Barring Out Picture
What is this
term "barring out" mean? Does it have any meaning to anything we know as being "colonial?" Is it an English or American custom? Does it have any meaning to Christmas? Does barring out the schoolmaster have the same connotations?

As in many cases, the term "barring out the schoolmaster" has its roots in England, Scotland, and Ireland. The act of barring out occurred mostly around Christmas; however there is documentation that it occurred around harvest time, Shrove Tuesday, and Easter. The relation between the student and teach in colonial days was not the same as today. In the sixteenth century, there was a huge increase in the number of schools in Britain. The teacher ruled with extreme authority using corporal punishment as an education tool. Students would not have vacation days as they do today in public schools.

Barring Out Picture
The goal of barring out a schoolmaster was to reduce the floggings that the students received as well as to grant vacation days. Barring out was the days the students would take control of the teacher by locking the teacher out of the school. The students would stockpile food, drink, and sometimes weapons to keep the teacher from entering the classroom. Violence often erupted for control of the schoolroom, because if the teacher was successful in breaking in, the students were severely beaten. Sometimes the students who had pistols, swords, and clubs could be so excited that they could injure or kill teachers.

The teachers and students would come up with a pact or agreement so that nobody would get hurt. The teachers would give in to the students' demands of vacation days or food or less floggings. The students won the barring out the schoolmaster when they successfully locked out the teacher for a total of three days.

The occurrence of barring out the schoolmaster diminished in the eighteenth century as school charters granted vacation days and set limits on teachers. The custom made its way to colonial America, especially in nineteenth century Pennsylvania while the British custom had all but disappeared.

Barring Out Picture
In America, the custom was not as violent in Britain. It was more of a game to see if they students could extort a gift during the season of giving, Christmas. There was evidence that the custom occurred in Virginia for a brief period from 1699 to 1702. The grammar students at William and Mary barred out Dr. James Blair before Christmas. Dr. Blair was attempting to make a case against then Lieutenant Governor Francis Nicholson who had become unfriendly towards him. In an affidavit May 1, 1704, he was attempting to show conduct which had the designs of taking his life. Dr Blair states:
"About a fortnight before Christmas, 1702, while I lodged in the College, I heard the School boys, about 12 o'clock at night, a driving of great nails, to fasten & barracade the doors of the Grammar School. I was mightily surprised at it, for we had banished this custom & it was quite left for some years. I made haste to get up, & with the assistance of 2 servant men, I had in the College, I had almost forced open one of the the doors before they sufficiently secured it, but while I was breaking in they presently fired off 3 or 4 Pistols and hurt one of my servants in the eye in the eye with a wadd, as I suppose, of one of the Pistols; while I press'd forward, some of the Boys, having a great kindness for me, called out, "for God's sake, sir, don't offer to come in, for we have shot, & shall certainly fire at any one that first enters." Upon the hearing of this, I began to think there was something more than ordinary in the matter & desired a parley with them, thinking to find out what acct it was that they had provided fire arms, Powder & Shot, which they had never used to do formerly, but that night they would not discover it, tho' I confess, I had some suspicion, of the designs of my malicious neighbor; & resolved to let them alone till morning, & then getting all the other masters together & calling for workmen to break open the doors. Before we began, we offered them a pardon, if they would open, of their own accord, & tell us the truth, who it was that set them on, tho' by that time, we had more than a suspicion of it, for I had seen one of his Excellency's servants that morning a handling of them in some more Powder, upon this, the Boys, sent out at a Window by the ladder One of the Chief confederates that knew the whole plot, with orders to discover it. The Short of this story was, to the best of my remembrance, that while they had no thoughts of any such thing, the Govr Sent for him, & put him upon it, gave them money to buy victuals & Drink & Candles, & Powder, & Shot, & lent them 6 of his own Pistols. Upon hearing that the Governor was the Author & the contriver of this business, we sent the boys to him, leaving it to this excellency to determine that time when we would have them dismiss'd, for it was then about a week before the usual time. His excellency being out of humor, to the great disappointment of the Boys, ordered that they should continue at their books till the usual time & then be dismiss'd this decision made them very angry & they said they wondered what he had made all that to do for, when they were not to be dismiss'd one day sooner than ordinary for their pains. When we entered the school, we found the Govr’s 3 pair of Pistols, with some swords & other weapons they had provided. It was God's great mercy to me that the boys gave me warning of the Shot & so saved me from danger, which I have too much reason to suspect, was contrived on purpose upon my acct, his excellency being then in too bad a Humor, to do such a thing out of a frolic; besides that the Fire Arms, Powder, & Shot, my lying in the College; & the differences between him & me, which at that time were come to some height, made the badness of the design too, too probable."
Barring Out Picture
According to Governor Nicholson, the barring out of masters had been the custom every year but one at William and Mary since he took office. The custom of barring out the Schoolmaster in Pennsylvania was documented in all parts of the state. It was more of a playful game than the Virginia incident.

