north carolina highway historical marker program
North Carolina Highway Historical Marker Program



Marker Text:

      Although education has always been part of life in Carolina, Charles Griffin (ca. 1679-ca. 1720) was the first professional educator on record in the colony. An immigrant from the West Indies, Griffin arrived in North Carolina in 1705, and soon established a school near Symond’s Creek, eight miles south of what is now Elizabeth City.

      Griffin’s educational background and religious affiliation would have a significant impact on his career as a schoolteacher. Raised in the West Indies, Griffin likely received a formal education, although records of his childhood are now lost. At a time when local churches were primarily responsible for education, Griffin, a devout Anglican, arrived in the Pasquotank area in 1705, and established an Anglican school for local adolescents. Despite the large Quaker presence in his precinct, Griffin’s school flourished, receiving accolades from Anglicans and Quakers alike. Time spent within the Quaker community would later affect his relations with Anglicans within the colony.

      In 1708, two Anglican ministers replaced Griffin, who subsequently moved to Chowan County, where he established another school. While Governor William Glover had maintained a favorable opinion of Griffin, by 1709 he felt Griffin’s experiences among Quakers led him from the Anglican faith. Indeed, Griffin became entangled in the power struggle between Anglicans and Quakers, which culminated in Bath with Cary’s Rebellion. Wanting to escape, Griffin moved to Virginia, where he entered the service of Governor William Spotswood.

      Griffin discovered in Virginia a new mission that would dictate the course of his career. Around 1714, Griffin participated in Spotswood’s initiative to pacify frontier Indian tribes through Christianization. In 1715, Griffin earned fifty pounds (sterling) per year teaching Indian children in Fort Christanna, along the banks of the Meherrin River. In the summer of 1718, however, funding shortages closed the school, and Griffin was then hired as director of Indian studies at Virginia’s William and Mary College. He remained at William and Mary for the duration of his career, and died nearby in 1721.

      Charles Griffin’s life was dedicated to knowledge. As a steward of education and religion, Griffin established the first school on record in North Carolina, while helping to spread Christianity through colonist and Indian populations.

Herbert R. Paschal, “Charles Griffin: Schoolmaster to the Southern Frontier,” in Essays in Southern Biography (1965)
Lawrence F. London and Sarah M. Lemmon, The Episcopal Church in North Carolina, 1701-1959 (1987)
R.D.W. Connor, William K. Boyd, and Joseph Hamilton, History of North Carolina, I (1919)
William Sounders, ed., The Colonial Records of North Carolina, I (1886)
William S. Powell, ed., Dictionary of North Carolina Biography, II, 370-371— sketch by Herbert R. Paschal
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north carolina highway historical marker program

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