Sunday, August 15, 2010


"There is a neighborhood in Halifax county called Dumpling Town. No one has ever been able to tell why it is called by that name. It may be because the people living there were very fond of apple dumplings. There is an old legend which says that the housekeepers of that part of the county, a long time ago, had a contest to decide who could cook the largest dumpling. People from far and near came to see the dumplings, which were of all sizes, from the tiniest apple to the largest cooking pot. There were dumplings round and dumplings long, dumplings small and dumplings large. It was a great day for dumplings. If this story is true, then the place has a good right to its name. But no one knows whether it is true or not.

"About a hundred years ago [1818] there lived in that neighborhood a teacher whose name was Thomas Peterson. The boys called him 'Old Peters.' He was a very learned man, and knew a great deal of Latin and Greek. He taught for six months in the year and hunted and fished the other six. As a consequence he was just as good a hunter as he was a teacher.

"In those days there were no fine schoolhouses as there are now. In many neighborhoods there were no schoolhouses at all. The house in which 'Old Peters' taught was built of logs and had one room, one door and two windows. The floor was laid with slabs, split from pine trees, and had large cracks in it. The windows were made by sawing through a log on each side of the room. These windows let in some light, but they also let in more cold. Between the logs earth and sticks had been placed to keep out the cold winds, but on warm days the boys would punch the earth out to get fresh air. So there was not much left to protect the children from the winter winds except a great roaring fire in the fireplace.

"The fireplace took up nearly the whole of one end of the room. In cold weather large logs were piled upon the fire until the flames leaped up the chimney and the heat went into all parts of the room. At such times no one could sit in the chimney corner, for it was as hot as a furnace. But when the fire was not so large half a dozen children could sit in the corner at the same time.

"Very little furniture was in the room. The teacher's table and stool were in one corner. Benches without backs were placed here and there for the pupils to sit on. There was a long desk built along the wall, which was used as a writing desk for children who had advanced that far in learning. Those in the lower grades had to sit on the benches without desks and study their books. They often spent a good deal of the time in drawing pictures on their slates.

"Usually things went well in this school, for the pupils all feared 'Old Peters' and learned their lessons well. But sometimes when Mr. Peterson had the dyspepsia everything seemed to go wrong. The boys did not know their lessons and the girls whispered too much.

"One day 'Old Peters' came into the schoolroom with a frown on his face. The boys and girls began to feel uneasy, and kept watching the large bundle of switches that he had near his desk. It was plain that he was in a bad humor, and that trouble was ahead.

" 'Get your spelling lesson!' said the master, and every pupil began to study the lesson aloud and sway back and forth in his seat to keep time with the syllables. That was the style in those days. One boy knew his lesson already. He moved back and forth with the others, but while they were studying their lessons he was saying, 'Old Peters, Old Pete, Old Peters.' But alas! just as he was saying the last name, all the others ceased to speak and his words sounded out loud and distinct.

"All the children laughed out. 'Old Peters' saw the little rascal and called him up to the desk. He came trembling. The master reached for his switch and gave him several severe blows. Then he made the boy stand up in the corner on one foot.

"When the class came up to recite, the boy who had been punished could not spell the words, because he was scared. He had lost all his knowledge. 'Old Peters' was angry, and put the dunce cap on the boy's head. He then had to stand on the dunce stool for the other children to laugh at. The poor boy sobbed and groaned for a long time, but this did not soften the master's heart. He made one of the others hold his book bag under the boy's face to catch his tears. This was worse than the other punishment, and the boy almost died with shame.

"This was the way he punished for misbehavior, or for not knowing a lesson. If two boys got into a quarrel with each other, he would have them settle their difficulty at recess, and he did it in this way: Each boy was given a stout hickory switch, and they had to play 'wrap jacket' until one had enough. Sometimes the fight would be kept up until the switches were worn out. Then others would be gotten and the battle continued until one of the boys cried 'enough.' Then the master declared the fight ended and named the winner.

"At Christmas time it was the custom for the boys to shut the teacher out, and in that way get a holiday. One morning, about a week before Christmas, all the boys reached the schoolhouse before the master and locked the door. Then they waited for 'Old Peters.' When he came he found the door and windows fastened. He knew what was up, and joined in the fun.

"Presently a boy on the inside said: 'We must have a holiday for ten days. Will you give it to us?'

" 'No,' said the master.

" 'Then we will duck you,' said all the boys; and the door was opened and the boys ran out. 'Old Peters' ran down the road with the crowd at his heels. Soon they caught him and started for the creek near by; but before they got to the water he gave in and promised a holiday. Then all went back to the house, and the master dismissed school until after the Christmas holidays.

"This was one of the old schools of the long ago. There were many others in North Carolina like it. They were small and unfurnished, but they did much good in training our forefathers to become useful citizens."

This story is from: W. C. Allen, NORTH CAROLINA HISTORICAL STORIES [Richmond, VA: B. F. Johnson Publishing Co., 1918]: p.211–215.]

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