|Dr. Oliver Bronson's 1873 State Report
to the State of Florida
for St. Johns County Public Schools
|St. Johns County
Superintendent, O. Bronson, St. Augustine. Schools, 10; gain 1; pupils, 337. Total amount from the
State and county, $2,292.98. Contributions from citizens, including $1,200 from Peabody Fund,
$2,763. Total cost, $4,183.06; balance on hand, $872.92.
The following letter is from the Superintendent:
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
The people feel their want of education, and are almost universally anxious that their children should
not grow up under the same disadvantages which they experienced themselves. There is manifested in
most of the 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 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 facilities 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 entrusted to them, when they prepare their pupiles 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 anyh 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 willing 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 y our best citizens, without
distinction. The Board of Trustees consists 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 thiscity. The prospect was rather discouraging. Mr. Sears remarked, "You cannot have
a school without scholars." The firends 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 teahcers. 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 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, suficiently 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
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.
Superintendent of St. Johns County, Florida