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Charlestown schools after 1812

By Frank Mortimer Hawes

Before continuing our account of the Charlestown schools, we wish to speak briefly of some of the earlier trustees who honored their office with years of valuable service. Charlestown can point with pride to the long list of men who served her so faithfully. One need but look to the original board of 1793 to see that only her first citizens were considered worthy to be directors of school affairs.

Trustees for 1793 and 1794, Richard Devens, Nathaniel Gorham, Josiah Bartlett, Aaron Putnam, Joseph Hurd, Nathaniel Hawkins, Seth Wyman.

1795 and 1796, the same, with the exception of Mr. Hawkins, who was succeeded by Timothy Tufts.

1797, 1798, 1799, the same, with the exception of Hon. Nathaniel Gorham, who was followed by his son, Nathaniel Gorham, Jr., and Timothy Tufts, who was succeeded by Samuel Tufts.

1800 and 1801, Seth Wyman, Samuel Tufts, Jonathan Teel, Rev. Jedediah Morse, Benjamin Hurd, Jr., Timothy Walker, Timothy Thompson.

1802, Samuel Tufts, Seth Wyman, Jonathan Teel, Captain Thomas Harris, Matthew Bridge, Deacon David Goodwin, Samuel Payson.

1803 and 1804, the same, with the exception of Samuel Payson, who was succeeded by Captain Nehemiah Wyman.

1805, Seth Wyman, Captain Harris, Matthew Bridge, Deacon Goodwin, John Stone, Peter Tufts, Jr., Joseph Phipps.

1806, Seth Wyman, Matthew Bridge, Peter Tufts, Jr., James Green, Elijah Mead, John Tufts, Samuel Thompson.

1807, James Green, Elijah Mead, Peter Tufts, Jr., Captain Daniel Reed, John Kettell, Daniel Parker, Samuel Kent.

1808, the same, with the exception of James Green, who was succeeded by Timothy Thompson.

1809, the same. [64]

1810, the same, with the exception of Timothy Thompson, who was succeeded by David Devens.

1811, Rev. William Collier, Jonas Tyler, William Austin, Joseph Phipps, Samuel Kent, Philemon R. Russell, Ebenezer Cutter.

1812, Rev. William Collier, Dr. Abram R. Thompson, Captain Nehemiah Wyman, Captain Daniel Reed, David Stetson, Captain Joseph Miller, George Bartlett.

1813, 1814, 1815, the same.

1816, the same, with the exception of Captain Miller, who is succeeded by Isaac Tufts.

Holding over for a number of years previous to the reorganization of 1793 is the name of Nathaniel Hawkins. Wyman, who gives him the title of colonel, says that Mr. Hawkins came to Charlestown from South Kingston, R. I., and that he was recorded in the census of 1789 with his children, Nathaniel, Christopher, Sarah, and Samuel. This was after the death of the first Mrs. Hawkins, and about the time of his second marriage. Both wives were the daughters of Samuel Kent (Vol. III., p. 89). Old residents of Union square will remember the two homes of the Hawkins families in that vicinity. At his own request, Mr. Hawkins' term on the school board ended May 6, 1795, when he received the thanks of the town for his valued services. As local committeeman for Milk Row district, his name has been mentioned frequently in these articles. After 1795 we find him holding various town offices, as surveyor of highways and selectman. He died October 3, 1817, aged sixty-nine (Wyman). On the board of trustees he was succeeded for two years by Timothy Tufts, Esq., and the next in succession from their district was Samuel Tufts, 1797-1804, inclusive. For a brief account of these two brothers the reader is referred to Vol. III., p. 92.

Another name which has already received our attention is that of Seth Wyman. For several years before 1793, and for fourteen years after, 1793-1806, inclusive, Mr. Wyman served continuously on the school board, perhaps the longest of any one individual after Samuel Kent. His home was in the upper [65] part of the town, in what is now Arlington, near the Mystic ponds. He was the son of Hezekiah Wyman, and was born in 1750. About 1774 he married Ruth Belknap, and was the father of eight children. He died in April, 1825, aged seventy-live (Wyman).

