Fannin County Museum of History
One Main Street, Bonham, Texas
The First Step Toward an Educational Dynasty
Bonham Daily Favorite, March 21, 1993
Despite attempts by various Texas governments to establish a viable system of public education the fact is that the best education to be found in nineteenth century Texas was in the hands of private educators. Much of the funding provided by both state and local governments went to these individuals. The result was that students residing in or near a town or city had a much better chance at becoming well educated than their rural counterparts.
Two men figured prominently in the development of private education in northeast Texas. The first of these was John W.P. McKenzie, sometime educator and Methodist minister, who established one of the first colleges in Texas, McKenzie College near Clarksville, Red River County. McKenzie's college played a part in the education of some of Fannin County's young men and possibly some young ladies of the area also. Names of male students, from Fannin County, are to be found among the records, but there is insufficient evidence to determine that girls from the area were a part of the educational process at the school.
The person in whom we are most interested, however, is Charles Carlton, educator and Disciples of Christ minister, who impacted education in Fannin County for thirty-four years. Carlton was also the guiding influence for two young men, one time students and teachers with Carlton, who provided a major keystone in the development of Christian education in Texas.
It is a long way from the beautiful green meadows and chalk cliffs of Kent, England to the Red River Valley of Texas, but a series of circumstances brought Charles Carlton to a small village, only recently removed from the frontier, to become a major voice in quality education. Carlton was born in Eythorne, Kent County on August 25, 1821. His father was a carriage maker by trade and was also noted for his skills as a mechanic, a term most closely associated with today's engineers. The elder Carlton came to the United States in the early 1830's to superintend the construction of the first rail line from New Orleans across Lake Ponchartrain. When the project was completed he returned to England and remained there until he moved his family to Toronto in 1854.
Young Charles Carlton was provided with ample opportunities for a good education at his home, but curiously seemed to have taken little advantage of them. From boyhood he was fascinated by the sea and at age 15 years he signed on as a cabin boy and sailed on his first voyage. Mistreatment soon dampened his interest in a sailing career and after only ten months he left the service and returned to Kent.
The lure of the sea remained strong and a few months later he signed on with a merchant vessel which sailed between Scotland and Hamburg. After two years he became part of the crew of a lumber brig sailing to North America. He and another young member of the crew jumped ship when they arrived in port, once again the victim of cruel and severe treatment by officers and crew of the ship. He eventually made his way to Nova Scotia where he obtained employment in a shipyard .
During his three year tenure with ship construction young Carlton came to the realization that his lack of a proper education would probably be the determining factor that would hold him in the same menial position to which he had been subjected for the past several years. To remedy his shortcomings he enrolled at Horton Academy in Nova Scotia and after a four month term he felt that he had been called to the ministry.
His first attempts to become a minister were remarkably disastrous and Carlton decided that he had been mistaken about his chosen profession. His next decision was to make a fresh start somewhere in Canada, but a round-about journey through New England proved to be one of the more fortuitous events in his young life. .
In Fredonia, New York he found employment as a farm hand with a Mr. Champlain. His employer was so impressed with his industry and conscientiousness that he took the young man under his guidance. When Carlton revealed to his boss his desire for an education, Mr. Champlain introduced him to members of the Baptist Church in Fredonia. Many of these people were as impressed as had been Mr. Champlain and several of them offered to board Carlton on a rotating schedule, if he would enter the Fredonia Academy and prepare for the ministry.
Once again convinced of his call to preach, he worked at odd jobs around the community and earned money for his tuition. The next summer, 1845, found him preaching at churches in another county and studying on his own. In the fall he entered a second session at the Academy and in August of 1847, after an examination by a board of Baptist ministers, was accepted into the ministry.
Carlton accepted the ministry of a church at St. Clairville but before beginning his mission another of those events so important in his life caused him to change directions once again. A friend, G.W. Lewis, offered him one hundred dollars towards expenses if he would continue his education at Bethany College in West Virginia where Alexander Campbell was president.
Carlton accepted the generous offer and enrolled at the college for a three year course. After attending the session of 1847 and 1848, Carlton's funds were exhausted. He went to one of his professors to tell him that he was being forced to leave because he had no clothes to wear or money to pay his tuition. Professor Pendleton had also been impressed With the young man and offered to share his wardrobe with him and assist in any way possible if Carlton would remain in school .
With his friend's assistance Carlton was able to complete three years work in two years and on July 4, 1849 he received his B.A. degree. A number of his classmates also were to receive accolades and honors for their contributions to American religious life.
The president of Bethany College, Alexander Campbell was a major influence in Carlton's life during the time he was enrolled. After thoughtful study and examination, Charles Carlton whole heartedly embraced the teachings of Campbell and two months before his graduation he united with the Christian Church.
After receiving his degree he returned to Fredonia where he married Harriet Ann Taylor, also a native of Kent, England. He then accepted a call to a church in Georgetown, Kentucky and took the first step toward the impact he was to eventually make in the small north Texas town of Bonham.