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The Schoolmaster And The Doctor


Chapter 08
Page 69

Of course, it was not long after New Jersey began to be settled and cultivated, before there were a great many boys and girls who also needed to be cultivated. And if we are to judge their numbers by the families of Elizabeth, who started for the New World in a hogshead, and of Penelope, who began her life here in a hollow tree, there must have been an early opportunity for the establishment of flourishing schools; that is, so far as numbers of scholars make schools flourishing.

But in fact it does not appear that very early attention was given in this State to the education of the young. The first school of which we hear was established in 1664; but it is probable that the first settlers of New Jersey were not allowed to grow up to be over forty years old before they had any chance of going to school, and it is likely that there were small schools in various places of which no historical mention is made.

It is admitted, however, by the historians of these early days of New Jersey, that education was not attended to as it should have been; and we read that in 1693 an act was passed to "establish schoolmasters

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within the Province, 'for the cultivation of learning and good manners for the good and benefit of mankind, which hath hitherto been much neglected in the Province.'"

These early schools were not of a very high order; the books used by younger scholars being what were called hornbooks, which were made by pasting upon a board a piece of paper containing the alphabet and some lessons in spelling, and covering the whole with a very thin sheet of horn, which was fastened on the board as glass is fastened over a framed picture. Thus the children could see the letters and words under the horn, but were not able to deface or tear the paper. It was difficult to get books in those days, and a hornbook would last a long time.

We can get a pretty good idea of the character of the schools from an account given of the establishment of the first school in Newark, where the town authorities made a contract "with Mr. John Catlin to instruct their children and servants in as much English, reading, writing, and arithmetic, as he could teach."

But the people of New Jersey prospered well, and the Colony soon became noted as one in which there was comfort and good living; and therefore it is natural that when the people really could afford to apply their time, thought, and money to objects higher than the tillage of farms and the building of houses, they went to work earnestly to give their young people proper opportunities for education, and we find that they were inclined to do this as earnestly and thoroughly as they had been in the habit of doing other things.

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In consequence of this disposition, what is now Princeton College was founded in 1746. This institution was first called the "College of New Jersey," and was established at Elizabethtown. It was in its early days a very small seat of learning; for, when the Rev. Mr. Dickinson was appointed to be its president, the faculty consisted entirely of himself, and his only assistant was an usher. There were then about twenty students in the college.

In about a year the president died; and the college was then removed to Newark, where the Rev. Aaron Burr, the father of the celebrated Aaron Burr, became its president, and it is probable that the faculty was enlarged. Ten years afterwards the college was established at Princeton.

The manners and customs of the college must have been very primitive, and we will give a few of the rules which were made for the students: "Every scholar shall keep his hat off to the president about ten rods, and about five to the tutors. When walking with a superior, they shall give him the highest place, and when first going into his company, they shall show their respects to him by first pulling off their hats; shall give place to him at any door or entrance; or meeting him going up and down stairs shall stop, giving him the bannister side;" and, in speaking to a superior, "shall always give a direct and pertinent answer, concluding with Sir." Thus it is seen that attention to good manners was one of the most important branches of study taught at the young college.

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But in certain districts of New Jersey, people seemed to be very slow in perceiving the advantages of schools in their midst. Schools had sprung up here and there in towns and villages, many of them boarding schools; and to these the richer farmers would send their children. But it took people in some rural places a good while to find out that it would be a good thing to have a school in their midst.

A story is told of the establishment of a school of this kind in Deckertown as late as 1833. The people of this village had never thought it worth while to have a school of their own; and even after a gentleman of learning and ability, who was well known in the place, offered to take charge of such a school, they did not look with any favor upon the enterprise. The only place for a schoolhouse, which he was able to obtain, was a very small building, consisting of one room, and situated on the outskirts of the town. Here he started a school with one scholar; and even this little fellow was not a Jersey boy, but came from New York.

For a considerable time this single scholar constituted the school, and he and the schoolmaster walked back and forth from the village to the little cabin every day; while the only interest that the townspeople seemed to take in them was shown by their laughing at the schoolmaster, and comparing him to a hen with one chicken. It must not be supposed that it was because the citizens did not believe in education; but, as they had been in the habit of sending their children away to school, they thought that

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that was the proper thing to do, and, as there never had been a school in the town, they saw no reason why there should be one then. But the school increased, and in less than a year it numbered twenty scholars.

There is a rather peculiar story told of this school in its early days. It had been established about two months, when the schoolmaster happened to be walking in the direction of the school quite late in the evening and to his amazement he saw that the little room was brilliantly lighted. Now, as he and his scholar had left it in the afternoon, and he had locked the door, he could not understand the state of affairs. Hurrying to the house, he looked in at the window, and saw that the room was nearly filled with well-dressed men, who were standing and sitting around a table on which were spread cards and money. He saw that they were a company of gamblers; but how they came there, and why they came, he could not imagine. Of course, he could not drive them out; but, after watching them for a little while, he boldly opened the door and went in among them.

