John Stearns Minard.

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

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likely as anyway, the only spare bed in the house of a new set
tier was improvised from shingle blocks, poles and withes, and
was always a rude affair to say the most.

The system involved long walks to reach the remote parts of
a district, over roads in no vv'ay to be compared with our mod-
ern highways, and in some instances the fear of marauding
wild beasts contributed a disagreeable feature to the situation.
It involved a sojourn of some stated length with families with
whom it would seem the bare necessities of life were all they
could possibly provide, and where, in exceptional cases, the
roof would fail to furnish complete protection from storm, and
the cold blasts of winter would scatter snow over bed, floor
and clothing.

The continual change of apartments and surroundings, of
beds, of diet, together with exposure to inclement weather,
made boarding around at its best, a menace to the health of
the teachers, many of whom dated back to their school teach-
ing days the incipient stages of disease which greatly impaired
their pleasure and usefulness in after life.

On the part of the pioneer mothers, many of whom had
large families, and no end of household duties to perform,
which could not contribute largely to the highest type of clean-
liness, it added materially to their daily task; for somehow
the cabin, during the teacher's stay, took on an extra show of
tidiness. More attention was paid to preparing the food and
arranging the scanty furniture, and an extra touch was given
the floor. In short, the rude habitation was put in the best pos-
ible shape consistent with the circumstances, during the time of
the teacher's sojourn.

On the part of the children, the time of the teacher's stay was •
generally much enjoyed. Indeed they looked forward to the
time with pleasurable anticipations, and their minds were filled
with visions of good, plump white biscuit, and now and then



perchance, a little honey in place of the common johnny cake
and brown bread of their every-day life. They dreamed of
pieces of pie made much nicer and sweeter than common, with
now and then a piece of sweet cake thrown into the bargin.

Speaking ot pies. With some of the families, but little, if
any, sweetening was put into them. In some instances with
such, when the teacher came, one end of the pie, usually baked
in a square tin, would be sweetened, or made much sweeter
than the other, and by some mark on the crust, it was known
to those in the secret which end it was. That sweetened end was
for the teacher and care was taken that she should have it. A
case in point, told to the writer by a surviving teacher of those
days, is as follows. The pie on this occasion was cut and pro-
perly passed to the teacher, but in some way, with a perver-
sity not always accounted for, she turned the pie and took a
piece from the end not designed for her. The mother had
stepped into the other room on some errand, when the little
girl, who was in the secret, alarmed at the outcome of the
scheme, hastily followed, whispering in a voice just audible at
the table, "Ma, Ma, the school ma'am has got the sour end of
the pie". Knowing well this teacher, the writer has always
strongly surmised that she suspected the scheme, and turned
the pie to satisfy herself as to the correctness of her suspicion.

The time spent by the teacher in the family was something
of an educative season for the children. It afforded opportun-
ities for a closer acquaintance on the way to and from school.
The conduct of the teacher was carefully observed, the manner
and language at the table closely scanned, and, quite likely,
regarded by the confiding and admiring children as the very
height of propriety. Of course some of the older and more
wayward of the boys, and girls even, did not always share
those feelings of respect for the teacher, but such was not gen-
erally the case.


Notwithstanding the many hardships and inconveniences at-
tending the sy Stern of boarding around, it was accompanied
with some pleasant features which went far in compensating
for the trouble and effort involved in that method of solvingf
the commissary problem for the teacher. Many pleasant ac-
quaintances were made and enduring friendships formed, not
to speak of occasional instances in which tenderer feelings
than friendships even, were the directresultof boarding around.
It also afforded the teachers frequent opportunities for conferr-
ing with parents about the conduct and progress of their child-
ren in their studies.

So after all, and in spite of all those drawbacks, the few sur-
viving teachers of the log school house period, look back upon
the years they devoted to teaching as really the happiest part
of their lives, and recall with much pleasure the incidents and
happenings which occured when they were boarding around.

