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Charlestown Schools in the 18th century.

By Frank Mortimer Hawes.

at the beginning of the eightenth century the Charlestown School, as we have shown, was under the charge of Thomas Swan, M. A. This gentleman was a graduate of Harvard College in the class of 1689. He was born in Roxbury, September 15, 1669, and was the son of Dr. Thomas and Mary (Lamb) Swan, of that town. In 1690 he was teaching in Hadley. After resigning at Charlestown he became Register of Probate for Middlesex County. December 27, 1692, he married Prudence, daughter of Jonathan Wade, Jr., of Medford, and they had four children, the births of three of whom were recorded in Charlestown. Mr. Swan died at the Castle in Boston Harbor, October 19, 1710, aged 41 years. ‘He did practise [59] physick & chyrurgerye at Castle William upward of 7 years, at 12 pence per week for every 20 soldiers garrisoned there.’ His widow applied to the court for the payment of a sum of money which was her husband's due, and 20 pounds was voted in settlement of the demand.

For his services in Charlestown Mr. Swan received the same remuneration (£ 40) that was paid at the beginning of the previous century. We have shown how this amount fluctuated from time to time. On account of a varying income arising from the school fund, it is hard to determine always what was the yearly cost of the school. The master's salary sometimes included the rent of a house for his family; sometimes he was allowed to demand of his pupils a small tuition fee. Wood for the schoolhouse, in winter, was pretty generally supplied throughout all New England towns by the pupils' parents. The sum total of the master's earnings seems meagre enough, but we may believe that it averaged well with what was paid in neighboring communities.

If the management of the school for a century showed but little change on its financial side, probably the same might be said of the curriculum of studies. There is no evidence that the school question was a very vital one. The requirements for entrance to Harvard College set the standard. Latin was generally taught, but there is no mention of Greek on our records. We may believe there was little real progress in educational matters, both within and without that charmed circle of scholars. Judging, however, from the character and achievements of the men who taught this particular school, we may well believe that their pupils did not lack mental and moral incentives to good work. In training and experience requisite for what was demanded of them, these teachers must have been the equals of those in any other age. Compared with modern schools, those of that day were most deficient in school appliances. This is particularly noticeable in the poor school buildings. Charlestown had built two in the course of the century, wretched little affairs, both of which, not many years after their erection, were in need of constant repairs. [60]

The education of the daughters of the community is not mentioned. If they received any instruction in the so-called ‘dame’ or ‘spinning’ schools, it was at their own expense. Private schools also for the boys, as the records we have quoted intimate, received their share of patronage, especially from the well-to-do. Not all the young men of Charlestown who graduated from the college were trained in the town school. The sons of the poor had some slight attention, but the ‘youth,’ the sons of the better class, whether they knew it or not, formed a privileged order in the community. As yet there was no real democratic equality in educational matters, and no free schools in the modern acceptation of the term.

A list of those accredited to Charlestown, who graduated from Harvard College previous to 1701, may prove interesting. (From Bartlett's Address, 1813.)

Comfort Starr, 1647,Nathaniel Cutler, 1663,
Samuel Nowell, 1653,Alexander Nowell, 1664,
Joshua Long, 1653 (?),Daniel Russell, 1669,
Thomas Greaves, 1656,Isaac Foster, 1671,
Zechariah Symmes, 1657,Samuel Phipps, 1671,
Zechariah Brigden, 1657,Nicholas Morton, 1686,
Benjamin Bunker, 1658,Nicholas Lynde, 1690,
Joseph Lord, 1691.

A personal examination of the town records shows that from the opening of this century, almost without exception thereafter, the inhabitants of Charlestown, in town meeting assembled, discussed the welfare of the school and voted the annual appropriation for the same. Thus they were building, better, perhaps, than they knew, for upon foundations, similarly well laid, has risen, slowly but surely, the magnificent structure of our present school system.

March 1, 1702-3. ‘Voted that the selectmen should provide and agree with a schoolmaster at the Town's charge,’ and May 18, ‘voted for the master's pay what shall be wanting besides that already granted to make up his sallery to £ 40 per annum, viz: £ 30.’ The same day it was ‘voted that Lt. Coll. Joseph Lynd, Samuel Heyman, Esq. & Dea. Joseph Kettell be [61] a committee to agree with a schoolmaster according to instructions given, provided it be either Mr. Thatcher, Mr. Whiteing, Mr. Whittemore, Mr. Tufts, Mr. Anger, or Mr. Burr. Attest, N. Dows, Recorder.’

January 21 following, this committee ‘made return that they had agreed with Mr. Thomas Tufts to keep sd school for one year to perfect Children in Reading & to Learn them to write & Cipher, and to Teach them Gramer, for £ 40 per annum, & to begin his work the last day of June.’

