School Days, 1835 to 1850
Procrastination is one of my sins. Had I commenced this memoir when my hand was steady, my eyes clear, and brain active, it is possible I could have made it interesting to those who desire to read it, and surely it would have been more pleasant to write it.
|Folk portrait of sister and brother in 1840|
[John’s sister Ann was 20 months old when John was born and nearly 3 when she died 17 July 1832. Harriet was 18 months younger than John. Brother Seth was born when John was a month shy of 6 years old. The family lived in Posey County, at the southern tip of Indiana.]
I have no memory when I learned to read or when I first went to school, but it was surely long before a child would be enrolled as a scholar now. But I have a distinct memory of my first school and of some incidents that occurred there, and of my first teacher. I was perhaps between four or five years; the school house was heated by a large open stove. A lot of the little fellows like myself sitting around it dangling our feet from backless benches, when one day the teacher called me out and with a flat ruler in his hand took one of my hands and gave me three spats in my palm, the only time I was ever chastised in school. Why he did it, I never knew, some boyish squabble perhaps. I was too spunky to cry but turned with a smile to my grinning companions.
After two years this teacher, whose name was Felsch, left, [and] another took his place. This was many years before free schools came; the county was divided into districts with trustees to employ teachers and see to other necessary details. Often it would be only for three months. That was a term and sometimes that was the limit for school that year. If the teacher gave satisfaction he would be retained longer. Parents or guardians paid a stipulated price for each scholar enrolled. Thus my schooling went on until I was nine years old, except what Father and Mother taught me in the meantime. About this time my sister had fully regained her health, and having an active mind, our study in some branches was the same in after years. Father had taught me English grammar and I never studied it in school. In fact some of my early teachers could teach only reading, writing, and spelling.
In my sixth year Father became guardian to a cousin, Clark Butler, 4 years my senior, and after a few years we pursued the same studies together.
When I was nine years old we had a teacher for two or three terms who apparently found it necessary to instill knowledge into our youthful brains by the application of long hickory switches to wake up our dullard minds, and there were some who often felt its tingling over their shoulders. Whether it was that I was smarter than some of those who quite often had a taste of the gad, it never fell on me, but an occasional twist of the ears was the extent of my punishment.
An incident during this term of school that likely, subconsciously at least, had quite an influence on my life—in the study of arithmetic I had reached vulgar fractions and a problem soon appeared that at first appeared beyond my ability to solve. After some effort to do so I sought the aid of the teacher. Whether he would not or could not explain it I do not know. He had a key—a duplicate of the arithmetic with the examples explained—and probably this one was not included. Anyway after several attempts failed to get help, I determined myself to solve it. I worked at it for one week, and behold it was accomplished. Fractions had no more terrors for me.
This teacher was sued by the father of one of the boys he had severely thrashed and was fined one cent. Soon after that a school meeting was called and it proved a stormy one, and that night the school house burned down, whether by accident or design was not known.
After the burning of the school house, school was kept for a while in a vacant house on our farm and later in a church nearby. But conditions did not suit Father and soon after the fiasco, he took my cousin Clark and me to a school in Mount Vernon. It was several years before we attended the home school again. It was now 1841, I was ten years old. We found the school in Mount Vernon on our advent there kept in an old one room building packed full of scholars, but room was made for us. The first day was an epoch in my life—everyone but Clark perfect strangers, as was the teacher. Our studies were designated and no doubt we “Country Jakes” had the benefit of many sinister smiles and whispered jibes. The day passed. Just as the sun was preparing to don his night robes I was called up and given an example to demonstrate on the black board. It was my first appearance before that august body and my futile attempt to erase an example with my hand raised a snicker. That put the “ginger” in me. I found the sponge, cleared the board and my example soon took the place of the one obliterated. Soon school was dismissed. Darkness was stealing over the earth, and we had 3½ miles to foot it home.
Clark and I soon got in the stride and nervousness soon wore off in school, and on the playground we were accepted as good fellows.
Our teacher here was a well-educated man and as Father wished us to take Latin as one of our studies, soon we were conjugating amo and declining penna through its alternating changes from nominative to ablative. In addition we had geometry hitched on to our arithmetic. As we were put in classes we were behind in some of them and it was hard to catch up.
When we entered this school the town was building a brick two story house which they called “The Seminary,” and as soon as it was finished we moved from our crowded room to a commodious one on the second floor of this building. The Seminary was situated on rising ground on the northern end of the town which shortened our daily walk one-half mile each way. The school room was a fine one, fitted up with seats and desks for two, and heated in winter by a fireplace in one end and a stove in the middle. There was a small recitation room that was used also for storing our wraps, etc. The morning session commenced with reading by turns a chapter in the Bible and prayer by the teacher.
|Original Mount Vernon Seminary, 204 F Street, NW|
The teacher here was named Knap. A part of the routine of school work was declamation and composition on alternate Friday afternoons. The boys had to go up on the elevated stand, face the audience and deliver an oration. This at first was a fearful experience, but I soon got so that I enjoyed the situation. The girls as well as boys had to hand in compositions for correction.
Winter passed, spring and summer came and went once, twice, and a new teacher named Collins was installed with his wife as assistant. I turned 14 in 1845. This year sister Harriet was taken out of the home school and went with us to Mount Vernon during summer. We all rode back and forth in a buggy, and after that Harriet and a cousin named Sophronia Phillips (an aunt of Flora) who had lived with us for some time were boarded near the school.
