Colonial Schools

Kid’s Corner

Colonial Schools

In early Connecticut, towns with 70 families had to have a school for six months a year. Students did not have to attend school for all six months, but the schools had to be there in case they wanted to attend. The churches ran the schools, and religion was an important part of education. The West Division had several schoolhouses in the 1770s, so most students walked less than a mile or two to school.

One-room schoolhouses were plain and often located in the middle of roads because no one wanted to use good farmland for schools. As they worked, students heard the noises of people walking and farm carts rumbling by on dirt roads. The only heat came from fireplaces. Candles were costly, so most light came from small windows.

Teachers did not have very many tools: no globes, no blackboards, no bulletin boards. Most students owned their own primers, but sometimes books were shared in class. Students wrote with quill pens in copybooks that they made at home. They also used slates to practice their lessons. New England schoolhouses did not have desks or chairs. Students sat straight on hard, backless benches.

Because teachers were not well trained, students spent most of their time reciting and memorizing lessons. Most lessons did not teach students to think, just imitate. All grades were taught in one room at one time by one teacher. Sometimes there were up to 70 students in one class. Younger students sat in the front, while older students sat in the back.

Boys usually went to school in the winter, when there were fewer farm chores for them to do, while girls and younger children went to school in the summer. Students ranged in age from 4 to 20 years old. When their parents needed them to work at home, they did not go to school. Many students did chores before school, went to school from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m., did more chores, and then played afterwards.

The teachers were sometimes not much older than their students. Many were not trained, were poorly paid, and relied on students’ parents for room and board.

Noah Webster spent much of his life trying to improve American education through his writings. Thanks to his reforms, schools have changed for the better.

Life in 1700s Connecticut

Kid’s Corner

Life in 1770s Connecticut

In colonial days, West Hartford was the West Division of Hartford. By the 1770s, the town was 100 years old. The town had blacksmiths, schoolmasters, doctors, weavers, shoemakers, a minister, farmers, cabinetmakers, millers, servants and merchants. Some of the African-Americans who lived in town were slaves (called servants) and some were free. Most were farmers and some practiced trades.

Boys learned by helping men with chores on the farm. They cleared land, built fences, butchered animals and split wood. They also planted, cared for and harvested crops. Most boys grew up to farm land and work at skills like weaving and shoe making. Some, like Noah, went to college to study law or the ministry. Others became merchants who ran shops. Some became apprentices who learned trades like blacksmithing and printing.

Women trained girls to be wives and mothers by having them help around the house. Girls helped with cooking, preserving food, caring for children, cleaning the house, washing clothes and gardening. They milked cows, churned butter and made cheese.

After the men and boys grew flax and sheared sheep, girls and single women did the spinning, knitting, sewing and sometimes weaving. Girls spun wool and flax so that it could be woven or knitted. They usually brought yarn to weavers to have cloth woven, and then used the cloth to make clothing and sacks. Girls sewed by hand with strong, tiny stitches that would hold clothes together during washings and years of wear.

Most girls became wives and mothers who worked on the farm and in the house. Some became midwives, servants, tavern keepers or schoolmistresses. Girls could not go to college.

Just like us, colonists played and worked hard and counted on others to get goods and services needed to live comfortably.

Noah’s Family

Kid’s Corner

Noah’s Family

Noah’s Father: Noah Webster, Sr.

Noah Webster, Sr. was the son of Daniel and Miriam Kellogg Webster and a descendant of John Webster, the first governor of Connecticut. He was born in the West Division on March 25, 1722 and married Mercy Steele on January 12, 1749 when he was 26 years of age. He was a farmer and a weaver. Noah, Sr. served in the French and Indian War and was a militia captain on the alarm list, for men over forty-five, during the Revolution. In addition, he was involved in the Congregational Church and at one time even served as deacon. He was also appointed by the Connecticut state legislature to serve as a justice of the peace from 1781 to 1796. In 1806, twelve years after Mercy’s death, at 84 years of age, Noah, Sr. married Sarah Hopkins and went to live on her farm in another part of the West Division. He died on November 9, 1813 at the age of 91 and was buried in the Center Cemetery.

Noah’s Mother: Mercy Steele Webster

Mercy, born in 1727, was the daughter of Eliphalet and Catherine Steele. Mercy was a descendant of William Bradford. She married Noah Webster, Sr. in 1749 when she was 22 years old. Rebecca Greenleaf Webster remembered Mercy “as a woman of great intelligence and energy; a gentle loving mother and care-taker, looking well to the ways of her household…who…carried on the farm quite successfully while her husband and sons were in the war of the Revolution.” Mercy was 67 when she died in 1794, possibly of dysentery. She was buried in Center Cemetery, where her husband would eventually join her.

