2 - PREPARING TO TEACH
At this time I was very desirous of getting more education than the meager share that I had. One day, while returning from Columbia, down the Susquehanna, where I had been with the raft of lumber, I became acquainted with a missionary for the college at Meadville - Allegheny College. He readily perceived that I was eager for more education and he spared no effort to induce me to take a scholarship in the college which he represented. I had never anticipated such good fortune to be mine as to have a scholarship in Meadville College, but when he had explained the scholarship, together with the opportunities for a scholar maintaining himself by work in Meadville in his spare hours, I was determined to immediately go to this college upon the consent of my parents.
Though we had, at home, talked over the matter of myself getting a higher education, we had never arrived at the point where we could see our way clear to do so. The terms for a scholarship in Allegheny College were forty dollars in all. Twenty the first year and the balance in three subsequent years. I had some money with me and so contracted for a scholarship before leaving the representative of the college. My parents were highly pleased with me, with the step which I had taken, that would mean a sacrifice to them.
I made my appearance in college in June, the first day. At that time the college year ended the last of that month, so I was afforded the privilege by the professors of becoming a member, that I should be better prepared for the hard work when the college opened in September. I immediately engaged to one of the professors to do carpenter work for him during the summer vacation, and he was to assist me in my spare time with studies which were deemed important for me to prepare in.
I shall always remember how shy I felt when among the three hundred students enrolled for the new school year, and my backwardness in education caused me embarrassment. But I was fully impressed with the great advantages to be had in a few years of close application in this great institution. And so not daunted in the least in my determination to get an education, though I should have some unpleasant experiences in the beginning.
At this college they had two literary societies which met every Friday night in debate. The public was treated to a hearing of our forensic abilities once every month, and there was enough enthusiasm to make the battle of the words quite interesting, not saying anything as to the real talent displayed. This feature of our college work had a strong attraction for me, and these weekly and monthly occasions were of a great deal of pleasure and fascination to me.
When the first term was ended, I was sorry indeed. Circumstances compelled me to seek a position as schoolmaster, which I succeeded in very readily by writing home to see what was open there. Mother, with her usual diligence, found that a school in Cambria County was without an applicant and she promptly notified me of the opportunity. I immediately bid a fond good bye to my fellow students and teachers to whom I had become very much attached, then started upon my journey afoot for home over a hundred miles away. I was eager to be at home again to see the faces I loved, and talk of the new experiences which had come into my life in the few months of my absence from home. Nearly everything in Meadville seemed so fine and great as compared with things in the woods at Clearfield County.
I was eager also to go before the school board for examination. The Board was composed of some of the most substantial, and earliest, settlers of the community which constituted the chief qualifications for the important position they held. Dick Ashcraft, John Brown and Henry Nagle were the names of the dignitaries whom I had appeared before. The first question they put to me was, "Can you make a pen, young man?" and then John Brown handed me a goose quill which I proceeded to transform into a pen. "Well, I guess that will do all right", said John Brown as he stroked the quill up and down a piece of paper secured for the purpose. Then Dick Ashcraft, who was the only one who could write, vigorously applied the pen to the sheet of paper. "Why yes! That's fine. That's very, very good pen" he said, and then added "Now let us see what you can do with it, my boy." I took great pains in giving him a sample of my writing, and considered it myself as one of my best accomplishments. So, was not at all surprised when my examiners viewed my efforts with a quill with entire satisfaction. Dick Ashcraft claimed, "That's as good as copper plate".
Continuing the examination, Mr. Nagle asked with close attention - "Can you teach arithmetic?" In reply I said, "Yes. I guess I can teach them as far as they will care to go, and that is a far as the Double Rule of Three, in Diebold and Pikes Arithmetic". This was eminently satisfactory to my examiners.
In concluding the examination, John Brown asked very earnestly, "Now how does this what they call Division go?" This I considered a good question for this unschooled and the illiterate official to add; and I was anxious to answer as comprehensively and as briefly as possible. So I hit upon a simple illustration.... "Now, if I have a certain sum of money to give to you three men, and divide it so you will each share equally, or each have the same amount of money, I must have a rule to do this by which will divide the amount exactly."
After explaining the great importance of value of the knowledge of science of division, they were soon convinced of the indispensability of it. They unanimously voted to engage me to teach Hemlock Hollow School. The salary to be thirteen dollars a month with board furnished which was then to be as good as ten dollars a month. I realized that my duties required all of my abilities when I took the names of thirty-five, all so excited, boys and girls of the woods.
It was arranged to have me board ultimately at the families living most convenient to the school. Winter was very severe so I strongly objected to being boarded at the distance from the school which the arrangements called for; as it was out of the question to be at school, and out, to have it heated and everything in readiness in due time. Some of the scholars had as far as three miles to walk to school. My objections were agreed to so I was permitted to board with the Ashcraft's during the remainder of the term.
The spelling schools were the chief excitement of the community when the snow became packed enough to make the roads sufficiently passable through the dense woods. When the term was finished I realized that the experience strengthened and developed me advantageously for further college work. I returned to college for the term of four months of spring and early summer. The routine at college was much the same as it had been.