Intimately associated with the system of boarding around
were the epidemics of lice and itch, and so, rather than entitle
a chapter with such a loathsome heading, this subject will be
concluded with a notice of them, as neglect to make such men-
tion would justly invite criticism and convict the writer of not
being loyal to the "truth of history". To say that lice were
quite prevalent in the period of which we are treating would
be a very mild statement of a fact which is susceptible of proof
by most of the surviving pupils of those times: indeed, many
would go further and say they were very, very prevalent, in-
deed were epidemic for most of the time, especially when
school was in session.

The means of inter-communication during the terms of
school afforded ample facilities for their propagation, and
they were expansionists of a very pronounced type. The most
particular and cleanly habits of our good old grandmothers
coiikl not prevent their introduction and spread in the family.


The author knows whereof he affirms, and thin'ks he has had
his full share of experience with that wonderful little insect, at
once the most perfect embodiment of those sterling qualities
of grit and gumption: of vivacity and perseverance, bound up
in the like amount of animated matter, that the world has
ever known: and he takes this occasion to make open avowal
of the fact. But it was no worse for him than the others, for
they all had them, or pretty much all of them.

A reverend gentlemen, whose statement in relation to this
subject is entitled to respect, relates this incident. Having oc-
casion to have the teacher make or mend his pen, she dipped
the pen in the ink and tried it. To remove the little ink left
on it she wiped it on her hair. He took the pen to his seat.
Upon examining it he discovered a louse. The cunning little
thing! That particular louse had been watching out for that
boy's head, and as he came to get his pen mended, thought of
that particular way to get there, but probably lost his life m
the undertaking.

Reader, if you ever hear any of the log school house boys
or girls say they never had lice, just take the statement with a
good big discount: for no matter how high their reputation for
Truth and veracity may be, it is very safe to say they were
lousy once at least! The itch was about as common as the lice,
and in many cases lasted for a long time. Sulphur and molas-
ses was a regular daily ration in many a family^ It was
claimed by many to be a specific, a radical cure: but the au-
thor's faith in its efficacy as a remedy, was considerably shaken
after taking it for some seven years more or less, with no per-
ceptible diminution of symptoms! Still, tons and tons of sul-
phur and molasses were taken in the hope, delusive though
it was, of effecting a cure.

The subject will be dismissed with the remark that however
disgusting, repulsive or loathsome it may be to those of the

32 VE OLD loCt school house TVMES.

present generation, to the boys and girls of the log school
house period, they were veritable living realities, and in spite
of the affliction, they actually thrived when experiencing epi-
demics of those lively little creatures, the louse and the itch

As a sort
this chapter

of prelude to
the a u t h or
wishes to observe that the
log school house period pro-
duced better spellers than
come now trom our high
schools, colleges, academies
normal schools and semin-
aries. In support of this
statement he offers the fol-
lowing. A few years ago
a spelling contest took place in the auditorium of the Silver Lake
Assembly. Among the contestants were college professors
and graduates from high schools, seminaries and norma
schools: but the prize went to a teacher of the log school
house period, a maiden lady who downed the whole crowd
Some years since, while the writer was officiating as trustee of
a villao-e school, he received an application from a recent
craduate from one of our normal schools. The penmanship
was fine but before five lines were written a word was mis-

A few vears ago in a village not one hundred miles from
Buffalo, which boasts of one of the best of union schools, a


half dozen of the old log school house boys asked the principal
to select his six best spellers, and meet them in a friendly pub-
lic spelling contest. The invitation was not accepted. Possi-
ly it may have been thought that there would be but little glory
in defeating the gray beards, and if perchance they were de-
feated, it would have been extremely humiliating.

It was winter, and the Todwaddle, Brier Hill, Squeedunk
Hollow and Plum Bottom schools were thoroughly stirred up
over the matter of spelling. Never before had such an inter-
est been awakened. So intense became their ardor, that not
an evening was allowed to pass without a rehearsal by the
blazing light of the back log fires, and Webster's Elementary
Spelling Book was gone through with from "baker" to "un-
constitutionality", and farther, quite often. Many good spell-
ers were developed. The spellers were proud of their achiev-
ments, and their parents were proud also. The "old bach",
who lived over cross the road was proud, and so was the old
maid who taught last summer's school. Indeed the whole of
the several districts were proud of their spellers. And they
talked about it.

