April 13, 2014

Who woulda thought that a story about my youth in Queens, N.Y., and my favorite baseball team, the Brooklyn Dodgers, would elicit more response here in Tidewater than just about any piece I’ve ever written?
Bobby Thomson is mobbed at the plate. Associated Press photo.

Or that several readers also delivered local newspapers in that huge metropolitan polyglot of boroughs and treasured one of the three major league teams, the Dodgers, the Giants and the Yankees?

I wrote about delivering The Long Island Daily Press and hearing, from radios blasting from open windows in my town of Forest Hills, the heartbreaking moment when Bobby Thomson of the Giants snuffed out the dreams of this idol-worshiping Dodger fan with one swing of the bat.
The responses came in like fastballs.

Jim Beauchamp of Virginia Beach also delivered the Daily Press. “I recall how proud I was when I installed that big press basket on my Schwinn. We always porched the paper and on rainy days rang doorbells at homes where there was no cover. Collection day was Saturday and some tightwads wouldn't answer the door even if they were home. What great memories and yes I was a Dodgers fan too and my mother was born in Brooklyn as was my wife.”

Mike Schery of Norfolk delivered the Yonkers Herald Statesman. Although his father was from Brooklyn, they were ardent Giant fans. His dad, recovering from a heart attack, knew he had to take it easy, but that big swing turned the “Miracle of Coogan’s Bluff” into reality. “My dad went crazy – jumping up and down and screaming,” Schery wrote. “My mother rushed in to calm him, probably averting another heart attack. Of course, our high lasted only a week before the “Yanks”, a team that ranked only behind the Bums in our disdain, won the Series in six games.

 “In sequel, my dad died within a year at the age of 50; I had just turned eleven.  That was the saddest period of my young life but I can still remember my first thought two years later when the Giants swept Cleveland in the Series: ‘Gee I wish Dad were alive to see this.’”

Vince Ferretti, who delivered The Staten Island Advance, was a Yankee fan who, of course hated the Dodgers because of the teams’ long rivalry, “I came home from school and my mother was ironing and had the game on. Bobby Thomson was from S.I. When he hit that homer, we all cheered and danced a jig.  I remember it as if it were yesterday.”
John Van Huyck, also an ex-newsboy, was “a loyal Dodger fan and avowed Yankee hater . . . and was used to the many disappointments involved by 1951.  After all, "Wait 'til next year" was a litany until 1955.  And I, too, still have my autographs although my mother, in her innocence, threw out my extensive bubble card collection when I went into the Navy in '53!”

 Francis Nugent, a Giants fan now of Chesapeake, was tuned into the Dodgers-Giants game in an unusual way: as a radioman on a submarine that was returning from Europe, and a teletype machine “was typing away each pitch and each swing of the bat” when the infernal thing stopped “and never hit another key for the rest of the trip until we got it fixed in New London, Ct.” It wasn’t until late that night that he found out his Giants had won.

Alison Schoew, a technical writer at ODU, had to smile when she read that I grew up in her home town of Forest Hills, a suburb or New York where tennis championships were once played on grass. Her family, originally from the Flatbush section of Brooklyn, was heart-broken when the Dodgers left for Los Angeles.

In part of a short story, a character she calls Jean, is “in her heart a Brooklyn girl, even though born and bred in Manhatten. On the way to a friend’s home in Flatbush she can’t wait to hear the broadcast of a Yankees-Dodgers game.

“Finally, the train arrives in Flatbush.  She would like for the gentlemen along her six-block walk to Madeline’s to notice the wind ruffling the feathers in her cap, the buttons of her topcoat undone, the form of her figure smiling out from her gown, but no.  Their attention is on the game.
“Yet here – here! – she is finally at home.  She’d thought she’d miss it, but from every car radio, from every open apartment window, from the spring in every step, she senses the familiar joy engendered by supporting “dem bums”, her Dodgers.  Here, finally, she can sing in harmony with her neighbors.”

Ah, doze memories!

April 6, 2014

Bobby Thomson crushed the Dodgers with
one swing. Associated Press photo.
This is about a missing newspaper and the shot heard 'round the world.

Not the start of the American Revolution, mind you, but one of the greatest – or saddest – days in baseball history.
First the paper. When I awoke one day last week and opened the front door, it was gone. Or mostly. One page of the Daily Break featuring the Israel Philharmonic lay flapping in a corner of the porch. The rest was completely gone.

