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Mary Webb

(b. 1823)

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At a Glance

Mary Webb was officially Mrs. Burwell's first student at the Burwell School [1].


Mary Webb was the youngest daughter of Dr. James Webb and Annie Alves Huske Webb of Hillsborough, NC. She had early attended Miss Mary Burke's School on E. Queen Street, and in 1835 was attending the elegant Maria L. Spears's classes in the Hillsborough Female Academy (Episcopal) on the E. Tryon Street. Some of her tuition receipts survive in the James Webb Papers:

"January 8th 1835 Miss Mary Webb Dr. to the Hillsboro' Female Seminary to one session's tuition in Literature $13.00 Rec'd payment Jan. 9th, 1835 Maria L. Spear"

"July 7th 1836 Miss Mary Webb, dr. to the Hillsboro' Female Seminary To Tuition in Literature $15.00 Rec'd of Dr. Webb Maria L. Spear"

"January 26th 1837 Miss M. Webb, dr. to the Hillsboro' Female Seminary To tuition in Literature $17.00 Rec'd of Dr. Webb Jan'y 30, 1837 Maria L. Spear"

Dr. Webb (James Webb), however, was a Presbyterian and encouraged Mrs. Burwell to open a new school in Hillsborough, NC. Indeed, as a leading Presbyterian he largely overwrote the construction of the Brick House, which housed the little school when Mrs. Burwell first opened it in August 1837. Mary Webb, then aged fourteen and a half, was officially her first student. Tradition says Mrs. Burwell had two other  "outside"  students, little Sarah Jane Kollock , aged eleven, and Annabella Giles Norwood , aged six. There was, of course, her own small daughter, Mary Susan Burwell , also aged six. Thus, Mrs. Burwell had to devise three separate courses of study.

Mary Webb remained three years (1837-1841) at the Burwell School. The Webb Papers provide additional tuition receipts, but none for the first session when the Burwells were perhaps repaying Dr. James Webb for the Brick House:

"Dr. Webb to M. A. Burwell Dr Jan. 15, 1838 To one session Tuition of Mary Webb $17.50 1 copy Blair's Rhetoric 2.75 1 Do Gallaudet Nat. Theology .75 Recd. payment $20.50"

"Dr. Webb to M.A. Burwell Dr. Aug. 5th 1839 To one Session Tuition $17.50 1 Lessons in Composition .62 1/2 1 Scholar's Companion .75 [Rec'd payment] $18.87"

Separate tuition receipts to M. Jean Odend'hal for tutoring Mary in French at $15.00 per session in 1838 and 1839 also exist, and it is possible that M. Jean Odend'hal was the French teacher for the first few sessions of the Burwell School.

Mary finished her course in 1841, and her daughter, Mary Alves Long, wrote this estimate of her mother's education in her book, High Time to Tell It [2]:

"Mother had received the best education of her day and spoke of her teachers, Mrs. Robert Burwell and Miss Burke, daughter of Governor Burke, with the greatest respect and admiration. Besides being grounded in grammar and other branches considered essential, she had learned to paint on rice paper, to sing, and play extremely well on the piano and the guitar both, by ear and by note....She had a beautiful voice that charmed all her listeners when she sang  "Kathleen Mavourneen,"   "A Wet Sheet and a Flowing Sea,"   "Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms,"  or  "I Dreamt That I Dwelt in Marble Halls...."

"Grammar was her specialty. She was determined we should know grammar....Mother was as sensitive to bad grammar as she was to a false note in music."

Mary Alves Long emphasized her mother's competence in music and her happy youth:

"Mother had led a wonderful life in that old yellow house [on E. Queen St.]....Sometimes mother played the guitar, a beautiful instrument which her brothers had imported from Paris for her birthday gift. I used to marvel at its beauty and also at the contrast between the satinwood case with its narrow band of mother-of-pearl inlay and the plain pine of the sounding board.""


Biographical Data

Important Dates

Mary Webb was born on January 30, 1823, in Hillsborough, NC. She was buried in Minneapolis, MN.

Places of Residence

Schools Attended



  1. Mary Claire Engstrom. The Book of Burwell Students: Lives of Educated Women in the Antebellum South. (Hillsborough: Hillsborough Historic Commission, 2007).
  2. Long, Mary Alves. High Time to Tell It. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 1950.