The names of Richard Devens, Nathaniel Gorham, and Josiah Bartlett would add lustre to the history of any municipality. All three were actively engaged in town affairs during the trying days of the Revolution and in the important years which followed, when state and national constitutions were being established, and each gained for himself in his special line of service more than a local reputation. Wyman's invaluable work gives an account of these gentlemen. Hon. Richard Devens, commissary-general in the Revolutionary army, was the first president of the school trustees. His portrait, painted by Henry Sargent, 1798, and bequeathed to his native town by Charlotte Harris, hangs in the Boston Branch Library at Charlestown, City square. A later generation has made the name of Devens still more illustrious. Our interest in Hon. Josiah Bartlett, M. D., Ll.D., (1759-1820) centres chiefly in his sketch of 1813, which may be called the first history of Charlestown. Hon. Nathaniel Gorham, regarded by Wyman as one of the most eminent men that ever lived in Charlestown, died while serving on the board of trustees, and was succeeded by his son and namesake the following May, 1797.

Two others elected to the original body of trustees should have more than a passing mention,—Aaron Putnam, Esq., and Joseph Hurd. The former was the first treasurer of the organization, an important office when we consider that it was for a better management of the school funds that a charter was granted by legislative act. Dr. Putnam's name deserves to be mentioned in connection with Charlestown affairs, for it was he who in 1801, sold to the United States four acres of his own, and as agent secured sixty-five acres, exclusive of flats, for a navy yard. Joseph Hurd, if we mistake not, served as the first secretary of the trustees. He was the son of Benjamin Hurd, [66] and, as we understand it, brother of Benjamin, Jr., who succeeded him on the board.

It is a noticeable fact that Messrs. Devens, Bartlett, Putnam, Hurd, and Gorham, Jr., all retired from office at the same time, and few of their successors, to judge from their terms of service, enjoyed a like degree of popular favor. Jonathan Teel was one of these; he stood for the outlying districts, and continued in office until May, 1805, five years. He died in Somerville June 7, 1828, aged seventy-four, and left worthy descendants to keep the family name in prominence. John Stone and Peter Tufts, Jr., next represent our part of the town, the former serving modestly for one year, the latter for six years. Seth Wyman, the last of the original board, retired in 1807, and was succeeded by Captain Daniel Reed, who for nine years represented the upper end of Charlestown.

Hon. Timothy Walker, Timothy Thompson, Captain Thomas Harris, Deacon David Goodwin, and John Kettell are names that stand for representative Charlestown families, but perhaps the most suggestive name on the list is that of Rev. Jedediah Morse, D. D. (1761-1826). This gentleman, a native of Connecticut, a graduate of Yale, and the leading minister of Charlestown from 1789 to 1820, was at this time delighting the educational world with his Geography, one of the first American text-books to gain an extensive and lasting circulation. For more than fifty years it was used in all parts of the country, but the later editions bore little resemblance to the feeble little volume which first saw the light in Charlestown. It served, where schoolbooks were scarce, not only as a geography, but also as a reading and spelling book. We of to-day are favored with a reminder of this pioneer in American education every time we pass his residence, which is marked with a tablet that proclaims the birthplace of his illustrious son, Samuel F. B. Morse, 1791.

With the election in 1811 and 1812, respectively, of Rev. William Collier, pastor of the First Baptist church of Charlestown, and Abram Rand Thompson, M. D., an old-time physician, whose eighty-five years of life came to an end in his native town [67] in 1866, a new order of things seems to have been introduced. We will now go back to the report for 1812, the first with which we are favored after that of 1802. From now on there will be no interruptions in these reports, and from some of them we shall expect to make copious extracts.

May 8, 1812, the board of trustees organized, with Rev. William Collier, president; Abram R. Thompson, secretary; Nehemiah Wyman, treasurer, who gave bonds for $10,000. Milk Row School, it will be noticed, at this time was represented by Captain Joseph Miller. The number of children in town was 1,167, or 457 between the ages of four and seven, and 710 from seven to fourteen. It appears that no children beyond the Neck, under seven and over fourteen years of age, were allowed to attend the town school. In reply to the complaints which came, in consequence, from the outlying districts, the report says that School No. 4 (Alewife Brook) contains thirty-four children, from four to fourteen, and yet this district receives for that number as much money as is expended within the Neck for fifty-one scholars. ‘This distinction in favor of the schools outside is, in the opinion of the trustees, an ample indemnification for all inconveniences arising from their local situation; besides, the money appropriated without the Neck is abundantly sufficient to defray the expenses of their schools through that part of the year when the inhabitants send their children to them, from seven years old and upward; and the expense of educating their children under seven, it seems as just and reasonable for them to pay out of their own pockets as it is for the inhabitants within the Neck to do it. When we consider that, of the 1,167 children in town, only 133 are without the Neck, or less than one-eighth, and that we expend upon them more than one-fourth of the money (contingencies excepted), it cannot be denied that the rule is not only favorable, but generous, to the people without the Neck.’