It became the chief subject of conversation and the fame of
the champion spellers of the different school:^, was noised abroad.
The pride of the schools and the districts wa:> centered in their
best spellers, and they took to boasting and bragging about
them. Each of the several schools of course claimed to have
the best spellers. Finally, as the result of all the talking and
bragging and boasting, a spelling contest was agreed upon,
which should settle this much mooted question of superiority
in that particular and desirable accomplishment.

Only a certain number of the spellers of each of the different
schools were to take part in the contest, and it is needless to
state that those representative spellers were considered good



ones at least. It was agreed to introduce some exercises in the
way of "speaking pieces", as they called it, (later, declama-
tions: rhetoricals, now), as it would tend to enliven matters and
give several young men of the interested districts an oppor-
tunity to display their abilities in that line of accomplishments.
The Plum Bottom school house being the largest, also the
most centrally located, it was chosen as the scene of the con-
test. The time came, the evening was clear, the moon at its
full,' and the sleighing perfect. That old log school house put

on its best appearance. A rousing fire of the best seasoned
hickory sent warmth and cheer to the remotest corners of the
room, and with the aid of a dozen or more tallow candles, all
dipped in a clear day, stuck into improvised candle sticks made
by boring holes of proper size and depth in wedge-shaped
sticks, and driven in between the logs: and a full half dozen
more set in iron candle sticks and placed on the desks, brill-


iantly illuminated the arena of the coming orthographical con-

"Early candle light" was the time set, and a little before
that time some of the boys and girls from the immediate
neighborhood began to arrive. A little later came a delega-
tion from the Brier Hill school, in an old-fashioned, long ox
sled, filled with straw, in which were packed fifteen or twenty,
more or less, of the rank and file of the school with Jim
Oxgad for driver.

Others were quick to follow, some coming on foot and some
in cutters, sleight and pungoes, and when the house was nearly
filled, up drove Joshua Goodenough, with one of those old gun-
boat fashioned cutters, then the newest thing out: with a gray
horse with bells on, the harness being one of a set of doubles,
to which leather strings had been fastened for loops for the
"fills", as Joshua called the thills.

By his side, literally smothered in bed blankets and bufifalo
robe, sat his dear devine Jerusha Peachblossom who was ac-
counted the best speller in the Squeedunk Hollow school. Oh
my! what a consternation they created as they strode into the
house and stood, in all their glory, in the full light of the blaz-
ing fire and the numerous tallow candles! Joshua was proud
to be her escort. He didn't come to spell, he only came to
bring Jerusha and be a spectator. He had unlimited faith in
her ability as a speller, and some thought he was "kinder pur-
rin'round her".

By this time the scene around the school house had become
interesting in the extreme. There were ox teams hitched to
trees, horses tied to fences, and all sorts of conveyances of the
runner kind, including even the rude natural crook hand-sled
of the small boy, who with a taste for sport, had come pre-
pared for a ride or two down the neighboring hill. In good
time the crowd had all arrived and the business of the evening
was ready to begin.


But to cap the climax of the whole grand affair, Capt. Joseph
Blossom's "gude wife" sent over one of their brass candlesticks
and snuft'ers and tray to match, with a sperm candle ready to
light, for the particular use of the teacher, or whoever might
be chosen to pronounce the words.

As the snuffer part of the business was considered quite ex-
tra and fully up to the requirements of the best society, even
of villages, it may be well to remark that on ordinary occa-
sions the candles would be snuffed with a couple of knives,
or a knife and a stick, or by holdmg the candle to the edge of
a desk, or bench, and cutting off the charred wick with a knife:
while sometimes resort would be had to the most simple and
primitive of all ways, that of snuflfing with the thumb and

In all the ways except with the snuffers the charred wick fell
to the floor and was trodden under foot. But the snuft'ers were
made most of on this occasion. It was a real pleasure to him
who assumed the task of snuffing the candles that evening, to
parade the snuffers in full view of the gaping and wondering
crowds from Brier Hill, Squeedunk Hollow and Todwaddle,
where no such a thing had ever been seen or heard of ! What
a gracious air of importance he assumed, as he made his fre-
quent rounds and snuffed the candles! The most consequen-
tial and dignified of all modern funeral directors never acquit-
ted himself with more pomp and circumstance.

