Reminiscence of the Lancasterian School
B. O. Williams
My next and last attendance at a Detroit school, was the then celebrated and much prized Lancasterian, under the direction of Mr. Lemuel Shattuck, who came from Concord, Mass. It was opened in the new two-story brick building, and was probably the first school-house built in Detroit, after the great fire of 1805, if not the first ever erected exclusively for school purposes, in which the English language was taught. ... It had two distinct departments, one comprising the common English branches, on the ground floor, the room divided in the center, like church pews. The sexes on separate sides, and seated in classes of ten or twelve, facing each other at a double desk. Beginning with the sand scratchers, each class presided over by a scholar taken from a higher class seated at the end of the desks to preserve order and give instruction for the day or week.
There were broad aisles on the outsides, in which around half circles the classes recited their lessons to the instructor, standing within the circle with a pointer. The lessons for the juveniles, on placards upon the wall; all the classes reciting at the same time, being a school graded into classes. At the entrance end, between the doors, upon a raised platform, were seated two monitors, a young gentleman and lady from the high school, with desks and chairs, overlooking the whole room, keeping order, giving instruction, and receiving reports from those presiding over classes, and probably receiving pay. The principal, Mr. Shattuck, over all; quietly entering the room, passing around, giving instructions, sometimes carrying a small rattan, or raw-hide, but seldom used, except to tap a pupil on the shoulder when found playing or dozing.
There was very little corporal punishment. A system of rewards and fines in representatives of federal currency was used, mills, cents, half dimes, dimes, dollars and eagles. Probably few ever gained a dollar, and fewer an eagle (which was said to be of gold), the mills, cents, and half dimes were round bits of tin stamped L. S. for mills, the cents figure 1 and C., half dimes, 5c., the higher values on fine cards with principal's name written. Rewards for good scholarship, and fines for delinquencies, were given and exacted, at the end of the week.
Promotions. Any scholar standing at the head of the class three nights in succession, having been put back to the foot of the class each day, was allowed to graduate to the foot of the next higher class; and for any serious misconduct was sometimes put back a class, and compelled to climb up again, thus offering a double incentive for progress in studies and for good behavior.
The languages were, with mathematics and the higher branches of English, taught in the upper room, where Mr. Shattuck presided, and of its mysteries I knew nothing. That school was of more importance to me than all the others I ever attended for study, as it allowed the pupils to advance according to their industry and application to their studies, and were not held back by duller scholars, a fault I greatly fear often the case under our present school system, and which has a tendency to level down too much for the general good, if no improvement can ever be effected, by those having our schools in charge.
I must now refer briefly to a subject that perhaps the least said the better, but as it was probably among the first, if not the first, attempt at counterfeiting or issuing of bogus currency in the territory, ought to be preserved. The cupidity, or the temptation to do wrong, so often found among scholars, caused the counterfeiting of the tin mills and cents, and I believe tin half dimes. Some blacksmith had imitated very closely the genuine stamp or dies used, and large issues were put in circulation about the time or shortly before we removed from Detroit. The bogus coin although of same size and fineness of metal, had somewhat larger letters, and was readily detected when closely examined, and caused quite a sensation, which I believe led to a radical change in the system of reward and fines, as I afterwards heard that it was feared by the patrons of the school, that its tendency was to develop very undesirable passions and genius.
Source: "My Recollections of the Early Schools of Detroit That I Attended From the Year 1816 to 1819," by B. O. Williams, in Pioneer Collections: Report of the Pioneer Society of the State of Michigan, v. 5 (Lansing, 1884), pp. 549-550.