Dr. Bronson's
1872 Florida School Report
St. Johns County, Florida
To the Superintendent of Public Instruction:

Dear Sir: I herewith submit my report of the schools in this county for the last scholastic year.
There has been six schools in operation. In all instances where application has been made for the
establishment of a school, and a teacher recommended by the trustees, a school has been opened.

Prospects are very favorable for the coming year. The chief difficulty in this county, which will take
time for its removal, is the sparseness of its population and the distance of the families from any
common centre.

The people feel their want of education, and are almost universally anxious that their children
should not grow up under the same disadvantages precincts a commendable interest in the cause
of education. I never heard but one person say that he did not want a school-house near him, for
that would bring in settlers, and then what should he do for a range for his cattle.

What the State needs is an educated people, and for that the State should provide. The first
requisite is the establishment of school-houses. I would suggest that all moneys belonging to the
school fund should be used for that purpose and no other, as the simplest method of reaching the
end in view and promoting the interest of education in the State until schools are built. While every
one imbued with American principles feels that the State cannot be too closely allied to the
schools, at least so far as to give to every inhabitant the benefit of an education qualified to make
him a useful citizen, and enable him to employ his natural faculties to advantage. For this purpose
the schools should be free to all. Nothing should be taught in the schools but what the State judges
to be proper, and within their legitimate functions.

If the public free school system is to be carried out in this State (and we believe the American
people, claiming the right to judge for themselves in this, one of the most important of all their
rights, will carry it out), we must believe the schools discharge their duties and perform the
functions entrusted to them, when they prepare their pupils to fight the great battle of life, in
obedience to the laws of the State. We cannot be too careful that we do not attempt, or even
allow, anything that would prevent any person from participating in their advantages. We believe in
the duty of every person to be religious and to owe supreme allegiance to their Creator, and any
school that teaches anything contrary to the laws of God we would cordially join in condemning.
But teaching religion in any form is not one of the functions of a free public school, and this is the
only form of school that the State intends to establish. It would be a manifest departure from the
object for which they are established, and could only be proposed by those who would willingly
see the whole system of public schools destroyed.

The Peabody school, in this city, retains its good reputation, and is in a very satisfactory condition.
It well deserves the encouragement that it has received. It is patronized by our best citizens,
without distinction. The Board of Trustees consist of all denominations, and perfect harmony has
characterized all of their proceedings. Their children are, or have been, all members of the school.
I have heard of no objection to the school, except from those who object to the whole system on
which our public schools are founded.

When a free public school was first spoken of in St. Augustine, Mr. Sears, the agent of the
Peabody Fund, visited this city. The prospect was rather discouraging. Mr. Sears remarked, "You
cannot have a school without scholars." The friends of the system about to be inaugurated carefully
canvassed the city and came to the conclusion that not more than thirty pupils could be counted
upon. On this calculation they borrowed money to enlarge the building which was used for public
offices, and which had been given to the city for the purpose of a public school. Provision was
made for 120 pupils, to meet any emergency. To their agreeable surprise the school opened with a
much larger number than was expected. The school has steadily increased in size till now it
becomes necessary to increase its accommodations, both as to room and teachers. Instead of
petitioning for additional separate schools and division of the small allowance received from taxes,
we greatly need increased funds to make this school what it should be, a model institution, capable
of accommodating the whole city, and giving a complete education in those branches which it
proposes to teach. It is only by the assistance of the Peabody Fund that our city schools are able
to accomplish what they have. We do not fear that any such attempt as has been made to impair
their resources will be received by the people, or their representatives, the Legislature, with any
favor until a system of free education is abandoned.

The colored school occupies a commodious building erected by the Freedman's Bureau, and to it
is attached a convenient cottage for the teacher's residence, owned by the American Missionary
Association, in New York. This school has always maintained a high reputation. It has been a
great blessing to those for whom it was established.

This city enjoys exceptional advantages for education. Its healthiness at all seasons of the year is
such that schools could be kept open in summer as well as winter, with only the necessary
vacations. The prospect of a greatly increased population and its facility of access when railroad
communication shall be opened to Jacksonville, will conspire to make it a place of great resort.

The State needs a school of the highest character, sufficiently large to receive all that apply, and
provided with a competent corps of teachers. I trust the time is not far distant when this need will
be supplied.

Mr. Waterbury, the principal of the Peabody school, who is enthusiastically devoted to its
interests, has collected over 150 volumes as a beginning of a well-selected library for the use of the
school. As soon as a suitable building can be procured we hope to see this grow into a large public
library.
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Charles Beecher
Florida Superintendent of Instruction
1871-1873
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