Schools During The British Colonial Regime

At the close of the Dutch administration, in 1664, when New Netherland became a British colony, the little city on Manhattan Island (henceforth called New York) contained about 1500 inhabitants. Although Dutch rule ceased, Dutch influence continued, and, while the early English laws respecting the colony contained nothing on the subject of schools and schoolmasters, the instruction of the young was not ignored. Evert Pietersen remained in charge of the school conducted by him, but nothing can be found of record in reference to the school carried on by Van Hoboocken in the vicinity of Stuyvesant's bouwery, which was probably discontinued.

"The ecclesiastical organization of the Dutch Reformed Church remaining intact, she still acknowledged the jurisdiction of the Classis of Amsterdam. The school continued, as heretofore, under the direct supervision of the deacons ; and being now deprived of all aid from the treasury of the colonial government, its support wholly devolved upon the Consistory ; and the institution had such strong hold on the affections of the Dutch people, that they could not and would not relinquish their jurisdiction over it."

The Latin school established in 1659, and successfully conducted by Luyck at the time of the capitulation, was continued under the English rule for eight years, when it was closed.

On the accession of James II, instructions were sent to Governor Dongan (1683-1689) that no schoolmaster should be permitted to keep school in the Province of New York without a license from the Archbishop of Canterbury ; and several succeeding Governors were instructed that no schoolmaster should teach without a license from the Bishop of London.

The charter of incorporation granted by William III to the Reformed Dutch Church in America contained the following stipulation :

"And our will and pleasure further is, and we do hereby declare that, the ministers of said Church, for the time being, shall and may, by and with the consent of the elders and deacons of the said Church, for the time being, nominate and appoint a schoolmaster and such other under officers as they shall stand in need of."

Nevertheless some of the English Governors undertook to interfere with the schools maintained by the Dutch Church, and early in the eighteenth century Lord Cornbury, according to the records of the consistory, adopted "arbitrary measures," took " the regulation of schools into his own hands, and claimed the direct appointment of the schoolmaster."

The first step under English rule in aid of popular education was the adoption, in 1702, by the General Assembly, of "An Act for the Encouragement of a Grammar Free School in New York City." The Governor (Lord Cornbury) and Council refused approval of the act until it was agreed that the teacher of the proposed school should have a license from either the Bishop of London or the Governor. "The mayor and common council were 'to elect, choose, license, authorize and appoint one able, skilful and orthodox person to be schoolmaster for the education of youth and male children of French and Dutch extraction as well as English. ' "The salary was fixed at L50 ($125), which was to be raised by a general tax for seven years, when the act expired by its own terms ; and nothing was done to extend it. The school established in pursuance of this act the first public English school in the city was opened in 1705, under the care of Andrew Clarke. Some of the authorities say that the teacher of this school was George Muirson, who was duly licensed by Governor Cornbury. Wilson (Vol. IV, pp. 592, 593) says that a license was granted to Muirson on April 25, 1704, the kind of instruction not being specified, and that Andrew Clark (sic) was licensed to keep a school and teach English, Latin, Greek, writing, and arithmetic. He also mentions other private teachers as having received licenses from the Governors or the municipal authorities.

"Although the provincial government did nothing, or almost nothing, for popular education during the whole time of British sway over the colonies, such education was not wholly neglected, for while the Collegiate [Dutch Reformed] Church took care of her children, the Episcopalians also did the same." In 1710 the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts sent out William Huddlestone as the first master of an Episcopal Church school. This school, like that of the Dutch Reformed church and other schools established later, was not, strictly speaking, a free school, as provision was made by the churches for the education only of the children of their own members. Free education in the modern sense was unknown for more than a hundred years.

A law was passed in 1732 providing for a public school in New York, for five years, in which Latin, Greek, and mathematics were to be taught ; and the Rev. Alexander Malcolm was appointed as head master, with a salary of ; 110. The life of this school expired in 1737, but it was continued by law for another year, with an increase in the master's salary of 40. Wilson says that Malcolm conducted a private school ; and that two years after 1738 a special law was passed to pay him a balance of salary of ,111 7s. 6d. Dunshee (p. 76) speaks of the school conducted by Malcolm as "the first free school" "established by law, for teaching the Latin and Greek, and practical branches of mathematics," and adds that Malcolm's salary was " 40 per annum " and that " he remained seven years." This school was free for twenty pupils, of whom New York City and County were entitled to ten, Albany County to two, and the counties of Dutchess, Kings, Orange, Queens, Richmond, Suffolk, Ulster, and Westchester each to one.

Nothing else appears to have been done, during the existence of the British colony, in behalf of public education of either primary or secondary character, and children receiving instruction were dependent on either church schools or private schools. In the schools of the Dutch Reformed Church the Dutch language alone was used, at least for many years, and as late as 1755 John Nicholas Welp was brought over from Amsterdam "as chorister and reader in the Old church, and also as schoolmaster.

"All the English schools in the province from 1700 down to the time of the Declaration of Independence were maintained by a great religious society organized under the auspices of the Church of England, and, of course, with the favor of the Government, called 'The society for the propagation of the gospel in foreign parts.' The law governing this society provided that no teacher should be employed until he had proved ' his affection to the present government,' and his conformity to the doctrine and discipline of the Church of England.' Schools maintained under such auspices and influences were in no sense free schools.

Indeed, as humiliating as it is, no student of history can fail to discern the fact that the Government of Great Britain, during its supremacy in this territory, did nothing to facilitate the extension or promote the efficiency of free elementary schools among the people."

In 1754 King's College was incorporated by royal charter; after the Revolutionary War it was reorganized as Columbia College.

Website: The History
Article Name: Schools During The British Colonial Regime
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
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