Author: Marianne E. Julienne

editor of the Dictionary of Virginia Biography at the Library of Virginia
ENTRY

Public School System in Virginia, Establishment of the

The first statewide system of free public schools in Virginia was established in 1870 after the ratification of a new constitution and was one of the most important and enduring accomplishments of Reconstruction. Prior to the American Civil War (1861–1865), education had been reserved mostly for elite white families; no southern states had public school systems and in Virginia the education of free and enslaved African Americans had been discouraged and, in some forms, made illegal. After the abolition of slavery, the federal Freedmen’s Bureau established the first statewide system of schools, but only for African Americans; other, biracial systems were set up, but only in Petersburg, Richmond, and Norfolk. The new constitution created a new statewide system that, in spite of protests by African American members of the General Assembly, segregated black and white students. The first state superintendent, William Henry Ruffner, set about building the system’s infrastructure—creating more than 2,800 schools and hiring about 3,000 teachers by August 1871—and building political support for its funding. In debates over how to pay off Virginia’s large antebellum debt some politicians advocated reducing funding for public schools, although the system became more stable when the biracial Readjuster Party took over government in 1881, appointed R. R. Farr superintendent, and increased appropriations. By the turn of the century, public schools had attained broad social and political support.

ENTRY

Seaton, George Lewis (ca. 1822–1881)

George Lewis Seaton represented Alexandria for one session in the House of Delegates (1869–1871). Born free, Seaton worked as a carpenter and conducted multiple property transactions. After the American Civil War (1861–1865) he worked to improve the lives of former slaves by constructing two schools for Alexandria’s freedpeople and helping to establish a local branch of the Freedman’s Savings Bank and Trust Company. Seaton’s strong reputation probably played a role in his selection to the grand jury for the U.S. Circuit Court for the District of Virginia, likely the first interracial jury in Virginia history. In 1869 he won election to the House of Delegates and voted with the majority to ratify the Fourteenth and Fifteenth amendments to the U.S. Constitution as required by Congress before Virginia could be readmitted to the United States. He lost a bid for reelection in 1871 by fewer than 100 votes, but continued to participate in party politics throughout the decade. He spent his later years supporting public schools and community organizations for African Americans in Alexandria, but had to liquidate assets including his grocery store after the Panic of 1873. He died of paralysis in his home in 1881.

ENTRY

Ruffner, William Henry (1824–1908)

William Henry Ruffner was the designer and first superintendent of Virginia’s public school system and later served as principal of the State Female Normal School (later Longwood University). Born in Lexington and a graduate of Washington College (later Washington and Lee University), he spent the years before the American Civil War (1861–1865) as a Presbyterian minister and farmer in Rockingham County. Ruffner owned slaves, and he advocated the gradual emancipation and colonization of the state’s African Americans. He raised funds for the American Colonization Society. After the Constitution of 1869 mandated the creation of public schools, the General Assembly elected Ruffner the state’s first superintendent of public instruction. During his twelve-year tenure Ruffner gave Virginia’s public school system a lasting foundation and as he defended the system from vigorous opposition and the shortfalls generated by the state’s crippling debt. In 1884 he became principal of the new State Female Normal School, where he served for three years. Ruffner spent his later years teaching geology, writing about the history of Washington and Lee University, and advocating the school system he helped create. He died at his daughter’s home in Asheville, North Carolina, in 1908.

ENTRY

Jones, Sarah Garland Boyd (1866–1905)

Sarah Garland Boyd Jones became the first African American woman to pass the Virginia Medical Examining Board’s examination. Jones grew up among Richmond‘s black elite and became a teacher upon graduating from Richmond Colored Normal School. She entered Howard University’s medical school in 1890 and earned her medical degree three years later. Jones established a successful practice in Richmond. She and her physician husband helped create a medical association for Virginia’s African American doctors, and the pair opened their own small hospital. In 1922, the Sarah G. Jones Memorial Hospital, Medical College and Training School for Nurses (later Richmond Community Hospital) was named in her honor.

ENTRY

Faulcon, William (1841–by 1904)

William Faulcon represented Surry and Prince George counties for one term in the House of Delegates (1885–1887). Probably born into slavery, after the American Civil War (1861–1865) he operated a blacksmith’s shop. He began purchasing land in Surry County in 1879, eventually acquiring ninety acres. Little is known about how he became involved in politics, but local Republicans nominated him for the House of Delegates in 1885. Faulcon won the seat handily, but he did not present legislation or speak on the record during the term’s first session. He submitted a few bills on behalf of Surry County residents during the extra session. Faulcon was the Republican nominee for the seat in 1891, but he withdrew from the race before election day. He continued to farm in Surry County and died by 1904.

