John Stearns Minard.

Recollections of the log school house period, and sketches of life and customs in pioneer days online

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inaries: and they came from about as great a variety of sources.
In some instances men of rare intellectual capacity "taught the
young idea how to shoot", in those rude old structures j\Ien
like Gen. Micah Brooks, who afterward became member of as-
sembly, congressman and delegate to the state constitutional
Convention in 1821, and A. N. Cole, who became the able


editor, versatile writer, and the reputed father of the republi-
can party; and others who might be mentioned, who achieved
distinction in one way or another, held sway for a time in the
log school house.

Compared with modern standards the average teacher of
those days was not a very highly educated individual, and this
was one of the necessities of the time. Indeed it could not
have been otherwise. Many of the people honestly, though of
course ignorantly, claimed that the "Three Rs" (Reading,
'Riting and 'Rithmetic) were all that were required to consti-
tute a good, practical education. If such happened to be the
trustees, or, if before the day of trustees, they were the lead-
ing settlers in the neighborhood, and it was often the case,
they were quite apt to put their ideas into practice when a
teacher was employed, and so it came about that many average
teachers, and some very inferior ones even, were installed as
instructors in the pioneer schools.

Many of the settlers were unable to pay their share toward
the support of a school in money, so men and women were found
who had families, who would agree to take their pay in part,
if not wholly, in provisions, or in fact anything which the set-
tlers had surplus of, and wanted to sell, and they wished to
purchase. Here are two specimen subscriptions: "I give one
bushel of buckwheat and one cord of wood to Joshua Rathbun
for teaching my two boys three months." "I give one quar-
ter of beef and three bushels of Indian corn, for my four boys'
schooling this winter."

Occasionally the service of some aged who, when a boy,



had for a term or two at-
ended some academy
way "down east", whd
after that taught winter
scho ols in the
neighborhood and
had been clerk of his
native town till past
the meridian of life,
and then emigrated to
the wonderful "Gene-
see country", the "far
west" of those days, and
whom the artist has so
well depicted in the cut,
would be secured. He
could teach the winter
school and do his morning
and evening chores, and
the small wages his pa-
trons thought they could
pay would help him out
in various ways.
There was the young man

from the village who stood at the head of the class in the best
school in town, who had helped for a time in the pioneer store,
and so was expected to be "good in figures", who wore clothes
cut and made by the tailor, calf skin boots, and a hat or cap
brought all the way from New York! He would sometimes
get a school.

And then there was the pompous, grandiloquent fellow, dis-
tinguished more than anything else for having the whole voca-
bulary of Webster's or Worcester's dictionary at his tongue's


end, accustomed to the use of the longest and biggest words,
and a wholesale dealer in adjectives and superlatives. He
sometimes managed to secure a school, and it afforded the
means and opportunity of exercising his powers of speech.
He was loquacity personified. He it was who, having occas-
sion, as he thought, to call a boy out on the floor, did so in
these not over-choice terms: "Here, you long-haired, lop-eared,
lousy devil, you come out here".

Then there was the stout built, broad shouldered, strong and
muscular pedagogue. He delighted in displays of strength
and athletic feats, a good wrestler withal: who prided himself
on the high degree of order he maintained in his school, and
was always quoting the old adage, "Order is heaven's first
law". If an unruly boy had the temerity to break the rules or
provoke him in any way, he just seemed to enjoy "mopping
the floor" with him, and so giving such an exhibition of his
power as would awe the whole school into submission and in-
spire terror in the hearts of the biggest boys.

It sometimes happened that an uncommonly smart man, or
one whose fame as a scholar had preceded him, was secured
for a term. Of course, he soon became the talk of the neigh-
borhood, and was looked upon with feelings of awe and won-

" 'Twas certain he could write, and cipher too:
Lands he could measure, terms and tides presage,
And e'en the story ran that he could gauge.
In arguing, too, the parson owed his skill,
For, e'en though vanquished, he could argue still:
While words of learned length and thunderous sound
Amazed the gazing rustics ranged around:
And still they gazed, and still the wonder grew.
That one small head could carry all he knew".

