At the time I lived
with my dear parents in Whitfield County, Georgia, the state had no free school
system except for the very poor children whose parents were too poor to pay
tuition. The teacher kept a daily record of the attendance of such
children and was paid by the government. In Tennessee, free schools were
maintained for about 3 months in a year. The local school was governed by
a school board of school commissioners consisting of 3 citizens. The
commissioners of the school near where I lived came to me and proposed to admit
me into the school on the condition that I would assist the teacher occasionally
as he needed me. I was delighted at the proposition and gladly accepted
At that time, I was 17 years old. The principal teacher, Mr. Leonodist Earnest, was very kind to me, during my association with him. He was educated at Hiwassee College near where we were teaching. My next experience was in teaching after my marriage in 1857, when the same commissioners, Mr. Boyd, the wagon maker, Dr. Bediah Leonard, and I fail to remember the other commissioner, employed me to teach the public free school at Hopwell, in Bradley County, Tennessee. I taught several terms there, and was teaching when the Civil War broke out, and I went from the school room to the army.
Passing over the Civil War period, I will continue my experience as a teacher in Tennessee. While at home on sick furlough I was captured by the federal Soldiers on February 7, 1864 and sent to prison. Afterwards, setting in Bedford County, Tennessee, near Wartrace, my neighbor, L.C. Cagle, was captured the same time I was and he, too, settled near Wartrace, Tennessee. We hired to a Mr. Coleman Horde to work on a farm. I undertook to cut cordwood for a wealthy farmer by the name of Robert Mankin. I lived on Mr. J.S. Mankin’s farm, a son of Robert Mankin. My friend Cagle, in a conversation with Mr. J. S. Mankin, told him that I had taught school in east Tennessee before the war. To my surprise, Mr. J.S. Mankin and Dr. Dave Hickerson came to my house and told me that they had learned from Mr. Cagle that I was a school teacher in east Tennessee, and asked me to make up a school, telling me at the same time that the people in the community were very particular about who they sent their children to school to and said for me to write a nice article and they would make up the school for me. I told them I had no writing materials suitable for the purpose and they said they would furnish the necessary material, telling me at the same time that they had no school house, but that Robert Mankin had an old house in his field which had no roof. It had been used for a stable, but we could get some clapboards and cover it, and that it was warm weather and we could do it without a floor.
I began a three months term. August 1, 1864. At that time, I was renting a cow from Mr. Coleman Horde, paying him $3 per month. After teaching about 6 weeks, I informed the pupils that I needed some money and requested them to tell their parents if it was convenient for them to do so, to send me some money by them the next morning. To my surprise, the next morning, the children brought me $85.00. Some $10.00 down to $1.00 per family.. That afternoon. I went home and dropped the money into Mrs. Miller’s lap and she was as much surprised as I had been that morning when I receive the money from the school children. I bought a cow from Mr. Hart Evlis for $45.00, and returned the rented cow to Mr. Horde. I have never rented a cow since.
At the close of the term, the patrons desired me to continue the school, but winter was approaching and we had no floor in the house and no chimney. It was to my interest to continue the school, and in order to do so, it was absolutely necessary to repair the old log cabin. So, I bought some broad popular planks, or board from a man who lived on Knob Creek, near Wartrace. The planks, or boards, had been sawn logs, known as sheeting planks. In order to make a floor of such material, it was necessary to smooth the bark edges which I did with my chopping axe. The school boys assisted me in building a stick and clay chimney, which we built at noon hour, recess, and before school in the mornings.
With these improvements, we entered upon a second 3 months term, at the close of which I was informed by the patrons that they desired to continue the school, but that we had no school house, as Mr. Mankin wanted to put a renter in the school house to cultivate his land. They said if I would build a school house they would furnish the money, etc. In order to build a house quickly and as cheaply as possible, I collected together a quantity of cedar stringers that the Yankees had taken out of the Nashville & Chattanooga Railroad. There were sawn off of straight logs of proper length for house logs and were 6X8, as well as I remember. When the above named railroad was built, these stringers were laid upon the logs, laid across the road bed, as we now lay cross-ties, though several feet apart and were fastened by notches in said logs then keyed in the gage by wood keys. After this was done, small bars of iron were laid upon the stringers and fastened down by iron spikes. When the Yankees invaded Tennessee, they took out all of this light material and put down heavy rails. Thus, you see how I secured logs for the new house. Being of equal length, it was easy to build a neat house. Having the walls erected, I felled a great oak tree and split out boards with which to line the openings between the logs. In a short time we were ready to open school in our own school house. This year, and as long as I taught, we had a 10 months school year. During the 6 years I taught in Bedford County, my work was very satisfactory. If I needed money, all I had to do was to tell the pupils to bring it to me, and during the entire period of six years, I don’t think I lost as much as $5.00 in tuition.
During vacations, I worked on the N. & C. Railroad with Mr. Bill Eason. I guarded a bridge that spanned the Garrison River one mile from Wartrace.
We were poor and Mrs. Miller and I had a hard struggle in life to rear the family. The people were indeed very kind to us during our sojourn in Bedford County.