Title: On an Old-Field School, Composition of James D. Hall for the Dialectic Society, April 23, 1828: Electronic Edition.
Author: Hall, James Davidson, 1806-1892
Editor: Erika Lindemann
Funding from the State Library of North Carolina supported the electronic publication of this title.
Text transcribed by Erika Lindemann and Elizabeth J. Gualtieri-Reed
Images scanned by Mara E. Dabrishus
Text encoded by Brian Dietz
First Edition, 2005
Size of electronic edition: ca. 25K
Publisher: The University Library, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Chapel Hill, North Carolina
The electronic edition is a part of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill digital library, Documenting the American South.
Languages used in the text: English
Revision history:
2005-05-16, Brian Dietz finished TEI/XML encoding.
Part of a series:
This transcribed document is part of a digital collection, titled True and Candid Compositions: The Lives and Writings of Antebellum Students in North Carolina
written by Lindemann, Erika
Title of collection: Dialectic Society Records (#40152), University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
Title of document: On an Old-Field School, Composition of James D. Hall for the Dialectic Society, April 23, 1828
Author: James D. Hall
Description: 7 pages, 8 page images
Note: Call number 40152 (University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill)
Topics covered:
Education/Preparatory Education
Personal Relationships/With Adults (Excluding Family Members)
Examples of Student Writing/Debate Society Writings
Editorial practices
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Transcript of the composition. Originals are in the University Archives, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.
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For more information about transcription and other editorial decisions, see Dr. Erika Lindemann's explanation under the section Editorial Practices.

Document Summary

Hall's composition describes an old-field school in Iredell County, NC, and the pranks students played on their schoolmaster, who got even by stealing his pupils' clothes while they were swimming.
On an Old-Field School, Composition of James D. Hall for the Dialectic Society, April 23, 18281
Hall, James Davidson, 1806-1892

Page 1
In Iredell County, three miles south of Statesville, and in a rough enough neighbourhood, is located one of those well known establishments, commonly termed, in vulgar language, an Old-Field schoolhouse.2 In the wayward traveller, at a distance, it is apt, at first view, to excite the idea of a hog pen; but if he approaches near enough to enter the door, he soon learns, from the long slab benches, the writing boards, the pegs in the wall, and the tremendous fire-place that this dark hovel is indeed nothing less that a seat of literature. This fabric, if it still remains (though much to mortification, I have understood that some of the neighbours have taken it home and converted it to a hen roost) is of a moderate size, six logs high and very flat; a clap-board roof, well pressed with logs. The chimney, not perhaps more than twelve feet broad, is constructed of alternate layers of mud and sticks, and is considerably overtopped by the comb of the roof. Its rear is encompassed by a majestic hill, curving around it in the form of a shoe heel; and immediately in front and at no great distance flows third creek,3 a moderately large and handsome stream. The bridge is perhaps two hundred yards up the stream, and the mealon-field immediately beyond.
It was here that I had the honour, at the age of about thirteen, to complete my old-field prep education, before entering the Academy.4 There were others connected with the school, much larger than myself and older too, but I considered that I was entitled to rank among the big schollars, in as much as I could cipher. The Preceptor was but little farther advanced in years than a number of this schollar pupils, and I may safely add, equally as little in sense.
The peculiarity of our situation, naturally held out temptations to idleness; temptations too, that were by no means repulsive to our natural inclinations. His majesty cautioned us from the start against going in the creek,

