The History of New York State
Book 12, Chapter 14, Part 2

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


Roughly under the Dutch it may be said that there were five regularly licensed teachers in New Amsterdam. Besides these there were some temporary teachers. There were some purely private schools. From 1648 to 1662 schools were established in the villages of Albany, Brooklyn, Flatbush, Flatlands, Harlem, Kingston, Bushwick, and new Utrecht. The schools were regarded as village or city and not company schools. School hours were usually from eight to eleven in the forenoon, and from one to four in the afternoon. Schools were probably in session throughout the year with holidays on festivals and Wednesday and Saturday afternoons. Evening schools were common. The Dutch do not appear to have discriminated against the girls in educational matters as did the English. The mater's residence was usually the schoolhouse.

Education Under English Rule--There was comparatively little of general interest in education under English rule. The royal governors were not generally in favor of the education of the people and the sentiment of ruling classes in England was directly opposed to it. When the colony was governed by the English, schoolmasters were obliged to have a license. The object of this was to prevent dissenters from doing any sort of tutelage. Up to 1686 the Governor was the only person who had authority to license a teacher. After that date persons who came from England were licensed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. The rule requiring the teacher to have a license was never rigidly enforced and was never exacted of teachers in the Dutch schools except by Lord Cornbury, who insisted that neither the teachers nor the ministers of the Dutch schools had any right to teach or preach without a license from him and he refused to license anyone to teach in the Dutch schools. Lord Cornbury's rule came to an end in 1708 and no other English Governor followed his policy. The rule requiring a license to teach does not seem to have been followed at all after 1712. The one bright stop in the educational history of the colony under the administration of the English was the establishment of King's College. Governor DeLancey wrote to the home government asking for a charter for the school, saying that such an institution was necessary "to prevent the growth of republican principles which already too much prevail in the colonies." The institution appears to have been rather a positive than a negative influence in reference to such growth, for among the early students were Philip Livingston, John Jay, Robert Livingston, Gouverneur Morris, Alexander Hamilton, DeWitt Clinton, and Daniel Tompkins.

The earliest English laws of New York, the Duke's Laws of 1664, and the Dongan laws of 1683-84, have no reference to schools or teachers. Draper, in his "Origin and Development of the New York Common School System" remarks that "when the Dutch were obliged to surrender to the English, in 1664, the educational spirit was so common throughout the colony that almost every settlement had a regular school taught by more or less permanent teachers, and that there was a decided set-back given to this movement upon the advent of the English, in consequence of the apprehension, on the port of the authorities, that common schools would nourish and strengthen a spirit in independence, which had even then made some considerable headway."

If a man wished to teach, either because he thought it good policy to have all children educated, or because he was not fitted for any other business, he petitioned the governor for a teacher's license, and usually received it, or, like Matthew Hiller in 1676, was referred to the municipal officers. A qualifying condition was not imposed on would-be teachers until the accession to the throne of England or James II, when there appears in the instructions sent to Governor Dongan the clause: "And wee doe further direct that one Schoolmaster bee henceforth permitted to come from England and keep school within Our Province of New York without the license of the Archbishop of Canterbury; And that no other person now there, or that shall come from other parts, bee admitted to keep school without your license first had." For fear the Roman Catholic teachers might come "from other parts," the instructions given to the succeeding Governors directed them "not to permit any schoolmasters to teach without a certificate of the Bishop of London."

Whether this policy was dictated by a desire to exclude incompetent instruction, or for the purpose of controlling appointments and of determining the course of the schools is not clear. The only act in which the authorities in New York shows a disposition to promote popular education was forced upon them by the strong Dutch element in the General Assembly in 1702. This was the "Act for Encouragement of a Grammar Free School in New York City," which, as passed by the Assembly, the governor and council refused to approve, until after days of controversy in conference committee. An amendment was finally agreed upon by which it was required that the teacher should have a license from the Bishop of London or the Governor. The mayor and the common council were "to elect, choose, license authorize, and appoint one able, skillful, and orthodox person, to be schoolmaster for the education of yearly salary of £50 was to be raised by a general tax in the city for seven years; but when by its own limitation this measure expired in 1709, nothing was done to renew or continue it.