Theophilus Stackpole, who taught the school at the center of
the town, — a tall, cadaverous looking specimen of a man, but
who was admitted to be the best scholar in all that section,
and who was supposed to have no preferences or prejudices
for or against any of the schools, was selected, without dissent,
to pronounce the words. At first they chose sides, the cap-
tains being Darius Hodgrass and Ezekiel Woodhouse.

The first choice was determined by flipping an old Bung-
town copper cent. Jerusha Peachblossom was the first one


chosen. Then came Alexander Popinjay, and then in quick
succession were chosen Mary Spratts, Nehemiah Radwin, Sally
Maria Squibson, Ezra Cyrus Woodhouse, Sophronia Gilder-
sleeve, and others: till all who would take part in spelling were
ranged round on the outside seats of two sides of the room,
and the game was opened.

In this way of conducting the exercises, the spellers were
seated, and the words were pronounced alternately to the sides
or companies. When a word was misspelled it was given to
the other side, and then, if correctly spelled, the captain of that
side was allowed to choose a speller from the side missing the
word. If a word was misspelled by several alternating from
one side, or company, to the other, and was finally correctly
spelled by the side first missing it, it was said to be "saved".
This way of spelling made it a sort of game, and it is easy to
see that, with favoring circumstances, the strife might be pro-
longed indefinitely. After spelling in this way for some time
with alternating success and slim prospect of either side being
vanquished in reasonable time, it was thought best to change
the order.

Then came the contest of the evening in which the chosen
representatives of the several schools took part. They all
stood, no sides being taken. Beginning with some particular
one in the long row of spellers, the words were pronounced in
succession to all, the rule being that when one misspelled a
word he or she should sit down. The interest of the evening
always culminated in this contest which was called "spelling

As it progressed after a little, and passing hurriedly over the
shorter and easier words, some one would miss a word and
sit down. Then soon another, and another, and still another,
till the ranks of spellers were badl}^ broken. When all but five
or six had been "spelled down" the interest in the event was
absorbing, and when only two or three were left, it was in-


In the case in point, two or three stood for some tmie, when
one, then another sat down, leaving only one, and that one
was Joshua's inamorata, his dear Jerusha. Jerusha kept r:ght
on spelling till the lateness of the hour, and the complete ex-
haustion of Mr. Stackpole, conspired to brmg an end to the
contest leaving her still on her feet though tired of standmg.

After a brief intermission, during which the occult forces of
an attraction whfch is as universal in its operation as the law
of gravitation, managed to get in its work m so arranging the
crowd of young people that every one was seated just about as
he or she wanted to be, order was restored, and all at once m
came a young man who had quietly retired and dressed himself
in the poorest of the cast off clothing of a near neighbor. He
looked the typical modern tramp at his worst, leaned upon a
staff was led by a small boy, and, as he hobbled about the
If; sjace of thelor, recited "The Beggar's Petition", found
in the old English Reader, which began thus:
"Pity the sorrows of a poor old man,
Whose trembling limbs have borne him to your door:
Whose days are dwindled to the shortest span,

Oh, give relief, and Heaven will bless your store .

He was followed by a boy from Todwaddle who gave the
piece so popular in those days, beginnmg with

"When leagued oppression poured to northern wars,
Her whiskered pandours and her fierce hussars' .

Then a Brier Hill youngster "spoke" the well-known and
still well remembered

•'On Linden, when the sun was low,

All bloodless lay the untrodden snow''

A young man from "down East", who was visiting in the
nefghborh;od, was prevailed upon to recite, hne^ffe ^
Bryant's "African Chief", the words of which are still famihar
to many. It began thus:


"Chain'd in the market place he stood,

A man of giant frame,
Amid the gathering multitude

Which shrank to hear his name".

