Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South

By Grady McWhiney | Go to book overview

VIII
Education

"I have always been cheated most by men who could write," explained a Southerner, who owned forty slaves and considerable landed property but could not read or write; nor could his nine grown sons. "Send my sons to school to learn to read and write? No Sir," he informed a visitor. "It would make just such devils out of them as you Yankees are!"

To prove his point this Cracker told how a Connecticut drummer had sold him a clock for ten dollars that was "warranted to last ninety-nine years." When a forty-dollar clock arrived, instead of what the old man had ordered, he refused to pay for it and was sued. He got no satisfaction in court: the judge insisted that the written order called for a forty-dollar clock; furthermore, the paper that supposedly guaranteed the clock for ninety-nine years (the clock had stopped running within a week) only warranted it to last ninety- nine years, not to keep time. "Now," asked the old man, "do you suppose I am fool enough, since that, to believe there is any benefit in learning to write?"1

Most Southerners, whether or not they considered literacy compatible with honesty, had far less regard for formal education than did the average Northerner. As early as 1753 the governor of South Carolina observed that the people of the upcountry "abound in Children, but none of them bestow the least Education on them, they take so much care in raising a Litter of Piggs, their Children are equally naked and full as Nasty." On the eve of the American Revolution the Reverend Charles Woodmason described backcountry Carolinians as being ignorant and impudent. "Very few can read--fewer write," he noted. "Few or no Books are to be found in all this vast Country. . . . Nor do they delight in Historical Books or

____________________
1
Charles G. Parsons, Inside View of Slavery: or, a Tour Among the Planters ( Cleveland, 1855), 180-85.

-193-

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Cracker Culture: Celtic Ways in the Old South
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents ix
  • Illustrations xi
  • Preface xiii
  • Prologue xxi
  • I - Settlement 1
  • II - Heritage 23
  • III - Herding 51
  • IV - Hospitality 80
  • V - Pleasures 105
  • VI - Violence 146
  • VII - Moral 171
  • VIII - Education 193
  • IX - Progress 218
  • X - Worth 245
  • XI - Collision 268
  • Appendix - Sources on the Origins of Surnames 273
  • Index 278
  • About the Author 291
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