The next step taken by the authorities in the direction of promoting public education was represented by an enactment, passed in 1732, providing for the establishment of a public school where Latin, Greek, and mathematics were to be taught. The preamble of this law says: "Whereas the City and colony of New York abounds with youth of a Genius not Inferior to other countries," who ought to receive a classical education; therefore provision was made to open a school with the Rev. Alexander Malcolm as head master, which was to be in existence for five years--that is, from December 1, 1732, to the same date in 1737. Malcolm had, at the time of this appointment, a private school, and this fact may have led to his selection, for the law required the master to provide at his own expense the necessary quarters for the school, where he was to teach gratuitously twenty boys, of whom the municipal authorities of New York were to appoint ten, the same officers of Albany two, and the justices of the peace in other counties one each. The master's salary of £110 was to come out of the fees collected from hawkers and peddlers.

The legal life of this school had expired on December 1, 1737, before the act for "further encouragement of a public school" was passed on December 10, prolonging the existence of Mr. Malcolm's institution for a year. the Legislature gave it as its opinion that "a Liberal Education is not only a very great Accomplishment, but also the Properest means to attain to knowledge, Improve the Mind and good Manners, and to make men Better, wiser, and more useful to their Country," and "Mr. Malcolm, having given Satisfactory proof of his abilities to teach Latin, Greek and the Mathematicks," he is continued as master, with an addition to his salary of £40, to be raised by tax in New York, Richmond, Westchester, and Queen's counties. The other provisions of the law of 1732 remained the same. Modest as the salary was, the public treasury.

Could not raise it, for the fees exacted from hawkers and peddlers did not bring insufficient revenue, so that two years adder the school had ceased to exist, on December 1, 1738, a special law had to be passed to pay Mr. Malcolm, £111 7s. 6d., as balance due on the salary earned by him.

Contemporary with the grammar free school, authorized by the law of 1702, was another church school. It had been organized under the auspices of the Society for the propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts, in 1709. The instructions given by this society to the schoolmasters sent by it to foreign parts, had the purpose of teaching the "children to read truly and distinctly, to write a plain and legible hand, in order to the fitting them for useful employment's, with as much arithmetic as shall be necessary for the same purpose, and to take special care of their manners, both in school and out of it, moral and religious teachings understood." #6 The law of the society provided that no one should be employed as teacher until he had proved "his affection to the present government and his conformity to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England." As the Collegiate School of the Reformed Church made similar confessional conditions, neither of these two schools could be called a "free school," even though no fees were exacted.

The first master of this school was William Huddleston, of Monkforce, Whitecheck Parish, England, who was also clerk of Trinity Church, and, dying in 1723 was succeeded by his son Thomas, who, following 1705, had taught a school at Jamaica, Long Island, and not took Trinity school until 1731. Thomas Noxon was the next master until 1741; he was followed by Thomas Hildreth, to 1777, after whom came Amos Bull, to 1787. The first schoolhouse was built in Rector Street in 1748; from here the school moved to land granted by Trinity Church, between Canal and Grand Streets, in 1832, and later it was situated at 1517 Broadway.

The disruption of the Reformed Church, alluded to above, can only be understood by referring to the position of the general community upon the subject of education, remarks J. G. Wilson. "The spasmodic efforts of the governing bodies for nearly half a century had only served to whet the desire of the people for the establishment of a college in New York, similar to Harvard and Yale in New England, and William and Mary in Virginia. But the different nationalities, denominational distinctions, and principally antagonism to the Episcopal Church, were obstacles difficult to surmount, until the opening of a college in Philadelphia, where similar national and religious differences prevailed, showed the possibility, and the New York Assembly passed, in 1746, an act for raising the sum of £2,250 by a public lottery for this colony toward the advancement of learning 'and towards the Founding of Colledge within the same.' 'Inasmuch as it will greatly Tend to the Wellfare and Reputation of the Colony, that a Proper and Ample Foundation be Laid for the Regular Education of Youth,' says the preamble of this law, 'be it enacted,' etc., that Peter Vallette, and peter can Brugh Livingston, be managers of the lottery, the details of which do not refer to the proposed institution of learning."

The foundation intended to be laid by this scheme, which could not be proposed today, was not ample enough, for in April, 1748, a new Lottery for £1,800 was authorized, and as not sufficient tickets s had been take by the day fixed by law--that is, the first day of September--a new enactment, dated October 28, extended the time to November 14. The amount realized from these two lotteries was £3,343 18s., as the Act to continue the Duty of Excise on Strong Liquors and the Currency of Bills of Credit emitted until November 1, 1767, passed July 4, 1753, tells us. The same law says: "it has been the intention of the Legislature for several years passed to establish a Seminary for the education of Youth in the Liberal Arts and Sciences, but as at present no other means can be devised than by a continuance of the excise on liquor," it is ordered that the treasurer of the province pay out of these excise funds to the trustees, in whom the above-named sum of £3,343 182 had been vested, another lottery for £1,125, with Peter van Brugh Livingston and Jacobus Roosevelt as managers, was started by law, to be followed by other for the same amounts in December, 1753; May, 1754; August, 1755; and December, 1756.

