Historic Pelham

Presenting the rich history of Pelham, NY in Westchester County: current historical research, descriptions of how to research Pelham history online and genealogy discussions of Pelham families.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

A Brief History of Early Schools in the Manor of Pelham and Surrounding Areas Published in 1905

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In 1905, MacMillan Company published a history of public schools in New York City. A portion of that history dealt with schools in areas once within Westchester County that were annexed by New York City in the 19th century. That portion of the history relates to lands that once were part of the Manor of Pelham and, thus, is quoted below.

"Four former towns of Westchester County and parts of two others make up the Borough of The Bronx. Only two of the towns, Westchester and Eastchester, antedate the Revolution; the others were created by division and separation. Pelham came into existence in 1788 (at the time when, under the State government, Westchester and Eastchester were constituted towns of Westchester County); West Farms dates from 1846, Morissania from 1855, and Kingsbridge from 1872, the latter having been set off as a separate town only two years before its annexation to New York. Besides Kingsbridge, Morrisania and West Farms were taken into the city at the beginning of 1874; Westchester and parts of Eastchester and Pelham were annexed in 1895. Through the earlier annexation eight grammar and six primary schools, and through the later six grammar and three primary schools were added to the New York system.

Westchester and Eastchester were not settled by the Dutch, and, so far as the early records can be traced, there was not, in the former at least, the same zeal for the school and the schoolmaster in the early days as we have found in the Dutch settlements on Manhattan Island and Long Island. The early schools were church schools, and it is not easy to determine how deeply the idea of the free school had taken root. In one case it is stated that the schoolmaster received what the parents of the pupils paid; the probabilities are that the children of the poor received free instruction.

In Westchester the earliest reference to a school is found after the year 1700. In Eastchester there was an earlier begin- [Page 262 / Page 263] ning. The 'agreement' made by the settlers of that town soon after they took up their abode there, in 1664, contained an article to the effect 'That provision be endeavored for education of children, and then encouragement be given unto any that shall take pains according to our former way of rating.' According to Scharf's History of Westchester County, 1 [FN 1: 1 Vol. II, p. 730.] the reference in the last clause quoted was to the collective education of children to which they had been accustomed in Connecticut.

Bolton states, in his History of the County of Westchester, that 'The first school-house [in Eastchester] was erected in 1683, for at a public meeting of the inhabitants, held on the 15th of October of that year, it was ordered 'that a school-house be erected upon a site between the property of Richard Shute and William Haiden, and encouragement given to Mr. Morgan Jones to become the school-master.' ' He adds that 'the building occupied the site of the present village school-house.' 2 [FN 2: Vol. I, p. 214] Mr. Jones, who in 1680 was officiating as minister in the village of Westchester, does not appear to have yielded to the 'encouragement.' On this point Scharf says: 'The encouragement then given to Mr. Morgan to be their school-master did not, it would seem, add any more to his haste to comply with their wishes than the call, three years previous, to be their minister.' This historian states that the erection of a schoolhouse was not determined upon until 1683, and intimates a doubt as to whether it had actually been built in 1697. However that may be, in 1696 Benjamin Collier is recorded as serving in the office of schoolmaster.

A few years later a schoolhouse must have been provided, for in 1713 'two overseers of ye school in ye town' were appointed. That it did not meet the wants of the town indefinitely is evident frm action taken in 1726, when it was agreed to vote at a public town meeting that a lot of land be laid out 'for to build a school-house thereon,' 'out of the comon,' and that the schoolhouse be built 'twenty foot long and fourteen foot wide, [Page 263 / Page 264] and seven foot between joyntts in height.' In this spacious edifice Mr. Delpech was carrying on the work of a teacher in 1728, and he was spoken of by the minister as 'very well adapted and fitted for that business, and as well spoken of as being diligent in it.' His income was 'what the parents of the children taught do give.'

From this time until after the Revolutionary period the records are missing. In 1797 there were four schools in the entire town.

In Westchester, where the first settlement was made in 1654, the establishment of a school appears to have been due to the famous British Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts. In 1702 the Rev. John Bartow was sent by this Society as a missionary to Westchester, and on October 30, 1709, we find him writing to the Society, 'We want very much a fixed school at Westchester,' and recommending Daniel Clark as a person worthy of employment, 'being of good report, a constant communicant, and being a clergyman's son, has had a pious and learned education.' Clark (the name is also spelled Clarke) was engaged, and was the teacher from 1710 to 1713. He was preceded, in 1709, by Edward Fitzgerald, and followed by Charles Glover. Each of these three schoolmasters received a salary of £18 per annum.

