel, with power to appoint and remove a teacher for good cause.
Teachers were required to keep registers, containing the names and ages of the pupils, the names of parents and guardians, dates of entrance and leaving the school, and daily attendance, together with the dates of the visits of the several commissioners and of either or all of the trustees of the school. At the end of the term this register was to be delivered by the teacher to the clerk of the board of school commissioners. The penalty for failure was one-fourth the compensation of the teacher.
The expenses of school houses and their furniture were to be defrayed by the inhabitants of each county, by a uniform rate of increased taxation upon the then existing subjects of the revenue tax, and the county levy to be ascertained and assessed by the board of school commissioners, which was to be collected by the sheriff in the same manner as other public taxes under his official bond, which was to be paid on the order of the school trustees.
This was styled in the Act the general system, which also included another called by way of contradistinction the special system. But it is unnecessary for us to say anything in reference to the latter, other than to make mention of it, as the former or general system was the one adopted by the voters of this city and county, under which in the spring of 1847 steps were taken to put its provisions into operation in the city of Wheeling.
Accordingly sites were purchased for the erection of five school houses. A decided opposition was manifested upon the part of a respectable minority of the citizens of the community, composed principally and indeed almost wholly of those financially able, which nominally planted itself upon the ground of increased taxation which must naturally result from the establishment of a general system of education. If the prejudices of some of these against the general and public character of the schools could have been successfully met, they would have found no difficulty, in all probability in giving the new system their approval. The prejudices of others led them to base their opposition to it on the pretense that it was "a Yankeeism," and therefore un-Virginian. They enforced their respective views by the fallacious argument that it was unfair as well as unjust that they should be taxed for the education of the children of others who were too poor or too straitened in their circumstances to confer this boon on their offspring, and that it was an invidious distinction which discriminated in favor of a large class at the expense of a few.
But this spirit of selfish opposition did not prevail, yet it lingered in the community for a long period after the successful establishment of the schools, and while it ceased to be demonstrated, yet its latent influence was felt upon all opportune occasions. In the present it has entirely ceased, and we doubt if among those surviving, if any such there are who then opposed the system, one could be found who now would acknowledge it.
Under the Act of 1846 Ohio, Marshall and Kanawha counties were the only ones which adopted it out of the number of counties in the commonwealth, but this was all they did, and they went no further, except in the case of Ohio county, which not only adopted it, but put the law into operation and organized under it.
Hence the first public school system introduced into the Southern States was that inaugurated in. the county of Ohio, Virginia, and the first public school established in the South was the Third Ward public school in the city of Wheeling. Shades of Berkeley! What an innovation!
On the 7th day of April, A. D. 1848, the trustees of free schools for the Third ward of the city of Wheeling, Messrs. James E. Wharton (now deceased). W. J. Bates and E. A. Hildreth, advertised for sealed proposals until the 15th of the same month for erecting a school house at the corner of Union and Fifth streets, which was to be 30x40 feet in the clear, two stories high, nine feet in the clear each, with about one-fourth of the lower story to be of stone, and the balance of brick, with 13-inch walls, with a passage across one end of each story. Ten windows were to be below and the like number above. Each room was to have 40 fixed seats and desks, each of which was to accommodate two pupils, and the same was to be completed by the 1st of July, A. D. 1848.
It was, however, some months later before it was finally completed, unavoidable causes having delayed it, but it was sufficiently s0 for the establishment of two schools-a male and female department ? which were opened for the reception of pupils and all children in the Third ward between the ages of six and sixteen years of age on the first Monday in October, 1848. The school was conducted under the superintendence of A. J. Haile, Esq., as principal, assisted by his wife. The whole number of children, ? male and female, ? who were enrolled during the quarter ending December 22, 1848, was 226; remaining at the close of the quarter, 214. The average daily attendance in the male department was 118; in the female department, 68, making a total daily attendance of 186.
The public schools of the First, Fourth and Fifth wards of the city were opened for the reception of pupils during the spring of the year 1849. The construction of the school house for the Second ward was delayed by reason of certain legal difficulties involving the title to the ground, and it was not commenced until some time in the spring of the year 1849.
The order in which the respective schools were opened was as they are herein named. The principal of the Fourth Ward school was a gentleman by the name of McKelly, who came here from Pittsburg to take charge of it, at the same time that A. J. Haile did the principalship of the Third Ward school, who was also from the same city, both gentlemen being skillful educators. McKelly died while principal of the Fourth Ward school. The principal of the Fifth Ward school was James H. McMechen, Esq., a gentleman of fine scholarly attainments, and the principal of the First Ward school was David Wallace. The Second Ward school, which, as we have already stated, was not opened until some time after the other ward schools, was conducted by Rev. Arthur as principal. The board of commissioners was composed of the following gentlemen, viz.: For the First ward, Michael Sweeney; Second ward, Morgan Nelson; Third ward, Thomas Johnston; Fourth ward, Alexander Hadden; Fifth ward, Henry Echols. The president of the board was Morgan Nelson, Esq.
And in this connection we gladly embrace the opportunity to name a few among those who were the most prominent as the original movers in behalf of the establishment of a sys tern of public education in the State of Virginia, and particularly so in this city and county. None of these now remain among the living, but they have left behind them names and memories redolent with the fragrance of good deeds.
We would specially mention among these worthies Hon. George W. Thompson, whose scholarly attainments and ripe experience must ever be a source of pride to his fellow citizens. James H. McMechen, whom we have already named in another connection of similar character, was a gentleman of fine abilities and superior culture. Ezekiel Hildreth, the father of the late Dr. E. A. Hildreth and S. P. Hildreth, a man of deep research, love of knowledge and profound erudition. Dr. Townsend, a popular and well-beloved physician, was a man of warm impulses and generous promptings. Last but not least was James E. Wharton editor and man of public spirit and enterprise, who labored for the good of his fel1ow men in the spirit of disinterested zeal and energy which was unflagging.
There were others less prominent, though not less earnest, who if space and time permitted, might be named with no less justice than these. As will have been perceived, the Act of 186 was optional in its character, so far as the adoption of it by the counties was concerned, hence to remedy this and with a view of making the public school system obligatory on all the counties, the Legislature passed the Act of 1852, which provided for districting all the counties of the state, appointing com-missioners, fixing their duties and compensation and giving to the county courts the power of rearranging the districts, etc.
Under the operation of this last act Virginia took a long stride in advance, and the incubus of ignorance, which, like a nightmare, had so long rested upon her otherwise fair fame and paralyzed her energies, was in a degree removed, and like a giant awaking from a troubled sleep she snapped in twain the cords by which she had been bound, and planting her feet upon her prone energy gave a new and eloquent significance to her state motto ? Sic Semper Tyrannis.
But we have already occupied too much space with this interesting subject, and will close the subject with an extract from the Deuteronomy of American History, ? the farewell address of the Father of his country:
"Promote then, as an object of primary importance, institutions for the general diffusion of knowledge. In proportion as the structure of a government gives force to public opinion, it is essential that public opinion should be enlightened."