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Common Schools before the “Common School Revival”: New York Schooling in the 1790s

  • Carl F. Kaestle

Abstract

In late colonial America schooling was plentiful but unorganized; schools were increasing in importance but still supplementary to the family, the church, and apprenticeship. Throughout the colonies schools provided training in rudiments for the many, classical training for the few, and some supplementary schooling in technical subjects for a growing number of town dwellers. Common schooling was not “neglected,” as historians of the public school system once asserted; rather, the legacy of the colonial period was a mode of schooling quite different in structure and operation from that to which we have been accustomed since the mid-nineteenth century. In coastal towns like New York, parents bought schooling as a commodity in an open market. Schoolmasters competing for students offered subjects ranging from the alphabet to astronomy, for children of all ages, at all times of the day. Schooling arrangements were haphazard and temporary; people in all ranks of society gained their education in a patchwork, rather than a pattern, of teachers and experiences.1

Keywords

York City Public School Colonial Period Free School Schooling Arrangement 
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Notes

  1. 1.
    See also Bernard Bailyn, Education in the Forming of American Society (Chapel Hill, 1960),Google Scholar
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    The higher concentration of renters in some wards and owners in others was increasing and is emphasized in Young, Democratic Republicans, e.g., p. 474. The remark of Young and Lynd, however, that “the suffrage bottle may be viewed as half full or half empty,” applies to residential segregation as well; it is a matter of emphasis (Staughton Lynd and Alfred Young, “After Carl Becker; The Mechanics and New York City Politics, 1774–1806,” Labor History 5 [Fall 1964]: 223).CrossRefGoogle Scholar
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    The 64 children whose parents were not found in the Directory may have included a higher proportion of poorer families because the Directory probably omitted more poor men than others. Student names were matched with parents in several ways. The most secure are those matched through baptisms. Except with very common names, these identifications are fairly certain. Second, children with the same family name, especially if listed next to each other, were generally assumed to be siblings, so some baptismal identifications led to further matching of brothers or sisters with parents. Third, in the case of the Dutch charity school, the parents’ names and addresses were recorded on the register and are reprinted in Dunshee, Dutch Church. These three means of identification provided the parents’ names for about half of the final sample. The others were identified from wills, or, with less certainty, by the general combination of probability factors, that is, whether the name was less than common, whether there was only one such adult listed in the Directory, whether that adult lived close to school, and whether the family structure of that household head (as recorded in the federal Census of 1790) allowed the possibility of a child of the right sex and age. These factors were combined in judgments that yielded probable, if not positive, identifications. Many possible matches were discarded. The materials used, in addition to the Teachers’ Reports, Low’s 1796 Directory and the 1790 Census, Heads of Families … (Washington, 1908), included: First Presbyterian Church (12 West 12th Street), Baptisms, MS, Vol. I (1728–1790), Vol. II (1791–1802); Trinity Church, Baptisms, transcript, New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, Vol. I (1749–1813); Methodist Episcopal Church Records, Vol. 233, Baptisms, NYPL; Tobias A. Wright, ed., Records of the Reformed Dutch Church … Baptisms, 1731–1800 (New York, New York Genealogical and Biographical Society, 1902; reprinted, Gregg Press, Upper Saddle River, New Jersey, 1968);Google Scholar
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    See Pomerantz, New York, p. 430; for seaman’s wages, see Stanley Lebergott, Manpower in Economic Growth; The American Record Since 1800 (New York, 1964), p. 531.Google Scholar
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  29. 39.
    On the charity schools see Henry W. Dunshee, History of the School of the Reformed Protestant Dutch Church in New York. … (New York, 2d ed., 1883);Google Scholar
  30. William W. Kemp, The Support of Schools in Colonial New York by the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts (New York, 1913);Google Scholar
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  32. Charles C. Andrews, The History of the New York African Free School (New York, 1830).Google Scholar
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    Elsie G. Hobson, Educrxtional Legislation and Administration in the State of New York, 177–1850 (Chicago, 1918), p. 83.Google Scholar
  34. 45.
    Ibid., p. 29; Randall, Common School System, pp. 9–11; see also Robert F. Seybolt, The Act of 1795 for the Encouragement of Schools and the Practice in Westchester County, New York State Local History Service Leaflets (Albany, 1919).Google Scholar

Copyright information

© John L. Rury 2005

Authors and Affiliations

  • Carl F. Kaestle

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