It’s mid-May and we are in the throes of graduation season, primarily celebrating the final step toward receiving a high school or college diploma. The earliest institution in Frederick’s rich educational history was Frederick College, once located on the corner of Counsel (Council) and Record streets in the Court Square neighborhood of downtown Frederick. It played a pivotal role as a model for the nation’s early educational facilities. The school represented both a college and high school, as few people would ascertain this higher level of learning at the time of its founding in the late 1700s. The school's first principal is buried here in Mount Olivet, along several other former administrators and teachers. His name is Samuel Knox
With its publication in 1910, T.J.C. Williams’ History of Frederick County chronicled the background of this school, affectionately referred to as “the old Academy” by former students and townspeople alike.
“As early as 1763, when this territory was largely wilderness, the (Maryland General) Assembly granted a charter to the Frederick County School and College. Thomas Cresap, Thomas Beatty, Nathan Magruder. Capt. Joseph Chapline, John Darnall, Colonel Samuel Beall and Rev. Thomas Bacon were named as the first Board of Visitors. Strenuous times followed in an effort to realize practically the good sought in the establishment of this pioneer institution. The years of the Revolutionary War put an effective stop to much effort in this direction, and it was not until 1796 that appreciable headway was made, when, partly through the aid of a lottery (a recognized means in those days), the public-spirited generosity of the community was rewarded by seeing erected the first building which is still used as the College.
In 1797 a grant was made by the Assembly, and the School was opened with Samuel Knox, a Presbyterian minister, as its first Principal. It is interesting to note in this connection that it was from Dr. Knox that Thomas Jefferson got his scheme and plans for the University of Virginia. As the years went by the School prospered under the unremitting vigilance and fostering care of the Visitors, who invariably were our leading citizens, and who thought no attention and effort were too big a price to pay for the fostering of this School, which was to be a blessing to our boys
The records of the early hours of work (as early as 6 A. M. in the Summer months) with the three sessions a day, the almost continuous course from the last of August to the last of July, the daily exhortation to right living and the hour of prayer would make many of our boys of today glad that they did not live in those times, and yet some of the strongest men in the State and Nation came from the walls of the old Academy equipped for life's battles as many of our day are not. Duels were fought and punishment inflicted in the early years of the last century, and the boys took what came to them like men.
A fact not generally known is that in 1824, a place on the faculty was sought by a young man from New Hampshire, who was on his way to Ohio; he failed to secure the desired position and continued on his way West and years afterward came East and became known to the Nation in many capacities as Salmon P. Chase.
(NOTE: Chase (1808-1873) was a U.S. politician and jurist who served as the sixth Chief Justice of the United States. He also served as the 23rd Governor of Ohio, represented Ohio in the United States Senate, and served as the 25th United States Secretary of the Treasury.)
In 1830 a Collegiate charter was granted by the Assembly, and under it ever since good work has been done. Eight scholars are educated by the College absolutely without charge and ministers and missionaries, physicians and lawyers, merchants and farmers have here secured at no cost to them, the education and training that gave them their place in the world. During the Civil War, the buildings were used, as were most of our churches, for a hospital after the battle of Antietam.
For years Jesse Stapleton Bonsall was Principal, and was known probably to more students than any one teacher that filled that position. Severe, stern, unsparing of self, devoted to his work, the very soul of a high honor, he instilled into his boys the very essence of his life, and by his life and teaching imbued them with the spirit of the School as set forth in its motto: “Non scholae sed vitae; vitae utrique,”—Not for school but for life, both lives.
To call a roster of the boys trained here would read like a census list of this place, and the surrounding country, and would include the names of many long since scattered to the uttermost parts of the United States. The old institution, a pioneer in 1797, a vigorous factor for sound education and morality for more than one hundred years, a blessing and a pride to our community, still wears its venerable smile as it hears of the well-doing of its children, and listen with concern as they come back to tell of the buffetings they have received from the hard, material world. Frederick with its rich historic heritage of great men and stirring events, serenely resting amid the rush and clamor of present day strenuous endeavor, is a fit setting for this old School, grown hoary with the accumulated memories of more than three generations of men.
