In attending the recent commencement exercises of Bartlett Yancey High School, I could not help but reflect upon how education has evolved throughout the history of Caswell County. The concept that all young men and women of the human race can receive an equal and free public education was once the far-fetched idea of a select few and thought completely impossible by the rest of society. Today it seems, we often take for granted this long fought for establishment. Those one hundred and ninety graduates of the Class of 2019 are the direct product of a simple idea conceived of many years ago right here in Caswell County.
What does the name Bartlett Yancey, Jr. mean to you? Does the name Archibald Debow Murphey ring a bell? It should. Both natives of Caswell County, the very concept of public education in the State of North Carolina is largely due to the efforts of these two gentlemen. In future articles, I’ll more properly introduce these men to you one at a time. For now, let the concise but wise words of the namesake of our only high school be committed to your hearts and minds:
“The progress of society and civilization depends upon the education and virtue of the people.” -Bartlett Yancey, Jr.
No doubt preceded by the one on one tutoring afforded by those of substantial means in the county, the first public institution established for education in Caswell County was announced in the Weekly Raleigh Register on November 22nd, 1802, just twenty- five years after the county’s founding. Consistent with a letter written by Bartlett Yancey, Jr. in 1810, Caswell Academy was established in 1803 after two years of planning and fundraising. The Reverend Hugh Shaw and Bartlett Yancey, Jr. were the first teachers there along with fifty-five to sixty five students annually. Caswell Academy was located in the county seat, Caswell Court House, now named Yanceyville and was located in the block between present day Barco Street and Atwater Street. I find it a beautiful coincidence that it was located where now the Caswell County Schools Administration Building is which was the former Bartlett Yancey Elementary School. The Academy lasted until 1925 when the Bartlett Yancey School which became the Elementary School was built. What a legacy of education all in one location!
Another similar concept for an Academy was brought to fruition in 1804 in the Red House community near Semora and Hyco Lake. It was named Hyco Academy. Much more prone to bad luck than its counterpart in the county seat, Hyco Academy was consumed by fire on at least three occasions. During its tenure, between thirty and forty students were educated there annually, as noted in Bartlett Yancey, Jr.’s letter in 1810. Eventually it was rebuilt as a “handsome and elegant” brick structure, but nothing remains of the site as far as I am aware at the present. Wouldn’t it be neat to find the former location of this early institution of education!
In discovering early 19th century newspaper advertisements for these academies, which flourished in the 1800s in Caswell County, including at least two female academies, it has always intrigued me to research what these early classical forms of education must have been like. The following is a portion of the advertisement for Caswell Academy in 1802 in the Weekly Raleigh Register:
“…for the reception of students to be taught the different branches of Literature; to wit, Reading, Writing, Arithmetic, the Latin and Greek languages, Geography, Natural and Moral Philosophy, Astronomy, etc, etc, under the direction of the Reverend Hugh Shaw. The terms for teaching the Latin and Greek languages, together with the sciences will be 14 dollars per Annum; Reading, Writing and Arithmetic, 7 dollars per annum.”
Being able to read, write and do simple arithmetic was considered a high-status accomplishment in the early years of Caswell County. How far we have come! Within your own lifetimes, think of how far education has progressed. Many from the past, including great minds from our little “neck of the woods” fought to establish what we have now and many since then have given their all to public education in Caswell County. We have come a long way, and there is progress still to be made. Though it be through different methods than those taught by our forebearers, from quill and ink by candlelight to the computerized age and smartphones, in the words of Bartlett Yancey, Jr. “The progress of society and civilization (still) depends upon the education and virtue of the people.”