Miss George directs a play

Sepia Saturday 447: Sixth in a series about my fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George — one of those friends, acquaintances and neighbors (FANs) who can make such a difference in a person’s life.

My fourth grade teacher Miss Helen George was a history buff — so is it any wonder that she wrote and directed plays about local and state history for my classmates and I to appear in?

In her play “Hooper’s Favored Site,” Miss George created a drama about the settlers who ventured west in the early 1800s and came to rest near Binghamton, N.Y., in what is now known as Endwell — but back then was called Hooper.

Washingtonian Hall (2108). This historic home of Amos and Ann Patterson stills stands on River Road along the Susquehanna in Endwell, N.Y. Photo by Molly Charboneau

Settler history at school

In Binghamton, Its Settlement, Growth and Development: And the Factors in Its History, 1800-1900, published in 1900, William Summer Lawyer described the town’s founding:

Hooper is the name of a small unincorporated village of perhaps less than a dozen dwellings, with one general store, a district school, and a milk depot on the main road leading from the city to [Town of] Union. One of the earliest residents in this locality was Elisha Hooper, who came from Massachusetts in 1807, and died in 1869. The hamlet, however, was named for Philander Hooper, son of the settler and one of the prominent men of the locality.

Miss George based her play on these local details, and we fourth graders portrayed the families of Hooper and another early settler Amos Patterson — whose large house still stands on River Road near the Hooper-Patterson family cemetery that we often rode over to on our bikes.

Miss George’s script is lost to history — but I remember appearing in her play in an old-time dress (sewn by my grandmother) that my Mom or her sister Aunt Rita had worn when they were in grade school.

Native history in the neighborhood

What I don’t remember was any mention of the Native Americans who inhabited the area before the settlers arrived.

Depiction of a Susquehannock on the Smith Map (1624). The handwritten caption reads “The Susquehannocks are a giant-like people and thus attired.”  The Susquehannock people, whose original tribal name has been lost, lived along the Susquehanna River until displaced by settlers. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Unfortunately, it was not unusual back then for Native history to be omitted from school curricula.

So we fourth graders had to expand our knowledge elsewhere — like in our neighborhoods.

My street was only one block from the Susquehanna River, where pretty much any digging with a backhoe unearthed carefully chiseled arrowheads.

These exquisite projectiles bore historic testimony to the sheer numbers of displaced Native people — like the Susquehannocks and others — who for generations had lived, planted, hunted and fished along those shores.

Broome County’s website today pays tribute to the Native guardians of the land, identifying some of their settlements:

Until the end of the American Revolution, the Broome County area was inhabited by Native Americans. Two main settlements were found at Onaquaga, near present-day Windsor, and Otseningo, located along the Chenango River, just north of the present-day City of Binghamton. Smaller Settlements could be found at Chugnuts, Castle Creek and the Vestal area.

What came before

Despite her play’s shortcomings, Miss George’s general enthusiasm for history was infectious as she directed us in our roles.

My time in her fourth grade class marked the beginning of my own interest in history, social science and delving deeply into the past to draw lessons for today — one reason why Molly’s Canopy carries a statement that honors Native land.

Miss George sparked my curiosity about what came before — and for that I will always be grateful.

Please stop back as this series continues. Meanwhile, please visit the blogs of this week’s other Sepia Saturday participants here

© 2018 Molly Charboneau. All rights reserved.

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8 thoughts on “Miss George directs a play”

  1. Learning through play acting is a great way for children to use their imagination to understand history. Miss George had good instincts to choose subjects that would inspire creativity too.

    The description of the Susquehannocks as giants was something I remember from a book on America’s pre-colonial history. The early Spanish and English explorers were surprised at the robust size of the native Americans so much taller than Europeans. It seems that the Indian diet of the new world was considerably superior to the junk food diet of the old world!

    1. Yes, the plays did spark our imagination — and prompted our bike trips over to the cemetery to read the stones of the characters we portrayed. I am equally grateful that the Susquehannocks and other Native people left artifacts in my neighborhood to complete the picture of Endwell’s history.

  2. How inspiring a teacher Miss George was in making history so relevant to children’s lives! I too was lucky enough to have a teacher who fostered my love of history – something which stays with me today. Washingtonian Hall looks a lovely place and would entice me to see inside it.

  3. What better way to learn history than to enact it! Miss George continually comes across in your writings as a bright, insightful, and thought-promoting teacher . . . the sort of teacher we would all love to have our children experience! I had a 12th grade English teacher who, when we were studying Macbeth, had us act it out rather than just read it, so it should have come as no surprise when most students in the class passed the quarter exam with high marks!

  4. So glad to hear about the play, as well as the history that inspired your teacher to write it. Yes, our Native American heritage is often lost, and now-a-days we’re trying to patch it back together, with mixed results.

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