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The Old Deluder Act (1647)
From Records of the Governor and Company of the Massachusetts Bay in New England (1853), II: 203


The 1647 legislation known as the “Old Deluder Satan Law” was a Massachusetts education act which lay out the basis of and need for public education. Towns with more than fifty householders were required to appoint someone to teach children to read and write. In communities with more than 100 families or householders, grammar schools were required. By setting out grammar schools, the legislators attempted to insure that children acquired the basic literacy skills that would enable them to gain knowledge of the scriptures and thereby confound the devil.

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Full Text:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.

It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the town shall appoint; provided those that send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns.

And it is further ordered, that when any town shall increase to the number of one hundred families or householders, they shall set up a grammar school, the master thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the university, provided that if any town neglect the performance hereof above one year that every such town shall pay 5 pounds to the next school till they shall perform this order.

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