Stories of the Pilgrims - M. B. Pumphrey

Colonial Schools

In a very few years after the Pilgrims settled at Plymouth, there were many children in the colonies.

Of course these children went to school, but their school was not at all like ours. For the first few years there was not a schoolhouse in New England.

The children went to the home of one of the neighbors, who was teacher and housekeeper too. They sat on a long seat by the fireplace and studied. When their lessons were learned, they stood in a row, with their toes on a crack in the floor, and recited.

[Illustration] from Stories of the Pilgrims by M. B. Pumphrey

"They stood in a row, with their toes on a crack"

The good woman went on with her spinning or weaving while they read aloud. The girls were taught to spin and sew, as well as to read and write. Each little girl took her box of sewing to school.

In those days nearly every little girl made a sampler of linen. On this sampler she worked in colored silks, all the letters of the alphabet and the numbers to ten. She worked her name, and age, and the date on it, too. Have you ever seen any of these quaint old samplers? It took a child a long, long time to work all the pretty stitches on one.

After a few years log schoolhouses were built, each having at one end a log chimney with a wide fireplace and oiled paper in the windows instead of glass. There were long benches made of logs split in two running quite across the room.

The largest boys and girls sat on the higher back seats, and the little ones sat in front near the teacher. All studied their lessons aloud, that the teacher might know they were doing it well.

The hum of their voices might be heard as far as the road. If you had been passing a school in those days, you would have thought there must be a very large hive of bees near by.

The little ones learned their lessons from a queer little book called "The New England Primer." It did not have pretty pictures and interesting stories in it, as our primers have. There was an odd little picture for each letter of the alphabet, and beside it, a rhyme. The children also learned many verses from the Bible.

When a boy did not learn his lessons, he had to wear a tall paper cap called a "dunce cap," and stand on a stool in the corner.

There were wide cracks between the logs of the schoolhouse, and in the winter the room, except near the fire, was very cold.

The parents of each child had to send a load of wood to heat the schoolhouse. If they did not do this, their child had to sit shivering in the coldest part of the room. His little hands would be blue and numb with the cold, and his stiff little feet would ache.

This seems pretty hard, and I am sure the teacher must sometimes have brought the poor little fellow to a seat near the warm blaze. But they must have wood for the schoolhouse, and there was plenty of it in the forest near by; all the people had to do was to get it.

If a man would not take the trouble to cut the wood and bring it to the schoolhouse, his little ones must go cold. No father could stand that, so the wood was usually brought within a few days.

The parents of the children paid the teacher in corn, barley, and other things which they raised on their farms. Or, if the teacher were a man, the mothers sometimes wove cloth for his coat, or knitted stockings and mittens for him.