Frederick College would be supplanted by Boys’ High School as the area’s top place for education in the early years of the 20th century. In 1916, the old Academy structure became the new home of the Frederick County Free Library which had opened in 1914 and moved in here in 1916. The library would operate at this location for the next 23 years before donating its collection to the town’s new C. Burr Artz Library which opened in 1938. In building the new library, the Academy building would be razed in 1936.
Rev. Samuel Knox
Samuel Knox was born in the year 1756 in County Armagh, Ireland. Apparently, he was from a poor Scotch-Irish Presbyterian family and little else is known about his childhood. He married Grace Gilman in Dublin in 1774. The couple were the parents of four daughters.
The Knox family arrived in Maryland by 1786 and was known to be living in Bladensburg. Here, he taught at a grammar school from 1788-1789. Knox returned to Europe in 1789, and received a Master of Arts from the University of Glasgow in 1792. While there he received Greek and Latin scholarships. After the Presbytery of Belfast licensed him for the ministry, he returned to the United States and was assigned by the Baltimore Presbytery to the Bladensburg pastorate (1795–1797).
In 1796, the American Philosophical Society held a contest to design the best system of education for the United States. Samuel Knox entered, proposing a system of national instruction particularly designed for this “wide extent of territory, inhabited by citizens blending together almost all the various manners and customs of every country in Europe.” Providing elementary education for both girls and boys, uniform training and salaries for teachers, standard textbooks produced by a national university press, with a college in every state each charging the same fees and tuition, and at “the fountain head of science” a national university, Knox’s ambitious plan won second prize.
Rev. Knox performed the dual duties associated with rural Presbyterian ministers of the time. He was a schoolteacher and a “supply pastor,” charged with the religious congregation in Frederick, which he served from 1797–1803. Old papers are full of wedding announcements performed by the Irish clergyman.
At first, Knox was a heralded figure in Frederick. His reputation preceded him. He was accomplished as a writer of not only award-winning essays and published works. In addition to his religious and educational duties, Knox engaged in the political debates of the day, writing pamphlets in 1798 on English Separatist theologian Joseph Priestley’s “avowed Religious Principles.” In 1800, Knox wrote A Vindication of the Religion of Mr. Jefferson and a Statement of his Services in the Cause of Religious Liberty. Herein, Knox approved of Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom.
Speaking of founding fathers, Knox exchanged correspondences with other men of mark including our George Washington. The following is a letter penned by Knox to President Washington in October 1798.
Being About to publish, by subscription an Essay on the best Method of Introducing an Uniform System of Education adapted to the United States, I Beg leave to solicit the favour of your permission to prefix to it an Introductory address to you.
Though I own this Request is dictated by a share of vanity in presuming to be ambitious of so high a recommendatory sanction to my Essay; yet I truly declare that, what has chiefly prompted me thereto arises from a desire to express, on a Subject of that Nature, How much I Consider the Cause of Education indebted to your patronage through the whole of your publick Character.
The Essay I am about to publish, obtain’d the premium offer’d by the Philosophical Society of Philadelphia, on that subject, together with one written by a Mr Smith of that place. The Society passed a Resolution to publish them; but were disappointed by the Printer who had Undertaken that Business.
On being inform’d of this by their Secretary, And that the publication would be, on this Account, long retarded, by the advice of some friends I was induc’d to publish it, by subscription, in this State—from the view of its, probably, having some effect in turning the attention of our State-Legislature to that Subject. From this view I have Received the Manuscript from the Secretary of the Phil[adelph]ia Philosophical Society; And shall proceed to publish [as] soon as I Can ascertain whether I am to Have the Honour of dedicating or addressing it to you.
Two or three weeks since I was at Alexandria, designing to have personally waited on you; And if necessary to have given you some view of the Essay—Doctor Steuart near that place who has long known me, promised doing me the favour of introducing me to you; But learning that the State of your Health, at that time, forbade any such trouble, I flatter’d myself that this mode of application might be equally as proper—especially, as I have had the pleasure of seeing it announc’d to the Publick that your Health is again perfectly restor’d.