It was my fault. A couple of months ago I asked the obliging folks at the Pilot if I could have the paper delivered without the plastic wrapper. We have a deep, covered porch, so there’s not much chance of the paper getting wet. I felt a tiny bit better not adding to the world’s plastic trash.
But I hadn’t figured that on really windy days, the paper might take flight and end up on other porches, other neighborhoods. Gone with the wind.

Which reminded me of a famous baseball game. I’m not kidding.
You see, my first newspaper job, in my long-ago hometown of Forest Hills, New York, was delivering The Long Island Daily Press. It’s long gone, but was once a medium-size afternoon publication.

As a lad of about 12, I’d get off from junior high and report to a drop-off place where we’d get the papers. We folded them into a tight little bundle, kind of like putting your arm into a jacket sleeve, then cram them into shoulder bags and take off on our routes on foot or on bikes.
Somehow the papers held together well enough to fling onto porches or, in some cases, drop by apartment doors. We never bagged them. Plastic was almost unheard of in those days.

Well, anyhow, while contemplating my missing newspaper last week, and thinking about how we used to hold fold ‘em and toss ‘em way back then, I was reminded of one of the darkest days of my youth.
You see, I was walking my route on the afternoon of Oct. 3, 1951, stopping wherever I could to listen to the radio. Windows were mostly open and you could clearly hear the radios that were tuned to one of the most important events of our lives, the final playoff game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and New York Giants. Before, of course, these teams both turned traitor and moved to the West Coast.

I was an avid Dodger fan. After all, my mother was born in Brooklyn. And the Dodgers had the most wonderful team, with heroes like Jackie Robinson, Duke Snider and Pee Wee Reese. I had most of their autographs and still do.
To us Dodger fans, it was amazing this was even happening. Our team was in first place by a dozen games late in the season when the Giants went on one of the most amazing win streaks in baseball history, ending the regular season tied with the Dodgers for first place in the National League. Now it was the playoffs and the winner of this three-game series would face the Yankees.

This was ridiculous. The Gi’nts threatening our team! Yet here they were, games now tied at one apiece in this final game at the Polo Grounds. You could feel the tension up and down the block, but at least the Dodgers were ahead in the last of the ninth, 4-1. Then a couple of hits and it was 4-2, with two on and one out.
Dodger coach Charlie (“Cholly”) Dressen pulled an exhausted Don Newcombe and brought in Ralph Branca to face the hard-slugging Bobby Thomson. Oh, God, Branca had served up a game-losing homerun to Thomson in the first game! Standing outside an apartment window, my papers half delivered, I was in perfect agony.

At 3:58 p.m., with the count oh and one, Branca threw an inside fastball that Thomson sent on a rising line drive toward the leftfield stands. It was all over but the shouting, especially by the Giants’ announcer: “The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant! The Giants win the pennant!” And I, like that baseball, was crushed.
I understand that someone dubbed it the shot heard 'round the world because so many American servicemen stationed in Korea at the time heard the broadcast.

And now, on a windy day in Norfolk some sixty years later, it still echoes. We wuz robbed! The Bums! Wait till next year!
 

March 30, 2014

NC-4, with Norfolk's Elmer Stone at the controls,
Lands in the Targus River in Lisbon. Coast Guard file photo.
The worst of the ordeal was over. With the help of warships stretched out across the Atlantic, of seat-of-the-pants navigating and guts flying through fog, buffeting winds and bitter cold, the ungainly Navy seaplane had made it from Newfoundland to the Azores.

Now the weather forecast for May 27, 1919, signaled a go for the next leg from the small island group to Lisbon, Portugal. If the crew of this “flying boat,” NC-4, were to make it, they’d be the first humans to cross the Atlantic by air.
At the controls of the Navy plane was a pilot on loan from the Coast Guard, Elmer Fowler (“Archie”) Stone of Norfolk, perhaps the most unsung hero in aviation history.

In Coast Guard lore, Stone was a storied figure, a test pilot, a pioneer in the use of aircraft for search and rescue, and now chosen to pilot this half boat/half plane on a high-profile, high-risk mission.
Competition for first-over honors was keen. At almost the same time NC-4 began its attempt, two British planes took off from Newfoundland and headed for Ireland. One experienced an overheated engine and ditched at sea. The other crashed on takeoff. Two other British crews, both piloting long-range bombers, were readying for their attempts, unaware that their competitor was already two thirds of the way across.

