Geography Lesson circa 1868

Mar 4, 2014 | 3 comments

1868 Geography BookGordon left me his ‘history books’ – mainly books about this area and mainly by local authors.  From the copyright dates, it would seem that he acquired most of them when he owned the Bookvendor prior to selling it to us.  There were fewer than a dozen.  (I suspect that when the final sorting was done some found their way to the Friends of the Library and others to the Heritage Museum. Good homes, both, and no complaints from me!)

Among those that I received, though, is one treasure that he must have picked up from a used bookstore.  Either that or the Castle Rock School District was using texts from the Dark Ages when Gordon went to school there in the 1930s.   Battered and tattered, well-used and perhaps well-loved, it once belonged to “J. C. Robin of Castle Rock, Cowlitz County, Washington Territory” – or so says the childish pencil scrawl on the inside front cover.

1868 Map of Asia

1868 Map of Asia

The book is a Manual of Geography combined with History and Astronomy; Designed for Intermediate Classes in Public and Private Schools and is part of the “National Geographical Series, Revised Edition” by James Monteith, Author of School Geographies, Wall Maps, Charts, and a History of the United States.

The Preface page states, “Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1868, by James Monteith, in the clerk’s Office of the District Court of the United States for the Southern District of New York.  Before copyrights, at least as we know them today!  Although the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power to enact laws establishing a system of copyright, it was not until 1897 that the Copyright Office was formed.

Julia Jefferson Espy on her Wedding Day, August 7, 1870

Julia Jefferson Espy on her Wedding Day, August 7, 1870

My great-grandmother, Julia Jefferson (Espy,) graduated from the Salem Oregon Normal School in 1869, the year after this particular Geography Series was published.  She was recruited by School Board Members  L.A. Loomis and R.H. Espy to teach at the one-room schoolhouse in Oysterville.  It is doubtful that these were the texts that she used with her pupils – no one has ever claimed that Oysterville was on the cutting edge.

But in 1870, Julia accepted R.H.’s offer of marriage and left the public school classroom to raise seven children, all of whom she taught at home for their primary years.  It is said that R.H. had only a year or two of formal education himself, and that he married a schoolteacher to ensure that his children would be afforded a better opportunity.  (For the record, all of their children except Aunt Verona, who had a debilitating disease, – perhaps multiple sclerosis – went to college.  Quite a feat in those years!)  Julia may well have used the Monteith series in her parlor ‘classroom.’

As for the information contained in this treasure – endlessly fascinating!  And not nearly as outdated as you might think…


  1. sandra stonebreaker

    As yet, The Friends of The Libraries have received none of Gordon’s books. Mike Robinson has been in contact with me about the possibilities. Sandy

    • sydney

      They must be on their way, then. Both Karen and Betsy told me that they were boxed and out the door…

  2. Stephanie Frieze

    Thanks for sharing the picture of Julia and of the book. I love old books and hearing about Julia home schooling her seven children is wonderful.


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