Schools After the Revolutionary War

During the War of the Revolution New York was under martial rule, and the transaction of business in the city was irregular; church services were intermitted, education was suspended, and the schools and college were closed. Very soon after the end of the war schools were opened (or reopened) by the different religious denominations, depending for their support upon voluntary contributions of church members ; and these schools soon came to be known as " charity schools." The term was not used in a derogatory sense, but merely to distinguish the schools maintained by the churches (which were attended only by children of church members) from the private pay schools patronized by the well-to-do. But no means for general education were provided for upwards of twenty years, and then only on the most limited scale.

An important act of the Legislature, passed in 1787, established a university in the State " to be called and known by the name and style of ' The Regents of the University of the State of New York,' " and in 1789 the Legislature set apart a portion of the public lands for " gospel and school purposes." Governor George Clinton, in his annual message to the Legislature in 1792, said: "As the diffusion of knowledge is essential to the promotion of virtue and the preservation of liberty, the flourishing condition of our seminaries of learning must prove highly satisfactory ; and they will, I am persuaded, be among the first objects of your care and patronage, and receive, from time to time, such further aid and encouragement as may be necessary for their increasing prosperity." In his message for 1795 he urged " he establishment of common schools throughout the State " ;and on April 9th in that year a law was passed " for the purpose of encouraging and maintaining schools in the several cities and towns in this State, in which the children of the inhabitants residing in the State shall be instructed in the English language, or be taught English grammar, arithmetic, mathematics, and such other branches of knowledge as are most useful and necessary to complete a good English education " ; and the annual sum of .20,000 was appropriated for five years for their support. It was directed that the sum mentioned be paid to the several county treasurers in proportion to the population of the several counties and towns, which were required to raise by tax an amount equal to one-half of the State apportionment, and the entire sum was to be applied, under the direction of proper officers in each school district, to the payment of the wages of duly employed and properly qualified teachers. This was the origin of the common school system of the State. " The official returns for the year 1798, the only year in which even partial detailed reports were forwarded show that in sixteen out of the twenty-three counties of the State, there were 1352 schools in successful operation, in which 59,660 children were under instruction for a longer or shorter period during the year." In 1800 a law, entitled " An act for the encouragement of literature," was passed, directing the raising, by lotteries under the control of managers named in the act, of $100,000, $12,500 of which was to be apportioned by the Regents of the University among academies, and the remainder " applied in such manner for the encouragement of common schools, as the Legislature may, from time to time, direct."

While something was thus being done by the State for public instruction, the work of educating children not provided for by the church (charity) schools in this city was taken in hand to a certain extent by benevolent associations. In 1785 the Society for Promoting the Manumission of Slaves and for Protecting such of them as have been or may be Liberated (commonly called the Manumission Society) was organized for the purpose of " mitigating the evils of slavery, to defend the rights of the blacks, and especially to give them the elements of education." A number of prominent citizens were interested in this movement, among them Alexander Hamilton and John Jay, the latter being the first president of the Society. A free school for colored children, with twelve pupils, was opened by the Society in November, 1787, a room for the purpose being furnished by the teacher,2 and in February, 1788, twenty-nine pupils were in attendance. Unavailing steps were taken in 1791 and succeeding years to erect a building for the school. In 1794 the school was incorporated as the African Free School, and two or three years later a small schoolhouse was built in Cliff street. In January, 1797, there were 122 pupils registered (63 boys and 59 girls), with an average attendance of about 80. Small grants were made to the school by the Corporation of the city in 1797, 1798, and 1800, and in 1801 the Legislature made an apportionment to it of $1565.78. In 1808 the Society itself was incorporated. The location of the school in Cliff street proved in the course of time to be unsatisfactory, and in 1812, in response to an appeal from the Society, the city Corporation granted it a piece of property in William street, near Duane, on which a suitable building was erected. A second schoolhouse was built in Mulberry street, near Grand, in 1820, and several other schools were established later by the Society in hired rooms. All the schools of the Manumission Society were taken over by the Public School Society in 1834 (see Chapter XI).

t is a somewhat curious fact that a free school for colored children was established in New York City before any free school for white children, in the true meaning of the words, existed. The first school for the latter was opened in 1801 by the Association of Women Friends for the Relief of the Poor (generally known as the Female Association), which had been organized in 1798 by a group of benevolent women connected with the Society of Friends. The necessity of a school was soon perceived, and in the year last mentioned it was decided to establish a school for the education of poor children " whose parents belong to no religious society, and who, from some cause or other, cannot be admitted into any of the charity schools of this city." The school was first attended by children of both sexes, but after a short trial the boys were discharged and only girls admitted. During the first quarter of the nineteenth century a number of schools were carried on by the Female Association, the total attendance in 1823 being about 750. They were permitted to share in the Common School Fund until the change in the law made in 1824(566 Chapter VI), and accommodations for some of them were furnished by the Free School Society, as will appear in later chapters of this history. When, by the operation of the law just referred to, further aid from the public funds was cut off, the Association confined its efforts to a so-called infant school, which was conducted in the building of Public School No. 5 from 1830 to 1845, when it was taken over by the Public School Society.

At the beginning of the nineteenth century the spirit of popular education was, so to speak, " in the air," and two events of far-reaching importance were about to take place : the enactment of a law providing the foundation for a permanent Common School Fund, and the establishment of the Free School Society in this city. These events render the year 1805 memorable in the educational history of the State.

Website: The History
Article Name: Schools After the Revolutionary War
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: The New York Public School By A. Emerson Palmer, M.A. Secretary of the Board of Education; The MacMillan Company-New York 1905
Time & Date Stamp: