John Chapman Starts a School for the Children

That night before they separated the settlers decided to come together in the morning and with their axes build a log schoolhouse where John Chapman was to be the teacher on week days and carry on his Bible school on Sunday. Never were appliances more meagre, and never did a good man's skill make appliances less necessary.

For blackboard they had a smoothed plank on which the teacher wrote with a piece of yellow ochre found on the banks of the Ohio. Copying the letter or word the children learned to write. Each scholar had a little box filled with white sand. With a stick the boy traced in the sand the word the teacher had written on the board. To erase that word he rubbed a round stick over the sand, and then wrote another. Paper was scarce enough. For pens the children searched in the forest for a feather dropped by some wild fowl flying southward. For ink they scraped the soot from the chimney in the cabin, mixed that soot with a little water, and with it boiled the husk of the black walnut that made an excellent ink, ink indeed with which Washington wrote all his letters in his first surveying expedition in the forest.

But the great need was of books. Fortunately one old settler had been a soldier in the Revolution and owned a Life of Washington . Another loaned the teacher a copy of the Pilgrim's Progress and of Poor Richard's Almanac. But the basis of instruction in the reading classes was the grand old Psalms with which Oliver Cromwell led the Ironsides, the Sermon on the Mount and the great chapters of Paul. When the classes began to read, these books passed from one child's hand to another.

What a transformation the orchardist wrought in the community! His early days had been spent in his father's library, and all his instincts were the instincts of a scholar. He loved the truth, and he knew how to send the truth home with the full power of the living man. Little wonder that the enthusiasm of the school became a sacred contagion in the new settlements. This man who worked for his orchards in the summer now toiled as tirelessly for children in the winter. He knew each boy as an open book with all his strength and weaknesses. And working with the father and mother he straightened the faculty that had been crooked, and wrought wonders upon the forest children .

The Quest of John Chapman The Story of a Forgotten Hero By Newell Dwight Hillis Published 1904