Presbyterians and Education (2)

From Scotch and Irish Seeds in American Soil by Rev. J. G. Craighead

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CHAPTER XI.continued

A classical school was instituted at Fagg’s Manor, Pennsylvania, in 1739, by Rev. Samuel Blair, in which such distinguished ministers as Samuel Davies, John Rodgers, Alexander Cummings, James Finley and Robert Smith received their education. Mr. Blair is represented as one of the most learned as well as pious and excellent men of his day. Profound as a theologian, he was still more eminent as a preacher, and in every respect a burning and shining light in the Church.

Having been educated at the Log College, and sympathizing strongly with the Tennents in their views, and also in their efforts to promote revivals, the purpose and character of his school were similar to that at Neshaminy, and, like it, was celebrated both for the superior education imparted to its pupils and the high moral and religious purposes with which they were animated.

Soon after his settlement at Nottingham, Maryland, 1744, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Finley opened an academy in order to prepare young men for the ministry, which soon acquired such a reputation that students resorted to it from a great distance. Mr. Finley was eminent as a scholar and skillful as a teacher, and in his instructions religion was united to learning, according to the principles of Scripture. When president of Princeton College, to which office he was unanimously elected at the death of President Davies, in addition to his official duties, he taught Latin, Greek and Hebrew to the senior class, and superintended an English school held in one of the college-buildings.

With such superior qualifications as an instructor, we are not surprised that the Nottingham academy acquired a great reputation and sent forth from its walls some of the ablest and best men, both in Church and State, whose memories are cherished by their countrymen to the present day. Among these may be mentioned the names of Benjamin Rush, M. D., Governor Martin of North Carolina, Dr. McWhorter, Ebenezer Hazzard, Dr. Williams, Mr. Tennent and Dr. James Waddell.

Dr. Robert Smith, when settled, in 1750, at Pequa, Lancaster county, Pennsylvania, opened a school in which Latin, Greek and Hebrew were taught. It soon became the resort of many young men, over whom the instructor exerted a strong religious influence. Large numbers of them were induced to devote themselves to the ministry, and afterward also studied divinity under him. After Princeton College was established, students continued to be prepared here to enter that institution. With scarcely an exception, those who were trained in this academy were the uniform friends of religion, and the Presbyterian Church was greatly indebted to Mr. Smith for the number of faithful pastors who received their education in his school.

The first classical and scientific school that was opened west of the mountains, and designed to train young men for the pastoral office, was that of the Rev. Joseph Smith, at Upper Buffalo, Pennsylvania, 1785. His kitchen, in the absence of any other building, was devoted to the school. Here, McGready, Patterson, Porter, Brice, Holmes and many other pious youth received their education, who were afterward the missionaries and ministers of the Redstone and Ohio presbyteries. In their course of study they were supported in part by the ladies of the neighboring churches, who provided them with their clothing.

The school was continued for several years, and then, by mutual arrangement, was transferred, and reorganized, near Canonsburg, under the care of the Rev. Dr. McMillan. It was the nucleus out of which grew eventually the Canonsburg academy, the log cabin being superseded by a building of stone in 1790, which served the double purpose of a church and a school. This led to the organization of Jefferson College, in 1802, so that the log cabin, the academy and the college may be considered one and the same institution, under progressive forms of enlargement and usefulness.

Similar institutions of learning, at an early period of the Church, were established by the Rev. Jonathan Dickinson at Elizabethtown, New Jersey, the germ of Princeton College; by the Rev. Thomas Evans at Pencader, Maryland; by Samuel Kennedy, a highly accomplished scholar, at Baskinridge, New Jersey; by Hugh Stevenson, who opened a grammar-school, 1740, in Philadelphia; and by Eliab Byram at Mendham, New Jersey. The Presbyterian colonists of Virginia also made as ample provision for the education of their youth as their circumstances permitted. In most of their congregations pastors established classical and scientific schools. West of the Blue Ridge such a school was carried on at New Providence, by the Rev. John Brown, while east of the Ridge a similar institution was conducted by the Rev. John Todd, under the patronage of Dr. Samuel Davies. The first of these, after removals to Mount Pleasant, where it was known as Augusta academy, and then to Timber Ridge, as Liberty Hall, finally became Washington College. The widespread desire for literary institutions of a high order led the presbytery of Hanover, as early as 1771, to take measures to establish an academy in Prince Edward county, which subsequently was chartered as Hampden-Sidney College. These institutions, so humble in their origin, awakened such a thirst for knowledge in the minds of large numbers of the youth of that State that not a few of them afterward became eminent for their literary attainments and were distinguished in the pulpit and at the bar.

Classical schools of great excellence were organized by Dr. David Caldwell at Buffalo, and afterward at Guilford, North Carolina, in which many of the most eminent men of the South—lawyers, statesmen and clergymen—were educated; by Dr. Samuel E. McCorkle, a thorough scholar and earnest student, whose school at Thyatira, North Carolina, bore the significant name of Zion Parnassus, and in which there was a department for the education of school-teachers, and provision was made to have poor and pious young men taught free of expense, of whom forty-five entered the pulpit; by the Rev. William Bingham at Wilmington, and subsequently at Chatham and Orange; by Dr. Joseph Alexander at Sugar Creek; by Dr. Alexander McWhorter, principal of “Queen’s Museum,” in whose hall the debates preceding the Mecklenburg Declaration were held, and which the legislature of North Carolina afterward chartered under the name of Liberty Hall academy. Other classical and scientific schools were taught by Rev. Dr. Robinson at Poplar Tent; by Dr. Wilson at Rocky River; by Dr. Hall at Bethany; by the Rev. Henry Patillo at Orange and Granville; and by Dr. Waddell at Wilmington, under whose instruction some of the ablest civilians of the State were educated.

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