The First Sunday School in North Carolina

The first Sunday Schools were started by Robert Raikes in England in 1780, seven years after the founding of Springfield Friends Meeting. Raikes felt sorry for the many “little miserable wretches” in England who worked six days a week. He started a school on Sunday to teach reading, arithmetic and spelling as well as the Bible.

There were no public schools at the time, and Sunday Schools soon caught on all over the country and spread to the United States. In 1818, Abigail Albertson, a member of Springfield, started the first Sunday School in North Carolina. The school at first met in her home, which was near the meetinghouse. It became so popular that her home was soon overflowing. The Sabbath School was moved to the meetinghouse in 1820.

Sunday School was very different then. The school started promptly at 8:00 and went until 10:30, when it stopped for Meeting for Worship, which children were required to attend. School then resumed in the afternoon for spelling bees, which were a source of great excitement and competition.

Teachers like Allen U. Tomlinson would set out before daybreak with horse and wagon to pick up children from distant homes. More than 200 children, both from the meeting and from neighboring families, attended Sunday School. In the days before public schools, this was the only form of education which many children ever received.

Fancy pins were given for perfect attendance, and children were given colored paper tickets for memorizing Bible verses. A red ticket was a reward for memorizing two verses. Ten red tickets could be exchanged for one blue one, and ten blue ones could be traded for a yellow one. Students who had ten yellow tickets were given a Bible! Many of these Bibles became treasured family heirlooms.

In addition to classes on Sunday, the school also had a large lending library, with quality books in many subjects. Students could take home one book a week. In a time when families were poor, books were expensive, and no public libraries existed, the Sunday School library was a precious resource, and books were read and re-read till they became tattered and unusable.

Sunday school teachers and superintendents were deeply devoted to this ministry. Joash Reynolds, who lived in what we now call the Allen Jay house, was unable to walk on account of old age and a broken hip. He taught the adult class for many years and later served as superintendent. The young men of the meeting carried him in his chair from his home to the meetinghouse every week.

William R. Richardson, a young man of talent, zeal and education, served as superintendent for many years. An engineer, he built the water system for the city of High Point, until he died of typhoid fever. His wife, Dora Richardson, took over and served as superintendent for the next 40 years.

Miss Elva Jane Blair, one of the famous Blair family, used her huge car as a “bus” to pick up loads of children and bring them to Sunday School and other events. People said she had an angel riding on her front bumper because that was the only explanation for her not having any accidents! Elva Place, the road to the east of the meetinghouse, is named in her memory.

Branch Sunday Schools were started in more distant neighborhoods, including Bush Hill (now Archdale), Oak Hill, Piney Woods (Thomasville) and other locations. Some of these branches eventually became full-fledged Quaker meetings.

Throughout the 20th century, new adult classes were formed, many of which lasted for decades and contributed greatly to the life of the meeting.

Although public schools have taken over the task of teaching basic literacy, Sunday School remains one of the most important ministries of Springfield Friends Meeting, thanks to the love and devotion of generations of teachers and students.

This entry was posted in Springfield History. Bookmark the permalink.