Possessing Albany, 1630-1710

Education and Child-Life,
page 8 of 17

A carpenter, Jan Cornelissen, tired of his tools and trade, left Rensselaerwyck upon hearing of the vacant teacher’s chair in New Amsterdam, went down the river to Manhattan, and in turn taught the school for ten years. Jan was scarcely more reputable than Adam. He lay drunk for a month at a time, and was incorrigibly lazy, — so aggravated Albanians wrote of him. But any one was good enough to teach school. Neither Jan nor Adam was, however, a convicted and banished felon, as were many Virginian schoolmasters.

This drunken schoolmaster was only the first of many. Until this century, the bane of pedagogy in New York was rum. A chorus of colonial schoolmasters could sing, in the words of Goldsmith,—

                    “Let schoolmasters puzzle their brains
                            With grammar and nonsense and learning;
                    Good liquor I stoutly maintain
                            Gives genius a better discerning.”

Occasionally a certain schoolmaster would be specified in a school-circular as a sober man; proving by the mentioning the infrequency of the qualification.

As the colony grew, other teachers were needed. Governor Stuyvesant sent to the Classis of Amsterdam for “a pious, well-qualified, and diligent schoolmaster.” William Vestens crossed the ocean in answer to this appeal, and taught for five years in one room in New York; while Jan de la Montagne, with an annual salary of two hundred florins, taught at the Harberg — later the Stadt-Huys — and occupied the position of the first public-school teacher.

For years a project of building a schoolhouse was afloat. A spot had been fixed upon, and some money subscribed. In 1649 the Commonalty represented to the West India Company that “the plate was a long time passed around for a common school which has been built with words, for as yet the first stone is not laid.” In response to this appeal, a schoolhouse was at last erected. Still another school was opened by Master Hoboocken, who taught in the Governors’bowery, where Dutch-American children were already beginning to throng the green lanes and by-ways. He was succeeded by Evert Pietersen, who was engaged as “Consoler of the Sick, Chorister and Schoolmaster;” and all persons without distinction were ordered not to molest, disturb, or ridicule him in either of these offices, but to “deliver him from every painful sensation.”


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