When vacation time arrived upon us some prepared to go out in search of employment to replenish our purse for living expenses for the next term of college. I went home with my roommate who had permission from his father to take me with him; that I should have plenty of work during the vacation.
We commenced our journey afoot over the road to Johnny Miles home, fifty miles toward Ohio. Johnny said that he could go wherever I did, and I felt entirely equal to the journey ahead of us - but the poor boy was almost exhausted when we arrived at his father's farm. The day following he was barely able to move around, so sore and stiff he was from our journey from Meadville. Work there was in plenty, but the home is very congenial and so our hard work did not grind upon us. For swinging the scythe in the hayfield, my wage was fifty cents a day, and one dollar a day for cradling in the grain fields.
For two months I labored thus, healthy and happy and joyous in the anticipation of the work and pleasure of college again, when the leaves in the forest were turning to purple and gold, and the bracing air made our blood surge and muscles stance. For as such as it really was, for most of the boys were of poor families. Those of the aristocrats who were there were from the south and the Mohawk Valley of New York.
When the fall term was finished, John Miles accompanied me to Kentucky where we went in answer to an advertisement for teachers. We stopped first at Marysville and John got a school at Brownsville, six miles farther on. There were no public schools in Kentucky at this time so these were private ones.
I applied to a lawyer who was a chief examiner of the applicants. He summoned a number of the patrons to assist him in the examination. The first question was, "Where did you come from?" My answer being entirely satisfactory - the next question was, "Can you make a quill pen?" He then presented to me a clarified quill. I had no fear of satisfying my dignified examiner in this, and to my pleasure the lawyer picked up the pen with an evident look of satisfaction, and he said, "This is all right. This is fine." He then passed it on to the other patrons who were unstilted in their praise of my accomplishment.
Next, the lawyer handed me a book in which I was to read some prescribed lines. In this also they unanimously agreed was satisfactory. When a few words to spell were given to me, I realized that there was no cause for anxiety in the least, for such words given to a teacher in examination was almost an offense to the professional dignity. The problems in arithmetic were solved with almost most equal ease.
This completed the examination as far as branches of learning were concerned. I was relieved that nothing had been said of grammar, for this was a study I really felt deficient in. I was so pleased that I asked in boys fashion, "Don't you examine in grammar?" To this they said they didn't know what it was. Even the Lawyer appeared to be ignorant of this perplexing study. I showed a copy of Beagles Grammar, a copy of which I had with me. "Now we don't use that in our language down here", said one of the most prominent of the patrons.
I inquired as to what the rules of the discipline they would expect, whereupon the biggest man, physically, abruptly answered, "Well, I'd say when they don't mind, just knock em down." No one objected to what this drastic rule suggested, so I concluded that this might be the prevailing sentiment. I accepted the situation as having no tender feelings of appearance to injure in the performance of my duties, which were soon to be.
They advised me most emphatically to be very guarded in my relations to the slaves, to be absolutely dignified, and to keep them in their place - not asking them to serve me, but commanding them to do so. I returned that we in Pennsylvania considered them human as ourselves and treated them accordingly. "Well, you can't stay down here with us and do that way", said one of the leaders with much fire. I promised my employers that I should be guarded and prudent in my relations to the "niggers".
My salary was to be forty dollars per month with board furnished by one of the prominent families. Mr. Blanks stipulated that on the condition that I was to be gentleman. "Well" I returned, "I have always tried to be one, and I think I can still be one under ordinary circumstances."
When school commenced, I had twenty-four almost young men and women to learn. All was entirely different to the little log school in Pennsylvania. Here every comfort and convenience I could wish for was furnished. As nearly as I can remember, five dollars was the sum I used for expenses during the four months stay in Marysville. When I left home I thought it would not be necessary to buy underwear, that we had always worn homemade clothes of that kind. But the chilly northern's came sweeping down over the blue grass country, and I soon found it was necessary to invest in a suit of underwear - so that was the first I ever had in that way.
This was my first opportunity to witness the operation of slavery, but I was warned not to be sociable, and to be thoroughly dignified with the Negroes. They were eager to learn all that they could of the north country, and I never missed an opportunity to impart to them all the information I could. When the time came for my return to college at Meadville, I was rather loathed to leave. The people had been so kind and generous to me, and my pupils so appreciative of my efforts, and responded splendidly.
The spring term of college passed without any extraordinary event taking place in my experience. I devoted myself faithfully during the whole term to study. The summer vacation found me in Erie County engaged in work on the farm again, haying and harvesting to make money for the fall term's expenses. At this time Erie was quite an important commercial port, a city of eight or nine thousand population. I worked within seven miles of the city. The place had a big trade with Canada, and would make an honest citizen today blush with shame to know how much revenue was lost to our country by our unscrupulous traders.
With the end of the fall term of college, my college life was also ended. Now I was able to see what a good use could be made of the knowledge gained by hard work and ambitious desire. I returned home and soon was at work again for there was a home school with sixty-three pupils in need of a teacher. Eighteen of the scholars were men and women grown, and no doubt, they expected much of my professional services. The salary was eighteen dollars per month, together with board and washings done by the patrons.