Chapter 4 – The Society School

The St. Andrew’s Societywas able to open a school sooner than the members had dared to hope in 1796 when they determined to devote the principal part of their funds to that purpose.1 At that time they had agreed that ”whenever the capital of the society amounts to fifteen thousand dollars a lot shall be purchased and airy and convenient situation in the city of Charleston in a schoolhouse capable of accommodating 40 scholars, a convenient dwelling house and outbuildings for the accommodation of a schoolmaster erected thereon.2 In spite of the fact that three-fourths of their income was set aside to this in they must have realized that many years would elapse before such a sum would accumulate. Evidently they found that the school fun with drawing even more slowly than they had anticipated, for at the quarterly meeting in February, 1798 they determined to hasten the process in the following manner:

“Whereas a considerable time will unavoidably elapse before the sum specified in the rules for building a school and for other purposes therein mentioned can be obtained from the ordinary funds of the society, and as many charitable persons may be disposed to contribute to so useful a purpose as the education & maintenance of the poor, & more particularly for the support & education of those poor & orphan children whose fathers have been members of this society and have contributed to the funds thereof either by the ordinary subscription or by donation, & who circumstances from the unavoidable occurrences of life have fallen into decay, which objects require immediate attention,

Therefore Resolved that a committee of seven members be appointed to receive donations & subscriptions for this purpose….. and that the following members be a standing committee to carry out this resolution into effect, viz –

 

James GairdnerDoctor Buist

Wm. Blacklock

John Mitchell

Wm. Robertson

Thomas Martin

John Champneys” 

 

To this proposition the members responded generously. On the parchment subscription list which has been preserved there are no less than 196 names of contributors who gave sums ranging from $10 to $200. By November 30, 1803, the total amount paid in was $14,778, and through careful investment this was increased to $15,721.40 before the next St. Andrew’s Daywhen it appears that the Society felt that the time had arrived to open the school. In this way the necessary amount was raised independently of the ordinary revenue which was thus reserved for other purposes. There was another slight departure from the original plan. Instead of purchasing a schoolhouse the Society invested the school money, thereby converting it into an endowment which at once began to yield a revenue more than adequate to meet running expenses

The next consideration was that of finding a schoolmaster. The rules provided that “a person properly qualified shall be elected….for life and good behavior.” To secure such a man the following advertisement was inserted in the Charleston Courieron December 5, 1803:

“ST ANDREW’S SOCIETY 

Wanted: A schoolmaster, capable of attending to above fifteen children, to be educated (on the bounty of St. Andrew’s Society) in the ordinary branches of an English Education. 

Applications, stating the terms of teaching, etc. must be by letter addressed to Robert J. Turnbull, Esq., No. 192 Meeting Street, on or before Saturday the 10th inst.” 

This must have brought a prompt response, for on January 9, 1804, instruction was begun. The gentleman selected as schoolmaster was a certain Mr. Amos Pilsburyof whom little else is known save that he is said to have been for many years “Preceptor of the Presbyterian Church.”3 It seems that he continued as head of the St. Andrew’s school until his death, for in November 1812 the Society paid his estate a sum for the tuition of eleven children and about the same time appointed his successor.

The arrangements for a teacher having been made to the satisfaction of the Society, an announcement as to its policy of admitting the pupils was then made to the public:

“Aided by liberal donations from its members, the Society now finds itself competent, not only to the distribution of its usual charities on a larger scale, but to the education of a number of Poor children, from every part of the community, without distinction of Country or Parentage. A Schoolmaster of good morals, capable of instructing children in the ordinary branches of English Education, has been already provided. All persons therefore, who are desirous of having children educated upon the Bounty of the society, will be pleased to make application by letter, addressed to the ‘committee of Education’ and left at 198 Meeting Street on or before the 1st of January next. The applications must be made on behalf of children between seven and fourteen years of age; accompanied with a statement specifying the ages of the children, the names of their parents, their places of residence (if alive), occupation, necessities, etc., etc.”4

There was an understanding with Mr. Pilsbury to the effect that he was to receive a certain amount for each child accepted by the Society and that in addition he might “educate for his own emolument any number of other children not exceeding twenty.” Evidently with the intention of securing this further emolument Mr. Pilsbury advertised in the papers to the following effect:

“SCHOOL 

The subscriber respectfully informs his friends and the public, that he has opened school at 49 Church Street, near the Old Church. The purposes to instruct youth of both sexes in Reading, Writing, English Grammar, Arithmetic and Geography, with the use of Globes & Maps. The situation being healthy and agreeable, he hopes by a diligent attention to the literal and moral improvement of his pupils, to merit the confidence of his fellow citizens. 