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They were so occupied with their game, however, that they paid little attention to him; and, after standing with them for a time, he remarked to one of them that he hoped that when they had finished their game, and were ready to go away, they would leave everything behind them in as good order as they had found it, and then he himself departed and went home. But the next morning, when he and his scholar came to the schoolhouse, he found everything as they had left it on the afternoon before; and this schoolmaster might have been excused if he had imagined that he had dreamed that he saw the curious sight of a company of gamblers in his schoolhouse.

But he found out afterwards that it was no dream. There was a set of men gathered together from the neighboring country, who regularly spent certain evenings in gambling for high stakes. They had discovered that there was no better place for their meetings than the little schoolhouse, which was tenanted by two persons in the daytime and by nobody at night; and, as it was so far away from the other houses, it was a very convenient place for their secret meetings, and they had been in the habit of assembling there almost from the very time that it was cleaned out and arranged for a schoolhouse.

When the schoolmaster found that he had devoted his energies to the establishment of a very flourishing gambling saloon, when he supposed that he had founded nothing but a weak little school, he took measures to prevent any further visits from the gentlemen with the cards and the money. After that,

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the exercises in addition, subtraction, and multiplication, were figured out with a pencil or chalk instead of being done by means of spades or diamonds.

In those early days the doctor was almost as slow in coming to the front as was the schoolmaster.

In fact, it is said that the first doctors in New Jersey were women, and that the people placed such faith in their abilities, that unless a case were very serious indeed, so that a physician had to be sent for from the city, they were perfectly satisfied with the services of the women doctors. It is also stated, that in those days the people of New Jersey were very healthy. These two statements can be put together in different ways: some may say, that, where people were so seldom sick, doctors of great ability were not needed; while, on the other hand, those who have a higher opinion of womankind might well believe, that, because women made such good doctors, the people were seldom sick.

It must be remembered, however, that the mothers, wives, sisters, and daughters of the people of this State, were formerly looked upon as of more importance than they are now; and among the rights which they possessed in those early days, but of which they have since been deprived, was the right of voting. An early writer, speaking of this privilege, says, "The New Jersey women, however, showed themselves worthy of the respect of their countrymen by generally declining to avail themselves of this preposterous proof of it." It is very pleasant for us to remember that New Jersey was among the first of

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our States in which free and equal rights were given to all citizens, male or female, if they chose to avail themselves of them.

But when the population of New Jersey so increased that it became plain that the women could not be physicians, and attend at the same time to their domestic duties, the care of their children, and the demands of society, the citizens of New Jersey gave as earnest and thorough attention to their needs in the way of medicine and surgery as they had given to their needs in the way of college education; and the first State Medical Society in this country was founded in New Jersey in the year 1766.

It is said that some of the early doctors of New Jersey possessed great ability, and, although there could not have been many of them at first, they arranged for a suitable increase in their society, and nearly every one of them had one or more students.

A medical student in those days did not occupy the same position that he holds now. In fact, he was nothing more nor less than an apprentice to his master. He was bound to the doctor by a regular indenture. He lived in his family, and, when he was not engaged in his studies, he was expected to make himself useful in various domestic ways, often learning the use of the saw in the wood yard.

A very natural consequence of this domestic fashion of pursuing their studies was, that, when the young doctor started out to establish a practice for himself, he not only had a certificate or diploma from his master, but was also provided with a wife, for

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marriages of medical students with the daughters of their preceptors were very common.

What further outfit was furnished a student setting out in practice for himself, may be imagined from the conclusion of an old indenture of apprenticeship, which states, that when Jacobus Hubbard shall have fulfilled his apprenticeship of four years and eight months,-during which he has well and faithfully served his master, his secrets kept, his lawful commands gladly everywhere obeyed,-he shall be provided, when he goes forth as doctor, with a "new set of surgeon's pocket instruments, Solomon's Dispensatory, Quence's Dispensatory, and Fuller on Fevers."

It is probable that such a very healthy country as New Jersey did not always give a doctor of a neighborhood sufficient work to occupy his time, and therefore the early physicians used to combine other professions with that of medicine and surgery. Some were lawyers, others clergymen, and many were farmers and planters. The following story is told about the Rev. Jacob Green, "who lived in Hanover, and was pastor of the Presbyterian Church in that place. He had also many other callings, as may be inferred from a letter addressed to him by a wag, and which was said not to exaggerate the truth:-

"'To the Rev. Jacob Green, Preacher.
" " " " Teacher.
" " " " Doctor.
" " " " Proctor.
" " " " Miller.
" " " " Distiller.