Of female teachers there was the inevitable Mrs. Brown or
Mrs. Jones, who lived quite near to the school house, and
could so manage things at home, that by early rising, sitting


Up late, and "hustling things" generally, she coukl eke out the
time devoted to the school. She could "read, write and
cipher" and as that was about all that was required, and she
could teach for small pay, she answered the purpose quite well,
and managed to ^et along with the school.

Then there was the tidy, sprightly, bright eyed little Miss,
still in her younger teens, who had been "off to school". She
was occasionally employed. In case her home was remote
from the district, her brother would come with her to the
school on Monday mornings on horseback: (as likely as any-
way, the two on one horse), following a good part of the way
the bridle path, and quite likely some young fellow, not her
brother, would come for her in the same way at the close of
the week.

A young lady teacher of Caneadea secured a school in the
north part of Hume, some eight miles away from her home.
It was before the Indians had left the reservation. One Satur-
day afternoon, a young man from whom she was receiving
some attention, came after her, riding one and leading another
horse, upon which the fair one was to ride home. When near
the hut of old Long Beard, a violent storm set in. "Any port
in a storm", thought they, and hurriedly sought the kindly
shelter of the aged chief's abode, and were warmly welcomed.
The storm continued, it really poured, and kept on till near
morning, compelling them to stay. In the morning the rain
ceased and they were able to resume their way home. The
night spent with Long Beard was however, in after years, a
pleasant memory, dark and stormy as it was.

And there was the old maid of uncertain age, who, acting up-
on the advice and suggestion of friends who had made their
home in the new country, and her people at home, had quit the
east and come "out west" to re-engage in teaching, to which
she had already devoted her best years. She was capable, ef-
ficient, and kept a good school. It was even said she was



familiar with the rudiments of grammar!

Sh2 was the typical
New England
spinstsr, w a s
thrifty and laid
up money, but
- omehow i n
the mating up
of her assoc-
iates, had been
ft out, had
tailed to find
her "aflfinity"
or h3r "atf.-
((ijnity" had fail-

ed to find her.
The school she
taught was a
model for
those days, —
but all the
while she had
her eye on
that bachelor
settler over on
the other road,
who boarded
at Deacon
Smith's, t h e

next neighbor. She "set her cap for him", landed her game,
and in du'i time they were married, and her school teaching
days were ended. This is no fancy sketch. Such things oc-
curred lots of times during the log school house period, and
later. Parallel cases are found even in these days.

From 75 cents to $2.00 per week was paid for teaching the
summer schools, the latter price being the maximum for


extra good teachers in the most well to do districts as late as
1846. Better wages were paid for teaching the winter schools,
and male teachers were generally employed. There were only
two terms in the year, and were called the summer school and
the winter school, and the teachers were addressed as "school-
master" and "schoolma'am". A teacher's outfit usually con-
sisted of an old fashioned English "bull's eye" watch, a -good
hickory or cherry ruler, a plummet, and a good penknife.
Alternate Saturdays, or every Saturday afternoon, they had
for themselves. No bells were used to call the school. The
teacher would rap loudly with the rules on the door or window
casing. It was then said, "school has rapped" and they would
all hie them to the school house.

Having considered separately the teacher and the pupils, let
us turn our attention to the school in session. To suit the
purpose, let us think of ourselves as visiting one of those old
time schools on a clear, cold day in winter, for then, with the
possible exception of the smallest pupils, we shall find all the
variety possible in one of those schools. It is just at the close
of the noon-hour frolic: "school has rapped", so let us go m.
A rousing fire sends warmth and cheer to the remotest part
of the room, while in its immediate vicinity, the heat is almost
intolerable. The scholars have all taken their seats and re-
sumed, or at least pretended to resume, their studies, save one,
the irrepressible and incorrigible small boy who for some rea-
son, not alwavs apparent but still generally easily surmised,


has been sentenced to the "dance block", and whose terra has
not yet expired. His head is adorned with a tall, sharply point-
ed, conical, paper cap, on which appear in large letters the
word "DUNCE".

