My Dear Old Friend, Mr.
W. W. Pegg, --
As to the information you desire re the history of education in the
County of Norfolk, I fear you'll be disappointed by its scantiness, for my
knowledge of the schools and the books used in the county previous to the
series introduced by the Council of Public Instruction for the Province, is
-- Books --
The books used in the
Bealton school were by American authors: Kirkham's grammar, Dabol's
arithmetic, Olney's, and later Morse's geography. The highest reader,
however, was an English production -- the old English Reader.
Whether there was a
reader between this and the spelling book in this school or not, neither
Mrs. Osborne nor myself remembers, but in schools I had attended in others
parts of the province, the New Testament was used as a reader by the classes
before they began in the English reader.
Arithmetic was not then
taught by classifying the pupils, but each one studied his own book, getting
what help he could or needed from the teacher, if the teacher was able to
render it, which was not always the case.
There was, now and then,
a different arithmetic used -- one that the pupil's father had probably
As there was no
authorized set of school books by the government, and the population of this
part of Canada was made up largely of immigrants from Uncle Sam's side of
the line, and some of the teachers from there too, and American books were
cheap and readily accessible, it was very natural and likely that they would
be used and preferred.
-- Teachers --
The people's ideas as
regarded the moral qualifications of teachers at that time were not up to
the high-water mark.
The teacher that taught
the longest in the neighborhood where I got most of my common school
training, was a man addicted to intoxication. He would get on a regular old
bender every two or three months, for about a week. It would take him
another week and often more to get in shape to return to school. The
children had many vacations while he was employed.
But he was liked when he
was himself, and was a teacher by profession and better qualified other ways
that the average, so he was tolerated longer than he otherwise would have
The teacher (an old
man) that gave me my first start in reading and writing, was another old
tipler, but he took his grog in the afternoon every two or three weeks, so
as to enjoy its effects in the evening. He would thus be ready for
business by the next morning.
Only two or three years
before the County Boards were established for examining teachers and
granting certificates, there came to Hartford an elderly man shabbily
dressed who applied for the school at a time when it had been vacant for
some time, so he was employed.
The schoolhouse was at
that time used as a chapel and the pulpit was of the old fashioned style,
breast-high, semi-circular and on quite an elevated platform.
The old teacher was
observed by the pupils to go up into it at the noon recess, not to preach,
but to take off his shirt and sew up the holes. The secret of such a state
of affairs would not be hard to guess.
Of course his services
were dispensed with as soon as was considered legal, as matters had turned
out worse than his employers had expected. But trustees at the present would
be wider awake. They thought, no doubt, of two evils, they were choosing the
least. Your decision and mine would be that it would be better to leave the
school vacant a while longer and take chances for a little more respectable
Even aside from
intemperate habits, none of the teachers that I knew anything about from
the days of my childhood, were as well qualified as our Second Class
teachers are now. Many of them could not have obtained a third-class
But now and again
there was one quite dignified in manner, who would dress with considerable
style, and as the saying goes, carry a high head.
-- Tricks --
The boys of one school
I attended adopted a plan of playing tricks on their teachers on the last
day of term. If the teacher left the school room, they would lock the door
and keep him out the rest of the day. The teacher generally took it in
good part, quite willing to have a half holiday.
They tried the game
with one of those lofty teachers on one occasion but it did not work
favorably. When he returned from his dinner and found the door fastened,
he called out for some of us to open the door, but we all disobeyed. He
stepped to the fence, got a heavy rail, and came against the door with a
force that would have shattered it had not the latch given way.
Coming in in a
terrible and terrifying rage, he demanded the name or names of the one or
more who had fastened the door. It was a couple of young men really, but
we all kept mum. He then pressed a young and well-behaved negro to give
him the names, and whether through fear or out of respect, he did.
Such was his
exasperation that we all expected those young men world get a very rough
handling ever if the rest of us escaped. But they got only a severe tongue
lashing. They in particular and the rest of us in general -- a lengthy and
very emphatic lecture on good behavior and how to treat our teachers with
apologized and asked his pardon, protesting that they had not done it with
the least intention of insulting him or treating him with any disrespect
whatever, that it was a thing they had been in the habit of doing as a
joke and that other teachers had always taken it as such.
He however gave them
to understand that such a custom was half heathenish and should not be
tolerated in any civilized community.
There being no
trustees appointed during my early school days, nor superintendents, when
a teacher wanted a school he went around among the people soliciting
subscribers. If he could raise money enough to satisfy him, he took the
school and collected his pay at the end of his term.