Noah’s Eldest Sister: Mercy Webster Belding

Mercy was born on November 8, 1749. She married John Kellogg Belding on September 18, 1769, at the age of 19. Mercy and John lived a few miles away from Noah, Sr., on today’s Mountain Road. They had seven children, two of whom died as infants. Mercy died on August 12, 1820. She was 70 years old.

Noah’s Eldest Brother: Abraham Webster

Abraham was born on September 17, 1751. In 1774, at the age of 23, he was given one-half acre of land and a house across from what is now the Rockledge Country Club. In January of 1775, he married Rachel Merrill of New Hartford. Rachel died in child-birth on January 19, 1776, and their son died just six days later. Both were buried in the Center Cemetery, next to where the Websters would eventually be buried. On February 1, 1776, just after his wife’s death, Abraham enlisted in the Continental Army, joined his company at Canaan and marched to Albany, then to Fort George, Ticonderoga, then on to Montreal. He was captured during the Battle of the Cedars in the spring of 1776, but was released due to smallpox. Abraham’s enlistment ended on February 1, 1777. After he returned to the West Division, his father gave him an additional 10 acres of land. He married Dorothy (Dolly) Seymour on February 17, 1778 and they had five children, all of whom were born in the West Division prior to 1786. In 1790, Abraham moved his family to Stockbridge, Massachusetts, but by 1803 they were living in Hamilton, New York. Dolly died in 1819 and Abraham married Eunice Childs, his third wife, in 1822. He died in New York in 1831 at age 80.

Noah’s Older Sister: Jerusha Webster Lord

Jerusha was born on January 22, 1756 and married Joel Lord of Salisbury, Connecticut on November 12, 1778, when she was 22 years of age. Noah may have lived with them during the year 1780-81. Jerusha and Joel moved to Darby, Thompkins County, New York where Jerusha died on February 21, 1821, at the age of 64. Jerusha’s and Abraham’s moves westward to New York were typical of their generation. Many of their contemporaries left Connecticut as land grew scarcer.

Noah’s Younger Brother: Charles Webster

Charles was born on September 2, 1762. He married Betsy Woodruff of Farmington on December 11, 1783 when he was 21 years old. Betsy bore three sons. In 1787, a letter written to Noah by Charles indicated that he was adding a brick lean-to onto his parents’ home. In 1791 Charles bought a house near the meeting house, and his parents might have lived there with him. During this time, Charles operated a store in which he sold “European and India goods,” crockery, nails, fabrics, groceries and hardware. In 1799, he became a Quaker and sold his house. The following year Charles and his family moved to Park Road, where his wife Betsy owned a house. She died in 1810 at the age of 51. In 1811 Charles married Joanna Wilkinson. They had two children before Charles died in 1817 at age 55.

Noah Webster Facts Sheet

Kid’s Corner

Facts about Noah Webster

  • The name, Webster, means “female weaver.”
  • He went to Yale and was the only one of the Webster’s five children to go past grammar school.
  • Noah and Nathan Hale were at Yale at the same time: Hale was three years ahead of Noah.
  • He socialized with Ben Franklin, who was known as quite a lively character.
  • When he asked his father for money to study law, his father gave him worthless currency.
  • Noah loved music and dancing.
  • He once lived in a house in New Haven that belonged to Benedict Arnold.
  • Noah and Rebecca had six daughters and two sons.
  • He was invited to the White House for dinner but was not impressed with his visit.
  • The dictionary took Noah 27 years to compile and was published when he was 70 years old.
  • Noah’s, An American Dictionary, published in 1828, contained 70,000 words.
  • As an adult, Noah was frequently in debt.
  • Noah’s New Haven home was saved by Henry Ford and moved to Greenfield Village in Dearborn, Michigan.
  • Noah became more conservative in politics and religion as he aged.
  • Noah helped form the Society for the Promotion of Freedom in 1792, which was an early abolitionist group.
  • Noah received less than one cent per copy from the 25 million “Blue-Backed Spellers” sold in his lifetime.
  • Possibly as many as 100 million copies of the “Blue-Backed. Speller” were sold through the end of the 19th-century.
  • Noah was very outspoken and frequently pointed out the flaws of others.
  • Noah was not elected to the Constitutional Convention because of his open criticism of Connecticut leaders’ financing of the Revolutionary War.
  • Noah remained committed to education throughout his life. He believed that the survival of the United States depended on its educated people.
  • Noah died in 1843 at the age of 85. He is buried in New Haven’s Grove Street Cemetery.