Puritans in America

Puritans in America

The Puritans Colonising America

The Puritans Colonising America

With what was seen as growing Catholic corruption in the Church of England, the Puritans flocked to the New World both before and after the Commonwealth period.

Boston Common Founders Memorial

Boston Common Founders Memorial

Founder's Memorial

Founder’s Memorial

Boston was founded on 7 September, 1630 (O.S.) by Puritans of the Massachusetts Bay Colony seeking to establish what the Governor John Winthrop called “a city upon a hill”, id est a new religious kingdom in the Americas, divorced from the corruption of Old Europe.

The College

“Veritas (Truth)” – Motto of Harvard University

Old Harvard College

Old Harvard College

THE history of Boston’s connexion with higher education stretches back to 1636, six years after the founding of the city. That most venerable and ancient institution, Harvard University, known then simply as the “New College” has become one of the foremost universities in the world. It was the first college founded in the English colonies, and would go through difficult and tumultuous years before it became the school that we know it as today. While true that Harvard was founded in Newtowne, later Cambridge, three miles from Boston’s centre and thus not in the limits of the 16th century colonial city, the tie between Boston and Harvard are undeniably strong and have a strong association with each other.

IN setting up Harvard her founders envisioned a school based on those of the great universities of Old England, namely Oxford and Cambridge.

Old Harvard Yard

Old Harvard Yard

As many of the Puritan leaders were educated at one of these two universities they desired to establish a college along the lines of their alma maters. They were not setting out to reinvent the system put in place, but rather to colonise the New World with it.

AS with the grammar schools there were those boys who did not have the mental faculties to attend college. In “The Puritan Pronaos: Intellectual Life in New England in the Seventeenth Century” Samuel Eliot Morison discussed the fact that the language of the classes was Latin, and those who did not have a mastery of the tongue from their grammar school education were not cut out for college. He discussed the relative financial availability and noted that many students bartered a few farm goods to cover tuition fees. Morison also noted that the relatively egalitarian system of education ensured potential wide availability among the colonists of a college education.

IN order to emphasise their new college as being in-line with the English and other great European universities they were attempting to emulate, the Puritans founders set up Harvard’s curriculum along the traditional path, the Seven Arts (Grammar, Logic, Arithmetic, Rhetoric, Geometry, and Astronomy), the Three Philosophies (Ethics, Natural Sciences, and Metaphysics), as well as Hebrew, Ancient History, and Greek, according to Samuel Morison.

Harvard College Charter of 1650

Harvard College Charter of 1650

CONTRARY to what many people today may think, the college was not strictly religious in its teaching habits. A prevailing line of thought, as stated above, is that the Puritans were so fixated on God that they wouldn’t teach classical thought in their schools. This argument, I hope, has been sufficiently refuted. Harvard College, and its feeder schools like Boston Latin, were beacons of European intellectual thought long before comparable institutions were established in other English colonies. Indeed Morison recounts the commonplace notebook of Seaborn Cotton, an alumnus of the College who later became a minister. According to Morison, it was a shock to look over the minister’s commonplace book to find marriage and birth records about his parish on one page and extracts of highly erotic poetry just a few pages before.

ONE might ask where such stereotypically non-Puritanical subjects of study stem from. The obvious answer, again according to Morison, is that it was inherited from their English culture. Humanism and its tradition in England was very strong and sufficiently diffused amongst the educated populace. It is an amusing thing to see how, on one hand

Harvard Seal

Harvard Seal

the Puritans brought their beliefs of a church state to the New World in order to establish a holy kingdom devoted to God, and yet on the other see how they also imported their English cultural traditions and Renaissance humanist thinking to that same kingdom. One is able to see that at one point the two would eventually clash, for they seem to be at odds. However, the Puritan intelligentsia thought otherwise and continued to support and integrate these two systems into the fabric of their new holy society.

THIS transfer of knowledge flowing from Old England and Europe gave birth to and stimulated the rise of higher education in the English North American colonies. The tradition established at Harvard and the other eight Colonial Colleges of enacting a system of higher education in the future United States facilitated an independence-minded attitude amongst the colonists, one that would flourish during the Enlightenment having been based on rational thought and scientific inquiry, that would eventually lead to a demand for democratisation by colonial-college educated gentlemen in the form of American independence.

The Grammar School

“Sumus Primi (We are the First)” – Motto of Boston Latin School

First Boston Latin School Schoolhouse

First Boston Latin School Schoolhouse

WHILE everyone was expected to attain an elementary education in order to ensure an ability to read the word of God, as was in-line with Protestant tradition, most people stopped their education there. A select few, however, were able to continue their educational efforts by attending the secondary school, a grammar school. As was stated in the “Elementary” section of this site, the Massachusetts Act of 1642, otherwise know as the “Old Deluder Satan” Act, provided rules governing the establishment of schools throughout the Bay Colony. According to the act, once a town had 100 households a secondary or grammar school was to be established in so far as to instruct the towns youth to prepare them for an university education.

