Growing Kingdom People – A Tribute to Teachers

A Tribute to Teachers

What does a small memorial site on a gravel road have to do with the centuries-old Office of the President at the College of William and Mary?

Charles Griffin.

And who was Charles Griffin?

Charles Griffin was the first known schoolteacher in North Carolina who was later hired as a Professor at William and Mary.

But back to the memorial on a gravel road.

Last weekend my wife and I followed some signs that led to Fort Christanna, a 300 year-old historical site near Lawrenceville, Virginia.  The signs took us down a mile-long gravel road to a stone memorial. The story we discovered there goes something like this:

In 1714 Virginia Lt. Governor Alexander Spotwood opened Fort Christanna to protect the peace and to offer protection and opportunity to the Siouan and Iroquoian Indian groups. The Siouans accepted, but the Iroquoians declined the invitation because they didn’t want to live with the Siouans.

I guess human nature hasn’t changed much.

Spotwood’s efforts were not entirely benevolent since the peace he kept was very good for the newly formed Virginia Indian Company, a profitable trade venture.  The fort was state-of-the-art, pentagonal in shape, with cannons on all five corners.  Inside, Indian children learned to read and write English, and to read the Bible and the Book of Common Prayer.

Upon inspection of the fort, a Reverend Hugh Jones reported that 77 Indian children could read and write and repeat their Christian catechisms “tolerably well.” In addition, students from one of the Siouan tribes, known as the Saponys, respected their teacher so much they wanted to make him their king.

The teacher?

Charles Griffin.

Fort Christanna thrived for three years until a trade rival with political connections in England successfully cut off Spotswood’s funding.  Spotswood was forced to close the fort, but some Siouan tribes continued to live at the fort site.

Charles Griffin moved on.

To become Professor and Headmaster at an Indian school on the campus of William and Mary.

A building called the Brafferton was constructed for the Indian school in 1723 and functioned as an educational facility for Native Americans until Thomas Jefferson closed it in 1779.  By that time enrollment was scant and funding for the school had been severely impacted by the American Revolution.   The Brafferton now houses the Office of the President of the College of William and Mary.

Now you know the historical connection between the Fort Christanna (which, incidentally, Spotswood named for his Savior and His Queen) memorial and the College of William and Mary.

But the most powerful connection isn’t between a pentagonal fort and a building on a college campus. It is a teacher. By all reports, Charles Griffin was not just in the right place at the right time to take on the role of teaching Native Americans. He was an incredible teacher! Even before taking up his post at Fort Christanna, his resume demonstrated a level of giftedness beyond measure.

Charles Griffin changed lives through teaching.  Admittedly, the era of Indian schools in Colonial America was full of paradoxes. The first students at William and Mary’s Indian school were six boys who had been purchased from an Indian tribe that had captured them from their enemies.  But Griffin imparted knowledge and Christ’s love in the best way he knew how. And his students loved him enough to want to make him king of their tribe!

Talk about “teacher of the year!”

I thought this might be a good story to start the school year. Teachers are gifts from God, and only God knows the potential that has been unleashed in our world through their efforts. We may remember them at a small memorial on a gravel road, or by a grand example of Georgian architecture on a college campus. But we remember them. They are the thread that weaves through our existence as a people.

They and the gift of teaching God has given them.

To Him be praised. To them be honor.

To all be a blessing, because of the Charles Griffins of the world.

About LJones

Minister and story teller.
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