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The necessity for this variety of occupation is shown by a letter from a gentleman named Charles Gordon, living near Plainfield, to his brother, Dr. John Gordon, in England, in which he says, "If you design to come hither, you may come as a planter or merchant; but as a doctor of medicine I cannot advise you, for I hear of no diseases to cure but some agues and some cutted legs and fingers." Other physicians gave up their professions at the beginning of the Revolution, and became prominent in military matters.

Dr. John Cochran, one of the first New Jersey physicians, was a man of wide experience and reputation. He was surgeon in the British hospital during the French War, and afterward practiced medicine in New Brunswick. During the Revolution, he became an army surgeon. He was a friend of Washington, and, in fact, was quite intimate with the commander in chief of the American forces. It is said that when Washington was at West Point in 1779, and the doctor and his family were stationed at the same place, Washington wrote to Dr. Cochran almost the only facetious letter which is known to have come from the pen of that grave and dignified man.

This letter informs the doctor that he has invited Mrs. Cochran and Mrs. Livingston to dine with him the next day, and says that the table is large enough for the ladies, and then proceeds to tell "how it is covered." "Since our arrival at this happy spot, we have had a ham, sometimes a shoulder of bacon, to grace the head of the table; a piece of roast beef

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adorns the foot, and a dish of beans or greens, almost imperceptible, decorates the center. When the cook has a mind to cut a figure, which I presume will be the case to-morrow, we have two beefsteak pies, or dishes of crabs, in addition, one on each side of the center dish, dividing the space, and reducing the distance between dish and dish to about six feet, which without them would be twelve feet apart. Of late, he has had the surprising sagacity to discover that apples will make pies, and it is a question if in the violence of his efforts we do not get one of apples instead of having both of beefsteak. If the ladies can put up with such entertainment, and will submit to partake of it on plates once tin, now iron (not become so by scouring), I shall be happy to see them."

The fact that the early physicians of New Jersey were very skillful, and patients in that healthful country very scarce, seems to have had the effect of making some physicians of that day extremely sharp about business matters. A certain doctor of Rahway had been called upon to visit a rich man who was in great pain and distress. The doctor having administered some medicine, the patient very speedily recovered. Some time after this, the doctor determined to leave Rahway; and the rich man who had been attended by him with such gratifying results began to be afraid that he might be taken sick again in the same way. So he went to the doctor, and requested that before he left, he would give him the prescription which had seemed to suit his case so admirably.

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Doctors seldom approve of their patients taking their treatment into their own hands; but, after a little consideration, he said he would furnish the prescription, but that it would cost ten dollars. This quite astonished the rich man, and at first he refused to pay such a high price; but, after considering that it might save him many visits from the new doctor who should come to Rahway, he agreed to pay the price demanded, and the prescription was written, and delivered to him. When he reached his home, he thought he would try to make out what this prescription was; but when he opened the paper, he found nothing but the word "catnip." It is not likely that he ever again tried to take advantage of the medical profession.

But it was not always Jersey doctors whose wit shone brightest in a financial transaction. There was a doctor in the town of Rocky Hill who was sent for to attend a poor old man who was suffering with a piece of bone sticking in his throat. The doctor went immediately to the old man's house, and it was not long before the bone was out. As the doctor was packing up his instruments, the old fellow, whose name was William, inquired how much he would have to pay; and the doctor replied that for an operation of that sort his charge was five dollars. This quite astonished William, who probably had not five cents in the house; but he wished to pay his debts, and not to be considered a pauper patient, and so he asked the doctor if he might come to his house and work out the bill. The doctor replied that that would

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be entirely satisfactory to him, and that William might come the next day and work in the garden.

The next day old William went to the doctor's house. All day he faithfully dug and hoed and raked. Toward the end of the afternoon the doctor came into the garden, and, after informing William that he might come again, he casually asked him how much he charged for a day's work. William stood up and promptly answered, that for a day's labor in the garden his charge was five dollars. Now was the doctor surprised.

"You don't mean," he exclaimed, "that you are going to ask five dollars for one day's labor!"

"That is exactly my price," said William. "If two minutes' yanking with a pair of pincers at a little bone is worth five dollars, then one day's hard labor in tilling the ground is worth just as much."

It often happens that doctors are men of wit and humor; and it is recorded that a New Jersey physician, named Dr. Hole, was the author of the first version of a tombstone epitaph which afterwards became widely known and used. The lines of Dr. Hole are cut upon a tombstone of a child, and run as follows:-

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Page 82

"A dropsy sore long time I bore:

Forsitions were in vain

Till God above did hear my moan,

And eased me of my pain."

That some of those early doctors were honest is proved by a doctor's bill which is now preserved in the New Jersey Historical Society. At the end of this bill, after all the different items of service and medicine had been charged upon it, there is this entry: "Contrary credit by Medsons brought back." It would be difficult now to find a doctor in New Jersey, or anywhere else, who would be willing to take back, and allow credit for, all partly filled bottles of medicine, and boxes of pills, the contents of which had been ordered, but not entirely used.

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