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Education is a big deal for us here in America; literacy is akin to human rights. Being able to do basic math is freedom, and knowing that gravity is common to all of us is the spice of life. This is all good. But something that we might erroneously think about these good things is that it only comes from the education system. This was not the case back in Uncle Zach’s childhood, or even in his entire life time.

Uncle Zach obviously knew how to read and write, and did so well enough to write for the Florence Times, and to be elected as a school board member for Rodgersville. However, he only attended school for three or four months, and those three or four months may not have been consecutive! He was either needed on the farm to help his father, Peter, there probably wasn’t a school teacher in the area, or both.

We can presume that Peter and Sarah Romine taught Zach and his siblings to read and write. In the 1850 census, all Romine family members were recorded as being able to read and write, yet it was also recorded that none of the children had attended school in the last year. The 1850 US census data reveals, however, that only one in ten people could read and write; the Romine household was an exception. It wasn’t until around 1900 that school attendance was required by the state, but by 1851 mistrust of parents was spreading among education leadership. Andrew J. Coulson wrote in a Massachusetts Teacher article: “In too many instances the parents are unfit guardians of their own children … the children must be gathered up and forced into school”.

Education is a great and wonderful thing and having a system certainly makes it all more consistent and fair. Opportunity for education across the board is necessary. But back in Uncle Zach’s time, it wasn’t the responsibility of the state to make sure that everyone was educated, but the parents’ and community’s responsibility. One way is certainly better than the other, in terms of consistency of opportunity, but is one way more right than the other? Is there a right and a wrong way to educate, and do these two systems exemplify that? What do you think?

Sources: 1850 census of Lauderdale County, Alabama


The Florence Times, 1893, “A Wail From Rodgersville”

How the Late Storm Served an Old Friend
RODGERSVILLE, MAY 1, 1893. EDITOR TIMES: — The first time I met you was at the Democratic rally at Mars Hill. I subscribed for your paper that day; I have received and read it ever since. I thought that you were the most honest and truthful looking editor I had ever seen. Knowing that all editors are truthful, I placed great confidence in you. You urged the farmers to raise hog and hominy at home and plant less cotton. I had great confidence in you and was glad to take your advice, so I planted one hundred acres in wheat, oats, rye and corn; also a large crop of vegetables and seven acres in cotton. Well, the flood came, and washed the hill corn and soil down and covered the bottom corn with mud; ten head of my hogs died; the hail and wind beat down my wheat and rye; the frost bit my Irish potatoes and other vegetables, grapes, etc.; my sweet potatoes rotted in the bed; the old woman’s milk, butter, jars, buckets and churn washed out of the spring house and went like Ward’s ducks. I suppose they are at New Orleans by this time. Well, I have a little confidence in you yet. Please tell me what in the ____ to do next.

Z. B. Romine 

Mr. Romine has had bad luck truly. But did his cotton escape?

Back in 1989 my Grandmother, Great Aunt, first cousin once removed, and another first cousin once removed put together a packet of selected works by Uncle Zach. I will be drawing from these works for my stories and articles. Before jumping into stories, I will be setting the scene with information about the Reconstruction Era and the early part of the turn of the century. This information will range from history and politics, to shape note singing and soap making.

My resources for this information will be varied and trustworthy- there is a living history park near where I live that deals with this exact time period and I hope to learn from the reenactors there some things about the period and get my hands on further reading. I also am planning a road trip to Lauderdale county, Alabama, to see if I can find more articles of Uncle Zach’s– like I said, what I have is just a small selection.

I am so grateful that I have all this family history to share- the unimportant history is the best history; it is how we all got here today.