Of the trustees, seven were Episcopalians, two were Dutch Reformed, and one, William Livingston, was a Presbyterian. Later it came out that the charter to be asked for the college would require that its president be an Episcopalian, and the that the book of common Prayer, as used in the Church of England, be used in the institution. Livingston has started a paper in 1752, the "Independent Reflector," in which he discussed the most proper manner of the college establishment. This, he said, should not be by a charter from the Governor, belonging to and therefore biased by Church of England sentiments, but by an act of the Legislature, composed of men of various denominations, and therefore asked: "Are we not all members of the same community? Have we not an equal right? Are we not all alike to contribute to the support of the college? Whence, then, the pretension produce men of worth? Consider, therefore, the obvious iniquity, the monstrous unreasonableness of the claim I am opposing?"

Livingstone's attacks on the various abuses of the system as proposed were answered in the columns of the "New York Mercury" by the usual arguments against Dissenters. But Trinity College came to the rescue of the languishing scheme, and their grant of land stimulated the trustees of petition for a charter and to begin college exercises with seven students in the vestry room of Trinity, in June, 1754.

The trustees appointed to erect a college petitioned Lieutenant-Governor de Lancey and council on May 20, 1754, for a charter of incorporation, stating that because they were enabled to give a salary to the head mat only for seven years, "they were under great difficulty to procure a fit and proper person to undertake the office." But the Rector and corporation of Trinity Church, "being unwilling to encourage the good design of establishing a seminary or college. . . . . have offered unto your petitioners a very valuable parcel of ground on the west side of Broadway. . . . .for the use of the said intended seminary. . . . . . .on condition that the head master be a member of the Church of England."

The committee of council, to whom this petition had been referred, reported on May 30, that they were in favor of granting the request, and the Attorney-General was ordered to draft the necessary instruments. But James Alexander and William Smith of the council dissented and gave as their reasons that --"(1) it is unjust, by any charter, to exclude any Protestant denomination in the province from any office in our college; (2) it is inconsistent with religious liberty to impose any method of divine service; (3) it end to monopolize learning in a small party; (4) it is subversive of the generous design of a public college, from which the Legislature in their acts did not intend to exclude any denomination of Protestants; (5) it is dangerous to the peace and prosperity of this province , by establishing in a minor party a constitutional right with an exclusive dominion over the far greatest of the inhabitants thereof."

The two signers of this protest had declared it "to be their undoubted right and bounden duty, as occasion might require, to publish their protest," but the council advised the Lieutenant-Governor not to give the necessary imprimatur. The draft of letters patent incorporating certain persons to be named therein by the name and style of the Governors of the College of the Province of New York in the City of New York in America, was laid before the council, October 31, 1754, read the approved and the Lieutenant-governor was advised to affix the great seal thereto when engrossed, William Smith again protesting vainly. The charter vested "the sole power of electing Professors for the College in the Governours," who, in May, 17655, told the governor and council that they conceived it would tend to the prosperity of the college and the increase of the number of students if provision could be made for the establishment of "a Professorship of Divinity for the instruction of Youth," according to the doctrine, discipline, etc., adopted by the Synod of Dort. It was now asked that an amendment to the charter should allow the governors of the college to appoint to such a professorship any one recommended to the ministers and consistory of the Reformed Dutch Church in the city.

The request was granted on May 30, and at the next session of council, June 5, it was ordered that this additional charter for the establishment of a Dutch professorship of divinity be printed. Dr. Ritzema, of the New York City Reformed Church, had secured favor and his representations in this direction were listened to with so much more good will as, by the movement in the Reformed church the fears had gone abroad that the Dutch would start a college of their own, to the ruin of King's College. The Dutch professorship of divinity was, therefore, eagerly granted, but the mass of the people were not disgusted wand would have nothing more to do with the college, to that no minister of the Reformed Church graduated from King's College until after the Revolution.

