Salt Spring Island's First Teacher

Salt Spring Island's first teacher was a young black man called John Craven Jones. 

Song John Craven Jones composed and performed by Salt Spring Island musician Phil Vernon:

John Craven Jones was born in Raleigh, North Carolina on September 10, 1834.

In 1850, John Craven Jones went to Oberlin College, Ohio, and was enrolled in the Preparatory Department. By the end of just one year, 1850-1851, John Craven Jones had learned what he needed to be accepted into the college courses. John enrolled in the college in the Classical Course in 1851 and graduated with an A.B. degree in 1856.


John's father Allan Jones believed passionately in education for the Black people. He was a Black man, born into slavery in America. He became a free man. (We don't know for sure, but he probably bought freedom for himself and his wife and children) When he was free, he started a school for Black children. People who did not believe that Black children should learn to read and write burned down his school. He started another school. That school was also set on fire and destroyed. He started a new school. It, too, was burned down. Then Allan Jones sent his sons to Oberlin College, Ohio, to get a high class education. All three Jones brothers graduated from the college. John was the brother who wanted to teach. Like his father, he especially wanted to teach his own people. Oberlin College had taught him how to start a one-room school for children, and how to give them a really good education from grade one through to grade eight.


When he graduated from Oberlin College, John Craven Jones taught for two years as the only teacher in a one-room school for Black students, in Xenia, Ohio.


In 1859, when he was 25 years old, John Craven Jones and his brothers came to Salt Spring with the first group of non-native people making a new life for themselves by settling on Salt Spring Island. (Before 1859, the land and coasts of Salt Spring Island were used only by the First Nations people of the area) Some of these new settlers were white men, bachelors who married Indian women. Indian women knew how to gather food and how to survive on the island. But almost all of the Black people came as families, husbands and wives with children who needed education. John Craven Jones was teaching these children almost immediately, and continued to do so for many years, without any pay. (The families made sure he had all he needed to stay teaching on the island, so they shared food with him, and helped him with his other needs).

 (See NOTE C, a demographic detail re racial origins)


The first new settlers arrived on Salt Spring Island in the summer and autumn of 1859.

By 1861 they were building a big log schoolhouse at Central (beside where Central Hall is today) But before that, we know that Mr. J.C. Jones was teaching the children wherever he could, in rough sheds or in a family's cabin for a day. Soon, he had two schoolhouses: the one at Central, and a "shack" further north, near where Fernwood School is today. For three days he taught at Central, and for three days of the week he taught in the North End, so that the children did not have to walk so far to school. On Sundays, the log schoolhouse was used as a church, where the children were taught Sunday school by a Black man called William Robinson.


At first Mr. Jones taught the Black children. By 1866 we know there were 42 children at Sunday School in the north end of Salt Spring Island, and still Mr. Jones was the only school teacher. (Many of those children were babies and toddlers) The Black children were not the only children at school any more.  By 1866 the Indian women married to white men had children, and when they were old enough, they came to school to be taught by Mr. Jones.

(By 1867 there were only nine public schools in all of B.C. - the school on Salt Spring Island, and others at Craigflower, Cedar Hill, Lake District, South Saanich, Cowichan, Nanaimo, and two in Victoria.)


Mr. Jones was the only school teacher on Salt Spring Island for about twelve years. (By 1872, the community in the south end of the island had enough children to start a school of their own, in the Burgoyne Valley - ten students. The teacher was not an Islander, but someone sent by the government. On June 27th, 1872, John Craven Jones had 25 students, 7 in the North End, 18 at Central.  In 1872 in all of B.C. there were 500 pupils in 14 public schools, and J.C. Jones was one of only 16 public school teachers in the province. We know all this from a School Inspector's Report. Mr. Jones continued to teach on Salt Spring until 1875. Now he could concentrate on farming his land.


Later, John Craven Jones went back to Oberlin for a visit. In Oberlin, he met a Black woman who had graduated from Oberlin College. Her name was Almira Scott. In 1882, John married Almira. He was 48 years old. They decided to sell the Salt Spring farm and go back to where John was born. By now, North Carolina was a different place from what it was like when John grew up there. Slavery had ended. (The American Civil War began after John left, and had ended with the Declaration of Emancipation, January 1st 1863, ten years before John returned.) John and Almira Jones went to Tarboro, North Carolina, where he taught in a school for Black students. John and Almira had three children.  John taught in Tarboro for about 20 years before retiring as a farmer. John Craven Jones died at Greensboro, South Carolina, on December 17, 1911.


Preparatory Department       What is a Preparatory Department? See NOTE A


A.B. degree                What is an A.B. degree? - something like a Bachelor of Arts degree,

                                    a B.A. in Classics (including Latin, Greek, and Euclidian mathematics).


Oberlin College          See NOTE B


J.C. Jones                   painting of J.C. Jones teaching (on the SSIA website:  )


log schoolhouse          photo (on the SSIA website: )


William Robinson       See NOTE D


School Inspector's Report     See NOTE E 



The Preparatory Department was similar to high school. In those early days it was difficult for students to get the high school credits required for college entry in their local areas, so many students came to Oberlin College to get the graduation quaifications they needed to start college.