Two other Navy seaplanes had made the attempt but both were forced  to ditch in the ocean. And apparently, Stone’s aircraft almost didn’t make it either. One of his friends would later write that his commanding officer on the flight, Albert C. Read, got “cold feet and would have aborted the flight if Archie had not threatened to bend a fire extinguisher over his head.”
Gunning the five engines of the 28,000-pound flying boat, Stone took off from Ponta Delgada in the Azores and headed for Lisbon. Helping guide the way were 14 Navy destroyers – a good thing as it turned out because his compass had jumped off its gimbals on takeoff and caused an eight-degree error. That and scattered rain squalls slamming his open cockpit gave him about all he could handle.

But as Stone’s handwritten notes in the margins of his chart put it, “Journey went very well from here on.”
As Capt. Robert B. Workman Jr. describes it in his book Float Planes and Flying Boats, “Stone approached straight up the Targus River to the harbor, made a wide circle to the south and then a gentle glide on final approach to a landing.”

Twenty-one gun salutes were fired, ship’s whistles blasted away and the crowd cheered as NC-4 landed and taxied to a mooring. Because of the weather-dogged layover in the Azores, it had taken 44 hours for the first Atlantic crossing.
On board the mother ship Rochester, the Portuguese government held a reception for the crew, a marine band played the “Star-Spangled Banner, and all – including the NC-1 and NC-3 crews – were decorated with the Portuguese equivalent of the Medal of Honor.

There was an even bigger reception in Plymouth, England, when the last leg of the flight was completed four days later. And more medals and parades in America upon their return. Then-Assistant Navy Secretary Franklin D. Roosevelt lauded Stone for a feat that “has brought honor to the American Navy and the entire American nation.”
But soon the hurrahs and the music died. One of the British bombers made it non-stop to England a few weeks later.

And Stone vanished from the limelight, even though he served as commander of Coast Guard ships, helped develop catapult and arresting gear for aircraft carriers and served on high-profile service panels.
But his career was stifled by his success as an aviator. According to Workman, the Coast Guard preferred seagoing officers when it came to promotions, and many admirals viewed aviation as a threat. “What his peers did not know was that Stone was under enormous emotional stress from the jealousy of senior officers at headquarters.”

On May 20, 1936, while inspecting a new patrol aircraft, Stone had a heart attack and died at the too-young age of 49. This first bird across the Atlantic was buried at Coast Guard Hill at Arlington National Cemetery. And mostly, although not by legions of aviators, forgotten.

March 23, 2014

Five of the six-member crew of NC-4, including Lt.
 Elmer Stone of Norfolk, second from right.
Courtesy of the Coast Guard
On May 16, 1919, just before sunset, three Navy flying boats took off from Trepassy Bay, Newfoundland, and headed out across the Atlantic. Their destination was the Azores, a tiny group of islands two thirds of the way to Europe, and then Lisbon, Portugal.

Their destiny, if planning paid off and luck went their way, was to become the first to fly across the Atlantic.
Forget Charles Lindbergh’s solo flight eight years later. This almost-forgotten crossing, piloted by a Coast Guard lieutenant from Norfolk, would be the true beginning of transatlantic aviation.

The three seaplanes, developed by aviation pioneer Glenn Curtiss for anti-submarine warfare, were each manned by a crew of six. NC-1 (for Navy-Curtiss) was skippered by Lt. Cmdr. Patrick Bellinger; NC-3 by Cmdr. John Towers; and NC-4 by Lt. Cmdr. Albert Read. (NC-2 had been scrubbed and used for spare parts.
Seventeen out of 18 crew were Navy. The exception was Lt. Elmer Stone of the Coast Guard. The 32-year-old one-time press operator served as a test pilot during World War I. Later, when the decision was made to attempt the Atlantic crossing, he was recruited by the Navy for his skills in handling the lumbering four-engine biplanes.

As they soared off the water on the 16th, the flyers were hit by turbulent air and climbed 1,000 feet where the air was smoother. And colder. These were open, unheated cockpits, and the men had to endure the sound of screaming engines for hours at a time.
Flying at about 75 mph, they crossed over a series of 21 Navy destroyers strung out every 50 miles to show them the way. Star shells, searchlights and radio signals kept them on course through the long night, although the three separated to keep from colliding. At 3 a.m., an almost-full moon rose. It was looking easy. Too easy.

At sunrise on May 17, thick fog set in and the seaplanes could no longer rely on the Navy ships for direction. In his recent book, Float Planes & Flying Boats, Robert B. Workman writes that NC-1 and NC-3 had not kept up regular celestial navigation fixes and their radio direction finders were not working. In the fog they were lost.
The NC-3 team mistook a civilian ship for one of the destroyers and altered course, becoming further confused. NC-1 ducked below the fog and emerged uncomfortably close to the water, but the crew could see nothing.

