The Grant School on ‘Dutch Hill’
Written by Ned Lodwick, US Grant Homestead Association
“ ‘Lys’ Grant’s early education ”
Hiram Ulysses Grant began his formal education at the John D. White subscription school on Main Cross Street across from the Georgetown Post Office when he was five years old. The village built a new school on ‘Dutch Hill’ on South Water Street and Hiram continued his education there. A subscription school was one in which the parents of the students of the students paid the teacher directly. The ‘Dutch Hill’ school was a one room school that taught students ‘reading, riting, and rithmatic’ in a single room. The classes were made up of both boys and girls from five to eighteen in grades from first to eight.
‘Lys’ did not receive corporal punishment at home but at school he was not exempt. Punishment at the “Dutch Hill” School probably took several forms. Hickory, beech, or willow switches were probably the most popular as ‘Lys’ said of John D. White’s school in his memoirs, “The rod was freely used there, and I was not exempt from its influence. I can see John D. White-the teacher of the school-now, with his long beech switch always in his hand. It was not always the same one, either. Switches were brought in bundles, from a beech wood near the school house, by the boys for whose benefit they were intended. Often a whole bundle would be used up in a single day. I never had any hard feelings against my teacher, either while in school, or in later years when reflecting upon my experience. Mr. White was a kind-hearted man, and was much respected by the community in which he lived. He only followed the universal custom of the period, and that under which he had received his own education.” A good supply of switches would have been kept at the school but if the supply ran low the offender might be sent out to cut a few stout switches for his or her own punishment. Switches would be used on arms, wrists, hands, legs, or buttocks. ‘Lys’ rarely was punished at school but there were a few occasions where the ‘rod was not spared’.
Teacher John D. White said that ‘Lys’ Grant was the best student he ever had but he was not the perfect student. In arithmetic, art, reading, and history few of his students were ever better but when it came to his copy book it was an entirely different thing. The copy book is where the students would copy their final draft of work after they had perfected it with slate and chalk. ‘Lys’ must have thought of this as busy work and his book was a mess. Finally, Mr. White had had enough of the misspelled words, the incorrect grammar, the careless smudges, and the un-capitalized letters and told ‘Lys’ to go to his desk and fix his copy book. ‘Lys’ worked earnestly at first but soon a man riding a fine horse caught his eye and he began to draw. Suddenly ‘Lys’ felt someone very near, and when he looked up he saw his very unhappy schoolmaster. Mr. White gave ‘Lys’ one of his few ‘switchings’, some for the horse and some for the man.
A favorite game at recess at the ‘Dutch Hill’ School was “Mumble-the-Peg”. ‘Lys’ was not a good player but he tried to get better by playing more. The game involved flipping your pocket knife off various parts of your body (finger, wrist, elbow, etc.) and sticking the knife in the ground. If you didn’t make the knife stick the other player would take your knife and pound a wooden stake a time or two into the ground. The first player to make all the required flips and sticks was the winner.
The loser then had to pull out his peg with his teeth. On one occasion ‘Lys’s peg was driven in so deep the boys thought it couldn’t be pulled out. He set to work with his forehead in the dirt, the sun beating down on him, and the crowd of boys and girls shutting out any breath of air. The peg did not move. The red-faced, shock-headed, thick-set boy, with face now covered with mud, had forgotten his comrades and saw only one thing in the world, the stubborn peg. The bell rang, but ‘Lys’ did not hear it. A moment later, after a final effort, ‘Lys’ staggered to his feet with the peg in his teeth. Teacher John D. White, with a long beech switch in his hand, was at the door of the school, the only person to be seen. There was glee among the students; ‘Lys’ had broken rule #1, which was to come into the school when the bell rings. ‘Lys’ was going to get a rare ‘switching’ and here was fun that the boys hadn’t counted on. Imagine their surprise when the stern schoolmaster saw ‘Lys’s face, leaned the switch inside the door and came outside. One boy slipped to the window and saw the rest. Mr. White was pouring water in ‘Lys’s hands and having him wash his face. He gave him his red bandanna to wipe it dry. What the students saw a minute later was the teacher coming in, patting the head of a very red and embarrassed ‘Lys’ Grant. John D. White respected tenacity.
George Lyons was a schoolmate and friend of ‘Lys at the ‘Dutch Hill’ School. He said that ‘Lys was a nice boy but that he was not a boy to play ‘Teeter-totter’ with, because ‘Lys liked to play ‘Kaplunk’. ‘Lys would get an unsuspecting boy on the other end of the plank and when he was at the high point and ‘Lys was on the ground ‘Lys would get off. ‘Kaplunk’!!!
The older students were envious of ‘Lys’s ability to answer all of the arithmetic questions and his ability to draw. His father, Jesse, thought he needed more of a challenge in his education. Jesse Grant thought that ‘Lys’ should get the best education that was available in the area. He felt his son had learned all that was to be learned at the ‘Dutch Hill’ School, so he sent ‘Lys’ to the Maysville Academy for a year and to Rev. John Rankin’s Presbyterian Academy for another year. There is no record to show that those schools were any more advanced than old ‘Dutch Hill’, but that time away from home surely made ‘Lys’ more self-reliant.
In Ripley he would have been introduced to a much more anti-slavery attitude than he had experienced at home. Both Maysville and Ripley were on the Ohio River and had very busy docks. Flatboats and steamboats coming and going, colorful characters were everywhere you turned, and industry at every corner. Without chores and work at the tannery ‘Lys’ had a lot of free time, and he spent most of it at the docks, watching and asking questions of all types. One river man said, “He was like a sponge, he sucked up all the information he could.” Together his early education was successful because Hiram never had problems with academics at West Point, the best engineering school in the United States.
Visit the Grant Schoolhouse State Memorial on South Water St., Georgetown, Ohio.