And so the time passed till near midnight, when the local
teacher or one of the trustees proclaimed the school dismissed.
Then came the scramble of some of the boys to go home with
some of the girls of the Plum Bottom district who came on

Nehemiah Radwin stepped up as proud as a little corporal
and asked Rebecca Sanderhaden if he could "see her home",
and she grabbed his arm instanter. Josephus Orangeblossom
"went home" with Sally Maria Squibson, Jonathan Ganderfoot
sided up to Sophronia Gildersleeve, and Lycurgus Hilderbrand
took Thankful Gilson.

Olivia Shepherd "mittened" a full half dozen boys, and then
let Ezra Cyrus Woodhouse, from Brier Hill, go home with her,
Ezra came on a horse which he hitched out back of the school
house, but he was so taken up with Olivia, that he forgot all
about it: then when he came to his senses, he hired one of
Olivia's brothers to go back after it.

Of course Joshua and Jerusha were better provided for than
any of the rest of them. A lot of mischievous youngsters
however, sought to have some fun with them. So they were
very helpful in getting the rig up close in front of the door so
they could get in with little trouble. But the horse was tired
of standing and started for home at a brisk trot. When, after
a little, Joshua thought, and so did Jerusha, that it would be
well enough perhaps to slacken his pace, somewhat, if not in-
deed down to the degree of a "sparking gait", it was found
that pulling on the lines made no impression whatever. Indeed
his speed was increased to an extent that caused genuine alarm
to the young couple. Noticing some boys away ahead in the
road, Joshua called loudly to them to catch his horse and stop


him, which, after some effort, they succeeded in doing. It
was then discovered that the reins had been buckled into the
hame rings! A wrestHng contest came off the same evening,
in which the champion side-hold wrestler of Brier Hill was
thrown by a Todwaddle boy.

Of course, figuratively speaking, there were some broken
noses, for it was just a little humiliating to the spellers of Tod-
waddle, Brier Hill and Plum Bottom, to have that Squeedunk
Hollow girl carry off the palm of victory: but it could not be
helped, the exercises had been conducted "on the square", and
very properly: and all agreed that they had had a good time.

Joshua and Jerusha, after the harness had been properly ad-
justed, struck a slower pace. Old Grey soon got over his rest-
iveness and sobered down so that Joshua actually drove with
one hand; but he persisted in taking the wrong road! How-
ever, the young people were not much put out about it, they
even joined their voices in softly singing,

"Oh come, Oh come with me, the moon is beaming,
Oh come, Oh come with me, the stars are gleaming:

All around about, with beauty teeming.
Oh, moonlight hours were made for love".

All of which delayed their arrival in Squeedunk Hollow, till
the gray of the early morning.

Along toward the last years of the
Log" School House period considerable
inteiest in vocal music was manifested,
and singing schools were not infrequent.
One of a series of conventions or insti-
tutes was held one fall in Rochester, at
which instruction in music was given.
It lasted for ten days or two weeks,
and was conducted, the writer thinks,
by Lowell Mason of Boston. It was
largely attended and south western
New York was well represented. The following winter was
distinguished for the number and success of the singing schools
which were taught, some being held in very remote and com-
paratively new districts, and in log school houses.

The ambitious young man who had scraped together enough
money to enable him to attend the institute, felt that he could
gather more dollars through the winter by organizing five or
six singing schools, just enough to make the rounds in a week,
than he could by 'cutting or hauling logs, chopping wood, or
threshing grain with a flail. So, visiting the several villages
or places, hamlets or districts where he decided to make the
trial, he would leave appointments to te given out in the


schools or religious meetings, stating where and when he
would meet with such as might be interested, for the purpose
of organizing a singing class. Another round would generally
suffice to perfect the arrangements which usually/ were for a
series of twelve schools.

The pupils were to furnish their own lights, which were of
course tallow candles, and the amount of tuition was agreed
upon: not all of them, however, paying the money. The sing-
ing masters were not confined, by any means, to those who

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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 3 of 9)