Early Schools and Schoolmasters of New Amsterdam Part II

by Emma Van Wechten

The Burgomasters perhaps found it not " practicable " to oust the loungers who had so long smoked their pipes in the cozy corner by the great chimney or tippled their beer over the wooden tables standing close to the roadside on the brick-floored, vine-shaded stoop. No doubt these frequenters of the old tavern were loath to give place to schoolboys with puffed breeches and plastered hair, sitting solemnly on the benches which ran along the wall, or standing in disgrace, zotscap on head, in the corner allotted to dunces. Just how they settled the question does not appear; but several years later, in 1656, the schoolmaster, then Harmanus Van Hoboocken, sent the following urgent appeal to the Burgomasters and Schepens on the occasion of the burning of the schoolhouse :

" The reverential request of Harmanus Van Hoboocken, Schoolmaster of this city, is that he may be allowed the use of the hall and side chamber of the City Hall for the use of his school and as a residence for his family, inasmuch as he, petitioner, has no place to keep school in, or to live in during the winter, it being necessary that the rooms should be made warm, which cannot be done in his own house from its unfitness. The petitioner further represents that he is burthened with a wife and children and moreover his wife is expected shortly to be brought to child-bed again, so that he is much at a loss how to make accommodation for his family and school children. The petitioner therefore asks that he may use the chamber wherein Gouert Coerten at present dwells."

The answer to this petition set forth that "Whereas, the room which petitioner asks for his use as a dwelling and schoolroom is out of repair and moreover is wanted for other uses, it cannot be allowed to him. But as the town youth are doing so uncommon well now, it is thought proper to f1nd a convenient place for their accommodation, and for that purpose petitioner is granted 100 guilders yearly."

Before the coming of Hoboocken, the office of pedagogue and Ziekentroster, or '' consoler of the sick," had been filled by William Verstius, "a pious, well qualified and diligent schoolmaster," "who served for several years to the satisfaction of the community, and was only parted with on his own urgent solicitation to be permitted to return to Holland.

When Harmanus Van Hoboocken came over in 1655, to take the place of Verstius, he found New Amsterdam a thriving village, numbering over a hundred cottages, and sheltering about a thousand inhabitants. He followed the traditions of his office by marrying a widow, and conducted the school so satisfactorily that, when at the end of several years he was replaced by Evert Pietersen, he was engaged as cadelborst (something above a common soldier) in the Company's service, at a salary of 10 guilders a month, and his board, and was also employed on Governor Stuyvesant's bouwery as clerk and schoolmaster. As this bouwery was located in the region of what is now lower Third Avenue, in the neighborhood of Twelfth Street, this second school, being at that time far out of town, did not conflict with the school in the little village near the Fort. There is some evidence to show that this lower school was held at one time within the walls of the Fort itself; but this is only vaguely touched upon in the records, though it is a constant source of wonder to me that the great stone church raised by Kieft and of no use except o' Sundays, was not utilized be- tween-times for educational purposes.

Now that the. colony was growing so fast it was found that there was room for more than one school and schoolmaster ; but the church and the Company were very tenacious of their rights of control, and looked with a jealous eye upon every effort to establish schools outside their jurisdiction. A very lively controversy took place between the city magistrates and the colonial authorities on the occasion of the granting of a school- keeping license by the magistrates to Jacob Van Corlaer. Straightway the Governor and Council directed the Attorney-General to go to the house of Van Corlaer, "who has for some time past arrogated to himself to keep school," and warn him that his arrogance and his school-keeping must cease, under pain of the displeasure of the Director and the Council.

At this juncture the Burgomasters and Schepens presented a petition in Van Cor- laer's favor, and the delinquent himself humbly begged the privilege of continuing what seems at this remove his harmless calling ; but all efforts were in vain. The record states that "for weighty reasons influencing the Director General and Council the apostille [marginal note] was ' nihil actum.'" Meanwhile the restlessness of the burghers under their limited educational privileges was increasing. Their " Vertoogh," or remonstrance to the home government, had set forth that "There should be a public school provided with at least two good masters, so that first of all, in so wild a country, where there are many loose people, the youth be well taught and brought up, not only in reading and writing but also in the knowledge and fear of the Lord As it is now, the school is kept very irregularly, one and another keeping it according to his pleasure, and so long as he thinks proper."

As time went on and the population steadily increased, the ideas of the colonists expanded in this direction as in every other. Moreover, their local pride was touched by the advance of New England and the establishment in Massachusetts of the academy destined to become the first college planted in the Western hemisphere. In 1658, this righteous ambition found vent in a petition of the Burgomasters and Schepens to the West India Company.

" It is represented," the petitioners say, " that the youth of this place and the neighborhood are increasing in number gradually and that most of them can read and write, but that some of the citizens and inhabitants would like to send their children to a school the principal of which understands Latin ; but are not able to do so without sending them to New England ; furthermore they have not the means to hire a Latin schoolmaster expressly for themselves from New England, and therefore they ask that the West India Company will send out a fit person as Latin schoolmaster, not doubting that the number of persons who will send their children to such a teacher will from year to year increase until an Academy shall be formed whereby this place to great splendor will have attained, for which, next to God, the Honorable Company which shall have sent such teacher here shall have laud and praise. For our own part we shall endeavor to find a fit place in which the Schoolmaster shall hold his school."

It must always be borne in mind that the "children " for whom these educational privileges were to be provided were boys only. Nothing would have more surprised the burghers than the prediction of the classical schools and normal schools, the college and university opportunities now open to the daughters of Manhattan. In those days the domestic training of the home, or, at most, petition of the dame-school, with its very rudimentary instruction in reading and writing, was enough to content the educational ambition of the colonial maidens.

(Continue with Part III)


Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: Early Schools and Schoolmasters of New Amsterdam Part II
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Historic New York by Maud Wilder Goodwin Published by G.P. Putnam's sons, 1899
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