Amos Pilsbury”5 

The school which was thus established was one of several so-called “society schools” which endeavored to provide an elementary education for poor children in the days before the institution of the state free school system area other such schools, all of them older than that of the St. Andrew’s Society, were maintained by the South Carolina, the Fellowship, the German Friendly, the Mount Zion,and the Catholic Societies of Charleston; the St. David’s Society of Georgetown.6 It was generally the policy of the sponsors of these institutions to admit in addition to the bounty pupils a certain number of pay scholars. In certain sections of the state they afforded an opportunity for education which was not to be otherwise had by either the rich or the poor. They accordingly made an important contribution to the public education when the state had not yet assumed that responsibility. After the passage of the Free School Actin 1811 they were, for the most part, discontinued.

The management of these “society schools” seems to have been the object of much zealous attention on the part of the founders. In the case of the St. Andrew’s

A Report Of The School Committee

Society school direction was placed in the hands of a committee of nine members whose duties were: “The election of a schoolmaster in case of a vacancy by death, resignation or dismission; the admission of children to the society’s bounty; the superintendence of the clothing, education, and binding out of the children on the societies bounty; the visitation of the school at least every three months; and to draw on the Treasurer for such sums as may be necessary for the expenses of the school.” The detailed reports which this committee rendered the Society testified that these duties were faithfully performed. “We be sub-committee appointed to visit the school,” runs one of them, “do certify that we have this day examined the scholars in the different branches as stated in the annexed report of the master and are satisfied with his mode of education & with the progress of the scholars.”

It was the original design of the Society “to clothe, educate, find in books, pens, ink, paper and school firing, and bind out to some hard or profession suitable to their genius, a number of poor children of either sex, not exceeding twenty.” It would seem that for some reason the children were not provided with clothing; for there is no allotment for this article in the expense accounts, and the $33 per annum which was paid to the schoolmaster for each child was hardly enough to cover both tuition and clothes. In other respects the plan was fully carried out. Each quarter Mr. Pilsbury requisitioned for supplies. Books were invariably the largest item: so many copies of a school Bible, the Pleasing Instructor, Morse’s Geography, Mease’s United States, Dilworth’s Spelling Bookand occasionally a copy of Female Education, Bacon’s Essays, and Montague’s Reflections. Each year there was an item for ”fire money” or “school firing” – usually one dollar for each pupil. Whenever it was desired by the child who had reached the age of fourteen and was about to pass out of the school, he was placed in some position where he might hope in time to earn a livelihood.

The number of children in the society school between 1804 and 1812 was never less than fourteen, and the average for the nine years was eighteen. Few, if any, of these were the children of members. After the passage of the State Free School Actin 1811 no more pupils were admitted, and after those who were then enrolled completed their courses the school was discontinued. After the death of Mr. Pilsbury, and Mr. George Petersserved as schoolmaster. Though the school was actually in operation for only ten years, you have provided an elementary education for a considerable number of children. In speaking of its work more than fifteen years after it was closed a member of the Society asserted that “many persons who were there educated are now useful and respectable members of our community.”7

NOTES TO THE TEXT 

IV. THE SOCIETY SCHOOL

  1. 1.     Unless otherwise mentioned, the statements in this chapter are based upon the papers in Filing Box No. 4; see bibliographical note. 
  2. 2.     Rules of 1796; see bibliographical note. 
  3. 3.     King, Mitchell, Sketch of the History of the St. Andrew’s Society(1892), p. 127. 
  4. 4.     The Times(Charleston, S. C.), December 30th, 1803. 
  5. 5.     Ibid., December 31, 1803. In the same issue of The Times there is a notice signed by Amos Pilsburyand J. P. Smith, of a school to be opened on January 9th at No. 5 Charles Street. 
I am of the opinion that the St. Andrew’s pupils attended the Church Street School. From Mr. Pilsbury’s reports it appears that it was subsequently moved to another place, but I have not been able to discover this later location. 
  1. 6.     McCrady, Ed., South Carolina under the Royal Government(1899), pp. 530-531 and Thomason, J. H., The Foundations of the Public Schools of South Carolina (1925), pp. 48-52, 68-69. 
  2. 7.     King, Mitchell, Address Delivered in the First Presbyterian Churchbefore the St. Andrew’s Society, 1829(edition of 1892), p. 71. 

 

Officers 2010

2011 Tentative Meeting Dates

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