Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Laurens County, SC, schools during Reconstruction

Our series on Laurens County, SC, during Reconstruction continues with a survey of education and institutions for children during the period.
Though privately tutored education was more emphasized than public education before the War Between the States, some poor schools and academies were in operation in Laurens County. The first public school in Laurens County, the Wadsworth poor school, was established in 1805 as a free school or “poor school” for anyone who wanted an education. [1] The first school house in Laurensville was later on Reedy Fork Creek near the residence of Colonel Ball, and its first teacher was Charles Stone. But there were others. Laurensville Male Academy was established in 1848 and stood on the corner of Main and Academy Streets. Frank Evans was its principal[2] as it focused on a classical form education.[3]
One of the more well known institutions of learning across the state was Laurensville Female College,
established in 1829.[4] In 1856, the Presbytery of South Carolina took control of the school and officially opened it as the Laurensville Female College in 1858. By September 1860, student enrollment numbered 128, and the school was in good financial condition. It was located in a large brick building on the corner of Main and Church Streets in Laurens behind the Baptist Church.[5]
The Laurensville Female College was composed of Primary, Academic, and Collegiate departments. Courses included “Latin, Greek, ancient geography, algebra, philosophy, chemistry, geometry, trigonometry, English literature, English composition, essentials of Christianity, Butler’s analogy, and astronomy.”[6] With three stories, fifteen rooms, a museum, and a 1,000 volume library, "this institution was the most celebrated female institution in upper Carolina. . . In the departments of music and art she cannot be excelled by any in the State."
The school closed during the War, but reopened and struggled through Reconstruction days. The first president under Presbyterian rule, Rev. E.T. Buist, later pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC, resigned at the outbreak of the War in 1861, and the school closed. It reopened in 1863-1865 under the leadership of Ferdinand Jacobs, father of William Plumer Jacobs. After a year without a president, Rev. Samuel J. Price served 1867-1869 when the entire faculty resigned. The trustees unanimously elected Major John A. Leland President in 1869.
Presbytery minutes indicate that enrollment was discouraged by the weak economy and the closure of the Laurens Railroad, but a larger obstacle was the institution’s debt load. The college still owed a hefty sum on the impressive antebellum school building on West Main and Church Streets.  Differences arose among the board, presbytery, and the Laurensville community. John Wells Simpson held most of the debt as contractor. He was also longtime trustee board chairman for the female college. Dr. Simpson eventually agreed to receive less than half of the money due him. 
As part of the settlement, the Presbytery of South Carolina agreed to give up control of the college by December 1873, and a group of friends of the college would be seated as trustees who would themselves pay off the debt and attempt to keep the college open. The settlement created some ire, and in 1875, one of the college’s original donors, John A. Eigleberger, filed a lawsuit, complaining that the presbytery had abandoned the college. Eigelberger wanted the college property sold to pay the remaining debt. The presbytery responded by dropping the earlier settlement and appointing a new board of trustees, ensuring ongoing presbytery control of the institution. James Farrow was chosen as president of the college to succeed Major John A. Leland.[7], followed by Ferdinand Jacobs who served a second term 1878-1880.[8] By 1887, however, the school would rebound to success and have 160 students enrolled.[9] Laurensville Female College would eventually become Laurens’ first white public school.
One mile northeast of Martin's Depot (present Joanna) was a school in the 1860's in a small cabin. Rev. Barnett Smith, the famous Methodist circuit rider, and Billy Metts were the school’s teachers in 1877.[10]

In Clinton, there were both male and female academies. Mr. James Wright had a Methodist union Sabbath school until the war came. A later public subscription got a school building built,[11] but by 1864 near the end of the Uncivil War, Clinton teacher Mrs. R.S. Dunlap described the Clinton Academy thus, “The old academy building had gone to ruin, needed paint, all the glasses had been destroyed in the windows, some of the sashes had been carried off and the building was wholly unfit for school purposes in the winter.”[12]

The Clinton Library Society had public lectures for a dime admission at the Female Academy in April 1872 to raise money for a library. With people beginning to move into Clinton again, Dr. Jacobs, ever the visionary, held a meeting on August 31, 1872, in R.N.S. Young's store with the men who had built the Female Academy building and proposed a Clinton High School, coeducational, with a male, female, and music teacher. The men agreed. Dr. Jacobs was made President, and anyone could vote on the board for a $20 contribution. In October Thomas Craig gave land worth $100 for the school, and by December they had a curriculum. In the 1873‑74 academic year, the school had forty‑two pupils. Mr. Nickels J. Holmes[13] and his sister were the first teachers.[14] Jacobs was just getting started. He wrote in his journal in June 1874: “I hereby resolve to establish a college in the town of Clinton, as well as other institutions. I do it for the glory of God and to show that a poor country pastor, living in the least of villages, can do, if he will, great things for God.[15]
Thornwell Orphanage, Clinton, SC






