Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Going to School in 1866 near the Judson area

I spend a great deal of time searching through old newspaper articles at Newspapers.com.  This site is where I located all the articles used for my last blog entry.  I've come across a plethora of articles recently pertaining to the old communities in Swain County, and thought I'd share one today about a gentleman who went to school in 1866 in the area where the town of Judson later came to be.  (Note: This area would have been part of Macon County at the time, as Swain County was not created until 1871.)   Regrettably, the author of the article is not identified.  However, the article appears to have come from the "Midland Methodist", which was an early newsletter for the Methodist church in the Holston Conference.  

For a point of reference, we have a map of the area dating to 1837, which was provided to me by my excellent friend and research partner, Don Casada.  This map was created by a group led by Captain W.G. Williams, who surveyed the area in preparation for the Cherokee Indian removals in 1838.  Don finds this map of particular interest because the Shearers whose home lies in the area that became Judson were almost certainly his 3rd or 4th great-grandparents.  He obtained this treasure from fellow researcher Lamar Marshall, who has done extensive work on the mapping of Cherokee trails established prior to the removals.  As the land in this area had been legally open to white settlement only since 1819, households other than Indian were few and far between (note that there are only 5 in the immediate Judson area).    In 1866, the population would have been undoubtedly been larger, but not significantly so.  Nevertheless, there were obviously enough children in the area to constitute a school.

Source:  Captain W.G. Williams survey, 1837 (provided by Lamar Marshall)

Returning to the article, this delightful read is quite humorous, and provides an interesting look into early schooling in the area which would become Swain County in 1871.  I hope you will enjoy it as much as I did. 

Merry Christmas to all of you!!

'Going to School in the Great Smokies' (From The Midland Methodist)
Source:  The Caucasian (Clinton, NC) March 3, 1910

"I first attended school in the autumn of 1866.  It was taught by Ben Morgan, who is still living, and who has been for many years a Baptist preacher." 

Benjamin Lewis Morgan (1833 - after 1910) and wife Susan (Battles) Morgan in the 1880 Census (Nantahala District, Swain County).  Based on the neighbors listed in the census records, they clearly lived in the area that was to later become Judson.
Source: http://home.ancestry.com/
"It was taught in what was then known as the 'White House', not far from the present town of Judson, Swain County, NC.  I say town with due respect to other such places, and beg their pardon for such familiar and common use of this term; for while Judson is a very large lumber camp, the town is yet to be - mostly.  The white house was on the opposite side of the Little Tennessee River, about half a mile above and about the same distance below the mouth of Alarkee.  I have already stated in a former letter what while on a tramp through the mountains I had the privilege of standing on the spot, though the house is now gone.  It was a frame dwelling house, and at some time had been painted white, and the name stuck long after the paint wore off."

Frame House (Late 1800s, Iowa).  The school described in the article
may have had a similar appearance.
Source:  Herbert Hoover Presidential Library at

"I shall never forget the morning I entered with my blue-back speller.  I had been told about the rules so often and of the dire punishment meted out to other offenders that I fully expected, as I had been often told, I 'would be thrashed within an inch of my life' the first day; and especially when I saw the teacher armed with a good switch about four or five feet long.  It turned out, however, that he was too kind to 'thrash' anyone; and he never whipped a boy through the whole school, although he carried his switch every day.  His kindness was his only fault.  There were a few things worthy of mention in this school.  First, nothing was taught but the spelling book, and each pupil was in a class by himself, except the spelling classes just before dinner and just before night.  Of course some of the pupils read what reading was in the spelling book.  Beyond that there was no reading.  Secondly, those who came to school first were first to recite; and as that was a point of merit, there was great hurrying to school in the morning.  I have been at school by 'sun-up' in order to be first.  When the teacher arrived and 'called books', he gave us a few minutes to spell over our lessons, and then called 'first'; and the first one to arrive went forward to recite.  Then he called 'second', 'third', and so on till every pupil had recited; then he called 'recess' and away went books as we scampered out for a game of 'base' or 'hickory race' or 'jumping the rope', which was only a grape-vine, or jumping 'half-hammond.'....

When recess was over the teacher called 'books.'  Other lessons were recited, and as soon as he was around he cried out, 'Get your spelling lessons,' just as if every lesson was not a spelling lesson!  Another peculiarity about this school was that every pupil studied aloud, and the louder he hollered the better he studied.  When the teacher called, 'Get your spelling lessons,' the fun began in earnest.  The small children were spelling in monosyllables; some were at 'baker,' some at 'horseback,' some at 'botany,' some at 'publication,' and some at 'immateriality,' and everyone spelling as loud as he could scream......."

The "Blue Back Speller" by Noah Webster (1857)
Source:  http://www.alephbet.com/pages/books/32946/noah-webster/elementary-spelling-book-being-an-improvement-on-the-american-spellin

A look inside the "Blue Back Speller"
Source:  https://openlibrary.org/books/OL7201212M/The_elementary_spelling-book.

"But the strangest part of this school was the Friday afternoon exercises.  This consisted in 'making manners.'  This I never witnessed in other schools, though I understand it was quite common up to that time throughout this region.  The object was to teach the pupils polite manners, and these were fashioned after the court manners of England.  When the hour arrived for this exercise, two boys were called out, and each chose a girl who was to act the part of his wife for the time and assist him in the exercise.  The first couple took their seats near the door, and acted the part of host and hostess; while the other couple went into the yard and returned as visitors.  As I remember, the gentlemen were always acquainted, but their wives were supposed to be strangers to each other and to the gentlemen.  When the visiting parties arrived, the host, prompted by the teacher, was to receive them according to the customs of polite and gentle society.  The gentlemen, both standing, shook hands with each other and inquired after each other's welfare in the most elaborate manner possible, making use of terms that neither one had every heard of before in his life.  Then in like manner the host presented his wife to his friend, who in turn presented his wife to the host, and then the host presented his wife to his friend's wife, and the matter was over.....Following this introduction, the visitor and his wife became the host, a second couple retired and came in as visitors, and the whole thing was gone over again; and so on till all had gone through the exercise.

I remember my first experience vividly.  I was asked to choose a partner.  I was short, thick, and fat.  I promptly chose Ann Anderson, who was six years my senior, tall and slim, and tow-headed.  We presented a picture worth seeing.  I was about seven years old, in long pants (never had any other sort) and wore "galluses," and was barefooted.  She was about thirteen years old, wore long skirts and a bib apron, which was nearly as long as her skirts, with her tow hair twisted into a knot and held in place with a horn comb.  We were the long and the short of the occasion.  The sense of shame was the only sense I had.  I pronounced words and inarticulate phrases, or tried to, that I had never heard before, not have I heard since....A boy who would pass that ordeal and live to tell it could face a field of muskets and never bat his eyes."

A Book of Good Manners (1845)
Source:  http://www.lib.udel.edu/ud/spec/exhibits/women/goodman.jpg

"But enough.  This is written only that the public may know something of both the mettle and the mold out of which and through which the men of the mountains were run."


Captain W.G. Williams map (1837), provided by Lamar Marshall
Don Casada
The Caucasian (Clinton, NC), March 3, 1910


  1. My mother taught eight grades in a mountain school in Tennessee in the late 40's. She only had a high school education. I was permitted to spend a week with her after my school ended. I don't remember many details but was impressed that it was radically different from my school down in the 'flatlands'.

  2. Thanks for visiting the blog! I must admit to being stunned when I read about the etiquette lessons......down in the flatlands it would not have surprised me, but here in the mountains?!