|The College of William and Mary|
The year 1729 was pivotal in the life of William and Mary College. By former agreement, the direction of the college was transferred from the hands of eighteen trustees to the faculty itself. A full faculty was functioning by that time, and, according to the record, “Joshua Fry, a gentleman of Williamsburg, was appointed master of the grammar school, which was early established ‘for the immediate education of the youth of the colony in the Latin and Greek tongues.’” We know, by a deed of 1726, that Joshua Fry was already serving as master at the college at that time, so it is likely that he headed the grammar school for at least five years, until 1731.
The chief aim of the grammar school was to instruct young boys in Latin and Greek, in preparation for entrance into the School of Philosophy. A proficiency in Latin and Greek was necessary, as most textbooks of the day were written in those ancient languages. As the eighteenth century moved towards its mid-point, more texts were being developed in English.
|The Grammar School Classroom|
An earlier William and Mary Grammar School master, Mungo Ingles, described a typical day in the classroom, in a letter of 1704:
It is nothing to be (all ye year long except in ye breaking up) Confin'd to College from 7 to 11 in the morning; & from 2 to 6 in the afternoon, and to be all day long spending ones Lungs upon a Compa. of children, who (many of them) must be taught ye same things many times over.
Today, Colonial Williamsburg preserves several rooms of the old Wren Building at William and Mary College in their colonial appearance. The Grammar School classroom, which sits just to the north of the main entrance, is one of those rooms. I had the opportunity to visit the room in the 1990’s. What fun to sit upon one of the classroom benches, and imagine my great-grandfather at the head of the class!
In 1731, Joshua Fry left the Grammar School to become the college’s Master of Natural Philosophy. This likely suited him well. In basic form, Natural Philosophy was the study of the “workings of nature”. Individuals had long studied the natural world, but in the mid eighteenth century, it was still a fairly new topic of study in the classroom. At William and Mary College it probably included physics, astronomy, and mathematics.
One of Fry’s predecessors at the college, Rev Hugh Jones, had proposed in 1722, that William and Mary College serve as a “training school for the civil service of the colony.” This was a revolutionary idea. He suggested that county clerks, assessors, and surveyors might be trained, and then appointed by the college. It is not clear that such a plan was adopted by the college at that time, but it seems reasonable that Joshua Fry, during his time at William and Mary College, trained many young men in the craft of surveying. By the latter half of the eighteenth century county surveyors were appointed by the governor, “after a candidate had been examined and approved by the faculty of the College of William & Mary.”
It is not certain exactly what year Joshua Fry left his work at the college to pursue new things. It was probably sometime between 1732 – 1737. He had led a bachelor’s life for many years, and at about the age of thirty-five, he was ready for a wife and family. Sometime between 1734-1736, he married Mary Micou, the daughter of Dr Paul Micou, and the wealthy widow of Leonard Hill. Joshua Fry, in the twenty years that followed, accomplished extraordinary things.
As surveyor, map-maker, explorer, husband, father, burgess, and head of the Virginia forces during the French and Indian War, he demonstrated that his years as schoolmaster at William and Mary College could be practically applied to a rich and full life.
For more details on Joshua Fry, visit his page at Family Stories, pamgarrett.com.
Moving Back In Time: Albert Luther Clarkson 1901 > Aubin Mildred Fry 1878 > Reuben Macon Fry 1847 > Philip Slaughter Fry 1801 > Reuben Fry 1766 > Henry Fry 1738 > Joshua Fry 1700.
Colonial Williamsburg Foundation Library Research Report Series – The College of William and Mary, by Mary Goodwin, 1967.
The Development of a Curriculum in the Early American Colleges; Joe W Kraus; published in the History of Education Quarterly, Vol 1, No 2, June 1961.