Some Account of Hampton's Schools of Long Ago

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By Rev. Roland D. Sawyer

Hampton Union, March 8 - April 5, 1956

[The following articles are courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online]

Only known standing School-house of early type, Slant floor, District School House.

We have just passed through the season of annual school meetings which almost every where had so large a budget as to increase property taxes from ten to sixty per cent.

The towns now give services for their public schools that bleed tax-payers white. Every New England settlement started off with its meeting house and pastor and in the course of a few years came the public schools.

At first they were taught in a room in some private home, and by this way they would teach two or three months in one section of the town; then the same length of time in another section -- till all the town was covered.

This was the period called that of "The Moving School-Master."

Teachers in winter term were then all men for boys of age reaching 20 were often pupils, especially at the terms between November and April.

That the smaller children have a chance in more progressive towns school-dames did the same thing for small children in summer months.

Then came the period of "The Moving School-House," small buildings like that in our picture, which could be hauled from place to place by three yoke of cattle.

In Kensington we had five of them around 1775.

Then came school-houses somewhat larger and men would sell to the district a spot of land for $10.00 to be used for school purposes only, and when no longer thus used the land reverted to the original owner.

Some years ago I made careful study of town histories and wrote various letters and I could only find two of the older type of the small school-house. One of these was sold by the selectmen for $100 to a woodchopper for a shanty, the other, privately owned by two ladies, has been kept by them; kept in repair and shingled, and"-is seen in our cut above. It is standing on private land on Tucker Mountain as we go from East Andover Hill. In it some of my ancestors studied.

The building is about 15 or 16 feet and ten feet wide, the floor slants upward and has three rows of seats — thus the pupil in the back seat is under the eyes of the teacher, as much as the front seat pupil.

The door enters through the shed where the wood is kept.

Later larger houses were built, each district raising its own money and carrying on as it voted.

Then the state legislature took a mild oversight over the local district, regulated the date of its warrant be posted and provided each district should have certain officers, treasurer, clerk, etc. Choose a moderator and carry on its meetings as a town meeting, and elect a PRUDENTIAL COMMITTEE and a SUPERINTENDING COMMITTEE.

The committee was generally one man the prudential committee kept the building in repair, provided wood etc — he was allowed funds from those voted up to but not over 5% of the total amount raised.

The superintending committee, most often the local minister, examined the teacher, visited the school, made an annual report to his district.

The district voted the amount of money, how many weeks of schooling, etc.

This system prevailed in New Hampshire till 1885 when the town became the one district and voted as many schools as it thought necessary, also salaries and expenses.

As a 13 or 14 year old lad I attended the annual meeting to look on, held in the district school house.

Under the new regime a school committee of three was chosen.

The little school house of our cut, built in the decade 1820-1830, takes us back so far that we might as well go back to the beginning.

New Hampshire was settled in 1623, only three years after the Mayflower landed and seven years before the Winthrop fleet with 700 settlers sailed into Boston Harbor.

However its growth was so slow its four towns, Hampton, Exeter, Portsmouth and Dover put themselves under the Massachusetts government in 1641.

And thus when Massachusetts in 1647 passed the compulsory education law it applied to New Hampshire.

A great contribution of the Puritans was their emphasis upon education, they wanted every person to be able to read the King James Bible and adults were forced to attend church and listen to a two hour explanation of the Bible and its teachings.

The 1647 law commanded every town that had 50 families to provide a teacher to teach every child to read and write and figure.

And every town that had 100 families must maintain a Grammar School which would fit a bright child to continue and be fitted for Harvard College.

By act of the British King on January 1, 1680, we became a Province independent from Massachusetts and made our own laws.

The first law the young Province made in regard to education was in 1693 which commanded every town to assess money by taxes to maintain a teacher and school. Failure to do so would make the town pay a ten pound fine, which fine could be repeated time and again till they provided the teacher.

In 1719 the law was made that a teacher must be a year round teacher and in some place in town a school must be constantly kept.

Before this law schools were kept in some private house but under the new law often people in a community would build a small school house.

Also now generally two persons were hired to teach, a woman to teach smaller children in summer and a man to teach in winter when big boys could be freed from work to attend. Penalty for neglect to comply was raised to 20 pounds.

In 1722 a law was passed that if selectmen failed to provide the school the Province would do so and take the needed money from sales of the property of the selectmen -- this brought action.

No further laws were made till after the Revolution.

There was a primer and small reader from which the reading class moved on to read the Bible, generally the New Testament.

Lessons in Arithmetic were taught on the blackboard or on paper sheets made by the teacher, there were no books.

In 1770 the Province introduced the Dilworth Spelling Book, printed in England.

The first act of New Hampshire after the constitution of 1789 was to make a substantial amount raised by taxation for schbols. Also for the first time teachers must pass examination.

In 1805 came the law which enabled towns to divide territory into districts which caused the small houses like out cut to spring up.

In 1808 the state issued a list of books which must be used, and geography was added to reading, spelling, writing and arithmetic -- but female teachers teadhing children could omit the newly added subjects.

Up to 1827 the minister could examine teachers and oversee the teaching but in 1827 the legislature ordered towns to choose committees.