This state of school
affairs changed, I think under the regime of Lord Sydenham in 1841, as our
school histories state that "Provision was made for extending and
maintaining a system of Common School Education" at that time.
If you know the nature
and extent of this change, or have any information from those old
gentlemen, Mr. Shearer or DeCou, relative to it, I would be obliged if you
would furnish me with the same. I was too much of a boy at the time (13
years old) to take much interest in such matters.
There were further
improvements under the Chief Superintendency of Dr. Egerton Ryerson, whose
appointment was in 1844, but it was not until a few years later that
Township Superintendents and County Boards were appointed for
examining teachers and granting certificates.
Previous to that, I
think, there had been County Superintendents appointed to do all the Board
Before the Boards were
established there was an American Baptist minister in charge of the church
at Hartford. The school being vacant, the people wanted him to take it. I
took him to Simcoe to a gentleman (an English Church clergyman, I think)
to be authorized, but not being a British subject, he could get no
document -- but was told to go on and teach the school and the public
money would be forthcoming.
I do not think the
Township Superintendents had any authority to examine and grant
certificates apart from the County Board, and I presume you know as much
about their methods of examining the schools under their charge as myself.
It was simply hearing the classes read, spell, recite, parse, and go
through with their lessons in Geography.
During the two years I
taught school in Walpole, only three miles from the local superintendent's
residence, he never showed his face inside the schoolhouse. That was his
style! He told me on one occasion it was a "mere farce" for a
man to sit and listen to a lot of children going over their a b c's,
spelling cat, dog, etc.
-- My Experiences
You asked me about my
own experience in the business.
I began with a limited
Third Class Certificate, and quit four or five years after I had obtained
an unlimited First.
My first school was in
a neighborhood called Jerusalem, and the little log school house was
called the Temple! The idea was preposterous: a man teaching in the Temple
of Jerusalem holding only a Limited Third! Even that was enough to inspire
me with a determination to push on and get higher. This school was two
miles south of Villa Nova and the smallest school I taught, my largest
During the years of my
service as a teacher I had several rather episodical experiences.
One was the case of a
youth who considered himself a man, who was bound to master the situation
himself. For some misdemeanor I ordered him to come out from behind the
writing desk, and he refused. I stepped in by his side and slipped by
right arm under his legs and my left around his back, while he was holding
himself with both arms on the under side. As I exerted myself the desk
gave way and he came over it, falling full length on the floor, face down,
books, slates inkstand, etc. went flying over the floor. When about to
apply the rod he said he would leave the school right away. As he was over
school age, I told him to go.
He went across the
road, got a shoe-maker's picking stick and came back to the door daring me
to come and he would show me. I rushed out and he ran backwards saying he
would get on his own side of the road. I was close upon him when he heel
struck something and he went backwards. I grabbed the poker and
jerked it out of his hands, telling him I ought to give him a very severe
flogging. He got up and went off looking pretty badly sold.
One another occasion I
had an encounter with a burly youth of about 16, who positively refused to
obey my orders. I commenced rather unwarily trying the effects of the rod,
when he sprang to his feet and gave me a hard blow with his fist on the
side of my head, but as he failed to floor me, I kept on with increased
force applying the rod, when he soon began to beg, saying he would behave
if I would desist. He kept his promise and after a while got to be a
teacher himself, after which he told me on one occasion I had done him
On yet another
occasion, I had quite a sensational experience with an old man, a trustee
who was an Irishman. It was in his own home.
We had made out the
annual report and he wanted me to sign it. If I had done so, I would be
acknowledging that I had received the whole of my salary for the past year
when they were $5 behind.
He was also treasurer
and had the money to pay. I told him it was not business for me to sign
that report till they paid me in full. He said they would pay it soon. I
replied that signing would be giving the trustees a chance to do just as
they had a mind to do about that.
He flew into a
passion, jumped up, drew his fist, and threatened to spill my brains out!
His wife grabbed his arm, but I told her to let him strike if he wanted
the pleasure of a lawsuit and paying costs.
He paid the $5 next
day as the result of an arbitration, his arbitrator agreeing with mine
that he should do so before I signed the report.
-- Teachers --
As to teachers, I can
furnish you the names of a few. The first who taught in the neighborhood
of Bealton after a school house was built, was Mrs. Mary Hayes. Then a
one-armed gentleman by the name of Simpkins, then a Miss Rogers, then a
Mr. Hawley. Those and probably two or three others taught this school
before Boards for examination were appointed.
After that, a Mr.
Stephen Fairchild whose school I attended a couple of winters. He was
quite an energetic and thorough-going teacher as far as he was qualified.
