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Stories of New Jersey
The Schoolmaster And The Doctor
(Period, from 1693.)

By Frank R. Stockton

Originally published in 1896
This Web version, edited by GET NJ, COPYRIGHT 2003

OF course, it was not long after New Jersey began to be settled and cultivated, before there were a great many boys and girls who also needed to be cultivated. And if we are to judge their numbers by the families of Elizabeth, who started for the New World in a hogshead, and of Penelope, who began her life here in a hollow tree, there must have been an early opportunity for the establishment of flourishing make schools flourishing.schools; that is, so far as numbers of scholars

But in fact it does not appear that very early attention was given in this State to the education of the young. The first school of which we hear was established in 1664; but it is probable that the first settlers of New Jersey were not allowed to grow up to be over forty years old before they had any chance of going to school, and it is likely that there were small schools in various places of which no historical mention is made.

It is admitted, however, by the historians of these early days of New Jersey, that education was not attended to as it should have been; and we read that in 1693 an act was passed to "establish schoolmasters within the Province, `for the cultivation of learning end good manners for the good and benefit of mankind, which hath hitherto been much neglected in the Province.'"

These early schools were not of a very high order; the books used by younger scholars being what were called hornbooks, which were made by pasting upon a board a piece of paper containing the alphabet and some lessons in spelling, and covering the whole with a very thin sheet of horn, which was fastened on the hoard as glass is fastened over a framed picture. "Thus the children could see the letters and words under the horn, but were not able to deface or tear the paper. It was difficult to get books in those days, and a hornbook would last a long time.

We can get a pretty good idea of the character of the schools from an account given of the establishment of the first school in Newark, where the town authorities made a contract "with Mr. John Catlin to instruct their children and servants in as much English, reading, writing, and arithmetic, as he could teach."

But the people of. New Jersey prospered well, and the Colony soon became noted as one in which there was comfort and good living; and therefore it is natural that when the people really could afford to apply their time, thought, and money to objects higher than the tillage of farms and the building of houses, they went to work earnestly to give their young people proper opportunities for education, and we find that they were inclined to do this as earnestly and thoroughly as they had been in the habit of doing other things.

In consequence of this disposition, what is now Princeton College was founded in 1746. This institution was first called the "College of New Jersey," and was established at Elizabethtown. It was in its early days a very small seat of learning; for, when the Rev. Mr. Dickinson was appointed to be its president, the faculty consisted entirely of himself, and his only assistant was an usher. There were then about twenty students in the college.

In about a year the president died; and the college was then removed to Newark, where the Rev. Aaron Burr, the father of the celebrated Aaron Burr, became its president, and it is probable that the faculty was enlarged. Ten years afterwards the college was established at Princeton.

The manners and customs of the college must have been very primitive, and we will give a few of the rules which were made for the students: "Every scholar shall keep his hat off to the president about ten rods, and about five to the tutors. When walking with a superior, they shall give him the highest place, and when first going into his company, they shall show their respects to him by first pulling off their hats; shall give place to him at any door or entrance; or meeting him going up and down stairs shall stop, giving him the bannister side;" and, in speaking to a superior, "shall always give a direct and pertinent answer, concluding with Sir." Thus it is seen that attention to good manners was one of the most important branches of study taught at the young college.

But in certain districts of New Jersey, people seemed to be very slow in perceiving the advantages of schools in their midst. Schools had sprung up here and there in towns and villages, many of them boarding schools; and to these the richer farmers would send their children. But it took people in some rural places a good while to find out that it would be a good thing to have a school in their midst.

A story is told of the establishment of a school of this kind in Deckertown as late as 1833. The people of this village had never thought it worth while to have a school of their own; and even after a gentleman of learning and ability, who was well known in the place, offered to take charge of such a school, they did not look with any favor upon the enterprise. The only place for a schoolhouse, which he was able to obtain, was a very small building, consisting of one room, and situated on the outskirts of the town. Here he started a school with one scholar; and even this little fellow was not a Jersey boy, but came from New York.

For a considerable time this single scholar constituted the school, and he and the schoolmaster walked back and forth from the village to the little cabin every day; while the only interest that the townspeople seemed to take in them was shown by their laughing at the schoolmaster, and comparing him to a hen with one chicken. It must not be supposed that it was because the citizens did not believe in education; but, as they had been in the habit of sending their children away to school, they thought that that was the proper thing to do, and, as there never had been a school in the town, they saw no reason why there should be one then. But the school increased, and in less than a year it numbered twenty scholars.


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