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Lett Settlement School House Meigs Twp. - History

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Lett Settlement School House


THE COLORED SCHOOL - Meigs Township, Muskingum County, Ohio -

"Niggers don't need teaching as they have no souls"

In the year 1845, there lived in the southeastern corner of Meigs township a colored man (a Quadroon) named Aquilla Lett. This man owned a good farm, and, paying a good round tax, naturally enough conceived the idea of educating his children. With this idea in view, he sent his daughter, Margaret, then twelve years of age, and his two younger children, Henry and Susan, to the district school.

The news soon spread like wildfire that there were "niggers in the school," and the Directors (Jacob Wharton, David McCarty and Burr Reed) ordered the teacher, Miss Louisa Harmon, to put the "niggers" in a corner by themselves until a meeting could be had. The teacher attempted to comply, but Margaret refused to be separated from the other scholars, on the plea that she "was not a nigger."

The next day the Directors came and ordered the teacher to separate the scholars, as per previous instructions. The teacher then refused on the ground that Mr. Lett’s children were attentive and orderly, and she would not disgrace them by any such unenviable distinction. She also refused to point them out.

Mr. McCarty, after some parleying, addressed Margaret with, "Say, my gal, ain’t you one of them?"

Margaret inquired: "One of what?" "Why, Africans." The rejoinder was: "No sir, I am as white as you are." Mr. Wharton then attempted to pick out the offending niggers, but unfortunately got hold of McCarty’s daughter (about the size and age of Margaret), when McCarty interfered with: "Hold on, that’s my gal."

McCarty next essayed the difficult feat, and got hold of Wharton’s daughter, when Wharton exclaimed "his gal." This rather disconcerted the directors, but something had to be done, and as the teacher refused to "put the niggers on the Jim Crow seat," she was dismissed and another employed, named Eliza Wood.

The white children—instructed, no doubt, by their parents—inaugurated a system of persecution and intimidation, to drive the Lett children from the school. But Margaret was plucky, and when any of the scholars tried to frighten her with clubs she would herself pick up a club, and resolutely charging, put the enemy to flight.

The directors came frequently to the school and dismissed the same, but as often set the teacher to work again, thinking, apparently, that Mr. Lett would refrain from sending his children.

One old man visited the school and informed the teacher that "niggers did not need any teaching, as they had no souls."

Previous to this time, one school house had been torn down and another burnt, to prevent the colored children from getting an education, as "niggers knowed too much already."

Mr. Lett, being threatened with the destruction of his property, concluded to appeal to the law for protection in the exercise of his rights; accordingly, in December, 1846, he sued the directors, before Matthew Fisher, for debarring his children from the public schools. Colonel C. J. Gibeaut (Justice of the Peace / Postmaster Meigsville), counsel for Lett. Verdict for plaintiff.

Whereupon a separate house was built on the land of J. Lett, and a separate fund created for the purpose of schooling the colored children. This house was rebuilt in 1853, and in 1864 a good frame was erected, in which the colored children—fifteen or twenty—are still being taught. Since 1856, the colored people are allowed to choose their own Directors.

Charles Henry Lett of Zanesville said on March 1, 2007 that he remembered visiting that abandoned school house during the 1940's with his father Sherman. He recalled entering the building and seeing what appeared to be hundreds of names of family members who had taken their children to look inside of the structure and had written their names and the date of their visit on the walls of the building.

(Robert Lett - descendent of Elijah Lett).

The above story was included among papers given to Charles H. Lett by Vandhalia "Vandy" Lett Gee and was recorded by George Simpson grandson of Turner Simpson &
Jemima S. Lett Simpson. George Simpson was a professor at Wilberforce University.

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