At the next May meeting (1704) £ 28 was voted ‘for the schoolmaster to make up his Sallery to £ 40.’

We have not attempted to verify the account of Thomas Tufts, to be found in Brook's History of Medford, and Wyman's Charlestown Genealogies. He graduated from Harvard College in the class of 1701. While there he received £ 40 per year, by the terms of his grandfather's will. (This was as good as teaching school!) He was the son of Peter Tufts, Jr., (styled ‘Capt. Peter’). His mother's maiden name was Elizabeth Lynde. He was born in Medford, March 31, 1683, and married for his first wife, his cousin, Mary Lynde. She died September 3, 1718, and the following January 29 he married Emma, daughter of Captain Samuel Phipps. Thomas Tufts died December 26, 1733. Wyman records the births of his children.

December 25, 1704, it would appear that the school was again without a teacher, for it was ‘voted that the Selectmen be a committee to provide a Gramer Schoolmaster for the Town forthwith as soon as possible.’ Accordingly, on the 29th they enlisted the services of Samuel Heymond, Esq., Capt. Samuel Phipps, and Mr. Joseph Whittemore, ‘who are to enquire of Mr. Battle and the fellows of the College concerning Mr. Wissell, whether he was a fitt man to be a schoolmaster for this town.’ These gentlemen reported, January 10, 1705, ‘that all gave incoridgment & declare their opinion that as to Mr. Wissell's Learning & other qualifications he was a fitt person for sd work.’ This report was accepted, and these three gentlemen, along with Mr. Ebenezer Austin as a fourth, were authorized, any two of them, to treat with Mr. Wissell for a term of six months. [62]

Peleg Wiswell (Wiswall) was the son of Rev. Ichabod and Priscilla (Peabody) Wiswall, and was born February 5, 1684, at Duxbury, where his father was ordained and settled. He graduated from Harvard in 1702, and died in 1767. A printed genealogy of the Wiswall family may be consulted. If we remember rightly, he taught many years in the North End School, Boston.

March 4, 1706. It became the duty of the selectmen to provide a schoolmaster for the town, and on the twenty-sixth they empowered Captain Samuel Heyman, Joseph Whittemore, Mr. Bateman, and Robert Wyer ‘to inquire & treat with Mr. Samuel Burr with reference to his keeping the school in this Towne & to make report at their next meeting.’ It is recorded that Mr. Burr entered upon his duties, at the rate of £ 40 per annum, 24 April, 1706.

At the May meeting Captain Heyman and Captain Phipps were empowered to secure workmen for repairing the meetinghouse and the schoolhouse; £ 18 was voted for this object. (At the same meeting Mr. Phipps was voted eleven pounds, four shillings for his services as town representative in 1705.)

March 31, 1707. ‘It was agreed with Mr. Burr to keep the school one year, as last year, for £ 40. Also it was ordered that there be another table & two forms provided for the schoolhouse.’

May 21, 1707, and May 17, 1708, the usual annual amount was appropriated for the schoolmaster. The vote was the same May 11, 1709, May 22, 1710, and May 23, 1711.

Samuel Burr, A. M. (class of 1697, Harvard), was the son of Major John Burr, of Fairfield, Ct. His mother's maiden name was Sarah Fitch. According to the printed family record, the date of his birth was April 2, 1679; that of his marriage to Elizabeth Jennor (Jenner), June 19, 1707. A daughter, Sarah, born in Cambridge, married Thomas Edwards, of Boston. She received as legacy from her father, a silver tankard, that was her great-grandfather, John Stedman's. Other children of Samuel Burr were John, Samuel, Jr., and Rebecca. Against the name of the widow Wyman has recorded many land transactions. [63] She left a will, dated September 20, 1754. The family genealogy says that Mr. Burr became one of the most famous teachers of his time. For twelve years he was master of the grammar school at Charlestown. He died while master there, August 7, 1719, and was buried in Fairfield, Ct., where there is a monument to his memory. It states that he was educated at Cambridge under the famous William Brattle, and died while on a visit to his native place. We have made our account of this gentleman a somewhat lengthy one, for the reason that his term of service in Charlestown surpassed that of any of his predecessors.

November 19, 1711. ‘The Selectmen ordered the Repairing the schoolhouse with all Necessary Repairations.’

At the meeting of 1712, May 21, we are allowed a little variety. ‘Voted for Schoolmaster's Sallery, viz.: the Gramer School £ 40 and £ 5 to be raised for the payment for some poor children at such women's schools as shall be allowed of by the Selectmen. Being for such Children whose parents are not able to bring them to school, which shall be determined by Captain Samuel Phipps & Captain Jonathan Dows.’

