An event that we can always recall as contemporaneous with the war for Commercial Independence is the establishment of our system of Free Education. Previous to this time the various counties as well as the state had given much attention to the education of the young, the expense being provided by state appropriations plus private subscriptions. By this means learning had been disseminated extensively but the money was not sufficient nor the system efficient.
II. Free Schools
The growing sentiment in every portion of the state favoring public education expressed itself through the General Assembly in 1812 by a feeble effort to raise enough money to establish at least one Free School in each county. The money for the support of these schools was to be raised by requiring banks of the state to bind themselves to pay the sum of $20,000 on or before January 1, 1815. This sum to be paid annually was to be apportioned according to the capital stock actually paid in at the various banks. Other financial matters were involved in this act and the banks made a vigorous and temporarily successful fight against the whole measure.
In 1813 the school matter again came to the front. By the enactment of this year the state required not the payment of a specified sum per annum for schools, but instead, an annual tax of 20 cents on every $100 of capital stock actually paid in. Connected with this were some other conditions relative to the Cumberland Turnpike. Any bank refusing to subscribe to the Act within six months forfeited their charter while those accepting guaranteed the renewal of their charter for a term of fifteen years. Denton promptly accepted and her Bank Charter was extended to 1835.
This means of raising money was so successful that by December, 1816, at the meeting of the Assembly the sum was found sufficient for distribution to counties, and nine sensible and discreet men called Commissioners of the School Fund were appointed in each county. These men were to apply the apportionments in their respective counties as their judgment deemed best. Caroline's commissioners were Col. Wm. Potter, Richard Hughlett, Elisha Dawson, Thomas Goldsborough, William Hardcastle, Elijah Satterfield, Willis Charles, Levi Dukes and Peter Willis.
The same session of Assembly also made provision to turn over to the counties their respective shares of school money--said money to be paid to authorized representatives of the commissioners. To increase the school fund it was decided to arrange if practicable to draw a lottery for $50,000 each year for five years.
When this commission of five had organized they were to give notice of an election to determine upon a site for a school house and to decide whether it should be erected by voluntary contributions, or by a proportionate tax upon the assessable property of the section.
Notice was to be given of the opening of school, and all white children, especially orphans, were to be taught gratis in their respective districts, but not beyond the "Double Rule of Three" unless with the consent of the trustees. After the first year the trustees were to be elected annually by voters of the respective districts, at an election held the first Monday in May.
In 1821, five years after the opening of free schools, the Assembly took away all power and authority given to the Commissioners of School Fund by the Act of 1816, and vested it in the Justices of Orphans Court, ordering that all monies in the hands of Commissioners be turned over to the Justices. The Orphans Court was also empowered to appoint five Commissioners in each Election District, who pointed out to the Court which schools in their respective districts were entitled to a part of that school fund which was to be annually apportioned. One third of the school money in each district was at the disposition of the commissioners to be used directly for the education of orphans, or any children whose parents were unable to pay. In truth the prime idea in the establishing of a state Free School Fund was to provide for this class of children and from this it later became known as the Charity or Free School Fund.
To still further aid such children the legislature in 1823 made it obligatory on every college, academy, etc., receiving "state aid" to give tuition to one charity scholar for each $100 received - giving both teaching and text books.
We might here make mention of one Act which never became active in Caroline County. In 1825 the Assembly made an enactment providing a State Superintendent of Public Instructions, who had almost unlimited powers. This law became effective only in the counties which adopted it. But six counties, including Caroline, rejected it.
III. Growth in Caroline
For the first thirty years of their existence free schools did not progress very rapidly, neither was the increase in numbers great in this county. However about 1830 a "boom" came, which was somewhat at the expense of Academies. Previous to this the Academies at Hillsboro and Denton had been receiving largely from the state but his fund was now withdrawn and placed in the hands of the Orphan's Court to be distributed among located free schools. "At this time," it is said, "local interest in elementary education was at its zenith," and exemplifying this we find a number of free schools built from private means of large land owners. Again, in 1831 the Act relative to state donations to academies increased that fund in Caroline Co. to $800, the distribution giving $250 to the Upper District, $300 to the Middle District and $250 to the Lower District to be used entirely for Free Schools. At the same time a Commission was appointed to locate schools, particularly in sections without them. This Act was followed in 1832 by one providing that a sum not exceeding $100 be appropriated from the surplus in the hands of Orphan's Court for the erection of a comfortable school house on each site certified by Commission appointed in 1831 to locate new schools.
The Constitutional Convention of 1851 might be described as a vigorous war of words, at the close of which the school question remained practically the same as at the beginning. However in 1852 the Legislature made progress and provided for the payment of several sums of money appropriated previously for the benefit for Free Schools.
The adoption of the State School Law of 1865 did away with many troubles of the Caroline Legislators and seemed for a time to solve the problem of Education, by centralizing the administration. It gave a State Superintendent of Public Instruction and Dr. Libertus Van Boklen was appointed to that office. Acting with him was a State Board of Education who jointly appointed one Commissioner for each of the four school districts of this County. Each Commissioner had entire control of the eight or nine schools in his district. He hired and discharged teachers at will, distributed the text books for which pupils must pay in advance, etc. In this school control the taxpayers were mere onlookers, though through no fault of our officials who were very intelligent and earnest men. To this Board, Mr. William Stevens, of Denton, recently deceased was Clerk and Treasurer.