I Have Spent more than twenty years of my Life in the Education of youth. A considerable part of that time I Resided at Bladensburgh in this State—and remember having once had the Honour of being Introduc’d to you by Coll Fitzgerald of Alexandria—at a publick Examination of the youth in that Academy. Since that time I Study’d four years at one of the most celebrated Universities in Britain—and recd a Master of Art’s Degree, from the view of being Useful to Myself; this Country in particular; and Society in general—in the line of my profession as a Teacher of Youth—and a Minister of the Gospel. On my return to this Country I was offer’d the Charge of the Alexandria-Academy by its Visitors or Trustees with a Salary of 200 pounds Currency per Annum. But having a family to Support, I did not Consider their terms sufficiently liberal; or promising me a sufficient Compensation for the preparatory expence I Had been at in qualifying Myself for the Business.
I take the Liberty of Mentioning these circumstances merely from the view of informing you that in presuming to Solicit the Sanction of your Name to my Publication; and in venturing to lay My thoughts before an enlighten’d Publick on so important a Subject, It has not been without long experience in, as well as mature attention to the most improved Methods of publick Education.
Joining in the general tribute of sincere Congratulation; and thanks to Divine Providence for the restoration of your Health, I am, Sir, your Most devoted Obedt Hble Servt,
(Source: National Archives’ Founders Online website - www.founders/archives.gov)
Upon Washington’s death in December, 1799, Knox was held in esteem here locally along with others like Thomas Johnson, Jr., a longtime friend of our first president. In March, Knox and his students from the academy would take part in a memorial funeral procession for George Washington through the streets of town and culminating at Frederick’s Presbyterian Church, once located at the southwest corner of North Bentz Street and Dill Avenue. Knox would deliver the funeral oration.
In late May, 1800, Knox would have the distinct honor of delivering a sermon for a church service with our second president of the United States—John Adams. Adams was traveling through Frederick County and stayed the night. Rev. Knox home church structure being too small, services were conducted in the more spacious Lutheran church in town here.
Rev. Knox was no stranger to speaking his mind and ruffling feathers. Late in 1802, Knox wrote an open letter to the 16 trustees of the Frederick Town Academy lamenting the fact that none of them had attended the December 23rd examination at the school. He went on to give the full results of the exams and attributed the absence of many trustees to political party spirit. In this letter that was published in the Dec 31st edition of Bartgis’s Republican Gazette, Rev. Knox also gave himself a big pat on the back by including a December 14th letter from the faculty of the College of New Jersey (later Princeton University) affirming that the performance of Knox’s former students who had enrolled at the college was “creditable to themselves and honorable to their instructor.”
It comes as no surprise that Samuel Knox’ days in Frederick would be numbered. He would resign in the late summer of 1803 and left town, holding an auction of his household items, including servants, in late September. He and his wife had been living in a house on Counsel Street that adjoined the school.
Knox would move on from Frederick to a place called Soldier’s Delight Hundred, near present day Owings Mills in Baltimore County as the principal of a private academy which would merge with Baltimore College. This school would apparently merge with another academy and become Baltimore College.
Rev. Knox had established a firm reputation of one of the country’s top academics. He had a correspondence with Thomas Jefferson’s proposed system of education for the state Virginia. Knox had proposed a similar system for Maryland, with the same lack of success that Jefferson had across the Potomac River. However, Jefferson may have been influenced by Knox’ essays when he designed the University of Virginia in 1816. One year later, the Frederick Academy’s former principal was offered a professorship in languages and belles lettres at the University of Virginia, but the plans fell through. Knox would stay at Baltimore College until 1819.