A little later Miss Selina Freed. She qualified at the Normal School in
An Englishman by the
name of Bradly who had lost his right arm, taught quite a long time at
Hartford. When the boys got too boisterous he would grab them with his
left hand, bring their heads between his legs and [the gad on behind]!
Mr. Jesse Ryerson
taught a considerable time in Bealton after me. He was pretty well up in
Latin and considerable of a metaphysician, and good company. He also
taught the school in Oakland and Waterford, and was a particular friend of
friend of mine was Thomas Hall. He took a collegiate course at Rochester,
N.Y. with a view to the Gospel Ministry, but for some reason changed his
mind and followed the business of teaching all the rest of his life. He
taught for years in Norfolk, then went to California and continued in the
same employment to nearly the time of his death, two or three years ago.
Christopher Walker of
Villa Nova taught for some time at Bealton and elsewhere in the county. He
was a brother-in-law to Mrs. Frank Turner and Oliver Barber.
Mr. Olmstead was a
teacher well up in the profession and taught a long time in in the county,
for some some time at Villa Nova. I think Mr. Olmstead retired a
superannuated teacher. He officiated as a Methodist local preacher the
rest of his life.
Miss Emma Overholt
taught the school at Tyrrell, and her sister, Miss Jane, taught at
Townsend Centre. My daughter Mary taught at Kelvin, Boston and Bealton,
and then concluded to take a less public school. Miss Anna Tupper taught
in Bealton for some time.
There were two young
gentlemen by the name of Hilyar [sic] who were teachers in Norfolk.
One continued in the profession a good while I think. The other soon got
into medicine, but not being a success as a practitioner, got discouraged
and committed suicide in Hamilton.
A Mr. Earl and a Mr.
Vanderburg also taught at Bealton, also a young gentleman by the name of
Chatman. Before that, Mr. Noah Bates, a native of the neighborhood before
it was called Bealton, taught the school of his native place for a while,
as well as at Burtch's Landing in the County of Brant, then went into the
medical profession and has been a medical man in Flint, Michigan over 40
years, I think.
You'll not forget Mr.
James Ross, long a successful teacher in the schools of Boston and
Bealton, and now Township Clerk, Division Registrar, etc., for the
Township of Townsend.
And do not forget Mr.
W. W. Pegg, a marked success in the profession, who after teaching in
Bealton for about 10 years (the last years of his teaching), retired with
a good grace on a superannuated income. Should you not mention his name
till the last, be sure to add "not least."
-- From Texts --
since I began this, I find Emily P. Weaver, when she comes to the close of
the 18th century states "The schools were very poor except Kingston,
sometimes the only books used were a New Testament and spelling
In The Canadian
History for Boys and Girls, "In 1816,"
(12 years before I was born), W. J. Robinson says, "Common Schools
were granted £6,000 to help in paying teachers and buying books."
That may be when the English Readers were introduced, and it may have been
done partly with a view to encouraging loyalty, being so soon after the
war of 1812. But the spelling book used in my early days I am pretty sure,
Another edition of the
Public School History states that "Provision was first made in
1816 for education and the founding of the Common School System of the
province," but does not state what the system was, nor what change
was made from bad to better.
All the improvement I
can find is the grant of the £6,000 to help pay teachers and buy books.
If you have anything
definite on this please let me know. I think the money must have been
exhausted before my eyes saw the sun, as I have not the faintest
recollection of teachers getting any government money to buy books during
Jas. W. Osborne
P.S. -- It has been
said that "one of the essentials of the art of writing consists of
knowing how much to leave in the ink-pot." No doubt you'll think it a
fact by the time you have read this letter.
My reason for writing
so much is the hope that you may find something that will be some little
service to you. If so, I will be recompensed for my pains, if it is only
an item or two. If not, you may be a little amused yourself. Even in that
case I shall not regret my trouble.
Those old gentlemen,
Messrs. Shearer and DeCou have the advantage of me in two respects. They
are both my seniors, and were both not only longer in the County of
Norfolk, but were long time residents before I ever saw it.
I have left out the
names of a number of teachers, thinking that I have given you more than
you will make any use of.
You may possibly think
from what I have told you of my experience in the management of large boys
that I was too ready with the rod of correction. But when affections
become perverted and boys begin to imagine they are men physically and
cherish an ambition to prove it by bossing their teacher, kindness, moral
suasion and everything else frequently fails. In such cases physical force
often succeeds, but not always. There are few teachers I believe that were
any more gratified to have the good will of all their pupils than I was.