[1] The Dr. Thomas Wadsworth Fund financed the poor school was located on the Laurens-Newberry County line in Milton near the Belfast House, the home of John D. Simpson and birthplace of William D. Simpson. The school was funded in 1808 through the estate lands of Dr. Thomas Wadsworth of Charleston in honor of and for the sons of the Revolutionary War veterans of Major William Dunlap’s 9th Battalion of lower Laurens District and of the Second Brigade. The Wadsworth poor school carried on until the War, doing much good. Poor children attended for free, but the stigma of going to a “poor school” kept many middle class families from sending their boys. Others supplemented the fund. The endowment invested in Confederate bonds and was lost during the war. State Board of Agriculture, South Carolina: Resources and Population, Institutions and Industries (Charleston, SC: Walter, Evans, and Cogswell, 1883), 475-6; R.F.W. Allston, Report on the Free School System in South Carolina (Charleston, SC: Miller & Browne, 1847), 3. Prior to the Wadsworth school, the Little River Presbyterian Church at Milton operated a school for orphans and indigent children from 1764 to the Revolutionary War. Dr. Abner Pyles operated a private school at Milton beginning in 1810. Liberty Springs Presbyterian Church at Cross Hill opened a school in 1799 headed by Rev. John McCosh as schoolmaster. Carol Hunter Senn, The Rural Schools of Laurens County, South Carolina, 1918 to 1950, Ph.D. dissertation (Clemson: Clemson University, 2006), 32-33.
[2]              Princeton Seminary Bulletin, vols. 1-3 (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University, 1909), 3:613.

[3]           The Laurens Male Academy was in operation 1848-1884. Its last principal as well as the last principal for the Clinton School for Young Ladies pushed for graded public schools in Laurens and Clinton. Senn, 34-35.

[4]           Originally the Misses Youngs’ School for Young Ladies, established in 1829. Senn, 34. Named for the first teachers, Dorothy Teague Young and Florella Young of Laurens, both graduates of Moravian College in Salem, NC. It was also called the Laurens Village School, the Laurens Female Seminary, and the Laurens Female Academy prior to 1856. Nancy Lu Wilson Rose, All Together Once More: The Poultons and Ladshaws in America (Indianapolis: Dog Ear Publishing, 2012), 38.
[5]           Garlington, 46.
[6]           Rose, 37.
[7]           James Farrow, born in Laurens and former member of the SC Legislature and the Confederate Congress and signer of the SC Ordinance of Secession, returned to Laurens in 1875 from Kansas City, Missouri, to assume the presidency of Laurensville Female College and oversee its growth. He is buried in Laurens City Cemetery.  Ezra J. Warner, Jr., and W. Buck Yearns, Biographical Register of the Confederate Congress (Baton Rouge, LA: LSU Press, 1975), “James Farrow.”
[8]           “Laurensville Female College,” Blue Notes, blog of Presbyterian College Archives and Special Collections, May 2010, https://www.presby.edu/archives-blog/2010/05/01/laurensville-female-college/. Accessed September 17, 2015.
[9]           Garlington, 47, 49‑50. See Appendix D. Scrapbook, 514. Jean Witherspoon Dillon, History of Laurens, South Carolina, (Clinton, SC: Presbyterian College, May 22, 1945), 8, adds: "Some differences arose and there was indebtedness which involved a lawsuit about 1875." The college opened in 1879 with eight students, but by year’s end enrollment was forty. In October 1879, the trustees were again saddled with the debt, but by 1880 when Ferdinand Jacobs resigned as president, he had led the board to pay off nearly the entire debt. The president’s office remained empty during the 1880-1881 school year, but Rev. John Dorroh Anderson had been appointed. In the meantime, “two most excellent and competent ladies” directed operations. By March of 1882, Anderson was in the president’s office, and he was reorganizing the college, updating and refurnishing the buildings, and 55 students enrolled. In 1884, forty-three students were enrolled and R.W. Milner was president. Down West Main Street, the Laurens Male Academy closed its doors in 1884, and its last principal urged a public graded school for Laurens. One hundred ten students enrolled in the fall of 1886, the largest enrollment in some time. Hard times hit again that year. Enrollment decreased in the face of a measles outbreak, funding was tight because of a crop failure, and Milner resigned. W.M. McCaslan replaced him, and enrollment reached 160 in 1889-1890, including 65 in intermediate and college courses. The Progressivist and populist trend by this time was toward state-funded public education. The college building was offered to the state government for a city public graded school and the remaining land transferred to the Presbyterian and Baptist churches to settle debts. By 1895, the Laurens Female College building had become the Laurens Graded School. “Laurensville Female College,” Blue Notes, blog of Presbyterian College Archives and Special Collections, May 2010, https://www.presby.edu/archives-blog/2010/05/01/laurensville-female-college/. Accessed September 17, 2015.
[10]          Scrapbook, 513.
[11]          Jacobs, Literary, 13.
[12]          Scrapbook, 503‑505. Senn, 35.
[13]          Nickels J. Holmes, son of the Presbyterian church planter Zelotes Lee Holmes (builder of the Octagon House and church planter of the First Presbyterian Churches in Clinton and Spartanburg), was educated at the University of Edinburgh, was later the pastor of the Second Presbyterian Church in Greenville, SC’s West End. Holmes would nearer the turn of the century become involved in the Holiness Movement and afterwards join the emerging Pentecostal movement, helping frame what would become the International Pentecostal Holiness Church and found what would become Holmes Bible College in Greenville, SC. The session of Second Presbyterian Church revoked his ordination when Holmes accepted the Pentecostal doctrine, but he never acknowledged their action.
[14]          Jacobs, Literary, 24‑25. In October 1880, Dr. Jacobs suggested the high school be made a college, and M.S. Bailey approved. Professor William States Lee of Edisto Island and Rev. Zelotes Lee Holmes were the first professors. The prep school was in the charge of "an excellent lady." "It was with a little degree of surprise at our own audacity and of amusement on the part of the town people that we made an announcement of what we had done upon the streets.[sic] It was to be a town institution only, co‑educational to care for our sons and daughters."
[15]          Jacobs, Life, 122.