Livingston went a step further and secured the presentation of a bill in the Assembly for a free college, which was ordered printed, but from motives of policy not pressed to a vote. He never qualified as trustee by taking the required oath. Soon after the arrival of Governor Hardy, Livingston told, in the last number of his "Watch Tower" series in the "New York Mercury" the whole history of the charter, holding up the real objects of the respective parties, and claiming that, notwithstanding the charter, he had gained the people. This appeared from the difficulties which arose about the transfer of the funds from the original temporary trustees to the Governor named in the charter. Were they not the people's funds, and not those of a single and small religious body? After a year of debate one half of them was diverted to the corporation of the city, to build a new jail and pest-house, and the college, founded on a basis contrary to the wishes of the majority, never throve until, after the Revolution, the act to encourage literature by donations to Columbia College, passed April 11, 1792, gave to the trustees a sum of £7,900 for library, laboratory, and building purposes, and allowed an annual sum of £750 for five years to be applied to the payment of salaries.

The first president of the new college was Dr. Samuel Johnson, who had been one of the professors at Yale until 1720. He had been corresponding with Bishop Berkeley about the projected college for several years, and on November 22, 1753, the trustees determined to invite him to the presidency, with a yearly salary of £250, and Chauncey Whittlesey, of new Haven, with his assistant at a salary of £200. The Rev. Myles Cooper, a Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford, was elected as his successor. Cooper took the side of the Royalists during the revolutionary era, and offended the other side so much by his writings and conversation that on the night of May 10, 1775, his lodgings in the college were forcibly entered by a mob, which, if it had found him, would probably have handled him with brutality. He escaped, only half dressed, and found refuge on board the "Kingfisher" man-of-war, which took him to England.

The Rev. Benjamin Moore was elected praeses pro tempore, but in April 1776, the college building was requisitioned by the committee of safety for the reception of troops. The students were in consequence dispersed, and did not gather again until 1784, but no president was elected because the deranged state of the college finances made it difficult to offer salary that would induce a suitable person to accept the office, until on May 21, 1787, the trustees considered themselves justified in asking Dr. William Samuel Johnson, son of the first president, to take the place. He signified his acceptance in November following, and remained president of Columbia College until July, 1800.

Despite the absence of free schools under English rule, there were private teachers, some of whose charges were not large, such as Matthew Hiller, Ebenezer Kirtland, and David Jamison, who received licensees between 1674 and 1691. David Vilant kept a school in the City hall in 1696-7. The license granted by Cornbury to George Muirson, April 25, 1704, does not specify the kind of instruction to be given; but Elias Neau was licensed, in August following, to catechize children, Indians, Negroes, and all other persons in the city; while Andrew Clark was allowed to keep school and teach English, Latin, Greek, writing and arithmetic; Prudent de la Fayolle to teach French, and John Wood, during the Governor's pleasure, to teach dancing. When the free grammar school had ended its life in 1712, Allane Jarratt, who was to do duty as a surveyor for the New York and New Jersey Boundary commission in 1719, stated "that having by an experience and practice of the Art of Navigation and other parts of Mathematicks for the space of fourteen years, after an early education in the most usefullest parts thereof acquired a Competent Knowledge therein, and being Sensible how much the youths brought up in this city are at a loss in goeing to sea with a Sufficient Instruction in Writing and Arithmeticks and in the Art of Navigation, he therefore begs his Excellency's Lycense to teach Writeing, Arithmeticks, Navigation, and other parts of the Mathemeticks

The license was issued the same day, but the incentive given by Jarratt's private enterprise to establish a school of navigation was not followed by a public establishment of this nature, except the United States naval Academy at Annapolis.

There are mentioned on the Burghers; and Freemen's List for the period from 1695 to 1774 the names of thirty-two schoolmasters as having been admitted as freemen, and there were evidently some teachers who did not aspire to this privilege. Isaac Bobin, the deputy secretary, writes in September, 1728, to his chief, George Clarke: "I have paid Mr. Brownell for Miss Molly's schooling, as likewise for six balls of gold and one of silver thread for Miss Molly. Mr. Cook will send the spinet tuned, when the weather is settled." At the first meeting of the Legislature after the adoption of the Constitution in 1787, Governor Clinton called the attention of the lawmakers to education, with the result of an act being passed to incorporate the regents of the university, who had been appointed in 1784, which placed in the general charge of this newly elected body the colleges and academies of the State. Two years later, in 1789, two lots in each township of the public state lands were by law set apart for gospel and school purposes. This is the germ of what later has been known as the "common-school fund." Upon which subsequent legislation, recommended by Governor Clinton, grew the common-school system, which placed the State of New York in the foremost rank of the educational army.