The teachers of the town schools were Israel Alger, with Oliver Jaquith for an assistant, and for the others Messrs. Fuller and Stickney. There had been two public examinations of each during the year, and frequent informal visit had been made, ‘as [68] a board.’ As a necessary and valuable auxiliary in teaching geography, the trustees had furnished a pair of globes and a map for the use of Mr. Alger's school.

A brief allusion is made to the schools taught by women. As an application for a school for black children had been made, one was established which was kept from June to November. Some mischievous boys that were detected in petty thefts were brought before the board, admonished, reproved, and exhorted, and their parents acquainted with their behavior. The three schools without the Neck were all visited in the spring (1813), ‘and the trustees can with sincere pleasure bestow the most unqualified approbation on them.’ ‘The sum required for the current year will be $3,000, the same as last year.’

From the report read May 2, 1814:—

The writing school, kept by D. Fuller, was vacated by him May 20, and Mr. Jaquith took the charge until June 8, when David Dodge was installed. July 18 Mr. Alger suddenly resigned as principal of the grammar school, on account of ill health, and Abraham Andrews, A. B., was elected his successor August 9. Mr. Stickney, at the Neck, gave up his position January 15, and was later succeeded by John Bennett. Mr. Jaquith was retained this year as Mr. Andrews' assistant. He resigned June, 1814, and was succeeded by Robert Gordon.

February 25 the trustees visited District No. 5, which contains twenty-eight scholars, under the care of Nathaniel Green, and also that under Jacob Pierce, No. 4, which has fifty-eight scholars. April 12 they visited the school in Milk Row, No. 3, containing sixty-nine scholars, under Moses Hall. April 19 they visited the school at the Neck, with ninety pupils, under Mr. Bennett, and April 26 and 29 the two schools at No. 1, under Messrs. Andrews, Jaquith, and Dodge. ‘They were perfectly satisfied with the good order and improvement of all.’ ‘The schools without the Neck are kept only part of the year, and are not confined to any age.’ The amount spent on the schools for small children (women's schools) was $872.48. Dr. Bartlett, in his address of 1813, says: ‘A public support of schools kept by women for primary instruction and free to every inhabitant, [69] under the direction of the trustees, though novel, is honorable to the town, and affords a pleasing presage of future improvement.’ If, as he says, twenty-one districts were established, and to each a schoolmistress was assigned for those from four to seven, then, as the whole number was 425; each teacher had about twenty pupils, and the cost for each child was a little more than $2. The address also informs us that two of the schoolhouses on the peninsula were of brick, two stories high. In eulogistic mood, Dr. Bartlett goes on to say: ‘The free schools were the glory of our ancestors, they are the boast of New England, and the palladium of our future prosperity. We cannot refrain from congratulating our fellow-citizens on a situation of their public schools so auspicious to the best interests of the town, so gratifying to the dearest hopes of parents, and bearing such honorable testimony to the eminent ability and fidelity of the instructors.’

The records of the school board that have come down to us begin with May, 1814. According to their By-Laws, the trustees met for organization the first Tuesday following the second Monday in January each year; other meetings to be held as desired. Special meetings could be called by the secretary on direction of the chairman or two members. The treasurer was to give bonds for $6,000. All bills were to be examined by tile chairman and secretary, and to be approved in writing, if found correct. The officers of the board were the same as last given.