If you would like to know more about Oberlin College Ohio, you can search n the internet, or ask Usha <>

Why would you have any interest? Oberlin College was started in 1833 by a group of idealist young people, who believed in equality for all. So their university had a policy of providing the same education to female students, Black students, and poor students, as they provided to white male students with enough money to pay high fees. This was at a time when the mainstream of society believed that women could not learn, and Black people should not be allowed to learn to read and write. So at Oberlin College, the Black students were taught to the same high standard as the white students. And they were encouraged to go out into the world to teach more Black people. (Oberlin College, Ohio was in the vanguard of the abolitionist movement to end slavery)



We know of only one white family who arrived already married and with children. They were the Lineker family, who settled at the head of Ganges Harbour. They did not stay on the Island for very long. At least one other European man did arrive with a family of children, but their mother too was Indian. (The mother of the Lineker children did not want her children to be with Black children, so they did not come to school to be taught by a Black teacher. This example of a segregated attitude was remarked upon at the time as unusual, and due to her upbringing as the daughter of a clergyman in Australia - she can’t help it, poor soul, is the implication at the time)


NOTE D: William Robinson missed his wife and children. They had stayed in California, waiting for him to tell them a cabin was built and ready for them, and fields were cleared and planted with food. Maybe his wife was not so sure she wanted to come to Canada, so far from her family and friends. In 1868, she sent him a message that she was definitely not going to come, and he made plans to go back to California. What happened next is a whole new story... If you are dying to know, ask Who Killed William Robinson?


NOTE E: If you want to know what the schools inspector said about Mr. Jones as a teacher, you can read his  schools inspector report - but be sure to ask Usha what she thinks of that report! She does not agree with the Inspector. For one thing, the Inspector said Mr. Jones should stop walking between the two schoolhouses (one at Central, one near where Fernwood School is now. The Inspector said this was a waste of the teacher's time, and all the children should walk to the school at Central every day. (In those days everyone walked everywhere - there were no roads, because there were no vehicles.) But it was not safe for children to walk along the trails, because wolves and bears and cougars lived all year round on the Island in those days.



for the Year Ending July 31st, 1872.

[Report written by Superintendent of Education John Jessop]


SALT SPRING ISLAND SCHOOL DISTRICT.—Formed July 30th, 1870. Boundaries:—"All that piece of land known on the Official Map as Salt Spring or Admiral Island." Mr. J.C. Jones is teaching under a temporary arrangement till the end of the year. Salary $40 per month. Visited the Island on 27th and 28th June. Found the teacher engaged at the Northern or Beggs' Settlement, where School had been kept for three months previously. The 28th was examination day, but there were only three pupils in attendance—two girls and a boy. The boy was working in Latin Grammar, having become such a proficient in English Grammar and Geography that those studies were dropped a year ago, and Latin substituted!! So the teacher reported. An examination in those branches and arithmetic did not by any means establish the fact of former proficiency. Teacher's time comparatively wasted by itinerating between the Middle and Northern Settlements. Circumstances do not warrant it, as none of the children are more than three miles from the School house and the road is improving year by year. There are 25 children of School age in the two settlements above referred to, of whom seven reside in the Northern and sixteen in the middle settlement.


There is an interesting and thriving settlement between Burgoyne Bay and Fulford Harbor, about three miles in extent. Several families are already located, having amongst them 21 children, about half of whom are of school age. An application has been recently sent to the Government asking for aid to erect a school house and pay a teacher. Those settlers are fully eight miles from the middle settlement school house.




NOTE - about Sources.

This article does not cite the sources, or how I know what I know, or how I have deduced what I infer. If your students would benefit by having an appendix covering such a topic, you could ask me to append one.

For example, how do I infer that Mr Jones started concentrating on developing his farmland when he stopped teaching? Well, in the local directories, from 1875 the occupation of J.C. Jones changes from ‘teacher’ to ‘farmer’ How do we know he stopped teaching in 1875? Well, in the B.C. Archives in Victoria you can read the “Fourth Annual Report of the Public Schools of BC 1874-1875” by the Superintendent of Education, John Jessop, and on page 32 Table A, you find this entry: (the italics are mine)

Vesuvius (Central) School teacher 1874-75 John Craven Jones - W.F. Jones from May 1st

Salt Spring Island School population 19; pupils between 5-16=11, 2 other ages attending.        

Total of all ages attending=13; boys 4, girls 9

J.C. Jones        American          engaged Aug 1 1872    not certified      salary $40 per month

W.F. Jones       English              engaged May 1 1875    not certified      salary $50 per month

(“Engaged Aug 1 1872” does not mean that is when Mr. Jones started teaching, but when the new Department of Education began. “Not certified” does not mean he was not educated as a teacher - Mr Jones, as it happens, had higher educational qualifications than did the Inspector of Schools himself - but means that he has not yet passed the new examinations required to obtain certification so teachers can be paid according to a salary scale newly established by the government) The government Records in the B.C. Archives list that W.F. Jones, of English origin,  was in turn replaced in September of the same year by a Mr John Britton (about whom I have a racy tale to withhold...) - and so on.


PS - I have deleted so much information that what remains is not the whole truth.

For example, some history books or articles will mention a Mr Lester who ‘taught with J.C. Jones’ or assisted him in teaching. I have left him out (partly because there is no proof, just an island rumour-legend-vague island story, and partly because to get into explaining this confuses the reading. A Mr. Moore certainly lived on the Island for a while, and is cited in Bishop Hill’s diary as ‘a coloured teacher’ - though he does not say he is teaching. So I could be challenged, when I write that J.C. Jones was the only teacher on the Island. I have deleted my original adjectives such as “the only proven teacher.

I also debated whether to delete the adjective in “public teachers” - but there were non-public schools - the St. Ann’s Convent schools, the Hudson’s Bay Company school for the children of their employees, and so on. Non-public education, for the rich or orphaned, was a norm before public education was dreamt of. British Columbia happens to have established one of the very early free public education systems in the world - Canada had free publicly funded education before England did (though Scotland had it long before) and England prides itself on its liberal education history.

I know way too much. It is a curse!


c1000 words without added Notes

    500 words Notes A-E


1866 figures: Rev. JCB Cave of Comox report to The Daily Chronicle, (Victoria) Feb 28, 1866