Friday, 4 March 2016

John Frederick Augustus Sykes Fayette & The Wellington Institute

In earlier posts about local black settlement history of Waterloo County, I have noted that some were ex-slaves who came here with the hope and prospect of a better life that would free them from the chains of enslavement. Theirs is a powerful story that encompasses the hardship of their journey here (as well as their previous life) and the humanity of those neighbours who helped them. Of those who lent aid to the newcomers, Mennonites, such as local merchant (and later Reeve) Henry Sauder Huber offered bags of seed and tools for farming since those who arrived as ex-slaves often were lacking in both money and material necessities that would enable them to survive the difficult task of clearing bush and planting crops. In other cases, Mennonites also provided employment opportunities for their black neighbours especially during the busy season of harvesting.
                                             (Reeve) Henry Sauder Huber (1819-1872)

I have also documented here in this blog some of the early schools and churches that were established in the Queen's Bush area during the first half of the 19th century but it is another school, established by a man of colour, that I am writing about today. This school was in operation for only a short period of time but its impact was significant, as were several of its locally renowned students (one of whom became mayor of Berlin. Another became the town treasurer and county clerk. More on this in a moment).....

Education per se was an important value in early Waterloo County (for both boys and girls) and schools were established early on in conjunction with the ongoing development of the growing community. Thomas Pearce, veteran school inspector for Waterloo County, gave this historical account of early schools for the 1914 Waterloo Historical Society Annual Volume:

"That desire to have their children receive a good, practical education, which is a marked characteristic of the inhabitants of this county today, manifested itself just as strongly in the pioneers in the early part of the last century. Prior to 1842 all schools were voluntary. They were kept in private houses, meeting houses, abandoned dwellings, unused shops or under any available and convenient shelter. On in the 20’s and 30’s an occasional small log schoolhouse was built and paid for by private subscription. Schools were kept open during the winter months only. The teachers were mostly itinerants—ex—soldiers or unsuccessful tradesmen—who were engaged in other occupations the rest of the year. Their scholarship was unknown, examinations and certificates being unheard of.

At first glance, these few sentences tell us a number of things but perhaps, for the purpose of this particular post, we are interested in the portions that I have underlined: that is, prior to 1842, schools in Waterloo County (incidentally similar in other areas) were voluntary and that the teachers who taught in them were most often ex-soldiers or..... and I really like this (not!) that they were "unsuccessful" tradesmen--yikes! Yup, your business isn't doing so well so why not teach? Not exactly a sterling endorsement by a long shot... Better still is the "their scholarship was unknown." Presumably, we can take from this description that teaching credentials were somewhat, shall I say, subjective?  (We can have no doubt that at least some of the teachers were excellent and learned such as Bishop Benjamin Eby who wrote numerous teaching booklets and materials for the Berlin Central School as well as others such as what we know today as the 1820 Log Schoolhouse in Waterloo, Ontario). Another case in point is that teaching, or rather the curriculum as it was taught then, consisted mostly of teaching children to read (often using the Bible), to write and to do "sums" ie add, subtract, multiply and divide. Pretty basic stuff. No standardized curriculum or coursework offerings like Geography or Grammar--only what was considered to be the most important for literacy and survival. The basics.

Around 1840, Ohio "Western Reserve College" theology graduate, John Frederick Augustus Sykes Fayette was working as a missionary and travelling throughout southern Ontario when he came to Waterloo County. It is here that he established a private school in Berlin, ON. The school was located in a building that was behind the Red Lion Hotel (which was located on King Street East). This would have been very significant to the citizens of this area for several reasons, none the least of which is that its scope was to elevate the non-regulated curriculum by offering instruction in map-reading (Geography) and the first of its kind locally to formally teach English Grammar.  In fact, Fayette was heads above many of the other teachers simply by education. He was a university graduate at a time when most students ended school sometime around the Grade 8 level! What is also significant is that, as a man of colour, he came here of his own volition and was not a slave. Pearce describes him specifically as being " a well-educated mulatto."**
**An ancestry search revealed an early marriage record for Fayette in Ohio where he is described as being "white." In fact, it was not uncommon for black folks whose features were light to live as or self- identify publicly as white.

The Wellington Institute school opened in December of 1840 and charged what was then a reasonable rate for tuition: $2.00/student as well as a personal provision for fuel**

**Tuition rates always included the requirement that a student provide his or her portion of fuel (wood or coal, as indicated) to be used collectively to heat the classroom in addition to financial remuneration most often for teacher's salaries.

Although many of Berlin's merchant class could afford the fees for the school, there were those who could not and Fayette eventually ran out of money (and into debt). The school closed and Fayette left the area. Further investigation revealed that he went to the Hamilton area where he served as a minister for the Barton Stone United Church from 1845 to 1850. The article attached to this link describes Fayette as being a friend and sympathizer of John Brown the famous abolitionist. For a time, Fayette served as an Ontario School Superintendent before retiring in London, ON where he died in 1876. Here is a copy of the marriage record for his daughter, Elizabeth, from 1869:

As I mentioned earlier, two of his students had notable contributions to the local history of Waterloo Region, as well. The first of these was Jacob Yost Schantz who grew up to be a number of things: a businessman, mayor and later, a supporter of Mennonite resettlement from Russia into Manitoba. I have a personal interest in this man as he also was locally known for his herbal concoctions and cancer treatments, not unlike another man who I have researched extensively-Christian Eby (grandson of Bishop Benjamin Eby). More on both of these men and the practise of local folk medicine in another post. When he attended Fayette's Wellington Institute he was 18yrs old.
Jacob Yost Schantz (1822-1909) 
Another student of distinction was Israel David Bowman who attended the school at the tender age of 11. Bowman's later career included becoming the Reeve for the village of Berlin in 1858 and in 1861 he was appointed as the County Clerk as well as the Clerk for the village of Berlin. It is in this capacity that Bowman is arguably best known. You may recall an earlier photo that I posted of the 1820 Log Schoolhouse reunion that took place in West Side Park (today Waterloo Park) in 1895? Well, Bowman was also an alumni of that school and also appears in that photo (see below)
Israel D. Bowman (1830-1896)

The story of John Frederick Augustus Sykes Fayette, I think, is an important one with regard to local black history but perhaps, more so as an account of early education and how one man attempted to upgrade the quality of it at a time when standardization of the curriculum was in its infancy. Although the Wellington Institute school was short-lived, the desire for quality education was something that never left this community and in addition to the area's elementary, middle and secondary schools the region is home to 2 universities--Wilfrid Laurier University and University of Waterloo as well as one community college--Conestoga College Institute of Technology. I think Fayette would be proud to know he played a part in it all.....

No comments:

Post a comment