Educating the Community in the Proprietary Colony

Educating the Community in the Proprietary Colony






Educating the Community in the Proprietary Colony


It can not be disputed that the colonial experience of American States differed significantly from each other. While some had access to various social utilities, others were denied access and had to struggle for them. To a great extent, respective experiences were greatly influenced by the culture of the local populations. Thus although the colonial government made efforts to introduce changes, these were in most instances aligned to the cultural and economic wellbeing of the local populations. Ultimately, the changes had diverse implications on the mode of governance, economic wellbeing and social welfare of the populations. It is widely agreed that the mode of governance that America assumed was based on the English rule. This is attributable to the fact that the English colonialists acquainted local population with governance principles that they pursued. It is against this background that this paper provides an in depth analysis of education in the proprietary colony.

A proprietary colony according to Jones and Klose (1994) constituted one that had direct links to the king. It comprised of a vast tract of land that the king gave an individual or in some instances a group of individuals. The respective individuals had intricate interrelationships that were akin to those of a corporation or partnership. The respective proprietor (s) had the power to establish a mode of governance for the colony they had been awarded. In this respect, the proprietors were to remain loyal to the king as a way of appreciation for the award. Those that exhibited rebellion in most cases had the colonies taken away from them. Examples of proprietary colonies include Delaware, Maryland and Pennsylvania.

Life in the proprietary colonies was complex and vital decision making was influenced by a host of factors. Education was a social facet that was held in high regard by the colonial government. Regardless of this, historical evidence indicates that minimal measures were undertaken to empower communities with education by the respective colonial leaders (Balmer, 1989). Educating communities in the proprietary colonies probably had distinct features. In essence, it was be shaped by the social, economic, religious, cultural and political factors. Since education was not initially a component of the social life of the populations in the colonies, it needed to be introduced from the scratch. Both adults and children enrolled for the classes at different times. In these, they were classified according to their gender and taught about different fields of specification. Initially, Boorstin (1964) cites that the decision to enroll for education was solely made by the family.

Before 1683, educating the communities was undertaken in an informal manner. There were no schools and the government leaders were less involved in the process. Arguably, the content of the curriculum was aligned on the cultural values as well as the economic conditions. Emphasis was placed on the need to inculcate in the communities the social values and enable them to cater for their economic welfare with ease. However, in 1683, schools were established and the government officials began to participate actively in education. For instance, the government passed important laws that required all parents to send their children to school for them to be taught literacy skills. A classic illustration of this pertains to Pennsylvania that also required the learning institution to teach the children important skills and train them on how to carry out trading activities.

Also worth mentioning were the active roles that religious institutions played in running the schools and influencing the content of the curriculum. Before the formal establishment of learning institutions, Balmer (1989) indicates that the religious institutions provided halls that were used as venues for educating the communities. The halls were used a any time of the week an religious leaders assumed the role of teaching. It is worth noting that a significant percentage of the religious leaders were colonialists who had background knowledge in education.

Besides encouraging positive cultural values and practices, the religious leaders also took this opportunity to encourage assumption of vital religious values. These included love, respect for parents, obedience and so forth. In his review, Balmer (1989) cites that religious leaders were responsible for making rules regarding the dress code, mannerisms and mode of speaking. In other words, religion assumed the center stage of education and religious values were greatly emphasized because they were considered to be ideal. Even after the development of formal learning institutions, religious groups continued to sponsor the learning institutions in different ways.

With regards to the curriculum, Kavenagh (1973) indicates that boys who attended school were taught varied skills about trade. This is because the major economic activity that populations in the colonies practiced was trade. Over time, the nature and quality of education was also influenced by the social class that an individual belonged to. In this regard, individuals from a higher social class received quality education than their counterparts from the lower social classes. The disciplines that were taught ranged from classical languages and mathematics to natural science and literature. Girls on the other hand initially received tutorials at home and were basically taught about important social skills as well as house keeping skills. After the establishment of formal learning institutions, they were allowed to join their counterparts in school although the curriculum of their technical disciplines revolved around housekeeping and social skills.

The process of education was made possible by use of various materials. The hornbook was the most common material that enabled the children to learn. The classrooms had pieces of board that were employed as instruction materials. In most cases, this contained numbers, alphabets and prayers written on them. Initially, students did not have learning material and only learnt by memorizing the information passed on to them by their teachers. Certainly, they experienced various challenges and in some cases found it difficult to remember whatever they had been taught. In most cases, this occurred when the students were disturbed in some way or he other. According to Jones and Klose (1994), there was a faction of the parents that were so poor that they could not send their children to school. As such, their children did not attain any level of education. Nonetheless, there were also the very wealthy that send their children to private institutions and even hired personal tutors or them. Put differently, access to education in a proprietary colony was skewed.

In their review about the type of education offered in the proprietary colonies, Jones and Klose (1994) cite that education was categorized in three main classes. Besides learning to acquire trading skills, there was Latin grammar schools that taught the students classical languages. The curriculum in such schools was aimed at perfecting leadership skills in the students. Thus those that were looking forward to assuming political positions preferred to attend these schools. Compared to the rest, these were prestigious and were mainly attended by the wealthy individual. Then, there were general schools that focused on neither trade nor politics. These placed particular emphasis on instilling basic literacy skills in the students. A significant percentage of students attended these schools because they were cheap and parents were not well informed about the importance of specialized education.


At this point, it is certain that education in proprietary colony had distinct features that were shaped by the social, cultural, political, environmental and economic conditions of the then period. As it has come out from the preceding analysis, religious groups played an important role in influencing the mode as well as content of the education curriculum. Besides providing halls for learning sessions, the religious leaders assumed teaching roles and taught about important religious as well as cultural values and virtues.

Just like the adults, children were also allowed to attend school. Initially, the decision regarding children attendance of schools was made solely by the parents. However, the colonial government passed laws requiring all children to attend school later on. Nonetheless, not al factions of the populations attend school and likewise, not all attained high quality education. Unlike the wealthy that had sufficient resources to send there children to better schools and even hire private tutors for them, the poor lacked resources to enroll in any learning institution. Also, the schools were classified in three categories; those offering language skills, those offering trading skills and those offering general knowledge.


Balmer, R. (1989). A perfect Babel of confusion: Dutch religion and English culture in middle colonies. New York: Oxford University Press.

Boorstin, D. (1964). The Americans: The colonial experience. USA: Vintage

Jones, R. & Klose, N. (1994). United States history, to 1877. USA: Barron’s Educational Series.

Kavenagh, W. (1973). Foundations of colonial America: A documentary history. New York: Chelsea House.