August 18, 1814. Voted to Captain Miller $250 for the use of Districts No. 3 and 4. In November the school of Messrs. Andrews and Dodge was examined by the trustees, and a large number of highly respectable visitors. The reverend president opened the exercises with prayer. All were gratified with the behavior and proficiency of the children, and, considering the confused and agitated state of the town, this was highly honorable to the instructors. The exercises closed with prayer by Rev. Mr. Turner. February 10, 1815, the trustees met at Captain Daniel Reed's (end of the town) to visit No. 5, under

Nathaniel Green (number of scholars, twenty-eight), also No. 4, [70] under Jacob Pierce. Milk Row (No. 3) was visited Wednesday, April 12, at 2 o'clock. Present, Messrs. Wyman, Miller, and Thompson, of the trustees. This school, under P. T. Gray, was in ‘a respectable state of improvement. The females at this and every examination have been distinguished for their juvenile attainments, as well as propriety of behavior.’

Among the bills approved April 21 were those of A. Andrews, two quarters, $403.39; P. T. Gray, $82.85; Martha Ireland, $58.50; Jacob Pierce, $123.75; Philemon R. Russell, $80.54.

Abraham Andrews, having resigned, was ‘dismissed with encomiums.’ At the examination, April 27, of Messrs. Dodge and Andrews' school at the town hall, ‘it was a delightful sight to behold 330 children, all clean and decent in their apparel, all prompt in their exercises, all animated with youthful emulation, and hope, and joy, assembled on the floor of an invaluable common privilege. The trustees will not conceal their joy and gratification in view of the interesting scene.’ Jesse Smith, a graduate of Dartmouth College, for the past year preceptor of New Ipswich Academy, succeeds Mr. Andrews, at the established salary of $666.66. A school for black children, opened May 1, and kept through the summer months to the approbation of the trustees, was under the charge of Mrs. Eleanor Jackson. The sum of $1,000 was reserved exclusively for the women's schools within the Neck. Each schoolmistress was required to make a monthly report, together with an accurate return of ail children under her charge. These schools opened May 1, and closed the last of October. Five hundred children from four to seven were thus educated at the expense of the town. The report read May 1, 1815, says: ‘The trustees for two years past have kept a summer school at Winter Hill and the inhabitants have asked for a schoolhouse. The trustees would recommend one if, at the present time, our fellow-citizens were not struggling with great and accumulated burdens. They will endeavor to continue the school on its present establishment another year. They indulge the pleasing hope that, with the joyful return of peace, our fellow-citizens will be restored to their wonted occupations, [71] when they will cheerfully support additional means of education, as the increasing population of the town may require.’ (Signed A. R. Thompson.) This school was probably in the vicinity of Franklin street. Query: Was it in charge of Miss Martha Ireland, whose name has been already mentioned?


May 16. Voted that Captain Miller open the summer schools in Districts No. 3 and No. 4, and Captain Reed in No. 5. Mr. Dodge is allowed $31.25 per quarter for his son Horace, who serves as his assistant in the writing school. ‘Mr. Smith recommended changing the evangelical instruction for Murray's English Reader and it was so decided.’

August 8 John Bennett resigned at the Neck. The trustees engaged Isaac Gates as his successor, and the same salary as for masters at other schools within the Neck was voted him, $666.66.

April 6, 1816, David Dodge resigned as writing master, and later Robert Gordon, formerly assistant, was promoted to the mastership. Samuel Campbell was elected to second place, at a salary of $500.

Friday, April 19, Milk Row School, under Yorick S. Gordon, was visited. Messrs. Miller and Thompson were present, with several of the inhabitants of the district. The school appeared very well, notwithstanding many difficulties under which they had labored during the winter. Mr. Gordon had discharged his duties acceptably.

May 6 the trustees met, and, taking into consideration the high price of living and, at the same time, appreciating the valuable and successful services of Mr. Gates as a teacher, recommended making him a special grant of $40. Schools in Districts No. 4 and 5 have been kept the past winter to the satisfaction of the board.

In reference to women's schools: ‘By making the privilege of instruction free to all has preserved the chain of education unbroken by the distresses of the people in the shock of war, and so has been an inducement to many to remain in our town. [72] Happily the scene is changed.’ ‘$4,400 will be wanted next year, in addition to the $1,500 for small children's schools.’


