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Charlestown schools in the Eighteenth century.

By Frank Mortimer Hawes.

Mr. Barrett probably did not teach longer than the time specified, as Wyman says that the next incumbent of the office, Joseph Simson, taught from 1721 to 1724. May 15, 1721. In addition to the master's salary of £ 60 for the coming year, £ 3 was voted for firewood for the school. As this is the first time the subject of wood is mentioned in this form, we may infer that previous to this date, as in other towns at that time, the fuel for the school had been contributed by the parents. February 8, 1722-3. ‘In running the bounds of the school lot, being No. 68, given to the school by Mr. Daniel Russell, being in second division of Charlestown, viz.: a wood lot of 45 1/2 acres, it was found that this lot and lot 67 fell short 101 acres, & we offered to settle the bounds with Mr. Joseph Underwood, we to abate 7 acres and he 3 1/2 acres, which he refused. But we settled bounds & drove down stakes accordingly. Thomas Jenner, Town Clerk.’ [12]

Rev. Daniel Russell, son of Richard, in his will, 26 December, 1678, bequeathed to the town of Charlestown ‘for the free school, if it is effected in a year's time, 95 acres wood.’ May 8, 1723. We may judge something of the school fund at this time from the following: Of the £ 60 for the schoolmaster, £ 20 was voted from the town treasury. ‘The rent of Lovell's Is. £ 15; rent of ye school lott £ 5; the interest of £ 300 & part of ye Lynn farm £ 20, to make up the remainder.’

April 6, 1724. ‘Mr. Joseph Stimson, gramer school master resigned.’ This reverend gentleman was the son of Andrew Stimson, Jr., of Cambridge, where he was born February 7, 1700, and graduated from the college in the class of 1720. He became the pastor of the Second church of Malden, and died there March 28, 1752. Through his mother, Abigail Sweetser, he was a cousin to his successor, the next schoolmaster of Charlestown.

The following year, 1725, the custom is revived of paying a man ‘for looking after the boys on the Lord's Day.’ Robert Trevett is allowed twenty shillings the first quarter for such service, to begin 8 November, 1726-7, ‘To Robert Trevett £ 4 for last year looking after the boys.’ The same amount is appropriated the year following.

Stray items of expense are interesting: 1724, ‘Paid for bell to the schoolhouse £ 2. 10. 0. Richard Miller's bill for work at ye school, &c., &c., £ 1. 5. 4. John Sprague £ 4. 5. 0. for a weather cock & mending the school bell.’ June 15, 1724, Mr. Seth Sweetser was chosen school master. ‘Mr. John Foye, Mr. Henry Phillips, Thomas Greaves, Esq., Mr. Daniel Russell & Deac. Jonathan Kettle were appointed a committee to apply themselves to ye ministers, as the law directs, for their approbation of Mr. Seth Sweetser, jr., for a grammer school master. His salary is £ 75 to begin 7 July.’

Viewed by the light of later years, this entry has a significance which it would be hard to estimate. For more than a generation we are to follow the history of the Charlestown school, which thus long was under the guidance of this worthy gentleman. The amount appropriated for Mr. Sweetser's salary grew year by year. But the apparent increase, it must be remembered, [13] was due to a gradual depreciation of the currency, which, in time, came to be estimated in terms of ‘old tenor’ and ‘new tenor.’

May 19, 1746, the amount voted in town meeting for Mr. Sweetser's pay reached the very considerable figure of £ 250. It was not without frequent petitions, however, that he met with such consideration. These, it would appear, were presented personally, as May 14, 1739, we read: ‘Mr. Sweetser prays for an increase in his salary, and gets £ 180.’ 1746, ‘Mr. Sweetser prays for more salary, and considering the depreciation of money, £ 250 is voted.’ The next three years the amount appropriated fell to £ 150. Under the stress which probably tried more souls than one, Mr. Sweetser's success seems to have suffered a decline. In 1748 a vote was passed instructing the selectmen to visit his school at least once a quarter. The next year they were authorized to agree with some other instructor, if Mr. Sweetser refused to accept the sum offered him, £ 150. His resignation went into effect March 6, 1750, after more than a quarter of a century of continual service. A brighter day, however, was in store for him. But matters of importance, in some of which Mr. Sweetser was indirectly concerned, demand that we go back again over these years.