The Society's abstracts for 1713 contain the following with reference to the last-named: 'Mr. Charles Glover is appointed schoolmaster at Westchester, with a salary of £18 per annum, as he is recommended under the character of a person sober and diligent, well affected toward the Church of England, and competently skilled in reading, writing, arithmetic, psalmody and the Latin tongue.' Glover remained until 1719, when he was succeeded by William Forster, who is mentioned repeatedly in the records of the Society. The first reference to him, in 1719, is as follows: 'To Mr. William Forster, schoolmaster at Westchester, who has been recommended as a person very well qualified to instruct the youth in the principles of religion [Page 264 / Page 265] and virtue, ten pounds per annum is allowed; and a gratuity of £10 has been given him, in consideration of his past services and his present circumstances.' 1 [FN 1: 1 In Holland Documents (Vol. V, p. 978), a note states that 'William Forster was schoolmaster in the town of Westchester, under the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, as early as 1719.']

As might be expected, a schoolmaster in the employ of the venerable Society above mentioned had many religious duties to perform, though he does not appear to have been undertaker, sexton, and gravedigger, as was the schoolmaster in the Dutch communities. For instance, in 1719, Mr. Foster reported that 'he has at present thirty-five scholars, whom he catechises every Saturday, and also every Sunday that Mr. Bartow goes to another part of the parish, together with all others who will attend, and has good success; which is also attested by the minister and chief inhabitants of Westchester.' A later entry is to the effect that Mr. Foster 'takes all the care he can of the children which are sent to him, and has upwards of thirty scholars, which he instructs in the Church Catechism.'

An entry somewhat more interesting is found in the year 1723, when Mr. Foster announces that 'the number of his scholars, is as usual, and that he has very good success in his teaching, and that they are this summer building a new schoolhouse; and he is raising an annual subscription for repairing and furnishing the church.'

No other schoolmaster's name is found utnil 1743. 2 [FN 2: Bolton (Vol. II, p. 399) gives a list of the schoolmasters at Westchester from 1709 to 1774. If complete, it would indicate that Mr. Foster's term of service extended from 1719 to 1743.] Beginning with that year, they were as follows: 1743, Basil Bartow; 1764, Nathaniel Seabury; 1768, George Youngs; 1774, Mr. Gott. The salary is put down as £10 in each case.

Under the State government, after the Revolutionary War, the towns of Westchester County, as a whole, manifested a good degree of interest in educational matters. By the 'Act for the encouragement of schools,' adopted in 1795, as stated in an [Page 265 / Page 266] earlier chapter, the State appropriated £20,000 each year for five years for school purposes, and Westchester County received as its quota £1192. The several towns promptly voted an appropriation equal to one-half of the amount received from the State, and School Commissioners were appointed to look after the details. An interesting paper formerly on file in the office of the Town Clerk of Eastchester had reference to this money. It bore the date June 19, 1795, and read: 'We the Supervisors of the County of Westchester, . . . do certify to the Town of Eastchester that the apportionment of money by us allotted to the said Town by virtue of the act aforesaid [the act of 1795], is thirty-seven pounds twelve shillings and seven pence.' 1 [FN 1: A facsimile of this document is given by Scharft (Vol. I, p. 474).]

'Just as readily, in 1812, when an equal sum to the appropriation by the State was in a new Act asked of each town, the vote was readily given, and the proper officials named. During this period, throughout the county, school-houses were being restored or re-erected.' 2 [FN 2: Scharf, Vol. I, p. 474.]

The territory annexed to the former city of New York in 1874 became the Twenty-third and Twenty-fourth Wards, and was long known as the Annexed District. Its schools passed directly under the control of the Board of Education, without any change in the membership of that body; the new wards formed an additional school district, for which Inspectors were appointed by the Mayor, and Trustees by the Board of Education. Before the annexation there were four local Boards of Education in what became the Annexed District: one for Morrisania and one for Kingsbridge, while in West Farms there were two Boards, one for each of the school districts. The annexation in 1895 caused no change in the school officers of the Twenty-fourth Ward."

Source: Palmer, A. Emerson, The New York Public School Being a History of Free Education in the City of New York, pp. 262-66 (NY, NY: The MacMillan Company 1905).

It is unknown when the first school was built within the Town of Pelham. It seems clear that there was such a school by 1801. Town records contain a reference to a "Town Meeting held at the School House in the Town of Pelham on Tuesday, the 7th day of April 1801". The location of the school, however, is not known.

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