69 The Scotch-Irish in America: Especially in South Western pennsylvania. Their settlements Institutions, traits and influences

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The Scotch-Irish in America
Chapter 11


The farm work was of the hardest kind and done in the hardest way. Two generations of men wore themselves out in getting the land cleared of the giant forests, and for many years, their fields were full of stumps and roots, making cultivation extremely troublesome. Their implements were of the rudest and clumsiest kind. Their grain was reaped with sickles and threshed with flails. Their axes, hoes, shovels, plows, and other implements, were made by themselves, or by the blacksmith, and were of the most awkward pattern and roughest workmanship. Every vehicle was clumsy and heavy, home-made or neighborhood made. All this added to the toil and drudgery of their lives. At the same time, these people had high ambitions for their children, and great interest in building up the kingdom of God, and their country. They attached very great importance to education, and did their best to provide it for their posterity. There were no public schools, and each neighborhood had to make provision for itself. Hence subscription schools were set up and supported by those who had children to send. The school-houses were of unhewn logs, with puncheon floors and seats, and no desks. One such stood on the farm of my ancestors where their young people received such book training as they ever had. The teacher was always called "the master," and was usually a college student or graduate. He was apt to be one who knew his business as that business was then thought of. Sometimes he had a fixed boarding-place, but usually he boarded "round among the scholars." As a rule he was a strict disciplinarian. He used the rod with great freedom and frequency, and apparently with great gusto. Several floggings a day were not uncommon. Even in my time as a boy this was so. In my own childhood, however, there was a small school-house of brick in the district. From end to end ran a narrow aisle, the door being at one end and the master's desk at the other. On either side, facing the aisle, were un-painted benches running lengthwise of the house, in rows, each bench being for two scholars, the boys on one side, and the girls on the other. The boys benches were dreadfully hacked with jack-knives, though this had to be done very surreptitiously else there was sure to be a flogging. The main studies were spelling, reading, writing, arithmetic, geography, grammar and general history. These were studied with great thoroughness. There was little chance for scamping the work. The master was too sharp and the beech was too handy. Besides, the Shorter Catechism was taught on Saturdays. Think of that! Upon request of parents children could be excused from this study, but such requests were rare. The master sat on a raised platform at one end of the room, and right behind him, within easy reach above his head, were two hooks on which reposed several beech or hickory rods, called "wattles," and which were uncommonly tough as a rule. He had easy and swift surveillance of the entire school, and on slightest provocation, the handy wattle was quickly seized, and the master descended on the cringing offender. Somehow I escaped this ordeal except once or twice. One I well remember. It was a Saturday afternoon, and, for some reason, I fell into a stubborn fit in my catechism. I knew it thoroughly from end to end, forward and backward, but this time I sullenly refused to recite the answer to the thirty-first question, that about Effectual Calling, and so I got the wattle good and hard. I was a very small boy then, but from that day to this, that particular answer has been indelibly impressed on my memory. That old teacher is long since dead, but I respect his memory. He did what he believed to be his duty.

In the early settlements the cabin, the meeting-house and the school-house followed one another in swift succession. Very soon also classical schools were set up by the ministers. These far-sighted ministers wished to give the young fellows from the woods a chance to learn Latin, Algebra, and other such subjects, and especially did they plan to prepare young men for the ministry. Great and urgent as was the need of ministers in the new settlements, they would not rush untrained men into the ministry. They would have none but classically educated men. Before 1790, in what is now Washington county, there were three such classical schools in operation. They were very humble and ill-equipped institutions, but they did a great work, and out of them grew Washington & Jefferson College, one of the most useful in this land. As the population increased, these schools increased in number, and all over that general region fifty years ago, these parochial academies were found. They took boys from the plow, boys who would not have thought of going two hundred, or one hundred miles to learn Latin and get ready for college; these schools took up these boys and started them on their career. Multitudes of them have made a useful career, and some of them an eminent one. These parochial academies have been nesting-places of useful men, useful in every honorable line of life.

The late James G. Blaine, who got his start in one of these, speaks of them with the warmest appreciation and praises the great work done by these unpretentious schools, and the following is an extract from a letter written by him and read at the celebration of the centennial of Washington County, Pa., September, 1881:

"The strong attachment which I feel for the county, the pride which I cherish in its traditions, and the high estimate which I have always placed on the character of its people, increases with years and reflection. The pioneers were strong-hearted, God-fearing, resolute men, wholly, or almost wholly, of Scotch or Scotch-Irish descent. They were men who, according to an inherited maxim, never turned their backs on a friend or on an enemy. For twenty years, dating from the middle period of the Revolution, the settlers were composed very largely of men who had themselves served in the Continental army, many of them as officers, and they imparted an intense patriotism to the public sentiment. It may be among the illusions of memory, but I think I have nowhere else seen the Fourth of July and Washington's birthday celebrated with such zeal and interest as in the gatherings I then attended. I recall a great meeting of the people on the Fourth of July, 1840, on the border of the county, in Brownsville, at which a considerable part of the procession was composed of vehicles filled with Revolutionary soldiers. I was but ten years old, and may possibly mistake, but I think there were more than two hundred of the grand old heroes. The modern cant and criticism which we sometimes hear about Washington not being, after all, a great man would have been danger-bus both on that day and in that assemblage.

