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Reflections by Sammy Way: The history of Sumter-area schools

By SAMMY WAY
Sumter Item archivist and historian
Posted 6/27/20

Reflections remembers the development of Sumter's education system and the construction of numerous schools attended by local students. Due to the length of the history of the Sumter school systems, it will be presented in three parts. The author …

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Reflections by Sammy Way: The history of Sumter-area schools

Posted

Reflections remembers the development of Sumter's education system and the construction of numerous schools attended by local students. Due to the length of the history of the Sumter school systems, it will be presented in three parts. The author used historic data retrieved from The Item archives. An article written by John Mitchell in the 65th Anniversary-Progress Edition in 1959 also made extensive use of the writings of Dr. Anne King Gregorie and Cassie Nicholes. Due to the length of the data used, a degree of editing was required.

In 1682, "when lands which eventually became the Sumter District and later Sumter County were part of the elastic Craven County of the Colony of South Carolina, children didn't trudge through rain and snow to a little log schoolhouse because there weren't any." By 1708, Craven County, originally laid out to extend inward from the Atlantic shore only 35 miles, had stretched to the North Carolina line and was broken up into parishes for elective representation in the provincial Commons House." According to the writings of Anne King Gregorie, in History of Sumter County, "what was to become Sumter County was included in St. Mark's Parish, and by 1740, settlers gradually infiltrated the area along the eastern side of the Wateree and around Black River in what was to become Salem."

Early teachers

At first, a number of ministers and one surveyor, Wood Furman, tutored youngsters interested in learning. Wood Furman followed his profession and taught the youngsters in the High Hills near Stateburg. Among the ministers who doubled as schoolmasters were the Rev. Charles Woodmason of St. Marks and the Rev. Dr. Thomas Reese of Salem Black River (the Old Brick Presbyterian Church).

"The Old Brick Church, erected in 1759, was the first known to have been built in St. Mark's Parish. St. Mark's Church was completed in 1767. Sometime before 1800 three counties - Claremont, Clarendon and Salem - were formed in this area, and Sumter District was organized to unite these three counties on the first day of January in 1800. Sumterville had become a village three years before."

"Little is known of the early schools in Sumterville, according to Gregorie's History of Sumter County. In 1827, Maj. Thomas Theus opened the Sumter Military, Gymnastic and Classical School on Harvin Street. Thomas Baker, Thomas Dugan and John Mayrant seem to have had a share in this enterprise. Cost was not to exceed $300 a year for each student. Manchester had a school sometime prior to 1856, and in Lynchburg, the Lynchburg Academy for boys was opened in 1856."

Old field schools

During the early days of the Sumter District, first houses of learning were "the old field schools," old log cabins on abandoned fields or the log churches. Most wills at that time made some provision for education of children, and in 1798, the Clarendon Orphan Society was chartered to establish a public school to keep helpless orphans from growing up illiterate."

"South Carolina enacted a free-school law in 1811, and John B. Miller was one of the first board of seven Free School Commissioners for the Claremont election district."

"In 1857, the report of W.F.B. Haynsworth, secretary-treasurer of the board, shows 52 free schools in Sumter District, with 589 pupils. Eight of these were in Sumter, including the largest with an enrollment of 37."

"Each pupil was listed to pay five cents a day or $3 a quarter or $6 a session. The state appropriated $1,800 and the patrons paid $796.91, so the total school budget for Sumter District in 1857 was less than $2,600."