| Even in Williamsburg, Pennsylvania
in 1774, there were still few schools. So, many parents taught their children
to read and write at home using a bible and a hornbook. A hornbook
was a wooden board with a handle. A lesson sheet of the ABCs in small and
capital letters, some series of syllables and often, the Lord's Prayer, was
attached to the board and was protected by a thin layer of cow's horn.
Some hornbooks of wealthy families were very fancy, decorated with
jewels and leather and included ivory pointers. Most of them were plain
and had a string around the handle to be worn around the
People who wrote the early primers and readers used pictures of animals learning to read and write to show that reading and writing were natural and fairly easy processes! By the 1750s, literacy rates (percentage of people who could basically read and write) were the highest in the New England colonies, at about 75% for males and 65% for females. The literacy rates, however, were lower in the the Middle and Southern colonies.
Children wrote using a quill dipped in ink, which sometimes blotted on the page, so they sprinkled on pounce. Pounce is a powder-like sand that helps not blotch the page.
Most children wrote in a copybook because paper was so expensive. Wealthy children had a tutor (always a man) teach them privately. Some boys went to grammar school and sometimes even college but never girls. Girls were given lessons on how to run a home. It wasn't even expected for girls to spend any of their time reading! Instead their mothers taught them how to cook, sew, preserve food, direct servants and serve an elegant meal. Some girls were sent to teachers to learn how to sing, play a musical instrument, sew fancy stitchery, to serve tea properly by learning manners and how to carry on a polite conversation. When boys grew older, they could become apprentices to learning to become shopkeepers or craftsmen by working with and watching an adult.