“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
“Bite-Size Bits of Local, National, and Global History”
Elizabeth City in Pasquotank County, North Carolina — The American South (South Atlantic)

First School

First School Marker image. Click for full size.
By Laura Troy, October 1, 2007
1. First School Marker
Inscription. Charles Griffin taught in this County the first known school in N.C., 1708-08.
Erected 1938 by State Historical Commission. (Marker Number A-14.)
Location. 36° 18.121′ N, 76° 13.388′ W. Marker is in Elizabeth City, North Carolina, in Pasquotank County. Marker is at the intersection of North Road Street and West Elizabeth Street, on the right when traveling north on North Road Street. Click for map. Marker is in this post office area: Elizabeth City NC 27909, United States of America.
Other nearby markers. At least 8 other markers are within walking distance of this marker. W. O. Saunders (about 400 feet away, measured in a direct line); A Town Divided (about 400 feet away); a different marker also named A Town Divided (about 400 feet away); Pasquotank County Courthouse 1882 (about 700 feet away); Historic Events in Pasquotank (about 700 feet away); Elizabeth City Confederate Monument (about 700 feet away); a different marker also named A Town Divided (about 800 feet away); Wright Brothers in the Albemarle (approx. 0.3 miles away). Click for a list of all markers in Elizabeth City.
Regarding First School. Although education has always been part of life in Carolina, Charles Griffin (ca. 1679-ca. 1720) was the first professional educator on record in the colony. An immigrant from the West Indies, Griffin arrived in North Carolina in 1705, and soon established a school near Symond’s Creek, eight miles south of what is now Elizabeth City.

Griffin’s educational background and religious affiliation would have a significant impact on his career as a schoolteacher. Raised in the West Indies, Griffin likely received a formal education, although records of his childhood are now lost. At a time when local churches were primarily responsible for education, Griffin, a devout Anglican, arrived in the Pasquotank area in 1705, and established an Anglican school for local adolescents. Despite the large Quaker presence in his precinct, Griffin’s school flourished, receiving accolades from Anglicans and Quakers alike. Time spent within the Quaker community would later affect his relations with Anglicans within the colony.

In 1708, two Anglican ministers replaced Griffin, who subsequently moved to Chowan County, where he established another school. While Governor William Glover had maintained a favorable opinion of Griffin, by 1709 he felt Griffin’s experiences among Quakers led him from the Anglican faith. Indeed, Griffin became entangled in the power struggle between Anglicans and Quakers, which culminated in Bath with Cary’s Rebellion. Wanting to escape, Griffin moved to Virginia, where he entered the service of Governor William Spotswood.

Griffin discovered in Virginia a new mission that would dictate the course of his career. Around 1714, Griffin participated in Spotswood’s initiative to pacify frontier Indian tribes through Christianization. In 1715, Griffin earned fifty pounds (sterling) per year teaching Indian children in Fort Christanna, along the banks of the Meherrin River. In the summer of 1718, however, funding shortages closed the school, and Griffin was then hired as director of Indian studies at Virginia’s William and Mary College. He remained at William and Mary for the duration of his career, and died nearby in 1721.

Charles Griffin’s life was dedicated to knowledge. As a steward of education and religion, Griffin established the first school on record in North Carolina, while helping to spread Christianity through colonist and Indian populations.

Herbert R. Paschal, “Charles Griffin: Schoolmaster to the Southern Frontier,” in Essays in Southern Biography (1965)
Lawrence F. London and Sarah M. Lemmon, The Episcopal Church in North Carolina, 1701-1959 (1987)
R.D.W. Connor, William K. Boyd, and Joseph Hamilton, History of North Carolina, I (1919)
William Sounders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, I (1886)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 370-371— sketch by Herbert R. Paschal

copied from the North Carolina Department of Cultural Resources
Categories. Notable Persons
Credits. This page originally submitted on , by Laura Troy of Burke, Virginia. This page has been viewed 1,142 times since then and 46 times this year. Photo   1. submitted on , by Laura Troy of Burke, Virginia. • J. J. Prats was the editor who published this page. This page was last revised on June 16, 2016.
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