School’s in session once again, so let’s take a look at some early Montgomery County homework. Our collections include two handwritten exercise books created by a young man attending Damascus area schools, circa 1850.
Both books are bound with marbled-paper cardboard covers, with leather spines and corners, and measure 12.5” x 8”. They’re the 19th century version of the composition notebook, basically. The owner carefully inscribed the title pages with the subject, school, and teacher, as well as his name:
Left: “Larkin A. Beall’s Book. Containing Gauging, Mensuration, Geometry, & Surveying. As taught by E. Thompson preceptor of Mountradnor School.” Right: “Double Entry Book Keeping By Larkin A. Beall As Taught by E. Thompson Preceptor & Teacher of Mathematics In Mountradnor School Montgomery County, Md.” (Please note the extra flourishes, which are hard to transcribe.) The bookkeeping notebook also contains a section on mensuration and geometry; those pages are noted, “Larkin A. Beall, [various dates] 1854, James Purdum, Preceptor and teacher at Pleasant Plains School, Montgomery County, Md.” (See below.) In addition, the names F.E. Beall, Horace Beall, and James O. Etchison are noted in different hands, though Larkin seems to have been the original, and primary, creator. Dated pages range from 1848 to 1854.
These were likely workbooks, in which students took dictation, made notes, and solved problems. Some sections may have been written by the instructor, including notes referencing a printed textbook, and instructions for exercises.
These workbooks give me a lot to cover: schools, study subjects, and people. Though geometry – specifically, measuring solids – takes up much of the books, I’m going to focus on the bookkeeping section; after all, it’s not often I can say that something was invented in 14th century Italy. I’ve spoken to two separate people in the last month who have praised the delights of double-entry bookkeeping. I suspect the satisfaction a bookkeeper derives from a balanced ledger is akin to my own when I match up a set of mystery artifacts with the appropriate paperwork. However, I do not personally understand this age-old method, so let’s let E. Thompson explain it (all spelling and grammatical errors are from the original):
This term is derived from the fact that every business transacted recorded in the Day book is entered twice in the Ledger one on the debtor and once on the creditor side
Debtor And Creditor
These terms are correlative, the one implies and involve the other Wherever there is a debtor there must necessarily be a creditor of an equal amount; and wherever there is a creditor there must be a debtor
Application of Debtor and Creditor
In single entry these terms are (with the exception of cash only applied to persons, but in double entry they are applied alike to persons and property, the persons being made [a] debtor for what you have trusted them, and creditor for wat they have paid or trusted you; and the property account being made debtor for the balance or cost of the property, and credit for what it produced when disposed of
On to the people. Larkin A. Beall (b. 1836) was one of ten children born to Elisha and Alethea Lewis Beall; he grew up on a farm between Damascus and Browningsville (off present-day Bethesda Church Road). Several of Larkin’s brothers are referenced in the notebooks; Horace and Franklin added their own names, and Larkin noted the deaths of John in 1852 and Evan in 1860. (There’s also a side note in one of the books about three feet of snow that fell in 24 hours on February 20th, 1854.) By the early 1860s, Larkin had moved to Washington, DC to pursue a career in retail, with a shop on 7th Street. City records from the 1860s and 1870s describe him variously as “clothier,” “merchant,” “[in] hats,” and “dealer in gents’ furnishing goods.” Good thing he studied double-entry bookkeeping!
Larkin referenced two Damascus area schools in his workbooks. E. Guy Jewell, in his manuscript “Damascus: Small But Lively” (1974), identified Mount Radnor as having “stood on the west side of Ridge Road near the intersection of Gue Road” from as early as 1839 until the site was sold to the county school board in the late 1870s. The Pleasant Plains School was in Purdum, on the other side of Damascus, off present-day Mountain View Road. (Note that both of these schools were for white children only; Pleasant Plains should not be confused with Pleasant Grove, Purdum’s African American school, which opened in 1869.)
There are two teachers listed in the 1850 census for this election district, but neither of Larkin’s preceptors are among them. Jewell noted, “Many of the men teachers had their own small farm and taught school for the little extra cash each year. Remember, the school law then limited teachers’ salaries to ‘not more than $300 per annum.’” With that in mind, 52 year old Elijah Thompson and 37 year old James Purdum, both “farmers” in the 1850 census, become likely candidates for Larkin Beall’s instructors.
Why did Larkin switch schools between 1849 and 1854? Maybe Pleasant Plains opened around that time, and was easier to reach. However, the Bealls lived about halfway between the schools (as the crow flies / as the teenage boy walks across neighbors’ fields), so distance may not have been a factor. Perhaps one teacher was more congenial, or had a better reputation for mathematical skills. Although there are a few side notes in the books (see: deaths of brothers, and depth of snow, above), there are few clues to the reason for the switch.
The books were donated to MCHS in 1978 by Lawrence Walter, who informed us that he received them from Miss Estella Drane (1865-1955), a DC school teacher. Unfortunately (for me, since I like the whole story) it’s not clear how Miss Drane acquired them.
So, children, as you begin this school year full of enthusiasm and excitement, follow Larkin Beall’s example to keep that enthusiasm from flagging as the year progresses: Either take the time to make your notes pretty, with elaborate fonts (not at the expense of your attention span, of course!) . . . or be glad you don’t have to hand-write a textbook’s worth of notes.
“Directions for posting.”