Parenthetically, to clear his conscience, and vindicate "the
truth of history", the author will here remark that his earliest
recollection of the "deestrict skule" is intimately associated
with the "dunce block". Indeed it is about all that he can dis-
tinctly remember of his first term of school. In the chair by
the cross-legged table sits "ye pedagogue", in this instance a
tall, gray haired, mild mannered man of medium weight, vener-
able in appearance and intelligent in feature. His nose is bridged
with a pair of spectacles the frame of which, if drawn out and
properly utilized, would perceptibly help to enclose a ten acre
lot. They are securely fastened with a string passed through
the holes at the ends of the bows, and tied behind his head.
This is to prevent them from being thrown off in case of a
sudden movement, or, in the event not always unlikely or im-
probable, of a violent encounter with some refractory pupil.
He is indeed a veritable and genuine Methuselah Wayback, and
conducts his school precisely as schools were conducted when
he was a boy, and that was many, many years ago. We look
in vain for the blackboard, that indispensible requisite of the
modern school room. The day of the blackboaid has not yet

Classes, except in reading and spelling, are unknown. When
a scholar learns the lesson he or she exclaims "Schoolmas-
ter, I've got my lesson", advances with book open to the place
and having handed it to the instructor, proceeds to repeat the
text. If well committed, and the recitation is perfect, some-
times indeed, if only fairly good, another lesson is given and
the operation is repeated, perhaps several times a day. We
notice the reading and spelling classes, the only class in the
school, are not provided with seats, but are required to form


in a row in the middle of the floor, made to stand erect, with
heads up and "toes to the mark", which is generally some pro-
minent crack in the floor, each one bringing his toes to it.

Let us witness the spelling exercises. The class, composed
of eight or ten scholars, takes it place on the floor, each one
toeing the mark. The master commands "attention", then
"obedience", the boys bow their heads and the girls courtesy,
or make "kerchee", as many called it; done by slightly bend-
ing the knees, sometimes adding a slight bowing of the head.
One end is called the head, the other the foot, of the class.
Beginning at the head, they repeat the numbers, first, second,
third and so on, or one, two, three, down to the foot of the
class. The teacher opens the book, which is of course Web-
ster's elementary, and turning to the lesson, pronounces the
words, beginning at the head. If a scholar misspells a word
it is given to the next one who, if correctly spelling it, takes
the place of the one who failed, as also if missed by a number
of others. The one who leaves oflf at the head to-day goes to
the foot of the class tomorrow. We notice that this class, in ad-
dition to spelling, takes lessons in abreviations, like D.D. for
doctor of divinity, M.A. for master of arts, &c. — also the Latin
words and phrases found in the back of the book, and they are
allowed to "go up" on them in the same manner as in spelling.
The spelling lesson beginning with the word "baker" was a
sort of milestone, as it were, to mark the progress of the tyro
in spelling, and "you can't spell baker", became a term of re-
proach and a slang phrase in those days.

Sometimes a laughable, ludicrous, or even ridiculous inci-
dent would occur in the spelling class. A teacher friend used
to relate one which occured in his school, in a remarkably
happy way. Here it is in brief: but a good story teller would
embellish it, and make it more interesting by gesture and ac-
tion than the mere reading of it can possibly be. The word
"baker" was pronounced to a great, tall, awkward boy whose


dress denoted the abject poverty which prevailed in "the
slashes" from whence he hailed. He was suffering from a ter-
rible cold, his nasal discharges were profuse, and he had no
hahdkerchief: but he could "spell baker", so, drawing himself
up to his full height and assuming an air of superiority, he
started in, — "B-A, ba." His utterance was somewhat impeded
but pausing long enough to wipe his nose, first with one sleeve
and then with the other, he resumed "K-E-R-ker, baker", with
an air of triumph which would do credit to a soldier just re-
turned from the Spanish war. But laying aside all levity,
spelling in the log school house days was thoroughly studied,
and the school exercises were supplemented by evening spell-
ing schools which w^ere largely attended, and excited much in-

