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Early Schools


Transcription contributed by Arne H Trelvik 10 June, 2003

The History of Warren County Ohio , Part III. History of Warren County, Chapter V. Early Schools and Churches
(Chicago, IL: W. H. Beers Co, 1882; reprint, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1992)
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Schools and churches were established in Warren County almost as soon as a neighborhood of settlers had built their log cabins and begun their clearings. The early school and meeting-houses were rude log buildings, but the instruction was as lasting and the prayers were as fervent as in the most stately school building or cathedral of the cities. The first school in the county of which we have any record was taught by Francis Dunlevy, afterward first President Judge of the Circuit of Southwestern Ohio, and was commenced in 1798, just west of the site of Lebanon. It was attended by youth from four or five miles around. Among the earliest pupils of this school was a black-eyed boy, who gave his age as four years and his name as Thomas Corwin.

Francis Dunlevyy was a scholar with considerable attainments, both in languages and mathematics. As early as 1792, he had opened at Columbia what was probably the first classical school between the Miamis. This school was conducted in connection with John Riley, afterward of Butler County, Ohio. Dunlevy taught the ancient languages and higher mathematics; Riley, the common English branches. This school was continued until 1794, when Wayne’s victory over the Indians permitted many of the inhabitants of Columbia, who had hitherto been prevented from so doing, to occupy their lands up the country. By this means the place was almost depopulated, and the school was given up.

Mr. Dunlevy afterward taught school for a time at “The Island” as then called, some ten miles up the Little Miami, and in the year 1797 removed to the neighborhood of Lebanon, as now known, and opened a large school at a point half a mile west of the center of the present town. But Lebanon was not laid out until 1802, and when the school was opened the present site was entirely in the woods. Besides the common branches, the ancient languages and the higher mathematics were taught. The school was continued until the year 1801, when MR. Dunlevy moved it to the northwest about two miles, where many of his former pupils attended. While there, he was elected a member of the Territorial Legislature, and was succeeded as teacher by David Spinning. A school was taught regularly in the same place until 1825.

Other schools were taught in the country around Lebanon at this early period, among which may be mentioned one conducted by Matthias Ross as early as 1801, 1802 or 1803, near the present site of Ridgeville; a large school taught by Thomas Newport, about one mile north of Lebanon, from 1805 for many years; and the first school at Deerfield, taught by the late Ignatius Brown, about the year 1800.

The first school taught in Lebanon after it became a town, was conducted by Enos Williams, a pupil of Francis Dunlevy, in 1801, 1802 and 1803. The branches taught were reading, writing, spelling, arithmetic, geography and English grammar.

The first schoolhouses were built of logs – not by taxation, nor subscriptions of money, but by the labor of the settlers. On a fixed day, the neighbors assembled at the chosen site and the work was done. The ample fire-place occupied nearly the whole of one end of the structure. The furniture was as rude and simple as the building. A hewed slab or puncheon, slanting from the walls, extended on three sides of the room as the writing desk for the whole

school. The seats were of slabs, and without backs. The pupils sat with their faces to the wall, the teacher occupying the central part of the room.

While some of the early schools may be said to have been good schools, taught by intelligent teachers, other, and perhaps the majority, afforded but inferior facilities for learning. In some of them, the only text-books were Webster’s spelling book, the New Testament or the English reader, and Pike’s or Diebold’s arithmetic. Grammar and geography were not generally taught, and arithmetic usually only as far as the rule of three. For years, it was customary, in indenturing an apprentice, to require the master to provide for the education of the minor only so far as to teach him “to read, write and cipher as far as the rule of three.” The examples for practice in the arithmetics were given almost exclusively in pounds, shillings and pence. More importance was attached to the spelling of all the words in the spelling book than those which are ordinarily used in writing, and spelling matches were were common. The teacher wrote the copies for the writing lesson, and the making and mending of quill pens was an essential part of the teacher’s work.

Francis Glass, author of the Life of Washington in Latin, a man of rare attainments in the ancient languages, was for several years a teacher in different localities in Warren County. He was educated in Philadelphia, and came to the Miami country about 1817. J. N. Reynolds, who edited Glass’ Life of Washington and secured its publication, gives, in the preface of that work, some account of the author. Glass was a poor man with a large family, and all his worldly goods and chattels could not have been sold for $30. The Life of Washington seems to have been commenced in Warren County, and completed in Dayton. Reynolds was his pupil in the winter of 1823-24, in some part of Warren County, but its exact locality he does not give. The school house “stood on the bank of a small stream in a thick grove of native oaks. The building was a low log cabin with a clapboard roof, but indifferently tight; all the light of heaven found in this cabin came through the apertures made on each side in the logs, and these were covered with oiled paper to keep out the cold air, while they admitted the dim rays.” Here he had about forty pupils, only about half a dozen of whom were studying Latin and Greek. His book was published in 1835, by the Harper Brothers, after the death of the author, with the following title: “Georgii Washingtonii, Americæ Septentrionalis Civitatum Fæderatarum Præsidis Primi, Vita. Francisco Glass, A. M. Ohioensis.”

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This page updated 5 February, 2013
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