From the Philadelphia Democratic Press of December 18, 1810.

A very absurd and wicked practice has long prevailed in this country, namely, that of Scholars barring out the schoolmasters a little before the 25th of December, commonly called Christmas day, in order to extort permission from him to spend a number of days called the Christmas holidays in idleness or play. A scene of this kind took place last year in our school in this place: a few of the scholars took possession of the school-house, and so completely fortified it, that it was impossible to reduce it except by a regular siege, and the caitifs had provided against this also by laying in a large quantity of provisions. Thus was not only the Teacher shut out, but also all those scholars not concerned in the plot, and who wished to occupy their time in learning, and not in idleness and riot.

Hearing of the insurrection, and having some children at school, who were thus shut out, I went with some of my neighbors to the place, to try if we could not by reason persuade the keepers of the garrison to surrender. They were prevailed to raise one of the windows a little. I asked them why they shut up the school house. One of them, who seemed to be the commander in chief, replied they wished to have ten days of Christmas-play.

From the Autobiography of William Simonton (1788-1846)

Whig Member of the House of Representatives

The old custom of "Barring out the Master" was still in vogue. Carrying it into practical effect fell to the lot of larger boys. At the approach of Christmas, a half dozen of them by secret agreement took possession of the school house, and barricaded the door, and fastened the window shutters. This they did early in the morning. When the Master came to open the school, there was no admittance. What should he do? He soon finds that diplomacy is his only recourse. Communication with those "who hold the fort" is secured by a half raised window. A note containing the term of capitulation is submitted for his signature. The embody the promise of a modest contribution rarely exceeding $2.00 or $2.50 to provide a Christmas treat for the school. Though there might be a slighting of resentment, the paper was usually signed. The bar was removed and school duties resumed, the scholars have meanwhile assembled outside. The treat consisted of candies, cakes, nuts, and apples, was in due time brought to the school house where amid social good cheer, they were enjoyed by all its members. Hearty thanks were tendered to the Master for his kindness and the pleasure afforded them by his generosity in providing the entertainment.

From the York Pennsylvania Republican of January 8,1840.

Barring Out - Students inside the one room schoolhouse in East Berlin, Pennsylvania
Students inside the one room schoolhouse in East Berlin, Pennsylvania
This issue carries a lecture on Christmas delivered by Thomas E. Cochran (born in 1813) before the Columbia Lyceum on December 25, 1839. Cochran said. "An occasional pedagogue may meet with a barring-out from his sturdy vassals, who claim a prescriptive right to a week's holiday."

From Autobiography of Rev. Abel C. Thomas (Boston, 1852), pp. 37-40.

[Thomas taught school at Pine Barrens in York County about 1820.]

The scamps once played me the customary trick of "barring out." They had all antiquity as authority, and I was not in a position to prevent its exercise. It was on St. Valentine's Day. I had spent the evening previous in a company of young folks at a farmer's house, and was late in my arrival at the 'wigwam' next morning. I saw the smoke cheerfully issuing from the chimney, and half a score of happy faces at the window. Springing up the steps, I smartly applied my thumb to the door-latch-but all was fast, and the rebels shouted within. They had taken advantage of my late nap, and had barred me out! The girls had come as usual, but seeing how matters stood, had returned home.

"You won't get in there to-day, unless you agree to their terms," said one of my patrons who was passing by; and he laughed heartily as he added, "They understand the business. Every master we have had these five years has been barred out, and kept out; and they were all older and stronger than you are."

