North Carolina’s First Public School

First School

On January 20, 1840, North Carolina’s first public school opened in Rockingham County. The Common Law of 1839 authorized counties to hold elections in which voters might vote for or against taxes for public schools. During the elections in late 1839, 61 of the 68 counties that were then in existence voted to support school taxes. The remaining seven counties soon followed course. By 1846 every county had at least one public school.

Notice of the opening of the Rockingham school first appeared on February 1, 1840, in the Greensborough Patriot and was reprinted the same month in the Raleigh Standard. The story did not specify the location of the school but did indicate that the county had been divided up into districts with more schools to be completed shortly.

Tradition holds that the first school was located in the present Williamsburg community in the southeastern part of Rockingham County, but we may never know the precise location of the first school.

Check out NCpedia for more on the history of education in North Carolina.

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2 responses to “North Carolina’s First Public School”

  1. John says :

    I thought Cary High was NC’s first public school? No?

    • NC Culture says :

      Thanks for writing John. Cary High School dates to the late 19th century and is often referred to as the first public high school. The Rockingham County school we talk about here dates to 1840, about 50 years earlier.

      The essay from the N.C. Historical Highway Markers Program that can be found here tells the whole story.

      Thanks again for following us!

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