District No. 9: A school district with a progressive history

The historical society has in its collection several notebooks of meeting notes from Charlotte’s historic school districts. This time we are looking at District No. 9, known as the Carpenter Road School and, in the early 20th century, as the Stacy School, for the the landowner next door, Alfred G. Stacy.

Most casual readers would peruse these meeting notes, notice some of the names and then close the book with little comment. But there are hidden stories of a district that might have been more enlightened for its time than others — if you dig deeper.

Carpenter School
Carpenter School

Elizabeth M. Sheldon was 18 years old when hired to teach 28 weeks of school in 1884, for which she was paid $84. Young Frankie Jacobs was paid $4 to start the fires in the school woodstove that year. Sheldon eventually married Frankie’s older brother Henry William Jacobs.

The voters of the district met to conduct school business that included electing officers for each ensuing year. Despite being decades before women were enfranchised, Emily (Porter) Jackman and Orphana Paulina Newell served as officers in District No. 9.

George Doolittle Sherman, a cousin of Gen. William Tecumseh Sherman, was orphaned in Streetsboro, Ohio, in 1849 at age 6 following the deaths from consumption of his father Almon and his mother Eloisai (Doolittle).

He had a younger brother, Charles Gould Sherman, who had just turned 4. The brothers were split up. George, unhappy with his new home, moved to Charlotte to be with his cousin John H. Sherman, who operated a large farm on Carpenter Road just east of Dorset Street. John and his wife Sarah (Brigham) never had children. John was substantially older than George, and their relationship became almost as close as the bond between father and son.

George Sherman joined the First Vermont Cavalry at the start of the Civil War. He was wounded and captured by John S. Mosby near Dranesville, Va., on March 31, 1863. After Sherman was released by the Confederate army, he rejoined the Union and fought at Gettysburg, later developing pneumonia and chronic bronchitis, and was admitted to the hospital. His was a bad case, and he was discharged for total disability in January 1864. He returned to the Sherman farm. His brother Charles came to Charlotte to help nurse him, but George died Dec. 29, 1864.

Charles Sherman, born in 1845, stayed in Charlotte and became active in the school district, serving as its clerk for many years. Through the district meetings he became acquainted with Emma Tomlinson, also born in 1845, sister of one of the leaders of the school district, Herschel Tomlinson. Charles and Emma married in 1866.

The next story begins with the Civil War draft of 1863. One of the Charlotte draftees was an 18-year-old freeborn Black youth named Isaac S. Prince. African Americans were assigned to the Black troop where they would serve, but the state of Vermont protested, arguing a Black draftee should have the same rights as a white draftee to enlist wherever he wished. This was approved, and Isaac, his brother Henry, his father Isaac, and his uncle Daniel, all enlisted in the 54th Massachusetts Infantry, the second African American regiment formed in the North during the Civil War. The 54th Massachusetts suffered 50 percent casualties leading an assault on Fort Wagner, S.C.

At the close of the war the 54th had been active in North Carolina and southern Virginia, where they made contact with a formerly enslaved 17-year-old named Gilbert Farmer from Danville, Va. Farmer came north with the Prince veterans. Farmer married Paulina Prince, Isaac’s sister, about 1870 in Shelburne and moved to the John H. Sherman farm. The record shows that Gilbert Farmer bid on contracts to supply wood for the school and won several. He died of consumption in 1889.

Another former slave named Joshua Aldrich accompanied the Prince veterans. Aldrich was born about 1847 in North Carolina and settled in District No. 9 in 1870 with the Carlos Higby household. Higby was also one of the officers of the school district. I have not been able to trace Aldrich or find records after he and the Higby family moved from Charlotte.

Also on the Sherman farm and neighbor to Gilbert and Paulina, was the Charles Billings family. Charles was a freeborn Black from Beekmantown, N.Y., who had married Medora Green in Waterbury on Nov. 28, 1870. What makes this notable is that she was white. Mixed-race couples were not common at that time, yet they and their seven children appear to have lived comfortably among their primarily white neighbors in School District No. 9.

For more about the history of African Americans in this area, read Elise Guyette’s “Discovering Black Vermont: African American Farmers in Hinesburgh, 1790-1890.”

(Dan Cole is president of the Charlotte Historical Society.)