Looking at the subject broadly we may say, therefore, that in the revolutionary period school sin New York led a very precarious existence indeed. The schools that had existed before that period were, it is evident, few in number and crude in character. The teachers were not well equipped, the buildings were of a makeshift character, the material equipment was meagre. But it is interesting to follow the growth of interesting education and the strivings for a better education system. For many years the teacher "boarded around." Often he was regarded as something of a pauper, but one with necessary claims, like a poor relation. After the incorporation of the Board of Regents and the granting of lots by the Legislature, schools in nearly half the counties of New York began to receive small but steady revenue. The Legislature appointed a committee to consider some of the recommendations made by Governor Clinton. Then a bill was introduced entitled "An Act for the Encouragement of Schools." This bill, which became a law, appropriated annually for five years $50,000 for the support of schools. The money was apportioned among the counties in proportion to their representations in the Legislature. Each county divided its portion among the towns according to the number of taxable inhabitants, and the towns divided their money among the school districts according to the number of days' attendance by pupils resident in the district. The counties raised half as much as they received from the State. The electors of the various districts close commissioners and trustees. At the end of three years, 1,352 school districts had been organized and had a registration of 59,660 pupils.

This rather crude attempt was the beginning of our common school system. As much was accomplished as could have been expected in the immediate post-revolutionary period. The people of the State were at that time very poor and had a hard struggle in the effort to obtain a mere living. The resources of the State were undeveloped. Its future was uncertain. While there had been some hard struggles and many vexatious delays, New York had steadily kept her face to the front in educational matters, and has built up an educational system that may be faulty in some respects, but on the whole is second to that of no other State.

The experimental appropriation of $50.000 a year for five years came to an end with the close of the century that saw the way of the Revolution. Then began a struggle for a permanent common-school system. The most prominent and active man in this campaign was Jedediah Peck, a member of the Legislature from Otsego County. He served in the Legislature for a long period. He was not a liberally educated man, but he was earnest, patriotic, and persistent. The first action of the Legislature in regard to common schools seems very peculiar in these days. It established, as in the former case of King's College, what were known as Literature Lotteries by means of which $100,000 was to be raised each year, $12,500 of it going to the Board of Regents for academic schools, and the rest for the support of the common schools. This plan was continued until 1821. The money realized from lotteries was turned over to the controller who was directed to invest it in real estate. In 1805 the Legislature voted to appropriate the proceeds from the sale of 500,000 acres of State lands for school purposes. This was the foundation of our present common school fund.

Growth of Free School System.--In 1782 governor George Clinton, in a speech to the Senate and Assembly, said:

In the present respite from the more severe distresses and calamities of war, I cannot forbear suggesting to you a work which I conceive ought not to be deferred as the business of peace, the promotion and encouragement of learning. Besides the general advantages arising to society from liberal science, as restraining those rude passions which lead to vice and disorder, it is the peculiar duty of the government of a free State, where the highest employments are open to citizens of every rank, to endeavor by the establishment of schools and seminaries to diffuse that degree of literature which is necessary to the due discharge of public trust. You must be sensible that the war has occasioned a chasm in education, extremely injurious to the rising generation; and this afford an additional consideration of extending our earliest care of their instruction.

This was the first executive suggestion in New York in regard to public education.

In 1795 Governor Clinton also said: "while it is evident that the general establishment and liberal endowment of academies are highly to be commended and are attended with most beneficial consequences, yet it cannot be denied that they are principally confined to the children of the opulent, and that a great proportion of the community in excluded from their immediate advantages; the establishment of common schools throughout the State is happily calculated to remedy this inconvenience and will therefore re-engage your early and decided consideration." As the result of this recommendation by governor Clinton £20,000 a year for a period of five years was voted for the support of common schools.


In 1800 Governor John Jay, in a message to the Legislature, said: "Among other objects that will present themselves to you, there is one which I earnestly recommend to your notice and patronage. I mean our institutions for the education of the youth. The importance of common schools is best estimated by the good effects of them where they most abound, and are best regulated. The two colleges in this State have, from their existence and increasing utility strong claims to the care of the Legislature, and it appears to me that they should be enabled uniformly to answer the valuable purpose for which they were established."

The Legislature voted Union College $10,000 and certain unappropriated public lands. The Assembly voted to continue the grant of 1795 for the support of common schools, but this was rejected b y the Senate, and common schools in the State of New York were temporarily discontinued. The system was not revived and permanently established till 1812.

In 1811 Jedediah Peck, John Murray, Jr., Samuel Russell, Roger Skinner and Robert Macomb were appointed commissioners to report a system for the organization and establishment of common schools. On February 17, 1812, they reported in part, as follows:

Perhaps there will never be reported to the Legislature a subject of more importance than the establishment of common schools. Education as the means of improving the moral and intellectual faculties is, under all circumstances, a subject of the most imposing consideration.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

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