Thomas Makin

1665 - 1733


Thomas Makin as a schoolmaster

in Philadelphia



The Romance of Old Philadelphia

VII: Early Schools and Schoolmasters






Thomas Makin as a schoolmaster

in Philadelphia


The first “public Grammar School” was opened in 1689 by Thomas Lloyd, at the request of William Penn. This, it is thought, was the beginning of the William Penn Charter School, which was long known as the Friends' Public School. The formal charter was granted in 1701. There has been no interruption in this school from the beginning. Wickersham calls attention to the fact that it “ranks with the Parochial School of the Dutch Church in New York and the Latin School in Boston as one of the oldest schools in the country.”

At first the annual salary of the first master, George Keith, was £50, in addition to the use of a house for his family and all the profits of the school. He was to teach the poor without charge. He was promised £120 and perquisites for the second year; but he was not a success, and Thomas Makin was given the position.

Makin must have taught several years without a license, judging from the action of the Provincial Council taken on August 1, 1693:

“Thomas Meaking, Keeper of the Free School in the town of Philadelphia, being called before the Lieutenant Governor and Council, and told that he must not keep school Without a license ...Was therefore ordered to procure a certificate of his ability, learning and diligence from the inhabitants of note in this town by the sixteenth instant, in order to the obtaining of a license, which he promised to do.”

Many illuminating glimpses of Tutor Makin are given in two letters concerning one of his pupils, Israel Pemberton, who did not get along so well with Makin's assistant or with the master himself. The first of these epistles was dated 5 Mo 22, 1698:




lest through mistake the abuse I Received at the schoole being noised abroad should be taken to be thee I made bold to write these few lines for the clearing of thee thy Instructions were so mild and gentle as that I never received one blow or strike from thy hand during my stay there tho my dullness at times might have given thee occation for if I wanted Information with boldness I cold always come to thee being always friendly Received but from another, I always found Rough answers where I quickly left to trouble him not finding the Kindness as from thee & Indeed what he did for me from first to last is to be seen in that little 'Attila book I write at his first Coming which I have forgot at schoole behind me if thee would be pleased to send it by some of the boatmen to be left at Samll Jennings when thou meets with it I shall take it a kindness I do say it was not my Intent to have let it be Known but the anguish of the blows and being Inwardly opprest with greife to think how I was used without having the liberty to spake one word in my defense did so change my Countenance that my sister promptly perceived it who was restless untill I had uncovered the occation who rested not then but would see & when she saw was also so griev'd that she would show me to some others tho I Indeavored much to diswade her but she would not but did cause me to be seen by H: carpenter and Tho: whartons wife, but conterary to my mind tho he never showed any respect to me as a scholar but still frowned upon me the Reason I know not for I never Intended to vex him & therefore never made use of him & thou being out of school he took that oppertunity so to Thrash me. . . I desire not to injure him I would willingly have stayed longer at the Schoole but my sister having told my father how things were & the tokens of his Correction still remaining upon me tho almost five weeks since & are still to be seen & so sore as that I cannot endure anything to press against it ... but I love thee & desire to be with thee & to spend the rest of my schooling under thee, but whether it may be so or no I Know not yet I desire it with my love and send these lines who am thy scholar,


Early in the year 1699 Makin wrote to Phineas Pemberton about the difficulty that had arisen between Israel and the assistant tutor. He was troubled because he had learned that the father proposed to put the boy in another school. In the letter he said:

“I cannot but resent it as some dimunition to my Credit, since thee first committed him to my Pedagogie, now to putt him to another who I suppose will sett him to learn all Arithmetick de novo. . . As for thy great Resentment for F. D. P., I have spoken to him to write to thee also, if possible all we can may prevail to reclaim thee from thy sd Intentions: wd that it may prove successful is ye earnest desire of thy respectful friend & Countryman


The relations between the master and his former pupil continued good, for in 1728 Makin wrote to Israel Pemberton, addressing him as “Honored Frd”:

“Having alreadie sent thee a description of Pensylvania writt in Latin verse, especially for ye use of thy Son, now considering thy self may not understand ye same, therefore now present thee with ye same in English, for wch, being in want, I humbly pray some small reward, for wch I shall be thy thankful! frd”

Enclosed with the letter was a Description of Pennsylvania whose style may be judged from an extract:

On Delaware does Philadelphia stand,

And does her stately buildings far extend.

The Streets laid out directly by a line

And house to house contigiously does joyn.

The Governr here keeps his residence,

One grave in years & long experience.

Four sacred houses in this city are,

And one not distant from ye city far.

To this long known and well-frequented port

From sundry places many shipps resort.

In Merchandizing most men are here employ'd:

All useful artists too are occupied.

The frugal farmer, like ye careful Ant,

In Summer 'gainst cold Winter is provident,

His barn, well cover'd to keep out ye rain,

Fills wth good hay & divers sorts of grain.

Neglecting costly cloathes & dainty food,

His own unbought provisions sweet & good.

Weary wth labour takes his ease & rest:

His homespun cloathing pleasing him ye best.

O that such were my happy lot at last,

Then all my trouble past would be forgott.

But poverty continued to be the lot of the former school teacher. Finally the Pennsylvania Gazette of November 29, 1733, told how “on Monday evening last Mr. Thomas Meakine fell off a wharf into the Delaware, and before he could be taken out again, he was drowned.” The Weekly Mercury, in its brief account of the accident, called him an “Ancient Schoolmaster,” and added that he was trying to fill a pail of water from the river when he fell from the pier.

The main building of the Friends' school in which Makin taught was long located on Fourth street, near the Friends' meeting house. Branches for charity were in different parts of the city. The Penn Charter School, its successor, is now located on Twelfth street, between Chestnut and Market streets.