Often these yearly appropriations were in this form: 1724, ‘£ 40 were voted for master's salary and £ 40 more out of the school fund; £ 5 of it being for fire wood.’ Very frequently a sum is voted for repairs; as, 1727, £ 5 on the town house and the schoolhouse. In 1739 £ 40 is voted for repairs, and 1748 the amount set aside for the purpose is £ 100 for the schoolhouse alone. Thus the third school building of Charlestown, which, according to our reckoning, ought to have ended its existence about this time, by a timely outlay was made to do duty for several years to come.

Considerable light is thrown upon the school fund at this time. In 1727 it was itemized as follows:—

Lovell's Island, let to William Walters (?), £ 17.

School lot, let to Timothy Wright, £ 5.

Salt marsh (on Malden side), let to Joseph Frost, £ 1. 10.

Money at interest, £ 357. 10. 0., with income of £ 21. 9. 0. [14]

A school lot in first division,—amount not given.

Soheegan farm,—not valued.

Land adjoining the schoolhouse,—not valued.

In 1740 the free school income amounted to £ 71.4. 0. (Frothingham.) In 1748 these funds amounted to £ 1,857, Sowhegum farm having been sold for £ 1,500, and the annual income from this is £ 180. 10. 0.

From the following entries it will be seen that the selectmen assumed authority over private schools: 1727, ‘Mr. John Stevens, student at the college, is allowed to keep a Private school in the town for writing & ciphering.’

November 17, 1729. ‘Ordered that Samuel Burr have liberty to improve the middle chamber of the almshouse for to keep a writing school for this winter.’ 1749, ‘The selectmen approbated and allowed Mr. Matthew Cushing to keep a private school in this town, to instruct youth in reading, writing, and cyphering, and other sciences, he having been recommended as a person of sober and good conversation.’ (Frothingham, page 260.)

May 15, 1728, the question came up in town meeting ‘whether the selectmen shall agree with some person to assist Mr. Sweetser in teaching the school or shall erect another building.’ The committee chosen to consider the matter were Thomas Greaves, Daniel Russell, Joseph Kent, Joseph Lemmon, and Aaron Cleveland. Later they make an interesting report, in which they suggest that many unfit to attend be kept out of the school. They also think ‘it might do to have a reading school somewhere at the town charge.’ Another committee, ‘to regulate the school accordingly,’ consisted of Deacon Samuel Frothingham, Deacon Jonathan Kettle, and Joseph Lemmon. That word ‘somewhere’ may have encouraged the petition of several of the inhabitants of the town. In answer thereto, June 17, 1728, ‘it was voted that the petitioners be allowed out of the Town Treasury towards keeping a school among them their proportion of what they are taxed toward the school or schools in the Town, provided it be employed to that use only for the year ensuing.’

This seems to be the first record that can be construed as relating [15] to schools in the outer sections of the town. If, however, the people of the outlying districts accepted these terms and established schools of their own, there is nothing on the books, for a number of years, to show it. It may interest some to read that the selectmen for this year (1728) included Joseph Frost and Joseph Kent,—surnames that are familiar on early Somerville records.

Not until 1736 do we find anything bearing on this subject. In a warrant for a town meeting, April 26 of that year, is the following item: ‘To see whether the Town will vote to have a school or schools kept in the Town (above the Neck) for teaching and instructing youth in reading, writing, and cyphering.’ At the meeting held May 6, it was voted to raise £ 25 for said school, which sum was to be put into the hands of a committee ‘which are inhabitants without the Neck, to provide a schoolmaster to instruct their children. This committee was empowered to regulate said school as they shall think most convenient for the inhabitants.’

Thus was instituted an educational system for the outlying districts which was to continue without material change for more than half a century. These papers, henceforth, will endeavor to emphasize everything on the records relating to this subject, as they give us our first knowledge of the school in that part of the town which afterwards was set off to Medford, to Arlington, or became the town of Somerville. Unfortunately, our information for a time will have to be confined to the annual appropriations and the local committees appointed at the May town meeting. If access could be had to any existing private papers of the Tufts family, of the Rands, Kents, Frosts, Russells, etc., the few men of that period who administered the affairs of our section of Charlestown, no doubt much interesting material might be found. By consulting Wyman's valuable work and the Brooks-Usher history of Medford, we can determine readily to which section those on the various committees were devoted. Four or five districts must have been represented, which we may designate as the Milk Row, the Alewife Brook, the upper, or Gardner Row, and the one or more at Medford side.

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