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he said it was dangerous, for we might get drowned. Nevertheless he was by no means scrupulous; he would very frequently indulge us in a swim; himself occasionally becoming one of the party. This course continued for a time, but his subjects grew tired of restraint; frequent opportunities were seazed when, unknown to his majesty; and unluckily, according to his forebodings, one hapless youth plunged into a hole that was quite over his head, and being unable to swim a yard, quenched his thirst rather too liberally before reaching the bank. A different system was immediately adopted, and the decree was "that no scholar on any pretence whatever be permited to go in the creek before school, time of books, at play time, or after dismission" The sad recollection of our friends misfortune induced us for a time to submit to the law. But nature will survive, and its appetites must be indulged. We soon forgot the solemn scene, and not without the utmost precautions, again commenced our career of swimming. It were an endless task to attempt an enumeration of all the various schemes resorted too, to blind his honour and avoid detection. Suffice it to say we would sometimes ask permission to go squirrel hunting, sometimes to visit a near neighbour, and very frequently when engaged in play, would become quite wild, and run beyond all reasonable bounds. But by the way we always took care to run in considerable numbers, and however different might be our directions at the start, we would generally meet at the same spot in the end. But notwithstanding all our precautions, his majesty began to grow suspicious; and what served to increase his suspicion was, he saw one of us return from a visit with his head wet; this happened to be myself. What has become of your company? was the immediate question. They are coming sir; was my reply. I saw from the his oblique glance at manner in which he surveyed my head, and his suspicious glance look that something was the matter. He immediately set off down the creek, and had he not met my companions combing their heads, and discryed our tracks in the very edge of the water, we

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should all have come off with flying colours; as innocent as lambs. But evidence was irresistible. It is scarce necessary to hint, that in all such instances at an old-field school one individual forms judge, jury, executioner, and every thing else. His honour took the chair, and his disobedient subjects were cited. The two largest who were quite able to cope with his Majesty, in case of blows, confessed the crime. The two smaller dreading the consequences denyed the charge. What[,] do you deny being in? Yes sir we do. But did not I see your head wet? says he to me. It was sweat sir. But I saw your tracks on the very brink of the water! Looking down through fright and confusion, I discovered that, as usual, I was bare footed. My reply immediately was that I was there, but not in; to which one of my larger companions gave his assent. Well it is best so, replyed his majesty, for I would have tanned your hide and that well severely. Let me ever catch you cuting such capers and I will skin you Sir. This touched me sensibly, and made me feel indefinitely small. I dreaded his displeasure, and for a time was for changing my course. He thought by skinning me at least to scare the rest. But there was where he was most prodigiously mistaken. They laughed at his cowardice and pusillanimity, and from that time on, grew five fold worse. And he was not a little astonished, the first high water, on steping down the creek, not only to spy the very same individuals in the very act of swimming, but each pushing before him the water-mealons which he had just stolen from the field beyond. Luckily I did not happen to be one of the company for him to skin and tan. His only resort now was to return, pick up their slates, and write, Bill and Eaph watermealon rogu[e]s. They knew the hand wright, and were thunderstruck, when they found that they were detected. Nevertheless they pretended an entire ignorance of who it was that had written on their slates; and swore vengeance against the

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villan that would dare to tell upon them. All this was done in strains so loud that there was not the least chance for his majesty to miss hearing every a single word; and it had the desired effect. On going in to shew their sums, they found him, contrary to their own expectations, the kindest and most polite individual they had met with for many days. Indeed the victory appeared complete; nothing was heard but the most flattering expressions, all of which seemed to speak in audible language "Please dont break my head for the present, and in future you are at liberty to do act at you pleasere."5 Convinced of his imbecility, and to display our independance and manhood, we all combined together and resolved the first large freshet to plunge right into the creek, immediately before his eyes. And our resolution was most assuredly carried into effect. The rain came and spelling was scarcely ended, when in direct contradiction to his orders and most vigorous vigilent precaution, we displayed our virility, by darting across the bridge, striping off, and extending ourselves at full length upon the surface of the stream; not without however occasionally exclaiming in strains of insolent exultation "It is a free country, and i'll do as I please.["] We at the same time hinted some several threats if our amusements were disturbed. Feeling ourselves quite out of danger, we began to splash and plunge very merily indeed, when all on a sudden behold! we descryed his sheepish majesty just in the act of grabbing our clothes. The alarm was given and no time was to be lost. The alarm was given and no time was to be lost. Every stictch was gone in an instant. Each sprang to the bank with all possible speed. My three companions made for the clothes, and I struck across to the opposite side. My object was to intercept if possible his passage to the school house.