OF course there were greater restrictions on who could and could not attend the grammar schools. Girls, after having learned to read and write, were then taught domestic crafts and skills necessary for the home, as further learning was meant for males. Though being the right gender was not enough to guarantee admissions to a grammar school. Boys who were not able to grasp Latin, the language that, in addition to Greek, was most highly touted amongst learned men of the day. Also, boys whose families could not afford the tuition of their local grammar school (should tuitions have been necessary, as they varied by school) were similarly out of luck. As the Act of 1642 established the necessity of schools once a certain quota of families had been reached, the onus for the construction, maintenance, and funding of these schools and their students full upon the community.

IN “The Puritan Pronaos: Studies in the Intellectual Life of New England in the Seventeenth Century”, Samuel Eliot Morison questions why the relatively poor colonial community would agree to support such a financially burdensome system of education. His explanation was that there

17th Century Grammar School Class

17th Century Grammar School Class

was simply no substitution for a good education, whether a boy was university-bound or not, that a boy should be brought up knowing the humanities known variously as good literature, ancient classics, or belles-lettres.

AT first the grammar schools were not much patronised by parents and communities tired to hold off on having to establish them, despite the fact that the 1642 Act stipulated that all those towns with the appropriate number of families had to establish a school or face a humiliating fine to be paid to their closest neighbouring town with one. Eventually, as the population of Boston and New England in general grew, the grammar schools began to be built, staffed (with college graduates), and attended in greater numbers and with greater diligence.

Comparative Curricula of Late-16th Century English and Early-18th Century Bostonian Grammar Schools

Comparative Curricula of Late-16th Century English and Early-18th Century Bostonian Grammar Schools

IT was in Boston that the oldest and most famous grammar school was established, the Boston Grammar School, known today as Boston Latin. Its founding date was in the year 1635, five years after the establishment of the city of Boston itself, and one year before the traditional birth-date of Harvard University. In form and purpose it functioned along the lines of any other normal English grammar school of the period. Students would go to the school to be educated in the classics as seen in the image to the right. Latin was the overwhelming language of the literature that was read, with a healthy amount of Greek mixed in. As Morison pointed out, there is very little in the way of arithmetic, sciences, or modern languages, mainly a focus on classical languages, literature, history, and geography. It seems that the curriculum of today’s school has done an about face in this regards, what with its focus on S.T.E.M. programmes at the cost of liberal arts.

BOSTON Latin was often referred to as a “free school”. According to Pauline Holmes, M.A. in “A Tercentenary History of the Boston Public Latin School: 1635-1935”, it was free in several senses of the word. It was firstly free in the sense that there was no aristocratic monopoly on education, and that all boys, rich or poor, could attend the school. It was also free our sense of it being tuition free to those who were from Boston. It is quite a curious thing, indeed, then when the common view of the school today is one of privilege, the ancien riche, and the sons and daughters of the Boston elites.

Logo of the Boston Latin School

Logo of the Boston Latin School

IN structuring their schools after the Old World English model and bringing in masters educated at Oxford and Cambridge we see a link form between the intellectual classes on both sides of the pond. These connexions were only strengthened as the years progressed and the intellectual lives of New England attempted to become more in line with those of Old England. We see that the Puritans were far from the stuffy anti-academic prudes that they are often portrayed as being. Indeed, it was the Puritans desire to establish a system in this New World that would be on par and rival those back in the mother-country. They wanted to make Boston Latin and its company on par with Westminster, Eton, Harrow, Rugby, and the like. Grammar schools like Boston Latin were feeders, even when times were tough and pickings slim, for the greatest institution of education (apologies M.I.T.) that Boston is associated with around the world and through the ages, Harvard.

The Primary School

“Ab Uno Disce Omnes (From One Example, Learn All)” – Virgil

Puritan Primary Education

Puritan Primary Education

THE Puritan leaders thought it prudent to begin their education efforts of the young at an early age. While not all could afford to be sent to the upper echelons of  the educational system (id est college), or grasp an adequate linguistic understanding of the Latin language in order to even be able to comprehend the lessons given in the college environment, a large portion of the population of New England was given a rudimentary education so that they had a basic understanding of the prevailing knowledge of the day.

THE system put into place for elementary education was modelled after the one back in the mother-country of England. An interesting point to be said about this system was that it was an education that took into account need-based tuition, and provided, on behalf of the commonwealth and thus the people, a free education to those children whose families could not afford to send their children to school.

PRIOR to the establishment of permanent elementary school buildings, there existed a number of methods by which people educated their children in preparation for College. One such method was the hiring of a private tutor who would come to the homes of those who cold afford their services and educate the children of the house. Another was the dame school, a place where children were sent in order to learn the rudimentary skills of reading and writing.

"A Dame's School 1845", exhibited 1845 by Thomas Webster 1800-1886, Oil paint on mahogany, 622 x 1219 mm, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/webster-a-dames-school-n00427.

“A Dame’s School 1845”, exhibited 1845 by Thomas Webster 1800-1886, Oil paint on mahogany, 622 x 1219 mm, http://www.tate.org.uk/art/artworks/webster-a-dames-school-n00427.