These pioneers placed a high value on education, and while they were still on the frontier, struggling with its privations, they established two excellent colleges, long since prosperously united in one. It would be impossible to overstate the beneficent and widespread influence which Washington and Jefferson colleges have exerted on the civilization of the great country which lies between the Alleghenies and the Mississippi River. Their graduates have been prominent in the pulpit, at the bar, on the bench, and in high stations in public life. During my service of eighteen years in Congress I met a larger number of the Alumni of Washington and Jefferson than of any other single college in the Union. I make this statement from memory, but I feel assured that a close examination of the rolls of the two houses from 1863 to 1881 would fully establish its correctness. Not only were the two colleges founded and well sustained, but the entire educational system of the county, long before the school tax and public schools, was comprehensive and thorough. I remember that in my own boyhood there were ten or eleven academies or select schools in the county where the lads could be fitted for college. In nearly every instance the Presbyterian pastor was the principal teacher. Many who will be present at your centennial will recall the succession of well-drilled students who came for so many years from the tuition of Dr. McCluskey, at West Alexander; from the Rev. John Stockton, at Cross Creek; from the Rev. John Eagleson, at Buffalo; and from others of like worth and reputation.

I have myself visited many of the celebrated spots in Europe and America, and I have nowhere witnessed a more attractive sight than was familiar to my eyes in boyhood from old Indian Hill farm where I was born, and where my great-grandfather settled before the outbreak of the Revolution. Identified as I have been for twenty-eight years, with a great and noble people in another section of the Union, I have never lost my attachment for my native county and my native State. The two feelings no more conflict than does a man's love for his wife and his love for his mother. Whatever I may be in life, or whatever my future, the county of Washington, as it anciently was, will be sacred in my memory. I shall always recall with pride that my ancestry and kindred were and are not inconspicuously connected with its history, and that on either side of the beautiful river, in Protestant and Catholic cemeteries, five generations of my own blood sleep in honored graves." These sturdy sons of the farm and of a sturdy race needed only the opportunity to forge ahead. They are found everywhere, and wherever found are likely to be at the front. For instance, away out on this edge of the land, I found not long ago that the most influential banker on this coast, the President of the largest express company in the world, and the Major-General U. S. A. commanding this Department were, every one of them, boys from these little parochial schools of which I am writing. One of them was a native of Washington, another was my classmate at Washington, and the General was an old Buffalo Academy boy, the playmate and schoolmate of my boyhood. The most noted senator of the United States from this coast in many years, and who lately died, was also from the same old county, and trained in one of these schools. The wealthiest man in the whole central west, also a senator of the United States, is from the same county and from one of these schools. I might multiply examples. I do not boast of this, however, but rather of the great number of faithful and useful men in Church and State, who had their start in these humble schools, founded by these departed pastors. It is a thousand pities that these schools have pretty much gone out of existence. Washington & Jefferson College, in its origin and history, is a distinctively Scotch-Irish institution. Judged by current standards, it has always been a poor college, but judged by its output, by the influence of the men it has sent forth, it has been for more than a century, one of the most useful institutions of its class in this country. It has given more men to the Presbyterian ministry during the last fifty years than any other college. Its alumni have been found in the most conspicuous pulpits from New York to San Francisco. All over the missionary field at home and abroad, its men have been marked men. In the chairs of president and professor, in editorial sanctums, wherever Presbyterian ministers are found doing useful work, there you find the men of this college. Not only in the Presbyterian Church, but also in other communions, these men are found in positions of great prominence and influence. No less are its alumni found in other lines of life, holding the foremost places at the bar, on the bench, in surgery and medicine, in literature and education, in trade and commerce, in statesmanship and public life, along every path where honorable men strive for mastery, there you will find at the front the graduates of this Scotch-Irish college. It is not creditable to the posterity of its founders, many of whom have amassed great wealth, and to its eminent alumni, that this college has been left so long to struggle with difficulties arising out of its inadequate endowment. It is gratifying to know, however, that in recent years some wealthy men of that wealthy region are beginning to appreciate its noble history and are coming forward with generous gifts to its endowment.


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