Wednesday, January 23, 2013


Continued from December 24, 2012

Nine-year-old Joshua Lovejoy's feelings would have been mixed as he marched up Buffalo's Pearl Street on July 13, 1829. The day was glorious, with bright sunshine glistening off the waves out in the Niagara River, whipped up by a breeze that kept temperatures comfortable. Joshua and his fellow students marched proudly through the crowds lining the street as they headed off to opening exercises for the new Western Literary and Scientifick Academy. Lead by the Buffalo Band, the procession stepped off when the bell from First Church rang three times. Captain Randall's company of artillery, Captain Jordan's rifleman, and Captain Wilgus' light infantry followed immediately behind, then came the 55 boys of the school's inaugural class lead by principle Captain James McKay. Teachers and trustees, joined by honored guests brought up the end of the procession. Winds were too high for parasols and fancy full-length skirts, so many of the invited ladies had chosen to go ahead to the school by carriage.

North they all marched. Past the customers and staffs of the downtown businesses; past the half dozen Seneca Indians in front of the Farmers' Hotel, past farmhands in front of the Plough Inn, past relatives, canal workers and many more of the city's remaining 8,000 citizens.

As the procession passed Court Street cadet Lovejoy's mind probably imagined a day sixteen years earlier, before he was born. The first Niagara County Court House stood on this site, as well as the nearby stone jail, two taverns and a number of log cabins. All that remained as the first week of January, 1814, ended was the smaller tavern, the walls of the jail and parallel rows of chimneys standing guard over open basement holes filled with charred bits of timber. Most of the inhabitants had fled at the approach of the British and their Indian allies. Joshua's father Henry was off with his militia company. Henry's wife Sally, Joshua's stepmother, stayed behind when she couldn't find a wagon to carry away her belongings. The enemy would not harm a woman. She would stay.

A neighbor saw her though a window when an Indian entered the Lovejoy house, saw her grab a knife, saw the tomahawk slash downward. Henry Lovejoy was a widower.

Joshua's thoughts were interrupted as his two sisters and their friends called out from the sidewalk and he returned their waves. He marched along with the rest of the cadets, headed for the new academy. Although the term 'high school' was not commonly used, the new school had its beginning two year earlier when the Buffalo High School Association raised pledges of $10,000 for a new institution. Many of its backers remembered the destruction that nearly wiped out their community, remembered the whole war with the British and all of the disasters and near-disasters that had loomed so largely during its drawn-out existence. One faction reasoned that the country could quickly raise an army of unconquerable patriots steeled to meet any threat. They proposed the new school be based on the popular 'monitorial' system with its standard classical course curriculum. The opposing faction held out for a model that added military drill and courses to the standard mix. Winners will be announced next time.

© 2005 David Minor / Eagles Byte

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