Thursday, July 23, 2020

Jane Coomes

Concurrent with the coming of the women and children to Kentucky in the spring of 1775 was the presence among them of a teacher for children. She was Jane Coomes, wife of William Coomes, and together with other pioneers, migrated from Maryland to Kentucky. They were the first Catholic immigrants to Kentucky, so far as history records. This group came out of Maryland in the spring of 1775 and reached Fort Harrod on September 8 of that year.

Jane Coomes has two large historical credits to her name in the early records of Kentucky. First, with the aid of some men or boys in the party who could be spared from sterner duties she manufactured the first salt that was made in Kentucky. This was during a stop for a few weeks of the party journeying to Harrodstown at the Drennon's Springs located near the present site of Frankfort.
Second, she was the first teacher who taught school in the state of Kentucky. Jane Coomes' little school was built of the customary round logs with no chinking between them. It had a dirt floor, a slab door hung on deer thongs, and only one window. According to one authority, this window was covered with doe skin and another with greased paper. A mammoth fireplace, which extended along the entire east wall, had an opening at the south end through, which sections of logs could be hauled in and fitted over andirons. The seats were made of puncheons set on peg legs; there were no backs. A dunce stool stood in the corner, a rod for chastising nearby.

Mrs. Coomes taught the beginners the alphabet which was inscribed on paddle-shaped pine shingles. These paddles were equally useful to impart knowledge or inflict punishment. They were imitations of the hornbooks of Queen Elizabeth's time. Dillworth's speller and the New Testament were the sole textbooks. When they studied the Bible and hymnbooks. They learned to write and solve number problems from copies set them by the teacher. Charcoal and smooth boards took the place of paper and pencil, and the juice of oak balls were used for ink.
It was a 'blab school' where all studied aloud, their swaying bodies keeping time to the tune of their ABCs. Perhaps the children studied as hard - being grateful for any opportunity to learn - as the boys and girls of today do, who have cultured teachers and attractive textbooks. This teacher was a woman of more education than was common for women at that time. The fact that the Coomes’ school was kept despite the hardships and irregularities of pioneer life, although for perhaps only three or four months during the year, proves the high estimate put upon education by the founders of Harrodsburg.

She and her husband and sons were good Roman Catholics and remained steadfast in their faith. Jane and her husband and sons remained in the fort for nine years, during which time William took an honorable part in the defense of the Fort Harrod, through the siege of 1776-77. He cleared land and helped with the provisioning of the fort. One of the sons was in the famous battle of Blue Licks, where he was mortally wounded.

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