Voted that Isaac Tufts, who has been elected a trustee, have particular charge of No. 3 and No. 4, in place of Captain Miller, resigned, and later, also, of No. 5, as Captain Reed resigned in September. In June Jesse Smith resigned as head of the reading or grammar school. He received the encomiums of the trustees. J. M. K. Wilkins was elected to fill the vacancy. Mr. Gates' salary is raised to $800. As the number of black children from four to fourteen is only ten, it is voted not to have a school for them. Voted that District No. 3 be continued till the Saturday before the first Monday in April. Voted, April 28, to Martha Ireland, $66.

April 15 the trustees discussed the Lancastrian plan of education, and it was voted to apply to J. Buchanan, Esq., British consul in New York, for information. From the report, signed May 5, 1817, we learn that District No. 3 is still maintaining two summer schools, namely, at Milk Row and Winter Hill. In speaking of No. 1, R. Gordon's services are highly praised.


August 9, 1817, the trustees have looked up the Lancastrian system of education, and paid Mr. Dixon $20 for his information. They decide that it is not feasible for Charlestown.

March 25, 1818. The trustees examined School No. 3. Present, Rev. Mr. Collier, Messrs. I. Tufts, P. Tufts, and Thompson. ‘About fifty scholars attended the examination, and appeared well in all their performances.’ Eighty belong to this school, kept this term by Daniel Russell.

April 3 the trustees examined School No. 4, kept by J. Underwood. About forty were present, out of a total of fifty-two. From bills mentioned, D. Russell is paid $115, and Martha Ireland $71.50. A clock and bell purchased by a sub-committee is presented by Captain Wyman for the exclusive use of the [73] school at the Neck. The report recommends the separation of the sexes in the town school. The districts without the Neck have received a liberal allowance of the money appropriated, and No. 5, in particular, has expended more money than for many years before. ‘It is not to be denied that our schools are expensive, but,’ etc., etc.


According to a recommendation in the report of a committee appointed to choose a site for a girls' school, I. Prentiss and Miss S. Carlisle were hired, the former at $800, the latter at $400, to have charge. As Mr. Campbell's services were no longer needed, he was discharged. Interesting exercises were held at the opening of this school, September 14, 1818. Later the trustees paid on a lease of eight years $130 for the building in which the girls' school was kept. It seems that it was built and owned by Rev. Mr. Collier, and stood adjacent to Mr. Collier's meeting house. The Baptist society was allowed the use of the building for a Sunday school. The school numbered 241 April 23, 1819. The boys' school, kept by Messrs. Wilkins and Gordon, numbered 200 in September, 1818. Miss Carlisle seems to have been the first woman to teach in Charlestown in a school above primary grade. ‘The trustees were of the opinion that an intelligent mistress would fill the place as well as a master.’ Their expectations seem to have been realized.

Isaac and Joel Tufts are to have charge of the schools without the Neck for the trustees. March 18, 1819, I. Hayward's school, No. 4, was visited. ‘An excellent teacher and gave fine exhibition.’ As the school at No. 5 was not satisfactory, it was closed early in consequence. Voted April 13 to report a statement of facts to the town respecting the territorial limits and number of children in District No. 3. This school went on very well under the care of Mr. Russell until the schoolhouse was destroyed by fire, and so there was no regular exhibition. This fire was the third of March. ‘The district commences in Cambridge road, sweeps around the Cambridge line, [74] runs across Milk row by Isaac Tufts' to Winter Hill, by the house of Joseph Adams, Esq., to Mystic river, and down to the cluster of houses near the entrance of 3 Pole lane, and over to the place of beginning. It contains sixty-one families, and 106 children from four to fourteen, about one-third of whom are below seven years. The remaining seventy-three would be at a fair calculation the highest number to be provided for. Of these, the largest number live on the Milk Row side.’ This is the first report signed by James K. Frothingham, secretary of the board. The following quotations seem worthy of a place here: ‘In populous towns the great mass of boys from seven to fourteen cannot be employed, and it is therefore necessary to keep them constantly at school as a measure of restraint and order, but schools for girls may be suspended with perfect safety, as they can assist at home.’ From observation of Mr. Hayward's school, ‘the trustees are of the opinion that a part of the year devoted to learning and the remainder to some other employment will in the end make quite as good scholars as spending the whole year in education.’

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