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APPLETON, THOMAS, educator; b. in the East Riding of Yorkshire, England; fl. 1818–35.

Thomas Appleton is remembered chiefly for his role in a minor dispute that symbolized a much broader issue. In the early 1820s he became the central figure in a debate over how schooling in Upper Canada should be organized. Lieutenant Governor Sir Peregrine Maitland* and the Reverend John Strachan* favoured the spread of the national system, a network of monitorial schools controlled by the Church of England; reformers, on the other hand, supported the expansion of the system of non-denominational common schools inaugurated by the Common Schools Act of 1816. This debate was not resolved until the creation in the 1840s and 1850s of a non-sectarian, state-supported system of universal schooling under the supervision of Egerton Ryerson*.

A Yorkshire Methodist, Appleton came to Upper Canada in 1818. After teaching for a brief period in Scarborough and King townships, in February 1820 he took up a post at the York (Toronto) common school. His future was soon placed in jeopardy, however, bye Maitland’s plan to create national schools, which supposedly would play a key role in ensuring the loyalty of the populace. A few months after Appleton’s move to York, Joseph Spragg*, whom Maitland had recruited in England with the object of turning the York school into a national school, arrived in the capital. Strachan, a member of the district board of education and a close ally of Maitland, now took the lead in trying to have Appleton replaced. Eventually Spragg was appointed to the York school for a five-month period and Appleton was given charge of a nearby common school in the “market square.” Shortly afterwards, this arrangement was made permanent and Spragg’s school was transformed into the Upper Canada Central School, the first of Maitland’s planned series of national schools.

Here matters rested until mid 1821, when Appleton was abruptly denied his allowance for the previous six months on the grounds that the Central School had superseded the common school. The trustees of the common school, Jesse Ketchum*, Thomas David Morrison*, and Jordan Post*, petitioned Maitland and the district board on Appleton’s behalf, but their appeals met with no success and they resigned in protest. In 1823 Appleton appealed to Maitland, who referred the matter to the recently created Board for the General Superintendence of Education. Strachan, as superintendent of the board, advised Maitland that Appleton’s salary had been discontinued because, after the reduction of the common school fund in 1820, the district board had decided to support only one school in each township, and in York the presence of the Central School had made Appleton’s school expendable. Maitland, according to Strachan, thought this argument “perfectly satisfactory” and no action was taken on Appleton’s petition.

Despite his loss of salary, Appleton stayed on as a teacher at the common school, relying on the fees of his students. He continued petitioning, and in 1828 the House of Assembly established a select committee – composed of James Wilson, Robert Randal, John Rolph*, John Matthews, and Thomas Hornor – to investigate his charges of high-handedness on the part of the Executive Council. The reform members who dominated the committee saw an opportunity to expand what seemed a relatively routine case of unfair dismissal into a full-blown discussion of “family compact” policies. After all, the Central School had been established on the recommendation of the Executive Council but without the approval of the Colonial Office or the Upper Canada legislature. Moreover, some members suspected a deliberate attempt by Maitland, and perhaps Strachan as well, to set up through the national schools a system of Church of England schools which would rival the nondenominational common schools. From the outset, then, it was clear that the committee would take Appleton’s side. After hearing several witnesses, including Appleton himself and Jesse Ketchum, the committee requested that the authorities pay Appleton the money owed him. It also announced that the Central School “is professedly adherent to the church of England – and, therefore, ought not to be supported by the revenues of a country struggling against ecclesiastical exclusion.” Nothing came of the committee’s report.

Appleton did not discourage easily and in April 1832 he appealed directly to the Colonial Office. Once more his efforts were in vain, for in 1833 Lord Goderich decided, after receiving information on the case from Lieutenant Governor Sir John Colborne*, that the affair did not warrant interference. Two years later William Lyon Mackenzie*’s committee on grievances considered another petition from Appleton, and resolved that the teacher was entitled to £85 4s. in compensation. It is not known whether this payment was ever made.