Now running low on fuel, both NC-1 and NC-3 were forced to land on the open sea. Their commanders hoped to get better position fixes, restart their radio direction finders, set new courses and take off again. But the sea was rougher than expected and they were either damaged on landing or unable to get airborne because of high waves.
Fortunately, after five hours of drifting, and bailing to keep afloat, NC-1’s crew were rescued by a Greek freighter out of Newport News. The damaged seaplane was taken in tow but the line broke and it drifted on punishing seas. Finally, after other attempts to save it failed, the battered craft capsized and sank.

Meanwhile, NC-3’s crew discovered they were close enough to one of the Azores islands to drift there. They spent two nights on the water, sometimes dogged by 50-foot seas and 45-knot winds, before limping in to Ponta Delgada Harbor.

NC-4, the last of the trio, was also lost at times, with fog so thick the crew couldn’t see from one end of their flying boat to the other. With the co-pilot at the controls as they climbed to 3,000 feet, rough air threw the aircraft into a spin and caused it to plunge through the heavy fog.
Stone recognized from his experience as a test pilot what was wrong and took back the controls. “With only a faint sun glimmering through the fog for a reference point,” Workman writes, “he recovered from the stall and spin, resuming normal flight at 1,200 feet and climbing into an altitude above the clouds and into sunlight.”

“This did not last for any length of time, only about 30 seconds – we got out of it quick!” Stone would later shrug.
Finally, dipping below the heavy weather – at one point flying 25 feet above the water – one of the strangest-looking craft ever seen in the Azores landed smoothly in one of the islands’ narrow harbors. It had taken 15 hours, 13 minutes of white-knuckle, bone-chilling flight, but they were there.

Now they were but a skip and a jump from their date with history.

Next week, first across the pond.

March 16, 2014

The NC-4 was powered by four 400-hp engines, one of them facing aft.
Courtesy of the U.S. Navy. 
In this space last week, the Navy was eagerly developing an aircraft that could cross the Atlantic and track down German U-boats. Developer Glenn Curtiss was hard at work designing such a plane. But the war’s end in November 1918 quashed this idea, at least temporarily.

A nation that had boasted the first heavier-than-air flight at Kitty Hawk and wished to project its power across the sea was still chomping at the bit. And then a British newspaper baron offered a bundle of cash -- $50,000 – to the first team that could make the difficult and dangerous crossing. A race between several British, French, Italian and American teams was on.
During the war, Lt. Elmer F. Stone of Norfolk, who had led a daring rescue of a ship’s crew off False Cape and championed the use of aircraft in Coast Guard search and rescue missions, served on a heavy cruiser escorting troop ships to Europe.

Somewhere during that period the former newspaper pressman was married. At least that’s what one census report indicates, giving the year as 1917 and Stone’s age as 30, but no marriage records seem to exist and there is no mention of children.
The marriage must have ended quickly. He was by now a busy man with ever more challenging jobs, especially after the war ended. Ever eager to show his flying skills, he quickly accepted his new assignment to Rockaway, N.Y., where he’d take the controls of one of the new NC class (for Navy-Curtiss) flying boats and attempt to cross the Atlantic.

These boxy, strange-looking craft were way heavier than air – too heavy, the designers realized. They’d have to add extra, more powerful engines, four in all. The ponderous sea planes would require two miles of running room just to get off the water and 1,800 gallons of fuel to jump across the ocean.
It was 1919, eight years before Charles Lindbergh’s non-stop, solo flight to Paris. This attempt would be less glamorous, with a crew of six and a stopover in the Azores before the final leg. But it would qualify as the first airborne Atlantic crossing – and in a much more primitive flying machine.

There were four NC flying boats, NC-1-4, although NC-2 was cannibalized for spare parts. The first tests of the “Nancies” – as they were sometimes nicknamed – must have been nerve-wracking, with frequent tweaks to stabilize the planes and balance their loads.
One of the flying boats, NC-1, made a test run to Anacostia, Md., near Washington, then to Hampton Roads in November 1918. There are no mentions of the landing in the newspapers of the time. They were crammed with news about the end of the war.

