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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Barring Out The Schoolmaster Was A Favorite Prank Of Pupils

Dallas Bogan on 23 July 2004
Dallas Bogan, Warren County, Ohio and Beyond (Bowie Maryland: Heritage Press, 1979) page
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Many customs of old still continue to be used although just as many have disappeared. Our subject this week shall be the barring out of the schoolmaster. This custom certainly is not used today, but in olden days it was considered traditional.
The first schoolhouse in the Lebanon area was built in the spring of 1798. It was a rather low, rough log cabin, constructed in one day with nothing but an axe. The first teacher at the school was Francis Dunlevy, later Judge Dunlevy.
A.H. Dunlevy was a son of Judge Dun levy, who at the age of only five years old attended the school. An account of the first Christmas after the opening was recorded by A.H. and preserved. I shall now use his own words.
"As the cold weather of 1798 commenced, this school was crowded with young men of a much larger size than had attended during the summer. At Christmas it was determined to bar out the master, according to the custom of the times. The object in part was a mere frolic, in part to secure the holidays free from school, and sometimes the master was required to treat. When the barring out was successful, there was a regular and sometimes a tedious negotiation between the scholars and teacher, and the terms of pacification were required to be stipulated with precision.
"But the teacher was not easily thwarted. He was opposed on principle to treating and he had served in so many campaigns against the Indians that he had imbibed a spirit which knew not how to submit to or suffer defeat. After having been driven from the windows by long handspikes, with which he was several times severely struck, he retired for a time. Returning, he ascended, unobserved by the boys, to the top of the chimney, made of cat and clay, and very large. He suddenly descended down the chimney, though a brisk fire was burning.
"The boys astonished at his appearance from this unlooked for point, capitulated with as much coolness as, under circumstances they could command. Defeated in their Christmas frolic, on New Years Day the boys gathered recruits from the young men who did not attend school, and took much pains to secure every possible point of ingress. The fireplace was well guarded, the windows secured and the door barricaded with large logs piled against it to the top.
"As the master approached, a loud note of defiance went up from the inmates. The scene was the more exciting as many of the neighbors had come to witness the siege, which was to result in the triumph or defeat of the young men.
"After surveying the field as well as he could from the outside, Dunlevy soon determined on his mode of assault. Taking on his shoulders a large green log, which had been brought for firewood, he stepped off some ten paces from the door, and then rushed with his utmost speed, bringing the end of the log against the top of the door. "The concussion was so violent as to break the door and displace the logs on the inside so as to open a hole, through which he instantly entered to the terror and consternation of the boys. For a moment, there was some show of resistance notwithstanding the fort had been captured. But this soon subsided. There were no more attempts to bar out Francis Dunlevy."
The barring out of the schoolmaster was rather common in the Northwest Territory. In Judge Dunlevy's case the larger boys had apparently brought the custom from the older states. The origination seems to have stemmed from an old English custom.
It was commonplace in the old country for the scholars to take custody of the schoolroom and to lock out the schoolmaster. A rule of the day was that "the scholars could sustain a siege against the master for three days and were entitled to dictate terms to him regarding holidays and the hours of recreation."
If the master triumphed in forcing an entry before the three days were up, the students were at his mercy. James Harris, a former teacher, relates in his history of Washington Township, that he suspicioned the boys intended to bar him out. His skepticism prevailing he remained in the schoolhouse the evening before until he presumed all the students had gone home. He then took down the door, carried it away and hid it in the nearby bushes. The larger boys were aware of this act and watched from some distance; they simply replaced the door. The next morning Mr. Harris found himself barred out. Not to be defeated, he climbed to the roof, removed some clapboards, laid them on the chimney top and consequently smoked the boys out.

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This page created 23 July 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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