Page:The Cambridge History of American Literature, v3.djvu/407

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389
The Apprentice System

though as a matter of fact it was not actually necessary to legalize English customs in English colonies.

The fullest account of the apprentice system, especially as it was applied to the adult labourer, is given in the diary of John Harrower, a Scotchman, who, having indentured himself for some years to pay for his passage, landed in Virginia in 1774. Like many others he was sold as a schoolmaster; but unlike the many known only through newspaper advertisements, he left a long detailed record of his experience. A good account of the apprentice system as a scheme of education is found in the Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. Franklin speaks of his father's desire to give him an academic education and of the unattractiveness of the Latin grammar school. That this disinclination to acquire the prevailing literary education was not due to lack of genuine interest in books is indicated by the fact that after other ventures the boy was finally apprenticed to the printer s trade on account of his "bookish inclination." Custom and finally statute in most of the colonies required that all such apprentices should be taught to read and write, as the early Massachusetts and Pennsylvania laws had dictated from the first.

The colonial elementary school received little attention in written records except in the minutes of ecclesiastical bodies and in town records. In these references the records of Massachusetts towns are particularly rich. The town of Salem ordered in 1644 "that a rate be published on next lecture day that such as have children to be kept at school would bring in their names and what they will give for one whole year, and also that if any poor body hath children, or a child, that the town will pay for it by rate." The first part of this town order indicates the method by which the earliest schools were generally supported—that of voluntary contribution. The last clause of the entry constitutes probably the first instance in America of legal provision for free education by state support. From these conditions and within a generation free public education in the Massachusetts towns developed.

It was, however, the Latin grammar school, found in all the colonies, that received the greatest attention, attaining at times the dignity of a newspaper or pamphlet agitation. Cotton Mather has left us the petition which John Eliot offered repeat-