Or, as Frothingham, page 246, has it: ‘The teacher having requested that regulation might be made About the town school, it was voted That, whereas the school, being thronged with so many small reading children that are not able to spell or read as they ought to do, by reason of which Latin scholars, writers, and cypherers cannot be duly attended & instructed as they ought to be, Captain Samuel Phipps & Mr. Jonathan Dows were chosen inspectors & regulators of that matter.’

May 20, 1713, the master's salary was increased to £ 50, and this was the sum paid for the five years following. In 1718 and until 1724, or for six years ensuing, his services were valued at £ 60.

In 1713 a new building was erected on the Town Hill, near the old schoolhouse. Thus building number two did service thirty-one years, the same length of time as its predecessor. Estimating a schoolhouse of that time as able to withstand the wear and tear of a generation of pupils, we may expect to find this third building yielding to the inevitable about 1745. [64]

Much of the expense of this new building seems to have been covered by voluntary contributions, ‘one offering a bell, others lime, brick, paint, or stone, and one a “raising dinner.” ’ In May the town voted £ 50 for this purpose, but as the committee in charge had chosen for the location the spot where the ‘cage’ stood, a site north of the meeting-house, a controversy arose and much opposition was expressed. July 14 all previous votes were nulled. Twenty-six citizens now entered a protest; a new meeting was called for August 17, and it was voted to build on the hill near the old house. The original committee then declined to serve. In consequence, the selectmen built the house without advisement. It was ‘30 feet by 20 feet and 12 feet stud, with one floor of sleepers and one floor of joist aloft.’ The bills were approved the following February, and amounted to 104£. 4s. 11d. This structure probably served also as a town house.

But to us a more interesting entry is that of town meeting day, May 18, 1714. ‘Voted £ 4 for a schoolmaster to teach the children to write among our inhabitants near Reding.’ As far as we have been able to discover, this is the first appropriation for school purposes ‘outside the peninsula.’ Every year thereafter, until May 17, 1725, when this amount had increased to £ 9, a sum was thus appropriated for a schoolmaster ‘at ye wood end of the town,’ or ‘for a school of children for writing & reading at the upper end of the town.’ The petition of Captain Benjamin Geary and fifty-three others ‘to be sett off as a separate town’ was presented on that day, and though their prayer was not granted at first, it resulted in a division of the township, and December 17, 1725, the new town of Stoneham was born.

May 13, 1719, a second school without the peninsula was fostered, namely, at the indefinitely located Mistick-side, by an appropriation of £ 3. This amount was increased to £ 4 for four years following. In 1724 there seems to have been no vote for this purpose, and May 17, 1725, William Paine and seventeen others presented a petition to be set off to Malden. This request met the same fate as the other, but no doubt the bounds of the town were adjusted later to the satisfaction of all concerned, for we hear no more of this school at ‘Mistick-side.’ [65]

These two outlying districts, while under the control of Charlestown, were managed by local committees, whose names are recorded from year to year. In a few instances we know who were the teachers and the length of their service. Thus, at the Stoneham precinct, William Hay taught for the months of February and March, 1721, for the £ 8. In 1722 George Taylor kept this school for three months, fourteen days, and overrun the appropriation fifteen shillings. In 1724 the teacher was Mr. Hancock, and for 1725 Ebenezer Parker. At Mistick-side John Brentnall kept the school from 8 January to 15 February for the £ 4 appropriated, and the next year Nathan Burnham rendered a similar service. The query naturally arises whether these outlying districts maintained a school during the major part of the year at their own expense, or are we to suppose that the short periods mentioned represent the sum total of a year's schooling?

October 5, 1719. Among other things, it was voted to pro– vide a bell for the schoolhouse; also that the schoolboys be permitted to sit in the three hindmost seats in the upper part of the front gallery. ‘They being there under my immediate care and inspection.’ So petitioned Robert Ward.

May 2, 1720. ‘Ordered to get two small forms made for Mr. Robert Ward's schoolboys to sit on at the schoolhouse.’

November 7, 1720, this gentleman was chosen pastor of the church at Wenham, and ended his labors in Charlestown. The Rev. Robert Ward, of the class of 1719 (Harvard College), died in 1732, at the age of seventy. He was admitted to the Charlestown church December 12, 1714. He seems to have been twice married, if we may trust Wyman's account, which also gives the names and dates of birth of his children. His father, Robert Ward, Sr., was from the county of Munster, Ire., and belonged to the frigate Nonsuch.

December 5, 1720. ‘The selectmen agreed with Mr. Samuel Barrett, Jr., to keep the gramer school till March 1 for £ 15.’

(To be continued.)

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