"I'll throw brimstone down the chimney, put a board over the top, and so smoke them out," said I.

"Look first that they have not water to put out the fire," was his reply

I looked in at the window, and saw several buckets by the fire place; and the rogues mocked me as they witnessed my disappointment.

"I'll besiege the fortress till I starve out the garrison," said I.

Immediately the rebels pointed to sundry baskets of provisions standing on my table. And they grinned at me most provokingly as they took off the white napkins, and showed me pies and cakes and cheese in abundance. It therefore behooved me to try "a strategem of war."

About a hundred and twenty yards distant was the smith-shop of a young friend. Thither I repaired, and being joined by several companions, we commenced pitching quoits as though nothing extraordinary had happened. Presently came a messenger with a flag of truce, offering terms of capitulation. The paper was duly drawn up, and sipulated as follows: They would agree to surrender on condition, 1st. That I should pardon all hands; 2d. That I should grant a holiday; 3d. That I should furnish the garrison, with all convenient dispatch, with two buckets of cider, a bushel of apples, fifty ginger-cakes, and one hundred cigars! Large supplies were demanded with a view to entertain sundry invited guests.

I returned a verbal answer that I would not treat with my subjects in rebellion, and that I would accept of nothing short of an an unconditional surrender.

In the course of half an hour the lads were out in the field at play. They had posted a sentry to watch the movements of the hostile party. There were about fourteen in all, some of them fully my own age. After calculating the chances of cutting them off from the open window of egress, I started and ran with all speed. The alarm was instantly sounded, and they tumbled in, some of them "heels over head." Nevertheless I should have been in time to tumble in among them, had it not been for an intervening fence. I caught the last of them - a lad of about eight years - by the leg, the sash was pressed down by the party within, until he shrieked with both pain and fright, and I retired a few paces, so that he might be released. The struggler was drawn in, the window secured as before by nails over the under-sash.

Meanwhile I scanned "the port," and discovered that were the outer casing removed, the sashes might be withdrawn, with little danger to be apprehended from the besieged. They had however provided themselves with stout sticks, sharpened in the fire, and these they brandished in high glee. With an axe, I removed the casing, then the sashes and "the port" was open.

"Boys," said I, "I am coming in at that window, in a run-and-jump heels foremost; look out, stand from under."

I leaped in boldly, the rebels standing aside lest they should harm me with their sticks, or be harmed by my heels - reserving the resolution to pick me up and thrust me out. But I was too quick for them. Reaching my desk, and rapping on it, my authority was acknowledged, according to the established usage of "barring out." Every one went to his seat in silence, - and then, in obedience to orders, two of the largest pulled out all nails, removed all barriers, and put in the sashes. Shortly a hearty laugh from the "master" was rapturously joined by the late rebels, and the affair ended in my compliance with the first two stipulations, namely, pardon and a holiday. They lost the cider, cakes, apples and segars, and I assisted them in eating the nice pies and provisions prepared for the extremity of a siege.

From the Lancaster Inland Daily of December 23, 1854.

Barring Out - Students inside the one room schoolhouse in East Berlin, Pennsylvania
Students inside the one room schoolhouse in East Berlin, Pennsylvania
The Yankee Schoolmaster by J...... of Lancaster.

In the year 183 .. , when I was a boy of fourteen years of age, I attended the district school in A..... township, L....... county, Pa. Our teacher was a man far advanced in years, and had taught school for the last twenty-five years in that one old and dilapidated school house. Many were the freaks played by us upon the old master, and often were we severely chastised. Old age and the constant murmuring of parents of the slow progress of their children in learning, induced the old gentleman to relinquish the arduous duties of school teaching. The directors were prompt in securing the services of a young gentleman of considerable intelligence, of moral habits, and withal a gentleman in every respect.

The vacation ended and the school was convened under the charge of the new teacher. In a stern and commanding voice he called us to order, and silence - sepulcral silence reigned through the old building for once in many years. We were fairly awed at the strange proceedings, being always, under the old school teacher, accustomed to the pretty free use of our tongue during school hours. But times had changed. The rules were laid down in a plain style and strictly were they enforced, and we progressed with marked rapidity under the new discipline. Now the first quarter ended and the teacher being pleased with the situation remained, and the winter session opened. The cold and dreary month of December came, and with it the recollections of our yearly sport of locking out the teacher at Christmas.