Master Wayback, we observe, is liable to be interrupted at
any moment. Little Johnny Smith wants to go out: Jedadiah
Holcomb is getting cold and wants to go to the fire: Elisha
Gibson comes with his pen to be mended, and Josiah Milburn
has encountered a snubber in old Daboll, and wants some help.
Then there is little Alexander Crane, just learning his A, B,
C's, and the other little fellow who has pushed on away over
(!) into the "a-b-abs", who must have some attention.
In the midst of all this, the reading class in Hale's History is
called out. The lesson treats of the surrender of Cornwallis.
We notice a peculiar drawl with some of the class, but in the
main the reading is fairly good. Some have to be corrected
as to pauses and pronunciation, but the class in Hale's History
is supposed to include the best talent in the school.

Master Wayback has no stated time for writing exercises.
In this matter the scholars may please themselves, and write
when they feel like it. The steel pen is still some distance in
the future, and the goose is depended upon to furnish the raw
material for the pens. The ink used in Master Wayback's
school is mostly of the home made variety, to wit, a decoction


of soft maple bark. The master patiently shows them how to
hold their pens, how to sit, and carefully instructs them how
to make a pen. Occasionally some pupils have quills plucked
from an eagle which was shot or captured in the neighborhood
the last summer, and others have quills which came from the
village store and had been soaked in some kind of oil. They
were considered quite superior to the common quills plucked
from the goose at home.

It must not be inferred from the afternoon spent in Master
Wayback's school, that it was always sunshine there, that the
school weather was always balmy, mild and pleasant: for some-
times lurking clouds predict a storm, and the storm came ac-
cording to prediction. A few of the big boys who bad helped their
fathers in the "chopping" and spent much of the time the last
season among the burning log heaps and blackened stumps,
whose muscles were hardened by continuous toil, were restive
under restraint, however mild it might be. So pronounced
was this feeling with some of them that they could not be per-
sauded to obey the rules, however reasonable and salutary they
might be, and, it would seem, were continually on the outlook
for opportunities to break them.

Master Wayback's habit of close observation generally en-
abled him to detect any symptoms or premonitions of what
was coming. When a storm was impending it had a sort of
reflex efTect upon his otherwise benign and pleasant counten-
ance, and after the scholars had become thoroughly acquainted
with him, they could, after a brief survey of his features in the
morning, make a reasonably good guess, at least, as to whether
the school weather was to be fair or squally for the day, for

"Well had the boding tremblers learn'd to trace

The day's disasters on his morning face:
* Full well they laughed with counterfeited glee

At all his jokes, for many a joke had he:
Full well the busy whisper circling round

Conveyed the dismal tidings when he frowned"


Following close upon some flagrant infraction of the rules
of his school, when Master Wayback pushed his spectacles up
over his forehead, gave his vest a downward jerk, and with a
speed that fairly made his coat-tails snap, started for a whip
which he usually kept in a corner by the chimney within conven-
ient reach, where, in fact, he generally had an assorted var-
iety in stock, the school, wdth the possible exception of some of
the big boys, took on the most perfect picture of apprehension,
dismay and dread. The sunshine had gone and the storm had
come: a storm of wrathful fury which spent itself in the appli-
cation to some benighted, though quite likely, deserving knight,
of a shower of well directed and vigorous blows, more than
probably, upon the most vulnerable and tender part of his cor-

This exercise was of course attended with more or less con-
fusion. If the victim were a small boy of naturally mean dis-
position, mischievous and meddling, and the punishment was
not protracted too long, and the strokes were not altogether too
unmerciful, nothing further than a little ripple of excitement
would ensue. If, however, the whipping was continued beyond
what was considered by the older boys as reasonable, and the
boy happened to be a favorite with his fellows, some protest
on the part of the big boys might be made: and if that did not
eflfect the object, forcible^ if not indeed armed, intervention
might be the result: in which case the progress of the school
was interrupted, if indeed a retrograde movement was not in-
augurated. If it happened to bs one of the big boys who
was receiving the castigation the operation was invested with
more interest, as it required greater effort, the punishment was
usually more severe, and the chances of interference were ma-
terially enhanced.