ENTRY

Farrar, Joseph E. (1830–1892)

Joseph E. Farrar was a Richmond builder and civic leader in the decades after the American Civil War (1861–1865). Farrar was born free and held a respected position as a contractor before the abolition of slavery, but he needed a gubernatorial pardon to escape being sold into slavery after being convicted of receiving stolen property. He began his civic involvement less than a month after the fall of Richmond, helping organize the Colored Men’s Equal Rights League. Farrar and other leaders established the Virginia Home Building Fund and Loan Association to assist African Americans in purchasing their own homes. He also received contracts from the Freedmen’s Bureau to work on school buildings in Richmond. Farrar held leadership positions in a series of Baptist and educational organizations and served on Richmond’s common council as a member of the Knights of Labor‘s reform faction. He remained active in the community until his 1892 death in Richmond.

ENTRY

Dungee, Shed (1831–1900)

Shed Dungee represented Buckingham and Cumberland counties for two terms in the House of Delegates (1879–1882). Born enslaved, Dungee worked as a cobbler and later became a licensed preacher. He took his seat in 1879, thirty-two years after he reportedly accompanied his master for a term in the General Assembly. Dungee introduced an unsuccessful bill to end the restriction on interracial marriage, on the grounds that outlawing such intermarriage violated the U.S. Constitution. Despite pressure from President Rutherford B. Hayes to support the Funders, he sided with Readjusters in the debate over how to deal with Virginia’s crippling pre-war debt. After winning reelection in 1881 he did not seek office in 1883, though he remained active in the Readjuster and Republican parties during the 1890s. Dungee died in Cumberland County in 1900.

ENTRY

Cole, William (1638 or 1639–1694)

William Cole served as a member of the governor’s Council (1675–1692) and as secretary of the colony (1690–1692). Cole served as an intermediary between Nathaniel Bacon and Governor Sir William Berkeley during the early months of Bacon’s Rebellion (1676–1677), but ultimately sided with the latter. As a councilor, Cole pushed for stronger governmental control on trade and helped crack down on piracy. Cole resigned as councilor, secretary, and customs collector in 1692, after Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson confronted him about a letter Cole wrote to Governor Francis Howard, baron Howard of Effingham, disparaging Nicholson. Despite Cole’s fall from power, he was the second man named in the College of William and Mary’s charter and a founding trustee of the institution.

ENTRY

Clayton, John (1695–1773)

John Clayton was a botanist and the clerk of Gloucester County (ca. 1720–1773). Born and educated in England, he first appears in colonial records in 1720 as the Gloucester County clerk, a position he held for more than fifty years. He owned a tobacco plantation and more than thirty slaves, and by 1735 was regularly providing naturalists such as Mark Catesby and John Frederick Gronovius with botanical specimens to be identified. Clayton himself identified and was the first to name the genus Agastache, a group of perennial, flowering herbs. In 1737, the Swedish botanist Carolus Linnaeus named the wildflowers of the genus Claytonia in Clayton’s honor. During this same time period, Clayton compiled for Gronovius a Catalogue of Herbs, Fruits, and Trees Native to Virginia, which Gronovius translated into Latin and published as Flora Virginica, without Clayton’s permission, in 1739. This and subsequent editions were the first, and until the mid-twentieth century, the only compilations of Virginia‘s native plants. Clayton was elected to the American Philosophical Society (1743), the Swedish Royal Academy of Science (1747), and the Virginian Society for the Promotion of Usefull Knowledge (1773), of which he was the first president. He died that same year.

ENTRY

Carter, James B. (ca. 1816–1870)

James B. Carter served as a member of the Convention of 1867–1868. Born into slavery, probably in Chesterfield County and of mixed-race ancestry, he possibly escaped bondage during the American Civil War (1861–1865). After the conflict he worked as a boot- and shoemaker in Chesterfield before becoming a grocer in the town of Manchester. In 1867 Chesterfield County’s Radical Republicans placed him on their slate of candidates for the upcoming constitution convention. A large African American turnout propelled the ticket to victory. Representing Chesterfield and Powhatan counties, Carter served as a relatively silent member of the convention and complained that its members spoke too much. He introduced a resolution calling for the General Assembly to require children spend at least three months a year in public school. Carter voted in favor of the new constitution, which included such reforms as universal manhood suffrage and the establishment of a public school system. Seemingly abandoning political life thereafter, he died in 1870.

Sponsors  |  View all