George Read II and his wife Mary Thompson had eight children (one died at birth). These children lived a life of privilege. They enjoyed the benefits of an education, a good upbringing, and servants. When the family moved into the famous Read House in 1803, they lived in the room that would soon become the children’s nursery. During the 1800’s, people with wealth had a nursery where the children lived with a nursemaid until they were seven years old. It is believed that the nursemaid for the Reads was also their wet nurse; bank logs showed that every time a child was born, a new nurse was hired. It is also believed that she would need to have a young child, but there were other ways to keep a lady with milk. After the age of seven, the children moved up to the third floor to live in a room with their brothers or sisters until they finished school or got married.
The Read children lived with many other people in their house in addition to their parents, they had many servants who would complete duties throughout the day. The children did not participate in everyday housework. They had a cook to prepare their meals and a lady who would wash their clothing. They had servants to clean and even help their father with his bath and shower. The children became very attached to one servant, the nursemaid. She was with them during the earliest part of their lives and she was the one to begin their education.
When the children were young, they would learn their alphabet and numbers from a hornbook. It was a piece of leather with a piece of paper on the inside containing all that the children were supposed to know. They would memorize the information and then receive a new book. The children were then educated in a private school in the city of New Castle. When they completed this basic level, the boys went on to higher education. The specific education that children learned was quite different depending on their sex. The male children would learn Latin, French, logic, “moral philosophy”, mathematics, surveying, and how to give speeches. This was to prepare them for the life of a politician and lawyer. The oldest son, George Read III would continue his education at Princeton to eventually become a lawyer. The females, on the other hand, spent their days receiving a “modern” female education. They learned how to dance from a French dance instructor, how to play the piano, and how to draw with pencils and paints. They also learned to read and write in order to be able to manage their future households. Their education was to teach them how to become ladies in a modern society. We know that George Read II cared greatly about his children’s education from an inventory taken of his library when he died. He had essays, books on revolutions and logic, the Bible, Don Quixote, German Theatre, the Atlas, and even a book on Mores for Female Education.
These children did not have to do manual labor for their daily bread, but they did have to work hard. They had to do a lot of studying to “better their minds”.
*THIS RESEARCH WAS TAKEN PRIMARILY FROM INFORMATION FOUND AT THE DELAWARE HISTORICAL LIBRARY AND WORKS BY KARIN CALVERT.
-Researched by: Whitney Reed