In personal life, Rev. Knox’s wife, Grace, died in Baltimore in November, 1812. Ten years later, the feisty minister married a woman with a biblical name in Zeruiah McCleery. Zeruiah, whose name crudely translates to “pain,” was the daughter of Henry and Martha McCleery. Mr. McCleery and Zeruiah’s brother, Andrew, were accomplished architects with lasting connections to noted Frederick structures such as the second Frederick County courthouse, the second All Saints Church building on N. Court Street, and the Ross and Mathias mansions on Counsel (Council) Street. Knox and Miss McCleery were married on April 17th, 1822—the good reverend was 66 at the time and she was 39. Rev. Knox and Zeruiah would have no children.
Perhaps the former Miss McCleery’s influence brought back to her hometown as Knox would return to Frederick and Frederick College in 1823.
Rev. Knox continued his publication work and that with the church as well. However, his stay at Frederick College would be short as he was fired in 1827.
Unfortunately, his demise here in western Maryland came because of a dispute with the trustees over retention of the Lancastrian method of instruction, which he had been utilizing. The Lancastrian, or "Lancasterian," system was devised by Joseph Lancaster (1778-1838) and has also been called the monitorial method in which more advanced students taught less advanced ones, enabling a small number of adult masters to educate large numbers of students at low cost in basic and often advanced skills. From about 1798 to 1830 it was highly influential, but would be displaced by the "modern" system of grouping students into age groups taught using the lecture method, led by such educators as Horace Mann, and later inspired by the assembly-line methods of Frederick Taylor, although Lancaster's methods continue to be used and rediscovered today.
History summarizes Samuel Knox as a dedicated reformer with visionary plans for America’s future, however his downfall lay in the fact that he was also a despotic teacher and unable to bring his grandest schemes to fruition. Ideas of his, such as standardized textbooks, are things that are still with us today.
Knox made final waves in early 1828 when he memorialized his trials by submitting to the state legislature an account of the treatment he received from the school's board of trustees with reference to his termination as principal.
Knox retired in 1827 and busied himself with local activities such as leadership given to the Frederick County Sunday School Union. In trying to find a retirement home, my assistant Marilyn found that Mrs. Knox bought a property formerly owned by her father and today numbered as 29 East Second Street. Rev. Knox lived in Frederick until his death on August 31st, 1832. He was originally buried in Frederick’s Presbyterian burial ground once located at the southwest corner of N. Bentz Street and Dill Avenue. His wife, Zeruiah died in 1839 and was placed by his side.
In September, 1863, both Rev. Samuel and Zeruiah Knox would be re-interred to Mount Olivet in the McCleery family lot, number 374 within Area H.
For your reading pleasure, the following letter was written by Rev. Samuel Knox to Thomas Jefferson in November, 1818 while the former was still in the employ of Baltimore College.
Baltre College Novr 30th 1818.
A gentleman of this city, and friend of mine, in passing, some time since, thro’ Virginia, and Near to your Seat, Informed me that he fell in with your Nephew Mr Carr, who kindly enquir’d after me—And also Inform’d him that he had Recently heard you expressing a wish, that if I was not otherwise engag’d, some place Suited to me, might be found in your intended University. Owing chiefly to that casual circumstance, as Related to me, and the idea also, that I shall soon be disengag’d I have presum’d on the Liberty of writing to you on that Subject.
Ever since the popular ferment, previous to your Presidential Election, I have been the victim of Party Persecution. At an Annual Meeting of the general Assembly of the church to which I Belong, at Winchester in Virginia, in the month of May preceding your Election, I happen’d to be a Delegate from the Presbytery of Baltimore. In the Course of that Session it was Render’d manifest to several members from Pennsylvania—And from Virginia, of the same principles with myself, that thro’ the Influence of Jedadiah Morse, Near to Boston—and a few other influential men, then at the Assembly—it’s Sitting there, that year—Connected with some matters, then under discussion, was intended to prejudice the Southern Members, who Attended, against your Election. This, I Set myself Against with all the energies in my power And for which, however humble or limited the sphere of that power, or any personal Influence I possess’d, I was not soon to be forgiven.
