"The Syms and Eaton Schools and Their Successor"
Written by Helen Jones Campbell and published in the William & Mary Quarterly in 1940, "The Syms and Eaton Schools and Their Successor" details the history of the first free public school in America, the Syms Free School. Located in Hampton, Virginia, the school began in 1634 as a bequest of lands from Benjamin Syms. Although tradition holds that George Wythe was educated at home by his mother, Margaret Walker Wythe, young George may have attended the Syms School as part of his early education. The Syms property was adjacent to the Wythe family plantation, Chesterville, in Elizabeth City parish.
In 1760, George Wythe took a lease of the Syms property, paying the Free School rent, providing milk cows, promising to plant an apple orchard and to keep the land and buildings in good repair. In her research, Campbell expresses some frustration for Wythe: "Had this great lawyer considered it necessary to include in the indenture he drew up information concerning the boundaries or even the number of acres he was leasing, the present task of determining the site of the Syms school would be greatly simplified. As it is, the actual location of the building remains unidentified."
The article includes extensive appendices of primary source material, including the text of the original July, 1760 indenture which leased the Syms land to Wythe, excerpted here:
Article excerpt, January, 1940
Elizabeth City county records, 15 July 1760
This indenture made this fifteenth day of July, in the year of our Lord one thousand seven hundred and sixty between John Tabb, Robert Armistead, Cary Seldon, Charles Jennings, John Tabb, the younger, Starkey Robinson, George Wray, James Wallace, David Wilson Curle and Thomas Warrington, Trustees and Governors of Sym's Free School in the County of Elizabeth City, of the one part, and George Wythe of the other part, Witnesseth: That the Trustees and governors, for and in consideration of the rent herein and after reserved to be paid, and of the covenants herein-after contained to be performed by the said George Wythe have demised and granted and by these presents do demise and grant unto the said George Wythe and to his assigns all that tract or parcel of land called and known by the name of the Syms Free School land; and now in tenure of the said George Wythe scit. in the Parish and the County of Elizabeth City (excepting and reserving one acre at the southwest corner thereof unto the said Trustees and governors thereof and their successors) with all houses, orchards, ways and waters, water-courses, woods, trees, marshes, low grounds, profits and commodities to the said parcel or tract of land appertaining, together with eleven head of black cattle belonging to the said lands; to have and to hold, the said parcel or tract of land and premises, with the appurtenances unto the said George Wythe and to his assigns from the date of these presents for and during the natural life of the said George Wythe; he the said George Wythe and his assigns yielding and paying there-for Thirty one pounds and five shillings current money of Virginia, unto the said Trustees and Governors and their successors on the fifth day of February in every year during the said term. Provided that if the said yearly rent of thirty-one pounds five shillings or any part thereof being first lawfully demanded, shall be behind and unpaid by the space of sixty days next after any day on which the same ought to be paid, it shall and may be lawful for the said Trustees and Governors and their successors . . . to repossess the same. The said George Wythe for himself and his executors . . . covenant with the Trustees . . . to cause to be delivered to and for the use of
the Master of the aforementioned Free School . . . four good milch cows in the month of April in every year during the said term; to be returned to their calves in good order the November following, unless the said Master should chuse to keep them during the winter in which case he may retain them instead of others and and [sic] return them in November afterwards. And the said George Wythe and his assigns within twelve months after the date thereof will plant an orchard consisting of one hundred apple trees on the said land and at the expiration of this lease will leave the same complete as to the number of good bearing trees, and to keep and leave the houses to be built on the said land (except the house on the acre of land before excepted and reserved unto the said trustees and governors and except incase of tempests and accidents by fires) in good repair, and leave three thousand fence rales and eleven head of black cattle on the said land, and pay his Majesty's quit rents of the said land annually during the said lease. And the said Trustees and Governors . . . do covenant that the said George Wythe . . . may at all times . . . peacably and quietly enter into and have . . . the premises hereby devised . . . without any denial or interruption . . .
In witness whereof the parties . . . have sett their hands and affixed their seals.
Signed and delivered in the presence of
David Wilson Curle
John Tabb, Junr
- Helen Jones Campbell, "The Syms and Eaton Schools and Their Successor," William and Mary Quarterly 20, no. 1 (January, 1940), 1-61.
- From the will of Benjamin Symes: "Whereas there is due to me two hundred Acres of Land Lying in the old poquoson River and Eight Milch Cows . . . I bequeath it as followth Viz The use of the said Land with the Milk and Increase Male of the said Cattle to be for the Mantayance of an honest Learned Man to keep upon the said Ground a free school to Educate & teach the Children of the adjoining Parrishes of Elizb. City & Poquoton (viz) from Mary's Mount downward to the Poquoson River." Campbell, 22.
- William E. White, "Educator in Chief," Colonial Williamsburg, January 17, 2020, accessed December 2, 2021.
- Campbell, 11.
- Read this book in Google Books.