Desktop version

Home arrow History

Education and vocations

Most people were farmers, but colonists learned technical skills on the job. This didn't always mean you had to be an indentured servant to gain a skill; Ben Franklin (the youngest boy of 16 children) learned to be a printer by working for his brother.

In England, education was a privilege of the elite, not a basic right for everyone. Things were different in New England, where public elementary schools supported by towns and counties started in the 1600s. In the Middle colonies, schools were sometimes free and sometimes private, for-pay institutions. In the South, where distances between plantations could be large, families tended to rely on private tutors.

Early Puritan religion taught that everyone should be able to read the Bible. Students went to school when they could spare time away from their chores on the family farm. In all schools, whipping was the rule. Students memorized Latin and Greek and didn't talk back to their teachers for fear of being whipped.

Christian ministers were the most respected professionals in the colonies. Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Brown, and almost all the other original colleges were established to train ministers. Lawyers weren't universally loved in the pioneer societies; a few colonies even passed laws against them. Some early settlers even thought that lawyers deliberately made disputes worse just so they could make money from them. Physicians learned their trade from hanging around other doctors in the early days; the first medical school in the colonies wasn't founded until 1765. Bleeding (deliberately draining blood from the patient in order to eliminate an "excess of humors" thought to be the cause of the illness) was a favorite form of treatment, and epidemics were common.

Smallpox affected one in five people; George Washington was a heavily pockmarked survivor of the disease. The first crude inoculation for smallpox was given in 1721, but it took a hundred years to catch on. An epidemic of diphtheria in the 1730s took thousands of lives and helped scare people into the First Great Awakening, covered in the later section "Changing Attitudes toward Religion"

< Prev   CONTENTS   Next >

Related topics