On the same Acct a hostile spirit was taken up Against me by the Trustees of Fredericktown Academy, at that time Under my Direction. The Messrs Potts—And other highly Fedl Gentlemen of that place Remov’d their Sons And plac’d them at Princeton college—Assigning as their Motive that they had been improperly Instructed by me. To counteract a procedure so groundless and malignant—I was forc’d to Send on an Address to the Faculty of Princeton college, Requesting, in the most earnest manner, an examination of the Youth from Fredericktown—And the favour of a certificate of the manner in which They had acquitted themselves on that Examination, on being admitted to their college. The Result was very flattering to me—I Receiv’d a certificate, which the circumstances mentioned Induc’d me to publish, “that no Youths had ever Entered that college, who Done more credit to themselves, or to their Instructor.”
That, however, and the Desire of being disconnected from such Patrons of public Education—and parents who could so treat the Instructor of their Sons, Soon afterwards Induced me to Resign the charge of that Institution, at which I had previously a greater Number of students from the different counties in Maryland—and some from the adjacent counties in Virginia than was at that time, in the State college at Annapolis, tho’ Endow’d with an Annuity of Seventeen Hundred pounds—And Conducted by a Faculty of considerable Reputation as to literary Acquirements.
After some disappointments, I was Induc’d to Settle in this City. Several friends Had Influenc’d me to Believe that I would Her[e] Breathe, in an Atmosphere, more Congenial with my principles and habits of thinking, than that which I had last experienc’d. At that time, a Number of the Respectable citizens of this place Had obtain’d from the Legislature of Maryland a charter for a college, on liberal principles; but without any Endowment, but such as might be Rais’d by a Lottery; or Voluntary Donations. The first Principal of this New Establishment was a Mr James Priestley—Now, I Believe, of Cumberland college, State of Tennesee. He Relinquish’d Baltre college on Acct of a Differenc[e] with it’s Trustees, Respecting the quantum of his Emolument. The College was Suspended for some time—And afterwards Resum’d Under my Direction. The tide of Party-Spirit, however, still Ran high against me—Not a Fedl Gentleman would put a Son under my tuition. The college of St Mary, in this place, was much more Congenial with their principles—And the Jesuitical Spirit of which, I had first the Honour of developing to the public.
At present, tho’ Baltre College, without funds or Endowment, Still maintains an Existence—And tho’ many Youths of Considerable promise of Usefulness to their country Have here finish’d their Course of Education—And tho’ a few Patrons also particularly William Pinkney Esqre Late Envoy to Russia, still afford Us all their Countenance; Yet, the Institution is unable to Support itself, Against such discouragement, in any proper Consistency with it’s designation as a College.
Indeed I Regret much, Having it to Say, that the Gentlemen of Any Influence, in this place, from whom I had Reason to expect most—Have Never Been liberal as to the patronage of public Education. Several of them think it, on a liberal scale, an Obstruction to Mercantile Success. Previous to the late war when those principles, for a time, Had the Ascendency in this State, Which I had, without Regard to persons or parties, always Considered, as most salutary to civil and Religious Liberty; I hoped to Obtain some Aid to our college from the Genl Assembly of the State—But the application was in Vain—The State Treasury, it was Said, could afford Nothing to colleges. Indeed, Several of the Fedl Gentlemen, then at Annapolis, frankly told me that Nothing would be Done for public Education, while that Party, to which I had attach’d myself, was in Power.
Since that time, a Sectarian Spirit, still more Injurious to Liberal Education, has Arisen in Baltimore. The Catholics have their favourite Seminary. The Episcopalians theirs’—And the Methodists, the most Numerous of any, at last Session of Assembly, obtain’d a charter, for their Ashbury college, for which they Manifest their Usual Zeal and Exertion.
In addition to all these obstructions to the Success of Baltre College, I was so Unhappy as to have a serious Difference with one of our Trustees, a Revd Gentleman of this city, on Account of Some Discipline to which his Son was Subjected at college. His Conduct to me, was most malignant and Unwarrantable, Tho’ a countryman of my Own, Himself too a persecuted man, Yet Neither the Sacred Investiture he Bore, Nor Any other motive that ought to Have Influenc’d his professional Example and character, Restrain’d him from a conduct toward me and my professional Standing and Interest, as unjust, and as malevolent, as Any Individual ever Resorted to, or adopted against another.