"Boys," said one of my school companions as a number of us were together, "I think it is soon time to make arrangements for locking out our master."

"I'll give you my opinion, boys," responded another, who was always very cautious and would seldom assist us in any such undertaking, "I think it a very dangerous procedure with our present teacher, and besides he is a Yankee. They are up to these tricks, depend on it."

"P'Shaw," bawled out Joe Slimp, after relieving his mouth of a large quid of tobacco, "what do these 'down east' folks know about it; he may kick up a fuss, but we will give him to understand that a lot of good things will set all to rights."

"I think that's as good a plan as we can arrive at, but we must stick to it and not let him in unless he has the necessary passports," said Jake Doty, who, in our inexperienced judgment, was considered an extraordinary bright boy

Thus, in high expectation of pleasure, we separated.

From this time forward, until after Christmas, our lessons were very imperfectly recited, our minds being constantly occupied with the "locking out." At last the long wished for day came, and early in the morning, all of us repaired to the school house; soon everything was topsy-turvy; benches were propped against the door, the poker was run under the latch, and the windows were well secured, until everything was perfectly barricaded and apparently in a state of siege! The hour of school arrived and the teacher's measured steps resounded over the pavement - within not the slightest noise was heard - all was quiet. He put the key into the lock, but it was no go; he tried to force the door with the same success. Some boys becoming afraid and fearing severe punishment, made a noise and leapt out one of the back windows. The teacher not knowing the customary rule, presently Joe Slimp from within informed him what was required before he could be permitted to enter. The teacher smiled and immediately left; we, aware of it, opened the door. Now a general consultation was held on this all important subject - the question was will he return or not? At last it was agreed upon that one must serve as a look-out and report as soon as he (the teacher) came in sight, and the rest go within. So our previous spokesman, Joe Slimp, was selected. Joe mounted a post in front of the school house, looking down the long and narrow street in anxious expectations, constantly dodging right and left to get a clear sight. "By Jove," say he to himself, "there he comes," and down came Joe pellmell into the school room, exclaiming - "he is coming with a great big basket covered with a cloth!"

The greatest noise and confusion was now created in replacing the benches, &c., and arranging everything properly. We all took our seats, quietly as if nothing in the least had happened, the door opened and in stepped the master with a large basket on his arm, tugging at it, apparently for dear life. He placed it under the desk and opened school as usual. One lesson after another was now imperfectly recited, and the tittering and talking by us concerning the contents of the basket became so loud that he could not proceed.

"Silence!" came like a thunder-clap from the lips of the teacher, and all was quiet. "Jacob Doty and Joseph Slimp," he continued, "come forward and distribute the contents of this basket equally among the scholars."

Both were up in the twinkling of an eye, and eagerly grasped the basket, and then very proudly walked to the first bench and uncovered it for distribution, but without proceeding any further they stood still and looked each other steadily in the face, their countenances becoming pale as statues, and all of a sudden they flung the basket with all force into the corner of the room, when out rolled small nail keg and a few biscuits!

Roar after roar of laughter came from the teacher and scholars, and Jake and Joe, you may judge, returned to their seats rather chop-fallen. School was dismissed for the remainder of the day, and ever afterwards Joe and Jake would turn a deaf ear to anything mentioned concerning the 'locking out' of the Yankee Schoolmaster.

From an article Our Schoolmasters by the Rev. Benjamin Bausman in the June, 1873, Guardian, pp. 169-170.