In 1846 a law was, passed demanding commissioners in each county.

In our articles the two weeks previous we traced the district schools in New Hampshire from 1647 to 1846, two hundred years, and our picture, was of the small, slant-floor school houses built between 1775 and 1840.

This week we come along the years from 1846 to 1856, and our picture is of the Hampton Main Road school house now on Memorial Green.

This school house was evidently one of the group of small school houses Hampton built between 1850 and 1855 (see my piece on this old Main Road school in the Union - of May 19 of last year).

Below I copy from school reports in state and county of 1851 and 1856.

Report of the State Board
With Recommendations, 1851

Number of school districts in the state, 2294; number of school children between 4 and 14, 90,494; number registered in the schools 87,825; average attendance, around 50,000; money spent on the 2294 schools, $212,324; of this sum $166,793 raised in the districts the rest contributed by the state.

Average salaries of teachers, exclusive of board which was furnished: for male teachers $16.52 per month; for female $7.12 per month.

The State Board of Education in those days was a democratic affair. Each town sent a member to the county Board of Education and they chose the County Commissioner of Education.

Then the several commissioners of the several counties met and chose a state commissioner and laid out the course of study to be pursued by all towns in the state.

The state meeting in 1851 was held in September, Rev. Zebulon Jones of Hampton Falls being the member from Rockingham County.

Rev. Mr. Jones was chosen state chairman and Hall Roberts of Concord was chosen secretary.

The Assembled Commissioners Met with the Following Recommendations

The Commissioners made the following report and recommendations:
1. That singing be introduced into all schools in a short exercise each day.
2. That teachers in each county meet in a county convention at frequent times, to discuss education in their county.
3. That inhabitants of each district hold various meetings to discuss school conditions in their district.
4. That the chairman of each county commission visit all schools in the towns in his county, and make a report.
5. That the following texts books be used in all common schools of the state.

First, the Bible used in the morning on each day; second, the reading, in the "Towne" series of readers, first, second, third and fourth be used; Leonard's Spelling Book; the Adams Arithmetic, Colburn's Mental Arithmetic, and the child first book in Arithmetic; the Mitchell series of geographies; the Weld and Sanborn Grammars; Peter Parley's First, Second and Third Histories; C.A. Goodrich History of the United States; Johnson's Natural Philosophy; Webster or Worcester Dictionary; Felton's and the Bliss-Towle outline maps; Smith's Illustrated Astronomy; Townsend Intellectual Algebra.

Such were the books that every teacher was to use in instruction, of sometimes a school of sixty pupils or even more.

The Superintending committee in each district must visit all schools in their district and make an annual report.

The Secretary of State to furnish blanks and registration books needed by each teacher.

When you think of the number of studies each teacher must use, of the fact that attendance was not entirely compulsory and pupils often stayed out to help parents, one must wonder how it was that the children 1eft at 14 or 15 so well founded as they were.

This week we give the report of the visiting county committeeman, Rev. S. S. Fletcher of Exeter, as he visited Hampton. and near-by towns, just 100 years ago (1856).

The Hampton Schools

"On reaching Hampton I was unfortunate in not being met by the Superintending School Committee, so I made my way around alone. I visited four of the schools.

"The school in District 5 is taught by Mr. B. T. Sanborn, a young and inexperienced teacher who was engaged in teaching his first term as a teacher.

"The school is very small, only 15 pupils. I believe there is no school in the county as small as this and with such small pupils that can not be better taught by a female than by a man, and the cost of a female teacher would give one third more schooling time.

"District No. 1 is in charge of Mr. Joseph Dow, a most efficient and experienced teacher and one who has taught much in the Academy. The number of scholars is 48, 32 girls and 16 boys. The scholars all acquitted themselves well in their recitations.

"In the same district a school of smaller children, 20 in number is being taught as a primary school by Miss E. W. Leavitt.

"In District No 2 the school is being taught by Mr. Perkins. and has 51 pupils. The room is dirty and mean in all respects while the school and instruction did not impress me well, Attendance is very irregular by the register, the day I was there just 29 of the 51 were present.

"On the whole the schools of Hampton do not impress me as good. It would appear that the Hampton Academy absorbs all attention of the people of Hampton, and the common schools are left to shift for themselves."

The Schools in North Hampton

Less the reader think the schools of Hampton received rough opinion let us look to what Mr. Fletcher said about North Hampton.

"The school house in District No. 2 is not fit for school purposes and should no longer be used for such. It is old, dirty, inconvenient. The walls are brick but the inside has not been white-washed for many years. The woodwork is covered with obscene carving and pictures. Every seat and every desk has been chopped by jackknives.

"Among the scholars the boys are far inferior to the girls in their reading, in fact they are very poor readers.

"The teacher informed me that the boys were such poor scholars because they are out of school so much to help their fathers on the farms.

"District No. 1 — the school here is taught by Mr. J. P. Elkins and has 60 pupils; The scholars acquitted themselves well and the teacher is competent and worthy of the confidence of the parents and is much devoted to his work.

"District No. 3 has 25 scholars and well kept and the scholars are doing well."

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