The details of Appleton’s life in the 1820s and 1830s are obscure. In 1828 he was still teaching in York, and in 1835 Mackenzie described him as a resident of Toronto. His name, however, does not appear in city directories or assessment records for the 1830s; indeed, the name Thomas Appleton does not appear again in records of any kind until 1841, when a Thomas Appleton is listed as living in King Township. There is good circumstantial evidence to indicate that the Appleton of King Township was the same person as the subject of this biography. If so, Appleton lived a long and productive life. The Thomas Appleton of 1841, an English immigrant and New Connexion Methodist, moved into King Township that year. By 1851 he and his wife Elizabeth had three children, and Thomas with his son Tapple was operating a sawmill. At the time of the 1861 census Thomas was a widower and was residing with Teavill C. Appleton, probably a brother. He died in Aurora on 31 July 1866 at the home of his son-in-law, William Hartman, brother of Clear Grit politician Joseph Hartman*; he was then 82 years of age. That Appleton himself may have had ties with the reform party is indicated by a letter of 1841 from one T. Appleton – undoubtedly Thomas, his son Tapple, or Teavill – to Robert Baldwin*. In this letter, written from Whitchurch Township, Appleton asked Baldwin to fulfill “the promise you made me at the Husting.”

Appleton was described as “a good teacher and a kind man, held in equally high esteem by the pupils and their parents.” During the 1820s and 1830s his case had focused attention on the increasingly important question of who was going to control the evolving system of public schooling for the children of the masses. Was it to be the church or the state, the appointed executive or the elected legislative branch? In the Appleton case the assembly put itself on record as favouring state and legislative control, but the resolution of the issue required another two decades of debate.

J. Donald Wilson

AO, MS 451, York County, King Township cemetery records; RG 21, York County, King Township, assessment rolls, concession 2, lot 21, 1863, 1865–66. MTL, Robert Baldwin papers, Appleton to Baldwin, 18 Oct. 1841. PAC, RG 1, L1, 29: 10; L3, 7: A 12/2; RG 5, A1: 24063–65, 33541–42; RG 7 , G1, 69: 159–61; 70: 90–91, 328–30; RG 31, C1, 1851, 1861, King Township, concession 2, lot 21. PRO, CO 42/411: 210; 42/413: 208, 251; 42/414: 340–48. Univ. of Toronto Arch., A73-0015/001, 17 March 1830 (photocopy at AO). York North Registry Office (Newmarket, Ont.), Abstract index to deeds, King Township, concession 2, lot 21 (mfm. at AO). Documentary history of education in Upper Canada from the passing of the Constitutional Act of 1791 to the close of RevDrRyersons administration of the Education Department in 1876, ed. J. G. Hodgins (28v., Toronto, 1894–1910), 1–2, 4–5. J. R. Robertson, Old Toronto: a selection of excerpts from “Landmarks of Toronto,” ed. E. C. Kyte (Toronto, 1954). Town of York, 1815–34 (Firth). U.C., House of Assembly, App. to the journal, 1835, 1, app.21: 81; 2, app.65: 19; Journal, 1828: 63, 66–67, 114; app., “Report on the petition of T. Appleton”; 1835: 204, 213, 232, 264. Newmarket Era, 3 Aug. 1866. R. R. Bonis, A history of Scarborough (Scarborough [Toronto], 1965). F. M. Quealey, “The administration of Sir Peregrine Maitland, lieutenant-governor of Upper Canada, 1818–1828” (phd thesis, 2v., Univ. of Toronto, 1968). G. W. Spragge, “Monitorial schools in the Canadas, 1810–1845” (dpaed thesis, Univ. of Toronto, 1935). J. D. Wilson, “Foreign and local influences on popular education in Upper Canada, 1815–1844” (phd thesis, Univ. of Western Ont., London, 1970). E. J. Hathaway, “Early schools of Toronto,” OH, 23 (1926): 322–27. G. W. Spragge, “The Upper Canada Central School,” OH, 32 (1937): 171–91.

General Bibliography

Cite This Article

J. Donald Wilson, “APPLETON, THOMAS,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed May 21, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/appleton_thomas_6E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/appleton_thomas_6E.html
Author of Article:   J. Donald Wilson
Title of Article:   APPLETON, THOMAS
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 6
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1987
Year of revision:   1987
Access Date:   May 21, 2024