The transatlantic attempt would be a zigzag affair, from Rockaway to Halifax, Nova Scotia, then to Trepassy Bay off Newfoundland. From there the ungainly flying boats would head for the Azores, 1,350 nautical miles away, then jump another 800 nautical miles to Portugal, and finally to Plymouth, England.
Because of primitive navigation technology, the Navy stationed 21 destroyers and five battleships roughly 50 miles apart to serve as beacons and, if necessary, rescue ships. As an article in United States Navy and Aviation Magazine explained, it was a time when “it was not easy to zero in on nine tiny islands scattered over several hundred square miles of ocean. If an eastbound pilot missed the Azores, his next landfall was Africa, hundreds of-miles away.”

On May 8, NC-1, NC-3 and NC-4 took off from Rockaway, bound for Halifax. But after four hours, with Stone at the controls, NC-4’s center engines failed, forcing him to land at sea off Chatham, Mass., then taxi all night through choppy water to reach the air station there. Gail-force winds caused several days of delay, leading local newspapers to speculate that this “lame duck” would be left behind.
That might have happened, but when the other two craft tried to depart on May 15, they were so overloaded with fuel they couldn’t get off the water. All three eventually made it to Newfoundland, but not before serious cracks were discovered in their steel propellers, forcing them to be refitted with wooden ones.

At last, near sunset on Friday, May 16, all three flying boats, their engines screaming with the effort, lifted off the water and lumbered into the gathering gloom over the Atlantic.
Next week, near-calamity at sea.

March 9. 2014

The class at Naval Air Station Pensacola included 3rd Lt. Elmer Stone, 4th from right, back row.
 They became the first Coast Guard Aviation Group. Courtesy of the U.S. Coast Guard
OK, who was the first pilot to fly across the Atlantic? Warning: If you answer Charles Lindbergh, you’d be wrong. And Amelia Earhart would be, well, way off course.

That honor goes to a much-less-remembered Coast Guard commander, Elmer Fowler Stone, who once, before beginning his career as an aviator, worked as a press operator for The Virginian-Pilot. I’m not kidding. And I’m as surprised as you probably are.
“Archie” Stone was born in Livonia, N. Y., near Rochester, in 1887 but moved as a youngster to Norfolk. His father, F.E. Stone, apparently died in 1900. Census records that year show the 13-year-old Elmer living with his mother, Flora, and two sisters, Marion and Lucy, in the home of James and Laura Fowler, his mother’s parents.

They all lived on East Willoughby Street, likely a small blue collar neighborhood near what is now close to the entrance to the Downtown Tunnel. He probably attended and graduated from the former Norfolk High School in that neighborhood. By age 18 he listed his occupation as “printer” and later as “assistant pressman” and “pressman,” and the family moved to Redgate Avenue and later Graydon Avenue.
The young Stone was definitely upwardly mobile, but seemed to have no inkling he’d be an aviator. The Wright Brothers had just gotten off the ground in 1903. Lindbergh wouldn’t make his attempt until 1927. But soon an intriguing opportunity dawned. In 1910 he qualified as a cadet in the Revenue Cutter Service, the forerunner of the Coast Guard, graduating in three years. He’d quickly prove himself.

In June 1915, while Stone was a line officer on board the cutter Onondaga stationed at Newport News, the ship’s radio officer received a message that a three-masted schooner, the C.C. Wehrum, heavily laden with lumber, was in a sinking condition in a storm off False Cape.
“We arrived there early in the morning and a volunteer boat’s crew from the ship took off the crew of the schooner and we laid by the Wehrum for three days,” the quartermaster reported, “and when the weather moderated we got the schooner in tow and brought her into Norfolk.”

All seven crew members were saved, and Stone, who led the rescue effort, received a letter of commendation praising the “skill and judgment which you displayed in the handling of the Onondaga.” His action reflected “great credit upon the service to which you belong and stamps you as a man of that resourcefulness that overcomes obstacles.”
The characterization would prove to be fitting.

Monumental things were afoot in Hampton Roads. Daredevil flyer Eugene  Ely had taken off from the deck of a Navy ship off Old Point Comfort in a Curtiss Model 1D “pusher” aircraft in 1910. At the same time, aircraft pioneer Glenn Curtiss was shopping around for a place to begin a flying school, and in December 1915 opened the Atlantic Coast Aeronautical Station in Newport News.
Hundreds of would-be pilots and instructors, including legends like Eddie Rickenbacker and Billy Mitchell, descended on the Peninsula to train and be trained in those wonderful airships. The school was almost within shouting distance of the Onondaga’s homeport, and Stone was fascinated.