The law of 1868 wrought another radical change in the management of the schools. The power was taken from the state and once more put in the hands of the people, the office of State Superintendent being abolished. At the General Election, voters of each District voted for one School Commissioner for that District. They also elected two School House District Trustees. The Commissioner of the District made the third member of the Board of Trustees. This election was held annually on the first Saturday of May. The elective features of this law were repealed after one election had been held, and the appointment of School Commissioners made of of the duties of the Judges of the Circuit Court. Afterwards, as at present, the Governor of the State was given the appointing power. For several years minority party representation was made compulsory but the School Law of 1916 tended to eliminate politics entirely and dared not even suggest any term connected therewith.
The personnel of the County School Board in 1867 was as follows: Rev. Chas. B. Boynton,
Dr. M. A. Booth, Mr. William S. Ridgely and Col. James E. Douglass. The new school law went into effect in 1868 and Col. James E. Douglass, Samuel I. Jarman and Robert H. Wilson became the new Board which in turn elected Rev. Geo. F. Beaven, Secretary and Examiner of the schools of the county, the first really provided by law. For several years Rev. Mr. Beaven, who was also rector of the Episcopal church at Hillsboro, faithfully and well discharged his duties until he retired in 1882 and was succeeded by Prof. James Swann of Ridgely. The Board at this time consisted of John F. Dawson, E. E. Goslin, and Dr. Enoch George. Prof. Swann continued as Examiner until 1886 when he was succeeded by M. Bates Stephens, who remained in office till 1900, when he became State Superintendent of Public Schools, and was succeeded in the county position by Prof. W. S. Crouse, who had been principal of the Denton High School.
Until Dr. M. Bates Stephens became State Superintendent in 1900, there had been no real head of the State School system since 1867. For a part of this time the principal of the State Normal School exercised some functions, though his authority was only nominal. At another time, S. E. Forman, State Institute Conductor, had some directing power.
Realizing the inadequacy of the various school enactments prior to 1916 to meet the needs of the times, a well organized school law was that year passed, based upon a very careful and critical survey of our public school system by representative men from our state and experienced educators without.
Caroline's early schools were of two classes, namely, small free schools promoted by private citizens of means, and Secondary schools, or Academies which received State aid. Of the first class we will mention three:
1st: The Bloomery School. In 1798 James Wright, who was probably one of the Wright brothers elsewhere mentioned, sold to several persons an acre of land and provided a house thereon to be used for a school, reserving unto himself and his heirs, one-twentieth of the rights of the school thereon established. The site of this school was near the present Bloomery Church.
2nd: Liden's School. From the tract of land along the road from Andersontown to Smithville a building site was given by Deed in 1827 by Shadrach Liden. Thereon was erected a building to serve as a house of worship and as a school for the community.
3rd: Chinquapin School. This building stood on the road between Denton and Burrsville, and was probably erected about 1840, as in the records of that time we find the deed of a site given by Gove Saulsbury.
4th: Whiteley's School. This school had been started before 1825 by two men, Dr. WilliamWhiteley and Edward Carter, who built it for the needs of the neighborhood. This school was afterwards discontinued, then reopened later by Benjamin Whitely as will be explained more fully elsewhere.
Of the second class or Academies we have two, both so noted in their day as to be yet well known.
1st: The Old Hillsboro Academy. John Hardcastle, Jr. donated the land for a section called in the deed Hackett's Garding. The building was begun in 1797 and was originally intended only for a local school but with the passing of the School Act of 1798 it was incorporated as a Secondary School.
The erection seems to have been entirely from local subscription and much generosity in the matter of money is credited Francis Sellers. Later aid was received from the state. The curriculum first included the elementary studies but later the classics were included, until 1844, when it was made a "Primary District."
2nd: Denton Academy. By Act of General Assembly, 1804, which supplemented Denton's Charter, one-fourth acre of land in the N.W. corner of the public square was set apart as a school site. Not until 1808 was there a centralized effort to build a school but at this time they were not successful in doing so. Legislative annals show the frequent recurrence of Denton Academy legislation followed by a "donation." Finally, some time between 1840 and 1845 the building was completed largely from accumulated state donations.
IV. In Conclusion
Quoting directly from Steele we might add, -- Caroline was among the foremost of the counties to establish a Secondary School a century ago; she was among the foremost in the effort to establish Free Primary Schools on a practical basis, anterior to the adoption of the State school system; she has been for years, and is now, among the foremost in school enrollment according to population. She stands not very far from the top in per cent of pupils in and above sixth grade and she may be relied on to be in the vanguard of educational procession, and in bearing her little part bravely if the time ever comes and it seems to be coming when all the States will be banded into an educational system or union with national supervision.
It seems that public schools for colored children in our county began to be organized shortly after 1866 by virtue of a School Board resolution of that date which reads as follows:
Resolved--that our Board appropriate the sum of one hundred dollars to each school for colored children that may be started in our county at such time as the Commissioner of the district where such school is to be located, shall report that the colored people of said locality are ready and willing and able to raise such other sum or sums as shall be necessary for building a school house after such model as shall be furnished by our Board. The first payment of public school tax to colored schools was made in 1869.
A more complete description of the county's early schools may be seen in the sections assigned to the various localities.
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