Schooling in the Early Days

Footnotes to Long Island History


AUGUST 24,1950


Thomas R. Bayles

     What efforts were mad in a private way to educate the children of Brookhaven town's first settlers we do not know but as early as early as 1687, the town employed Francis Williamson as a schoolmaster. The action was taken at a town meeting and the trustees were instructed to employ Mr. Williamson at a salary of 30 pounds a year, one third of which was raised by a tax on the people, and the other two thirds by a rate upon the children attending the school.

       How long this teacher was employed is not recorded, but in 1704 John Gray appears as a teacher holding school in the old town meeting house at Setauket. The town meeting in May of that year gave him permission to use the meeting house for holding school on condition that he would have it cleaned every Saturday, so as to be ready for Sunday church services and to make good any damage done by the scolars.

       The growing needs of the settlement demanded building for the exclusive use of the school, and in 1718 the trustees ordered that a rate of 38 pounds be raised and a schoolhouse built by the end of that year.

       As settlement extended to other parts of the town, schoolhouses were built and schools established, but this was generally done by private contributions rather than by public tax. The town granted land for schoolhouse sites wherever common land was owned in the localities. Beyond that, the town paid little attention during the colonial period to public education.

       The first commissioners of schools were elected in 1796. They were Jonas Hawkins, Meritt S. Woodhull, William Phillips, Caleb M.Hulse and Daniel Roe. This office was abandoned for several years after the election of 1800.

       In 1813, three commissioners were elected and six inspectors of schools. This arrangement continued for several years and they were elected annually. The commissioners elected in 1813 were Benjamin F. Thompson, John Rose and Mordecai Homan. The inspectors of schools elected that year were the Rev. Zachariah Green, pastor of the Setauket Presbyterian church, the Rev. Noah Hallock, pastor of the congregational churches of Patchogue and Mt.Sinai, Nicoll Floyd, William Beale the Rev.Ezra King, pastor of the Middle Island and South Haven Presbyterian churches and Joseph E. Roe.

       After the election in 1843, the duties of commissioners and inspectors were combined in a single office under the title of town superintendent of schools. The first man to hold this position was William Sidney Smith of Longwood, in 1844. The pay of these early school officers was not very liberal as a town meeting of 1839 fixed the pay of inspectors at 50 cents a day.The town meeting of 1841 increased this to $1 a day.

       The town was first divided into school districts by action of the commissioners of school at a meeting held at Coram (which was the capital of the town at that time) on November 3, 1813. Twenty-three districts were formed at first and afterwards 12 more were added, bringing the total to 35.

       On October 24, 1842, the districts were renumbered and still continue under the same numbers.

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