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The Free Schools



Four years before John Harvard bequeathed his estate to the college near Boston, Benjamin Syms, of Virginia, left the first legacy by a resident of the American Plantation for the promotion of education. By his will, made February 12, 1634- '35, he gave two hundred acres on the Puquosin, a small river which enters the Chesapeake Bay, a mile or less below the mouth of York River, with the milk and increase of eight cows, for the education and instruction of the children of the adjoining parishes of Elizabeth City and Kiquotan, "from Mary's Mount downward to the Poquosin river. " The money arising from the first increase of the cattle was to be used to build a school-house, and the profits from the subsequent sales of cattle to support the teacher. This Benjamin Syms was born in 1590, and in 1623 was living at "Basse's Choice," in what was subsequently known as Isle of Wight county. In 1624, at this point, died a Margaret Syms. In 1629 Thomas Warnet, a leading merchant of Jamestown, bequeathed Benjamin Syms a weeding hoe. Syms was evidently an honest, religious, and childless planter.



' Tyler, Cradle of the Republic, 248. Recent excavations confirm this conjecture. They disclosed the foundations of a building in the graveyard, which were of cobblestone showing that the superstructure was of wood.

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In March 1642- '43 the Virginia Assembly gave a solemn sanction to Syms' will in the following words: "Be it enacted and confirmed, upon consideration had of the godly disposition and good intent of Benjamin Syms deceased, in founding by his last will and testament a free school in Elizabeth county, for the encouragement of all other in like pious performances, that the said will and testament with all donations therein contained concerning the free school and the situation thereof in the said county, and the land appertaining to the same, shall be confirmed according to the godly intent of the said testator, without any alienation or conversion thereof to any place or county." In 1647, a few years later, we hear from an early writer that the school was in operation and the number of kine greatly increased: " I may not forget to tell you, " he writes, " we have a free school, with two hundred acres of land, a fine house upon it, forty milch kine and other accommodations. The benefactor deserveth perpetual mention, Mr. Benjamin Syms, worthy to be chronicled. Other petty schools we have."'

On June 5th, 1638, Thomas Eaton patented 600 acres of land the west side of the head of Back River. By his deed, dated September 19, 1659, he conveyed 500 acres of this land with all the houses upon it, two negroes, 12 cows and two bulls, twenty hogs, and some household furniture, for the maintenance of an able schoolmaster to educate and teach the children born within the county of Elizabeth City.1

We have seen that after Captain Ratcliffe's death. Captain James Davis had command of Algernourne Fort, and in 1614 the fort was described as a stockade "without stone or brick," containing 50 persons, men, women and boys, and protected by seven pieces of artillery; two of thirty-five "quintales," and the other thirty, twenty and eighteen all of iron.

After Percy's departure for England, in April, 1612, the name Algernourne Fort was discontinued; and the place, for many years afterwards, was referred to as " Point Comfort Fort."

In 1632, the fort having fallen in disuse, was rebuilt by Captain Samuel Mathews, afterwards governor, and fur-
1. William and Mary College Quarterly, VI, 73. Ibid VI., 74: XL, 19.

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nished with a guard of eight men; and Captain Francis Pott, brother of Governor John Pott, of the ancient family of the Potts of Harrop, in Yorkshire, was made commander, and continued such till he was removed by Sir John Harvey in 1635.

In that year (1635) Francis Hooke, of the Royal Navy, " an old servant of King Charles, " was put in command.

He died in 1637, and Captain Christopher Wormley, who had been governor of Tortugas, was for a short time in charge.

Then, in 1639, succeeded Richard Moryson, son of Sir Richard Moryson, and brother-in-law of the noble cavalier, Lucius Cary, Lord Falkland, who married Letitia Moryson.

In 1641, he returned to England, and left his brother, Lieutenant Robert Moryson, in charge of the fort.

In 1649, Major Francis Moryson, another brother, who had served King Charles in the wars with the Parliament and came to Virginia with Colonel Henry Norwood, Colonel Mainwaring Hammond and other cavaliers was appointed by Sir William Berkley, captain of the fort. After Major Moryson, his nephew. Colonel Charles Moryson, son of Richard Moryson, about 1664, succeeded to the command.

For the support of the Captain, what were known as ** castle duties" were established in 1632, consisting, at first of "a barrel of powder and ten iron shot" required of every ship ; and the Captain kept a register of all arrivals.

By 1665, the fort was entirely out of repair, and the general assembly in obedience to orders from the king appointed Captain William Bassett to build a new fort, but the council constituted Col. Miles Cary and his son Thomas, as Bassette lived too remote. Before the work was finished, however, the great storm of 1667 washed away the very foundations, and Col. Cary lost his life fighting the Dutch, who made an attack the same year, and burnt the English shipping at the mouth of the river. Then the king sent new orders to restore the fort, but the assembly, who had very reluctantly obeyed in the first instance, now instead of doing what the king required, ordered five forts to be built at five other places, viz: Nansemond, Jamestown, Tindall's Point, Corotoman and Yeocomoco. As an excuse of this action they asserted in the preamble to their act the inefficiency of a fort at Point Comfort and the great difficulty of getting

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material to build a fort there. Of course, when the Dutch came in 1673, there was nothing to prevent their operations at the mouth of the river, and the shipping had the misfortune of 1667 repeated upon them.

The fort seems to have been discontinued for many-years after this.

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