Ideas and Ideals: Frontiers of Learning
“The Prejudice of Education, Custom, and Example, are generally very strong… It were, however, much to be wish’d, that Men would … shake off all manner of Prejudice, and bring themselves to think freely, fairly, and honestly.” — Benjamin Franklin, 1732
« Schooling for All? »
ducation in colonial Pennsylvania was not limited to elites or to urban Philadelphia. Religious agendas and moral zeal, a mixture of ideals and ideology, propelled many educational projects for students of different races and classes.
George Whitefield, the influential evangelical preacher for whom the “New Building” that later became the Academy and College of Philadelphia was built, proposed an ambitious “school for Negroes” on lands along the upper Delaware River. The project was never realized. Instead, the building at Nazareth, Pennsylvania (later called Whitefield House) was completed by the United Brethren or “Moravians,” a community of German Protestants, who established towns there and at Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. Moravians emphasized the importance of communal living for spiritual sustenance and placed their children in collectively-run boarding schools like the one for boys at Nazareth Hall. Their schools became well known, and in 1785 the Bethlehem school for Moravian girls became the Moravian Seminary for Young Ladies, open to non-Moravian women. Shown here is a 1795 drawing of female students learning to sing. Moravians also served as missionaries to Native American communities, working to “educate” Indians in Christian faith. David Zeisberger, author of the Delaware-English primer on display, began mission schools in Pennsylvania, New York, and the Ohio country.
Less is known about the education of servants and slaves, but it was allowed and perhaps even encouraged in homes or in school settings. Indenture documents often provided that servants and apprentices be taught the basics of reading, writing, and mathematics, although the indenture here carefully limits math to the basic “rule of three.” The printer Samuel Keimer, Franklin’s rival, may have run a school for blacks during the 1720s, as an advertisement Keimer placed in a newspaper suggests. Nothing else is known about the school, however. And a page from the school account of Quaker Ann Marsh, who taught many children from important Philadelphia families, shows that Thomas Bond paid for four years of schooling for his daughters and for the family’s “black boy.”
« Franklin and a School for Blacks »
ranklin played a significant role in the founding of a new school for blacks, free and enslaved, in colonial Philadelphia, which was organized by an Anglican philanthropic society called the Associates of Dr. Bray. When in London, Franklin attended a fundraising dinner held by the Associates; the invitation is on display here. He actively supported the school project, becoming an Associate and helping to plan several schools in the colonies. Upon his return to Philadelphia, he reported on the school in the letter shown here. The school, which opened in 1758 and ran without interruption until the Revolution, had as many as thirty-six students of varying ages at a time, possibly including Othello, Franklin’s slave. Franklin expressed optimism that “a separate School for Blacks…might probably have an Number of Blacks sent to it; and…the Example might be followed in the other Colonies….”