The Cambridge History of English and American Literature in 18 Volumes (1907–21). rn VOLUME XVII. Later National Literature, Part II.

XXIII. Education

§ 3. Virginia

Of the first type, Berkeley, the testy governor of Virginia, is the best spokesman. Replying in 1672 to the inquiry of the home government as to what policy was pursued in the colony regarding the religious training and education of the youth and of the heathen, he wrote: “The same course that is taken in England, out of towns, every man according to his ability instructing his children.” This represents accurately the condition of a colony where the largest town numbered not over twenty families, and the total population, no greater than that of a London parish, was scattered over a region larger than all England. While this part of the Governor’s reply is seldom quoted, the latter part of it, probably inaccurate, certainly misleading, is often given. It continues:

  • But I thank God there are no free schools or printing, and I hope we shall not have them these hundred years; for learning has brought disobedience and heresy and sects into the world and printing has divulged them and libels against the best of governments. God keep us from both.
  • Much of the scanty educational writings of colonial Virginia concerns the founding and the early work of its university, William and Mary, founded in 1693 through the efforts of the Rev. William Blair, a Scotch cleric, the head of the Established Church in the colony. Of this body of material, one bit is of more than ephemeral value. For when the persuasive Blair pleaded for the chartering and endowment of the college by the monarchs on the grounds that the colonists, as well as the people at home, had souls to save, the testy Seymour replied, with more force than elegance, “Damn your souls! Make tobacco!”

    The fullest account of Southern colonial education, in fact of Southern colonial life, is Hugh Jones’s Present State of Virginia (1724). He pays his compliments to the prevailing type of education in the following description of an important educational custom of the colonial period:

  • As for education, several are sent to England for it, though the Virginians, being naturally of good parts (as I have already hinted) neither require nor admire as much learning as we do in Britain; yet more would be sent over were they not afraid of the smallpox, which more commonly proves fatal to them. But indeed, when they come to England they are generally put to learn to persons that know little of their temper, who keep them drudging on in what is of little use to them, in pedantic methods, too tedious for their volatile genius. For grammar learning, taught after the common round-about way, is not much beneficial nor delightful to them; so that they are noted to be more apt to spoil their schoolfellows than improve themselves; because they are imprisoned and enslaved to what they hate and think useless, and have not peculiar management proper for their humour and occasion.