Education and Child-Life,
page 14 of 17
In 1685 Goody Davis taught a dame-school at Jamaica; and in 1687 Rachel Spencer died in Hempstead, and her name was recorded as that of a schoolmistress. In 1716, at the Court of Sessions in Westchester, one of the farm-wives, Dame Shaw, complained that “a travelling woman who came out of ye Jerseys who kept school at several places in Rye parish, hath left with her a child eleven months old, for which she desires relief from the parish.”
It is easy to fancy a vague romance through this short record of the life of this nameless “travelling woman” who, babe in arms, earned a scanty living by teaching, and who at last abandoned the school and the child whose birth may, perhaps, have sent her a nameless wanderer in a strange country, —for “the Jerseys” were far away from Rye parish in those days.
There was a schoolmistress in Hempstead at a later date. She was old in 1774. I don’t know her name, but I know of the end of her days. The vestry allowed her forty shillings, “to be dealt out to her a little at a time, so as to last her all winter.” She lived through that luxurious winter, and died in 1775. Her coffin cost twelve shillings, and Widow Thurston was paid six shillings for digging the grave for her old crony and gossip. Schoolmistresses were not many on Long Island, — can we wonder at it? Had this dame been one of the penniless church-poor in a Dutch community (which Hempstead was not), she would probably have had forty shillings a month instead of a winter, and a funeral that would have been not only decent in all the necessities of a funeral, but a triumph of prodigality in all the comforts and pleasures of the mortuary accompaniments of the day, such as wine, rum, beer, cakes, tobacco, and pipes.
The “book-learning” afforded to colonial girls in New York was certainly very meagre. Mrs. Anne Grant wrote of the first quarter of the eighteenth century:—
“It was at that time very difficult to procure the means of instruction in those island districts; female education was, of consequence, conducted on a very limited scale; girls learned needlework (in which they were indeed both skilful and ingenious) from their mothers and aunts; they were taught, too, at that period to read, in Dutch, the Bible, and a few Calvinistic tracts of the devotional kind. But in the infancy of the settlement few girls read English; when they did, they were thought accomplished; they generally spoke it, however imperfectly, and few were taught writing.”