Tar heel junior historian

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(North Carolina Division of Archives & History)

Fall 1997, pp. 1-3
Reprinted by permission from TAR HEEL JUNIOR HISTORIAN, Fall

1997, pp. 1-3, (c) North Carolina Museum of History.


by Betty Dishong Renfer
     If you had grown up in this area that has become North Carolina during the late 1600s and early 1700s, your life would have been very different from what it is today--forget television...forget soccer practice...forget chips and dip...forget school!
     That is right--you would have had no school. Schools did not spring up in the area we now call North Carolina as they did in COLONIES* like Maryland or Virginia. In most American colonies, people came from Europe with the intention of establishing organized, planned communities and towns.
     However, the settlers who drifted down into CAROLINA* were mainly from Virginia and the northern colonies and were primarily seeking good farmland. These family farmers, who were known as YEOMEN,* worked hard to develop small, SELF-SUFFICIENT* farms and relied on their children to help work on those farms.
     The twelve children of Augustine and Elizabeth Dishong are examples of one family who lived productive lives in colonial society. The family, which was Baptist, first owned land in Chowan County, where Augustine operated a ferry across the Chowan River. They later moved to the BACKCOUNTRY* and operated a large, successful peach orchard in Orange County. But none of the children ever attended a school to learn to read or write.
     Many children of this time received no FORMAL SCHOOLING* because their parents saw no need for the ideas taught in schools, and they could not afford to pay for it, anyway. The Dishong children, as did the majority of colonial children, learned instead by watching and imitating parents and brothers and sisters and through hearing stories told by their relatives and other ELDERS* in the community. They learned at home as time and the growing season permitted--usually after dark, between chores, or during the winter months.
     Through this manner of learning, known as INFORMAL LEARNING,* the majority of the colony's children learned what they needed to know to live in the agricultural society of this time. They learned, for example, how to plant and when to harvest corps, how to build and maintain farms, how to care for families.
     The first efforts to provide formal education in Carolina were made by religious groups--the Society of Friends, whose members were also known as Quakers, the Baptists, and the Presbyterians. The Anglican Church, which was also called the Church of England, had an organization that offered schooling for young boys as one of its MISSIONS:* the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.
     Even these schools, however, were not started to teach the general population. They were started to teach young boys to read, write, and speak--for a reason. Church leaders hoped that these boys would grow up to become religious leaders themselves and pass along the teachings of the holy gospel.
     Many boys learned through APPRENTICESHIPS,* which had been one method of education in Europe. Some apprenticeships required that the APPRENTICE learn skills such as math or reading or writing in order to perform his duties. Other apprentices were promised, in the contracts that BOUND them, some type of formal schooling as payment for their services.
     Children of wealthier parents, like PLANTERS,* were usually sent away to schools in other colonies or back in England. There, they learned languages like Greek and Latin, read classical literature, and studied sciences and math.
     Records like old wills show the interest some of these families had in the education of their children. For example, when John Baptista Ashe died in 1734, his will instructed that his sons be taught to read and write and to learn "arithmetick." In addition, he directed, "Let them learn French" and encouraged them to prepare for a profession: one the study of law, the other, the study of "merchandize," or business. Ashe even wanted his daughter to be able to read and write so she could learn "the management of household affairs."
     * * *
     Apprentices learned skilled trades (like tanning, weaving, or blacksmithing) or professions (like surgery or law) while serving APPRENTICESHIPS, or while watching and helping a more experienced person do that job for many years. An APPRENTICE was BOUND, or confined to service, by a legal agreement, or contract.
     The term BACKCOUNTRY refers to the area west of the fall line, or fall zone--an imaginary line that connects the locations on rivers where waterfalls are first found when traveling inland. Above the fall line, rivers are more difficult to navigate.
     Between 1663 and 1665, King Charles II of England gave the land between Florida and the Virginia colony--which he referred to as CAROLINA--to eight of his supporters, the Lords Proprietors. These noblemen operated Carolina as a PROPRIETARY colony from 1663 to 1729. As owners of this proprietary colony, the lords owned and controlled rights to all the land and made all decisions about running and operating the colony. They appointed sheriffs and court officials, approved the incorporation of towns and organizations, and imposed and collected taxes and fees. In 1712, the Lords Proprietors divided Carolina into North Carolina and South Carolina. In 1729, seven of the proprietors agreed to sell their lands back to England. From then until 1776, North Carolina was a royal colony, governed directly by a representative of the king.
     At this time, America was still divided into COLONIES. A colony is, in this case, a territory that is being settled by citizens of a distant country. The settlers, called colonists, continue to be ruled by their parent country.
     ELDERS are older persons in a community who are known sometimes for their skill and knowledge but always for their wisdom and experience.
     FORMAL SCHOOLING is an organized effort to educate a person. Formal schooling usually takes place in settings with teaching materials and educational supplies and is usually led by trained instructors who follow structured guidelines to teach established subjects.
     INFORMAL LEARNING can take place anywhere, anytime--whenever another person shows or tells you how to do something. In informal learning, anyone--a stranger, a relative, a friend--can suddenly become a "teacher" or a "learner."
     In this case, MISSIONS are tasks or goals.
     PLANTERS typically owned large numbers of slaves or sizable tracts of land or both. They grew cash crops that were sold at markets for a profit--income for the grower.
     YEOMEN were family farmers who usually owned their own land and were SELF-SUFFICIENT. In other words, they supported only themselves and their families--they grew their own food, made their own clothes, and built their own homes.
     * * *
     Betty Dishong Renfer has been active in some form of education throughout her working life. She has been an elementary school teacher and a learning specialist at a small liberal arts college and is currently an educational sign language interpreter.

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