Page 5
The creek was very high, and it was with desparate polling that I was enabled to reach the opposite bank,6 by the time his majesty reached jumped upon the bridge; which as before stated was about two hundred yards up the stream. My fellows were all bare-footed as well as naked elsewheres. Nevertheless they in the heat of the chaise, they contrived to make a tremendous crackling in crossing passing the bridge. The wedners7 from the village were about ten steps off when my friends started over the creek. I am not certain whether it was the rearing of the bridge, or the strange, grotesque form of the animals they saw that made their horses run and snort. The ladies screamed tremendously; and the wedners were thrown into violent confusion. Nevertheless our party at this critical juncture had no regard for other peoples maters. Not a moment was to be lost. Each was bent on geting his shirt, at least, and more if he could. Those whose horses were more quiet, and who were not themselves overstocked with modesty, stood still and viewed the chaise. Supposing us in pursuit of a villain, or for the sake of adding to the fun, each cryed, Huzza! Huzza! catch the rogue. as loud as he could ball. One old lady, that had no doubt been taking some tea, I recollect, distinguished herself manfully on the occasion. Mounted on a nag that no thunder could scare (I mean a jack),8 herself as ugly as the beast she rode, forgetting her companions, and the delicacy of her sex, was carried away with the delights of the scene. Clapping her hands with all her might, she Hallooed at the foremost, encouraged the middle, and chid the hindmost; all the time laughing as loud as she could ball, and swearing it was the best fun she

Page 6
had seen since the wedding commenced. One little beau-legged fellow, who appeared more eager, and fleet than the rest, attracted attention from the closeness of his chaise. He appeared every moment to be grabbing at the tail of his majesties thin mined coat, which, by the way, the wind held high. The old lady, I remember very well, kept exclaiming, Zounds! he'ill have him, he'ill have him, he'ill catch the rogue. I had now arrived at the top of the bank, and was animated and pleased, and encouraged to proceed. I certainly would have intercepted his passage, but being too much bent on gaining honour, and geting my shirt, I entirely neglected where I was setting my feet. I made two or three quite promising strides: the old lady observing gave me the squall, and I had just begun to think of winning the laurels, when Alas! I sunk to the bottom of the ten foot ditch full of water and mud. One minute, though, brought me to the light again; I burst up like a rat from butter milk, sprang to my feet, and at the old ladies Halloo! put forth with my utmost speed. His honour had just passed the road when I pitched in, so off I set, full tilt; side by side with the hottest pursuer; the third was just behind; and the fourth a large blowsy fat fellow, being quite a heavy sailor, brought up the rear. A whole team of naked fellows. The good old lady being now lost in extacy, starting up from her saddle, pitched smack a straddle of the asses head. The poor animal which had never been frightened in its whole life before, and which no thunder could move, was now actually scared to fits, and set up a most tremendous bray. The outlandish

Page 7
whistling noise he produced among the old ladies petticoats made every horse dart like lightning. The poor jack, he entirely blindfolded, half balanced before and behind, followed by the sound as fast as he could, over logs and rocks, keeping up the thrill music as he went. I expect they had a merrier ride to town, than ever Gilpin took. But this is only the report of the school girls, who affirmed next day that they were standing on top of the hill, and witnessed the whole of sport. We were too intent in pursuit of our game even to think of looking round. We got our clothes not without considerable fuss, and as near as I can recollect, from that day forth left off Quixotic adventures.

7 verso page


1. Dialectic Society Addresses, UA. The verso of the last leaf contains the following inscription: "J. D. Halls /Composition/ Filed 23rd of/Aprill 1822."

2. Before public schools were established, communities built schools in "old fields," lands that had been abandoned or eroded and depleted through overfarming. The course of study usually included reading, writing, and arithmetic, though occasionally some advanced studies also were taught.

3. Third Creek lies approximately 2 1/2 miles south of Statesville, NC. It branches off Fourth Creek, which runs west out of the South Yadkin River.

4. Possibly the classical preparatory school conducted by Hall's uncle Hugh Roddy Hall (1800-56) in Bethany Church, Iredell County. In 1822 the legislature had chartered this school as Ebenezer Academy.

5. Hall changed as to at by writing t on top of s. He also crossed out pleasere, evidently intending to revise the phrase "as you please" to "at your pleasure."

6. Hall wrote k on top of d.

7. "wedners": "weddingers" or members of a wedding party.

8. "a jack": a jackass.