I could not Justify myself in intruding on your attention, an Occurrence so disagreeable, Only that I have heard that man vainly Boast of the Interest he had in your Esteem—as also in that of Mr & Mrs Madison—And Judging from other circumstances in his conduct to me, equally as improbable, Did not know but the Breath of his malignity might, on some Occasion, such as this, Extend itself even to You
A Consciousness of Integrity; And also an Open and impartial And Unanimous Decision of the matter at Issue, between us, by the Board of Trustees, in my favour, Have fully Convinc’d the Public, where it was known, of the ground of that Revd Gentleman’s Malignity—And that he Injur’d himself more by it, than he Did the Victim whom he so wantonly and perseveringly Sought to Overwhelm.
Having thus, I fear disagreeably, Introduc’d myself—The only apology I can make for it is, That I Deem’d it necessary for your Information, in Judging Correctly of the following Overture, which I now take the Liberty, very Respectfully, to Submit.
Having Observ’d in our public papers, that you Are particularly and Zealously Engag’d in founding an University in your Vicinity for the State of Virginia—And Judging that you will, consequently, Have to Employ a Variety of Professors or Instructors, to Supply the Different Departments in that Institution, I have thought that it might be possible that I would Succeed in Obtaining, thro’ You, Some place in it, Suited to My qualifications; And where my Services Migh[t] find also a more extensive Sphere of Usefulness, than Under existing Circumstances, my present Situation affords.
Being a Widower—And my children, four Daughters, all Respectably and comfortably Settled in the world—And [m]ore independent, in that respect, than their father, my Views, I beg leave to Assure you, are not so much turn’d to Emolument—As to a sincere Desire of being more generally Useful to Society.
At the University of Glasgow, where I finishd my course of Education—and there obtain’d the highest Degree Conferr’d on a Student, I pass’d thro’ a course of Genl Science and Literature—But as well there, as in my professional practice since, Have been most conversant with the ‘Literæ humaniores,’ or classical Learning. In that Department, I think I could still Render essential Service to Any Seminary founded on an extensive Scale of Usefulness—And tho’ Principal of a college, where I now Reside, would have no objection to Serve as a member of any faculty, in a University, in Any Department I thought myself qualified to fill with credit And Usefulness. Though considerably Advanc’d in Life, I Bless God I continue to enjoy good Health, And a capacity for Industry And exertion—And the smallest Greek print I meet with, I can yet Read without Spectacles—Notwithstanding all this, However, I fear I shall Stand Condemn’d, as to Age—by the garrulous egotism of this Letter, if on no other Account.
In every Establishment, Such as that which I Suppos[e] You Now contemplate, much Depends on the talents, Zeal And Industry of the Faculty employ’d. Without these combin’d—It cannot Succeed. Without these, however liberally endowed It cannot be lastingly Useful. The greatest Characters for Scientific and literary attainment, Seldom make the best Instructors—And yet without Such characters, at least as part of the Faculty, No University Could be Reputable.
Much Depends, also, on proper Accommodations. I have Seen Some few of the best colleges And Academies in Europe—And Several also in this country—But I have Seen none as well Calculated for preserving good Order and Discipline As I think they might be. When the Building and Accommodations of that in which I now Instruct, was in a state of preparation, I endeavour’d, to Have them adapted to my Views—But Owing to some of the Obstructions, already mention’d, I found that a Building Committee, or even An Architect or carpenter, was Consider’d, by a Majority of our Board of Trustees, as knowing better what was adapted to these purposes than the Instructor of long Experience.
I Have now Submitted to you, with no little Reluctance, such circumstantial Information as I deem’d Necessary, for your being in possession of, Respecting any Individual, who should Aspire to the Honour of your countenance as a candidate for any Department in that laudable Establishment And Undertaking in which you Are Engag’d.
That it may please Divine Providence to Spare your Useful Life, to See its’ Advantages Realised by Society, is the Sincere prayer of your greatly Respectful And most Obedt Hble Servt
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