I didn’t think that way for long.
Maybe two seconds.
Having no formal history education, genealogy began and continues to school me with regard to the days of yore.
It is hard to tell what literacy rates were in colonial America. Most historians agree that literacy was highest in New England and many attribute it to the Puritanical insistence that a person’s ability to read and understand the Holy Scriptures would stymie the devil. Therefore, a high percentage of white boys and girls learned to read printed material. The lowest literacy rates were in the south and in rural areas.
Writing was another matter, however. It wasn’t usually taught along with reading, but rather after. Some only learned the characters necessary to sign their names. The making of one’s “mark” on official documents was sufficient and binding for those who did not learn to write. Colonially speaking, “literacy” referred only to the ability to read.
Keeping in mind that many census takers, tax commissioners, etc. in the early days of the United States were appointed, I can’t help but think they were probably some of the most “literate” of the local populace they were entrusted to enumerate. In the frontier regions, schools and teachers were few and far between and the struggle for simple existence trumped the luxury of “learnin’.”
My indignation quickly became appreciation.
Fast forward to present day “literacy.”
In this age of progress and access, this morning I ran across the following on a prominent website:
“All entires are vetted and verified by...staff and local area experts for accuracy.”
The writer meant “entries.”
My subsequent research added insult to injury. Regarding the first block quote above referring to colonial literacy, the author noted she had been employed by a local adult literacy organization in her community for four years and bemoaned the current low levels of literacy in the United States. She wrote it in 2011. Ironically, she went on to misspell the word “scholars.”
So much for progress in literacy.
 http://colonialquills.blogspot.com/2011/06/literacy-in-colonial-america.html : accessed 3 January 2017