He witnessed Navy seaplane training exercises at the school and hopped a ride on a Curtiss Model F “flying boat.” It was a watershed moment for the fledgling Coast Guard, which was formed that year when the Revenue Cutter Service and the Lifesaving Service were merged. Why not, Stone wondered, use aircraft for search and rescue operations?
Stone helped plan just such a strategy and borrowed a Navy pilot and flying boat for a demonstration. It was an unqualified success and led to the creation of several Coast Guard air rescue bases.

Stone was sent to flying school in Pensacola, Fla., and soon found himself in a unique class of airmen. With the U.S. at war in Europe, the Navy had hoped to develop planes that could fly across the ocean to attack German submarines. The effort stalled at war’s end but a British newspaper, the London Daily Mail, offered a $50,000 prize for the first team to make the passage successfully.
The race for the first to cross the pond was on and Stone would be facing one of the most intriguing and dangerous missions in aviation history.

Next week: the flying boats that could. And almost couldn’t.

February 23, 2014

A crowd gathers for opening day of Syms-Eaton Academy on
Feb. 13, 1902. Courtesy of Hampton History Museum.
In 1670 or thereabouts, William Berkeley, the royal governor of Virginia, let it be known that he strongly supported higher learning for families of the elite, “But I thank God there are no free schools in Virginia.”

And he and his Cavalier friends, all exiles from England, vowed to keep it that way. The fact that 70 percent of those in the lower classes were illiterate suited them just fine.
What they probably didn’t know was that a wealthy farmer from Elizabeth City County – the present-day Hampton – who could neither read nor write had already begun to buck that trend.

It isn’t possible to see the site. It’s in a wooded acre near a munitions storage area at Langley Air Force Base. But archaeologists have unearthed several artifacts, including writing slates, and they believe this is where one of the nation’s first free public schools was established.
It’s an overlooked chapter in American history.

In his will, dated Feb. 12, 1634, Benjamin Syms gave 200 acres of his farm land and eight cows to be used for “a free school to educate and teach the children of the adjoining parishes of Elizabeth City and Poquoson from Marie’s Mount downward to the Poquoson River.” A schoolhouse would be built and a teacher paid through profits from the sale of milk and beef.
Furthermore, Syms, before signing his will with an “X,” stipulated that the school would “manteyne poor Children, or decayed or maimed persons of the said parish.”

There’s some disagreement about where the first public school in America was founded. Boston Latin School, which began classes in 1635, makes the claim as the “oldest free, public” school in the country. But Benjamin Syms’s will qualifies as the earliest known provision for such a school, even if it didn’t open its doors until later.
In1642 the Virginia Assembly passed a resolution stating, "Be it enacted and confirmed, upon consideration of the godly disposition and good intent of Benjamin Syms deceased, in founding by his last will and testament, a free school in Elizabeth county, for the encouragement of all others in like pious performances.” And a 1647 report about Virginia education states, “We have a free school, with 200 acres of land, a fine house upon it, forty milch kine [cows] and other accommodations.”

Twelve years later, Dr. Thomas Eaton bequeathed 500 acres, buildings, livestock and two slaves to the Eaton Charity School to help educate the poor in the county. By 1805 the schools had merged and would reopen as Hampton Academy. It burned to the ground during the Civil War, reopened as the Syms-Eaton Academy and finally took the name Hampton High School.
They weren’t public, but all sorts of schools were going up. A book on Education in Colonial Virginia relates that one Richard Bussell of Norfolk County “gave part of his estate unto six of the poorest men’s children in Elizabeth River Parish to pay for their teaching to read, and after these six are entered, then a part of his estate for six more.” When Norfolk Borough was established in 1736, “a site was reserved for a school to be taught by an able master” who could teach the Greek and Latin tongues.

From there we jump to good old Thomas Jefferson, who declared “It is safer to have the whole people respectably enlightened than a few in a high state of science and the many in ignorance.” He tried several times to convince the Virginia legislature to provide funds for public schools, with limited success. Finally in 1818 after his presidency he got funding for the first public university, the University of Virginia.
But it wasn’t until 1870 that Virginia finally took Jefferson’s advice and set up a state-wide system of public schools.

By the way, Jefferson, creator of the school that proudly adopted the Cavalier name, was by no means a Cavalier. The son of a planter and surveyor and daughter of a ship’s captain cared little for his genealogy and believed passionately in education for all.

By the way II, the Virginia Cavaliers – or at least their descendants – appear to be alive and well. Since my offering last week on the Cavs, I’ve learned that the Order of Descendants of Colonial Cavaliers, whose members have ancestors in the colonies between 1640 and 1660, will have their annual meeting in Norfolk this April. Some are even, yes, Wahoo Cavaliers.