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Susan A. Webb

(1831-1905)

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At a Glance

Susan A. Webb enrolled at the Burwell School in July 1847, and by 1849 opened her own school, Almeda Schoolhouse, near her family's home, Stony Point in Oaks, NC, only a few miles from Hillsborough, NC. Her students included a future US Senator and a founder of the renowned Bell Buckle School for Boys in Tennessee [1].

Story

Susan A. Webb was the second daughter of Alexander Smith Webb and Cornelia Adeline Stanford, and granddaughter of the Hon. Richard Stanford. Susan was one of the finest teachers ever turned out by the Burwell School, rivaling Mrs. M. A. Burwell herself in physical endurance, moral courage, and simple effectiveness.

Susan, usually called  "Suny,"  enrolled at the Burwell School in July 1847, when she was fifteen and boarded at Poplar Hill Plantation in Orange County, NC, which belonged to the Norwood family. Fellow Burwell student, Annabella Giles Norwood  reported the event on July 13, 1847, to her cousin William N. Tillinghast:

"Susan Webb (I expect you saw her down at Uncle Bingham's) is going to her [Mrs.Burwell] and boards here. She is a very stout girl and quite a pleasant companion for me."

She returned from the Burwell School to become the dedicated teacher of her own large family of younger brothers and sisters at Stony Point in Oaks, NC the Webb family's rocky plantation a quarter mile south of Bethlehem Presbyterian Church in Oaks, NC and the Bingham School.

Susan's frail father, Alexander Smith Webb, died in 1849 at the age of forty-seven, leaving Susan with the behest,  "My daughter, teach my children."  Susan taught her siblings in a little log building with puncheon benches that she named  "Almeda Schoolhouse."

Mrs. M. A. Burwell's influence reached farther than she ever knew or dreamed--two of the Webb boys, taught by Susan, also became famous teachers: U.S. Sen. William Robert Webb, also known as Sawney Webb, and John Maurice Webb of the Bell Buckle School for Boys. Another brother was Rev. Richard Stanford Webb, Methodist minister and C.S.A. chaplain. Susan taught the neighbors' children at Almeda Schoolhouse and continued to do so for forty years.

An excerpt from Lawrence McMillin's book, The Schoolmaker:Sawney Webb and the Bell Buckle Story, gives a picture of Suny after her Burwell School days:

"In his home Sawney found another  "big personality,"  a girl still in her teens, the greatest teacher he said he ever knew. Susan, or  "Suny,"  knew more than anyone else. Sawney watched her on Saturday at the dining room fireplace, baking perfect bread in  "oven"  pots on short legs in hot coals...Cakes, biscuits, and roast ducks emerged from similar pots...Suny and Black Nancy even made waffles in molds with tong-like handles, the batter ends thrust deep in ashes...Suny never did wrong. She always placed her knife and fork neatly on her plate, and folded her napkin while she was still a bit hungry. She never allowed her back to touch her chair. She very much resembled a good straight pen. She wrote hundreds and thousands of letters. She became the corresponding secretary of the family. She loved putting English words together. She dressed to suit herself--no trails [trains], no silly outsized bustles, for her. She remained too busy at the vocation her father had left her to give her full heart to courting though admirers called on her from a distance. Suny never married."

"She did teach them [her father's children], and some of their children, and neighbors' children, for forty years. She began teaching Sawney no later than the summer of 1848, and formally opened her school four months before her father died [Alexander Smith Webb died June 30, 1849]. She charged a nickel a day, a quarter per week, per child."

"The log building daubed with mud that became  "Almeda Schoolhouse"  sat on the partially wooded slopes of the mountain field. The day began with a Bible passage, which her students read along with her as best they could. After a prayer, she taught."

"All day long in the little log cabin I sat by my little chum in a seat where our feet did not touch the floor, Sawney remembered. Even fifteen minutes was uncomfortable on backless puncheon benches, logs split or sawed in half, with the flat end to sit on. We could not move our feet, and we were not allowed to speak a word. Her discipline was rigid. Yet she knew that a child has limits. When she saw that her pupils were tired she would tell a story or read a beautiful poem. I never saw a little boy leave her school that did not have a love of poetry and good English..."

Susan Webb spent her entire adult life teaching in the little Almeda Schoolhouse near Stony Point in Oaks, NC. In later years, she lived with her bachelor brother and raised peacocks. She died on March 16, 1905, and was buried between her sisters Henrietta Webb  and Mary Caroline Webb , both Burwell students, and next to her parents at Bethlehem Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Oaks, NC, only a short distance from her old home and beloved Almeda Schoolhouse [1] [2].

Biographical Data

Susan was called Suny.

Important Dates

Susan A. Webb was born on November 18, 1831. She died on March 16, 1905, and was buried in Bethlehem Presbyterian Church Cemetery in Oaks, NC.

Places of Residence

Occupations

Relatives

References

  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).
  2. The Schoolmaker: Sawney Webb and the Bell Buckle Story.