When the first settlers began to open up the New England wilderness, their primary concern was for self-preservation and for the creation of a community in which to nurture their religious convictions. Indeed, it is entirely natural that they should have thought first of their safety and physical needs, and in terms of their spiritual well-being. It is not surprising, therefore, that formal education had to be satisfied with a somewhat lower priority.
That our forefathers recognized, nevertheless, the importance of educated men to the ultimate success of the settlements is witnessed to by the founding of Harvard College in 1636 and the establishment in the same year of the Boston Latin School, certainly for the purpose of preparing boys to enter the College. Yet these, together with the Latin school started in Newtowne ( Cambridge) shortly afterward, were almost the only educational oases in the area for many years.
In 1647 the General Court of the Massachusetts colony passed a measure requiring that every community of 100 families or more set up its own "grammar" school. Yet the statute, even though armed with a punitive clause, was relatively ineffective. Dr. Claude M. Fuess, a trustee of Governor Dummer Academy, writes in the notes for his forthcoming book, American Independent Schools and Schoolmasters.
For more than a century and a quarter after the colonization of New England, education was in a state of confusion, with no broad pattern discernible. So far as the towns were concerned, it was each community for itself, and the variations in efficiency were very wide. While the General Court tried more than once to impose its authority, the results were far from uniform or satisfactory.
As late as 1840 there were only 18 public schools in Massachusetts! Long before this New Englanders had become aware that provisions for public education were developing far too slowly. They had turned, therefore, to the private academy, which