Barring Out - The one room schoolhouse in East Berlin, Pennsylvania
The one room schoolhouse in East Berlin, Pennsylvania
On the day before Christmas some country schoolmasters were locked out of their castles by the scholars, and kept out until they would consent to furnish the whole school with Christmas presents. We had often heard how gloriously the scholars of other schools had fared by this plan. Unfortunately, our Master was a Squire. And a Squire, some thought, might take us right off to prison, if we provoked him in this way. One Christmas season, a few brave boys led the way, and the rest followed. In the morning the scholars took possession of the school-house. The door locked, and if I remember rightly the shutters, too. How some trembled like an aspen leaf, with fright! Others peeped through the key-hole, and listened for the master's coming tread. We had reason to tremble. Our master was distant to his scholars; besides, he did not seem to relish a joke as much as some people do. He might just that morning be in one of his ill humors. You may smile at the scene, but I question whether the people of besieged Troy, or those of Vicksburg, felt the seriousness of their situation more keenly than did that group of children in a besieged country school-house.

At length we heard his tread. "Hush," was whispered round. Silent as the grave, was the school, for once. Such order the master had perhaps never produced before. In vain he tried to open the barred door. He commanded us to open. To disobey his command usually brought a storm about our ears. Such an act of disobedience, refusing to let him enter his own school-house, was a daring feat. A paper was slipped out under the door, solemnly setting forth our demands - candies, cakes, nuts and the little nick-nacks that make up the ordinary Christmas present of country children. It was a fearful suspense, this deliberation of the school-master on this stately requisition. What could we do if he should fly into a passion, force the door open, and lay about him with the rod! There was no way to retreat left open, no open window through which to leap out. Ah, dear reader, to children such a performance has all the momentous importance, which historic events have to older people. At length the Master proposed to surrender, upon our terms, as specified in the paper. The door was opened. He entered with a smile, and we hardly knew whether to smile or scream from fear, lest after all he might visit us with dire punishment. He ordered us to our seats, wrote a note containing a list of the articles promised, and sent a few of the larger boys to the village to buy and bring them. Studying was impossible during their absence. The joy was too tumultuous to be bottled up, even for an hour. And the kind-hearted Master was as mirthful as we. At length the boys came, with great baskets, full of the spoils of our victory. Each one got a nice Christmas present. Never before had our Master seemed to us such a good man. For months this great siege in our school-house, and the grand victory of the besieged, was the daily topic of talk among the scholars. And in all the country round about, it was soon noised abroad, that Squire S..... had been locked out by his school. And the scholars, even the most timid and worst frightened, shared the glory and renown of the victory.

From Lykens Twenty Years Ago, Charles H Miller (Lykens, 1876), p. 13.

Barring-out was a custom not well established in this region. When it occurred at all it was generally upon Shrove Tuesday - the Fastnacht of the native Germans, - and not upon the Christmas of other localities. Once upon a time it befell the master of this school. The windows were nailed fast, one and all; the benches were dragged from all parts of the room and piled against the door, - a long row extending to the stove, as a prop; the terms of treaty were already thrust without, and all awaited the anxious moment with throbbing expectancy. For one brief hour the scholars were master, - the tables turned, as it were, and riot ran high and wild. For one brief hour only. Then came a rap upon the door which quaked the stoutest hearts and struck conviction to the very core. A voice soon followed after still more effective; the hiding-places emptied themselves as if by magic; the windows swarmed with hands and faces eager to escape; somehow, the doors flew open; the terms of treaty disappeared; the benches grew dangerous with life and animation, never so suddenly evinced before or since; all things moved to their accustomed places with marvelous speed.

From the Lancaster New Era of December 28, 1878.

Bareville had no special services on Christmas; but was disgraced by the revival of an old custom - the barring out of the teacher of the primary and grammar schools. It is a disgrace for that community that would-be young men are yet to be found who have no common sense and are ignorant of the simplest forms of politeness. It may, however, be said to the credit of the seventy pupils of these schools that only one was found who was willing to do such work and he had to accomplish it by entering the school building at midnight.

From the Carlisle American Volunteer of January 6, 1881

The old time custom of barring teachers out has lost its grip in Penn. But one was barred out this season, and he only for a half day. Teachers have been known to get their pupils to bar them out, but they instead of the teachers, are the losers, and consequently the custom dying out.

The barring out custom faded towards the end of the nineteenth century when education shifted to public schools and vacation days were part of the curriculum.

Source: Text by Bryan Wright;
Text for "Autobiography of William Simonton" provided by Jeanie Glaser, Vice President of West Hanover Township Historical Society

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