Some Early Teachers -- Part I
To find a competent teacher and to provide means for his support could not have been an easy matter; for only ten years before, nearly the whole territory was an unbroken wilderness, with no roads, no cleared lands, no inhabitants but Indians, no dwellings but wigwams. To construct needful roads, to clear and cultivate portions of land, to build houses, however rude in construction, and to provide the means of subsistence, must have taxed all the energies of the people, demanding of them untiring industry, hard labor and the most rigid economy.
More than a year passed away before the law was carried into effect. An earlier compliance was probably impracticable, either from want of means for paying a teacher, or a difficulty in finding a suitable one. The man at length employed was JOHN LEGAT, with whom some of the people appear to have had a previous acquaintance; for on the 30th of October, 1640, the town had voted to receive him as an inhabitant, and on the 23d of March following, at his request, had granted "the lot that Eldred was to have had, in the Wigwam Row, unto the said Jo[hn] Legat, he coming and dwelling upon it." If he came to Hampton at that time, it is evident he did not long remain, for in 1643 he was living in Exeter.
The fact and the terms of his engagement as a teacher in Hampton appear from the records: "On the 2 of the 2mo: 1649: The selectmen of this Towne of Hampton have agreed with John Legat for this present yeare insueing -- To teach and instruct all the children of or belonging to our Towne, both mayle and femaile (wch are capiable of learning) to write and read and cast accountes, (if it be desired), as dilegently and as carefully as he is able to teach and instruct them; And so dilegently to follow the said imploymentt att all such time and times this yeare insueing, as the wether shall be fitting for the youth to com together to one place to be instructed; And allso to teach and instruct them once in a week, or more, in some Arthodox chatechise provided for them by their parents or master. -- And in consideration hereof we have agreed to pay, or cause to be payd unto the said John Legat, the som of Twenty pounds, in corne and cattle and butter att price currant, as payments are made of such goods in this Towne, and this to be payd by us quarterly, paying £5 every quarter of the yeare after he has begun to keep school."
This is the contract. The date of commencing the school appears from the records: "John Legat entered upon schooling the 21 day of the 3 month, 1649."
From another source we learn that this teacher was not promptly paid for his services, for at the October term of the county court holden at Hampton the next year, John Legat sued Anthony Stanian and Robert Tuck, two of the selectmen, in behalf of the town, in an action "of debt for scooleing & other writings done for ye Towne." The plaintiff withdrew his action, and the case was probably settled by the parties.
The foregoing agreement, in connection with the memorandum of the time of beginning school, is interesting and important, as showing,
1. The exact date of the opening of the first public school in the town: "The 21 day of the 3 month 1649," O.S., or May 31, 1649, as we now reckon time.
2. For whom the school was intended: For "all the children of or belonging to our town, both male and female (which are capable of learning)" -- no restriction as to age or attainments of the children, or the social condition of the families to which they belonged. Girls as well as boys were to have the benefit of the schools. This proves the fallacy of the statement, so far as relates to Hampton,"that for more than one hundred fifty years, girls were excluded from the privileges of the schools in New England."
There are on record numerous votes passed by the town, relating to schools and the hiring of teachers during the next hundred fifty years; but only a few teachers are mentioned by name, -- not more than three or four. From other sources,s the names of several have been learned, and some facts in regard to them.
SETH FLETCHER was here as a teacher in 1654. The date of his taking charge of the school, or the length of time he taught, has not been ascertained. Indeed, the only evidence of his having been the teacher is a receipt given by him, October 19, 1654, to one of the tax-payers, for his school-rate "for the whole year." Mr. Fletcher appears to have been a man of some importance. He was sometimes employed as a surveyor, -- in one case, at least, to make a survey and plan to be used in settling a controversy about certain town lines. [Chap. VII.] He was afterward the first minister of Saco, Me., being employed in 1666, for one year, and afterwards from year to year, probably till 1675, when the town came near being destroyed by the Indians.