Having now reached the age to help on the farm my studies through the summer were much broken up.
|Schoolhouse in Farmersville, sketch by Anne Doane|
In 1846 the war with Mexico began and a number of my acquaintances volunteered and went, but all of them that I knew except one, who died there, returned. The organizing of a company and a regiment in Mt. Vernon made quite a stir. I do not know that this regiment ever was in battle, but the second in command, Alvin P. Hovey, was afterwards made Brigadier General under Grant at Vicksburg, and afterwards he was Governor of Indiana. He was a native of Posey County. [More information about Posey County military matters and Alvin P. Hovey can be found at this website.]
I was 16 now—I worked on the farm summers and went to school in winter.
This fall we had a new teacher by the name of P.K. Dibbler, and in one respect he was the best I ever had—and he had a crowded school. Quite a number of pupils from a distance took advantage of the opportunity as it was better than they could get at home, although they had to pay extra. He was also a preacher. His salary of 400 dollars was considerably increased by his preaching and outside students. He was an athlete and enjoyed the playground as much as the boys, and this added to his favor with most of the boys. But there was always carping then, and before his time expired there was trouble. He was accused of partiality by some and a hot fight—verbal—took place. As a result, at the end of his second term he quit teaching and went into other business.
Yet there was an episode in this last term perhaps worth recording. The schoolhouse was on a large corner lot and as the national holiday was near at hand, it was decided to have a celebration. The house had two front doors, one for the boys and one for the girls, and in front we built a stage, and with a bolt of domestic [a length of cotton cloth] we made a large awning, and in front we arranged tables and prepared eatables. After some songs by Clark, who was a good singer, I was called on to read the immortal Declaration, and then Mr. Dibbler gave a patriotic address. We enjoyed the feast. The platform in front was for staging a play at night. The house doors behind made a convenient dressing and retiring room. I do not remember what the play was, but we had to have a darky [a common term then that we do not endorse now] and we had a good substitute in one of the boys, and a few girls were included. A number of my old schoolmates from the Mt. Vernon school came out, and as the patriotic fever increased some were induced to declaim their former school orations.
On the whole it was a success and well done. This ended Mr. Dibbler’s term, but he was followed by another well-educated man, by name Murry, and I passed the next winter in school attending two terms of three months each.
About this time, 1848, the discovery of gold in California became for a time the absorbing topic, and in the following year the gold fever raged all over the land, as bad as the late epidemic of flu—a very poor comparison. [He was writing this just after the 1918 influenza pandemic.] A company was organized at Farmersville and some others in the county. Ox and mule teams were secured, large wagons prepared and in due time joined the long trail across the plains. Six months passed ere they reached the gold mines. Many of the animals died, and on the whole not a few of the men and women. A sad ending to many.
A few months later quite a large company went via Panama and were becalmed at Acapulco for several months, but they reached the end after five months. Many were financed, the option a divide of one half of the proceeds. Generally they secured enough to pay expenses and some over, but very few made any very rich strikes. Some returned after two or three years, others made California their home. In another place some of the gold digging will be specialized.
In 1850 a Mr. Howard, a highly educated man, found his way to Farmersville. He had a wife and 10 year old boy. He bought a large lot on which was a very nice cottage and a large shop. But all his life he had been a scholar and a teacher, with an intimate knowledge of Latin and Greek. He was as ignorant of the proper application of labor to get results from either land or machines. They brought all the way from England a lot of tools where better could have been had here. I helped him some in his planting, his little haying, etc. He had a horse that had not been used much and I think he had never graduated in horse handling as there is no doubt he had in Greek. In the fall of 1850 he was hired to teach the winter school, and that was a job he was surely able to do. He was a scholar, an expert in many branches, a wonderful penman, and in drawing, the picture of any article in view came out at the end of his pencil.
One bright winter morning soon after school opening, a girl came in with a bright smile and elastic step and seated herself by my sister Harriet. I was soon attracted by her handsome appearance, the bright eyes illuminating a very intelligent countenance. At the time I thought her to be some fifteen or sixteen years old, but long years after that I found out she had outstripped her age by several years in height. [The girl was just 10 years old at the time.] After a while I became interested in and inquired her name and obtained it from my seat mate. I also noticed that Mr. Howard was soon attracted to her, giving especial attention that looked very much like partiality. One of the studies she essayed as well as some of the rest of us was drawing. I do not think any of us would ever have produced or created any remarkable result in that direction, but from opportunity to see some of her work afterwards, I am very sure she would never have been able to astound the world with any artistic delineation, and would say here that none of the rest of us would have achieved immortality in that line and for that matter in any other.
What was the attraction that led Mr. Howard from London to Indiana I never knew. He seemed very satisfied with the change and cheerfully accepted the conditions he encountered. He and Father were congenial and often met in social intercourse. He taught but one term there but in the fall following he secured a situation in a military school in Kentucky and soon after left for that purpose. Some correspondence was kept up for a time but afterwards he was changed from the Kentucky Academy to Washington, and now we will bid him good-bye. We heard of him quite often for some time.
By this time I had learned [that] the name of the young miss specialized was Mirinda Piper and that her father was a Baptist minister who I had heard a number of times. He had a circle of churches in his charge, visiting each monthly with two day services Saturday and Sunday. Here I will note what will seem odd, especially in the cities—that the country churches then had two front doors and one back door, and as the congregation arrived, the men entered one door and women the other and took seats apart. In case one wished to leave, as was often the case in the prolonged service, they had the back door by which to escape without disturbing the audience. About the time referred to, Mr. Piper’s congregation, through his supervision, built quite a large building for that time and fashioned as above specified.
The interest Mirinda had aroused in my mind continued, and in later years continued in a union of interests via marriage, and for more than sixty years through sunshine and storm, we have happily passed. We have been blessed with three noble boys, two of whom now minister to our wants and comforts.
Here is Part 2 of the Memoirs of John Andrews.