But Master Wayback usually succeeded in governing his
school. Sometimes however, in the case of an ugly and re-
fractory big boy, the trustee would be sent for to enforce dis-


cipllne. A case in point. Trustee having been sent for, the
master, forgetting the windows, or thinking them secured,
stood near the door to prevent the escape of the boy. Trustee
approaches: boy quick as lightning shoves a window, straddles
the sill, and only waiting long enough to remark, "There's
more than one way to skin a cat", skips for the woods. Such
incidents always helped to keep up an interest in the school!

A teacher who was in the habit of inflicting punishment in
the truly primitive way, once started to administer a spanking
to a boy who screamed at the top of his voice, "Don't strike
there-you'll hurt my bile". It created quite a sensation, but
there was a suspicion on the part of some that it was only a
ruse, that he had no boil at all.

Some of the more cunning ones, when they knew a good whip-
ping was in store for them, and they had time to prepare foi it,
used to conceal under their clothing pieces of bark, but they
were sure always to pretend to be terribly hurt, wincing and
screaming and crying as though nearly killed.

Some schools had a bad record, and were known to make it very
uncomfortable for teachers: in some instances throwing them
out of the school house by main force. It was a school of that
character that a prominent Irishman of northern Allegany had
in mind when, after describing the physical and other charac-
teristics which should be required in a teacher for it, concluded
with these words, "He should also be possessed of a nature
something like a royal Bengal tiger".

The renowned A. N. Cole once had some experience with
such a school. In the school were several bad boys who were
good wrestlers, and prided themselves on athletic sports and
feats. Cole was a pretty good wrestler himself, or thought he
was. Indulging in the sport with some of them he was downed
successively by two or three and soon, as a result, lost control
of the school, as they found that they could handle him, and so
concluded to have their own way, which was not at all consis-


tent with Cole's ideas of school propriety. After a consulta-
tion with the trustees, it was thought best that he should resign
as the signs were unmistakable that an insurrection was brew-
ing: and if he had insisted on staying, in all probability he
would have been thrown out with little ceremony and in per-
fect disregard of all civility.

But none of those schools were so bad as not to have some
good pupils, nor were there any so good as not to have some
bad ones; and purposely, the bad schools have been given more
prominence in these sketches. There is no doubt however,
but that the good teachers and good schools of the pioneer
days far outnumbered the bad. As illustrative of the great
progress made by patrons and pupils, it may be stated that a
little more than a hundred years ago, when Gen. Micah Brook
conducted a school in a log structure in Bloomfield, Ontario Co.
he taught the pupils that the earth revolved around the sun
once in a year, and on its axis every day of twenty-four hours,
and among his patrons were those who were displeased with
him on that account, claiming that he was "teaching for truth
something which was contrary to reason, and which everybody
knew was not so". He taught a number of young men the
practice of surveying, who afterward did much and good work
for the Holland Land Company.

The low wages of teachers during the log school house period
were, of course predicted upon the fact that their board was to
be furnished them free of expense, and during the early years
in nine cases out often, that they should board a™™^ ' ^
fact this was the regular method, with only occasional excep
tion, of subsisting the teachers in those days.

A careful estimate would be made of the number of scholais
which each family on the district would send to school. Then,
having settled upon the number °f ^^^s the school should
continue, it was easy to determine how long each of the se^era
amilies composing the district should board the teacher O
course there were those in nearly every district who or ob
vious reasons, would not be expected to board the teacher
at all Then there were always other places where the teacher
would be made to feel quite at home and very -Icome at any
time, and it was a lucky circumstance for the teacher if thos^
places were near to the school house, so that in case of storm
!„d especially bad roads, they could stop there for the t^me
In many instances such families did much more than their

share in boarding the teacher. hnrrlshios

The old system of boarding around involved many hardships

on the part of the teacher, and it is safe to say, much incon-


venience on the part of the housewives of a period when, aa

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Online LibraryJohn Stearns MinardRecollections of the log school house period, and sketches of life and customs in pioneer days → online text (page 2 of 9)