Black Gnat Academy, 1850-1881

Mary King Floyd painted a picture of BLACK GNAT ACADEMY and her classmates as she remembered them. Students in the painting are George King, Betty Harris, Obe Batey, Chris Beesley, Mary Moore, Horace Blackman, Minus Beesley, Martha Allen, Mattie, Emma, and Nettie King, Pony Woodruff, Robert H. Baskin, John Vaught sitting on a stump and reading from a Blue Back Speller. Mary King Floyd, a sister of Jeanette Moore King, Superintendent of Schools, and Dr. James King, a New York brain surgeon, took art at Vanderbilt. Most of her paintings were destroyed when her home burned. She had given this painting and another to Robert W. Baskin. Britt Wiser furnished this copy of the painting.

BLACK GNAT ACADEMY 1850-1881 was about four miles west of Murfreesboro on the Franklin Road. The school was on the west bank of Overall Creek, two hundred or three hundred yards north of the bridge. The site is shown on the Beers Map of 1878.

Col. James Moore King, son of Henry King who moved from North Carolina and bought 3,800 acres of land from a Revolutionary soldier, had the school built, probably by slave labor, for his and the neighborhood children.

The school was named BLACK GNAT because of the clouds of black gnats that swarmed from the creek bank during certain seasons of the year.

Mary King Floyd 1872-1970 remembered as a student “a small log building about 30’ by 40’ with a door in the center front and two small windows on either side. Two rows of long benches were on either side of a narrow center aisle which led to the teacher’s desk. A large stone fireplace at one side of the building provided heat.”

Students had to get water from half a mile away.

Among the teachers were Molly Jordan in 1864, Annie Mitchell, Minnie Vaughn, who boarded at George Beesley’s, a Mr. Boykin, and Mr. Capers Overall, a preacher and the last teacher.

Children from six to twenty-five years of age studied Latin as well as basic studies for a school term of three months. Mary King Floyd was a student at BLACK GNAT and later a teacher at WRAY’S and KINGWOOD.

BLACK GNAT was one of the first free schools in the county. It closed in 1881 when KINGWOOD opened a mile to the west.

In time the school building deteriorated. Heirs of the King family sold off their inherited property. George Beesley, grandfather of the sculptor Jesse Beesley, built on or near the former school lot a cotton gin and called the location the “gin lot.” Sarah Elizabeth King later bought a small acreage of the former King property on the east side of Beasley Road, land which adjoined the school land. On it, “Captain’ Sweeney in the 1960’s built for her a log house. The logs were not, as some have suggested, from GNAT SCHOOL but were from a very old four-room, two story house on the Puckett estate. Sarah King later sold her property to Jesse Beesley.

Robert W. Baskin remembers helping his father, Robert H. Baskin, carry water from the creek to the gin. He recalls the gin’s being close to a grove of trees.

SOURCES: Robert W. Baskin, History of Blackman Salem-Windrow Communities 1973, Typewritten. Interviews: Sept. 24,TI84, with Sarah Elizabeth King; Jan. 15, 1983, with Robert W. Baskin.

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