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Monday, February 24, 2014

One-Room Schools, a Romance, an Earthquake

Here is an excerpt from Mirinda Piper Andrews’ memoirs from 1849 through 1851. I inherited a typed copy of these memoirs from my father, who got them from his grandfather, Mirinda’s youngest son. The illustrations are from the internet and are in the public domain or credited.

Notes: Posey County is in the extreme southwest corner of Indiana bordered on the west by the Wabash River and on the south by the Ohio River. Mirinda's father, Beverly Bradley Piper, was a traveling Baptist minister. The Piper family consisted of her parents: B.B. and Delia Deborah Norton Piper; herself (Mirinda), Asa, Charles, and baby Anne. Mirinda turned 9 in July 1849.
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New Harmony, by Karl Bodmer, 1839


In the spring of 1849 we moved to Posey County, Indiana, five miles from New Harmony. We rented a small farm, and Father during the week did farm work and preached Saturdays and Sundays. I again commenced going to school. The distance was more than a mile through the deep woods, but there were some other children near us who attended, and I rarely went alone. Our teacher was a young gentleman. There were some hills and large rocks some distance away from the schoolhouse that we children very much wished to visit, but the teacher forbade our going, as there was a dangerous creek to cross to get there and we might fall in and get drowned. But one day at noon six or seven of us were on the banks of the creek, and we wanted to go over and visit the rocks so bad we concluded to go anyway, first taking the precaution for each one to solemnly promise never to tell. We crossed on a log very easily, and had a good run over the hills and rocks, and then started back. What was our horror to find while we were absent the creek had risen, and the water was flowing over the log! We had to cross it, for it was the only place we knew of for miles where we could cross at all. They all got over safely but me. I slipped off the log, but they got me out somehow and wrung out my clothes the best they could, but we were dreadfully afraid the teacher would find it out and punish us all. But he did not or at least did not say anything about it. I think if we had had a lady teacher she would have noticed my wet dress and brought us to time.


The school house was an old log affair, the windows were all on one side and writing desks in front of them. The seats were benches without any back to them. The teacher made our pens out of goose quills and wrote our copy. But we learned just as fast as if we had all the modern improvements.

In the spring of 1850 we moved to another part of Father’s circuit, three miles from Mount Vernon, Posey County, Indiana, at Farmersville. Father bought a farm here, we were all very much pleased to have a home of our own, the first one we had owned.

Census page taken by B. B. Piper with
Anson Seeley Andrews and family on it
That summer Father took the census of the county, and when I wasn’t in school, I spent much of my time reading the notes he had taken, for him and an assistant to copy on the schedules. I was very proud to be of help to Father, and he was kind enough to let me think that it was a great help to him. Our school only lasted three months during the summer, so I worked for him during the fall months until he sent in the returns.

Our school teacher this summer was Miss Sarah Stevens, daughter of the Mr. Stevens of Stringtown [in Vanderburgh County, the next county to the east on the Ohio River] before mentioned. She was a young lady about twenty years old and very pretty, her eyes and hair were black, her complexion fair, her cheeks rosy, and she was very good natured. She boarded at our house as we were old acquaintances. The school house was one mile and a quarter away. I had the pleasure of walking to school with her every day.

During the summer Mother’s brother Dr. Wellington B. Norton visited us, greatly to our delight. I supposed he came to see us, but two years later I discovered that his visit was quite as much to the fair Sarah, and I presume Mother knew it at the time. [Wellington B. Norton and Miss Sarah Stevens were married in November 1852. Sadly, he died in the spring of 1853.]

Our school house was a frame building with a desk for each seat. The Baptists had been holding their meetings in it. That summer they erected a church building. One evening we were at meeting in the school house, Father was preaching, when all of a sudden, we felt the building shake, and the windows rattled. Father paused a moment and remarked, “It is an earthquake,” and then went on with his sermon as if nothing had happened. When we arrived at home we found Mother and the little ones had been quite frightened, thinking someone had been trying to get in to the house, but finally Mother had thought what it was. It was the only earthquake shock I ever felt.

Log houses in New Harmony, Indiana


Our house was small, but most of our neighbors had small houses too, so it did not trouble us. We had the inevitable large fireplace. Father used to roll in a big back log (in the winter), put the heavy iron and irons in front of it, put some large sticks of wood on them, and we would have a roaring fire. But most of the heat went up the chimney so the room wouldn’t be very warm after all.

Miss Stevens went home in the fall. The school directors would not give her the winter term, for there were to be a lot of young men to attend school who worked on farms in the summer, and they wanted a man teacher. Mr. Howard, an Englishman, secured the position; he was a finely educated man and a very interesting teacher. I had made up my mind that I would not go to school that winter but study at home. I was only ten years old, but my parents were always so kind, I supposed they would give up to me if I teased them enough, but I was mistaken. They insisted on my starting to Mr. Howard’s school the first day. I cried considerable about it, but all to no purpose. It seemed to be fate, for that winter John Andrews attended school, whom I afterwards married. It was the only school I ever went where he did, and I don’t think he spoke to me during the term. I am quite sure I did not wish him to, for at that time I just about hated boys, except my brothers.

Mr. Howard took a great deal of pains with my education, and drilled me long and faithfully on my penmanship, but all to no purpose, as you will see by this manuscript. I never could learn to write well. I took drawing lessons at this school more to please Mother than anything else, as she was a natural artist, but I never had any taste that way, and of course it was just time wasted.
A sketch of the Farmersville School by Anne Doane


Where I went to school was a small village at a cross roads named Farmersville, but it had two other names, “The Corners” and “Yankeetown,” as there were several families of Eastern people settled there. In one of the corners made by the crossroads was situated the farm of Anson S. Andrews (the village contained a store, gristmill, blacksmith shop, church, school house, and several dwelling houses). His farm was the best one in the neighborhood and the house was in a beautiful location. The family consisted of himself, wife, and three children, John, Harriet, and Seth. The boys were intelligent and respected. Harriet was very pretty; indeed I have heard Father say that she was the prettiest girl in the county, anyway she was one of the best and sweetest girls I ever knew.

[Editor’s Note: Most of the settlers of southern Indiana had come from Southern states; however, Anson Seeley Andrews was born in Connecticut and his wife was from Massachusetts.]

We were not much acquainted with the Andrews family, for our society was nearly all Baptists, or people who leaned that way, and they were neither. Mr. Andrews was a man of importance in the county; he owned part of the store and mill and was an educated man, but he was getting old and did not live many years from that time. He died in 1854. The only acquaintance I had with the young people while we lived in that neighborhood was at Mr. Howard’s school.

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The Piper family moved away from Posey County after three years there, and their further adventures will be the subject of more entries here:

Mirinda and Slavery

The Further Adventures of Mirinda Piper (part 1)

The Further Adventures of Mirinda Piper, (part 2)

Mirinda Piper's Adventures as a Young Lady of the 1850s

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