Usually these were set up in the residences of women who taught children from “horn books”, a small board made from ivory, wood, bone, or some other like substance, usually covered in a thin transparent layer of horn that listed the alphabet as well as a section of the Lord’s prayer. It was, together with the Bible, a Psalter, and a New England Primer, part of the basic resources used by school children at the dame school. However, not everyone could afford to hire on a tutor or send their children to a dame school, whose level of education varied. Many children in New England, therefore, were educated at home by their parents, as had been the tradition back in Old England. However, this education was quite often spotty, and did not adequately prepare children for the rigours of a secondary education let alone higher levels like college.

An example of an horn book

An example of an horn book

WITH the establishment of a more defined education system in Boston, elementary schools proper began to be founded by the governing body. The Mather School, named for Richard Mather, a prominent English puritan theologian who moved to New England in the early 17th century, and father of Increase Mather as well as grandfather to Cotton Mather, two other very famous New England puritan theologians, was the first public elementary school established in what would become the future United States in 1639.

THE governing body of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts instituted laws directed at the establishment of schools for the elementary education of the Bay Colony’s youth, in addition to the mandatory nature of their attendance. Thus, from an early stage the Puritans of New England saw fit to provide for education. Early on there were established laws and provisions for compulsory education in many of the New England colonies. Perhaps the most famous of these acts was the Massachusetts Act of 1642, also known as the “Old Deluder Satan” Act. So named because of its overtly religious wording in its introductory paragraph, the law stated that the primary reason for the creating of free education and a school system was mainly to combat Satan in his attempts to keep men away from God by keeping them ignorant of the Scriptures. Thus, under this thinking, the establishment of the elementary education system in Boston and New England as a whole was for the purpose of religious warfare of a sorts with the Devil. It set up provisions for the establishment of an elementary school once a town had reached 50 families, in order to impart to the children the abilities to read and write. This law act has  been quite often quoted in many of the works I have run across in my readings on 17th century New England education.

Old Mather Schoolhouse

Old Mather Schoolhouse

THIS claim of religion as the primary driver of educational efforts in Boston and the surrounding colonies was refuted by Samuel Eliot Morison in his 1936 book entitled “The Puritan Pronaos: Studies in the Intellectual Life of New England in the Seventeenth Century”. Morison claims that the often alluded to “Old Deluder Satan” law gives the incorrect impression that educational motives for this time were strictly religious in nature rather than a mixture of religious, social, and educational.

Early Map of Boston

Early Map of Boston

Map of Boston in 1630

Map of Boston in 1630

The Puritan colonists found Boston and its harbour to be an ideal location to found their new religious settlement. It would quickly become the capital of the Bay Colony and also a centre of education and knowledge in New England.

Puritan Control of England

Puritan Control of England

Puritan Trial of a Royalist Family

Puritan Trial of a Royalist Family

After the execution of King Charles I, the Puritans under Oliver Cromwell transformed the Kingdom of England into a Commonwealth which was essentially a military dictatorship under the Lord Protector Cromwell, who ruled for life. During this period Puritans continued to migrate to the New World colonies and bring English culture and Puritan educational ideals with them.

Higher Education and the Old World

Higher Education and the Old World

Oxford University

Oxford University

Higher education in England dates back to the at least the 11th century with classes being taught at Oxford. In the intervening six centuries many prominent leaders passed through the hallowed halls of the ancient universities of Oxford and Cambridge. It was here that the Puritan leaders who would found Boston and Harvard were educated and, like the grammar schools, based their New World designs for education off of the Old World’s.

Cambridge University

Cambridge University

Higher Education in Boston

Higher Education in Boston

Holworthy Gate to Harvard Yard

Holworthy Gate to Harvard Yard

John Harvard, Namesake of Harvard University

John Harvard, Namesake of Harvard University

In following with the established tradition of higher education in England, the Puritans established a college in 1636, that would be chartered 14 years later in 1650, that strived to emulate the colleges of Oxford and Cambridge. Much like the grammar schools of the New World took much of their inspiration from those of the old, so too did Harvard College follow suit in curriculum and structure as the universities of old.

View of Harvard Yard

View of Harvard Yard

Grammar School

Grammar School

Boston Latin School est. 1635

Boston Latin School est. 1635

Like the schools in England, Eton, Harrow, Westminster, et cetera, the Puritan colonists wished to establish an enduring system of proper education that would be in line with their beliefs that all people should at least be able to read and write so as to understand the Bible and know the word of God.

Secondary Education in Old England

Secondary Education in Old England

The City of Westminster Near London, Site of the Westminster School

The City of Westminster Near London, Site of the Westminster School

Institutions of secondary education existed all throughout England and their histories stretched back centuries. Many of the educated Puritan leaders who sought to create an educational system based on that of their home land would have looked to these institutions for inspiration as to structure, fees, and curriculum.

Harrow School, and English Public School

Harrow School, and English Public School

Eton College, an English Secondary School

Eton College, an English Secondary School