Joseph Dow's History of Hampton: The Common-School System

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Another subject of great importance was agitated in the General Court at the fall session of the same year, and resulted in the enactment of a law highly honorable to the members, and worthy of being read and studied, and pondered and admired by succeeding generations. This was a law making provision for the education of the young, by the establishment of A SCHOOL in every town in the commonwealth containing fifty families, or more. Although the interest of education had not previously been neglected, and Harvard college had been established more than ten years before, and was already doing much for those interests, still the enactment of this law may be regarded as the beginning of a series of measures for the education of the whole people; in a word, as the germ of the common-school system, to which New England generally is so deeply indebted.

The consideration that led to the enactment of this law are briefly set forth in the preamble to the act, and the language used is so unique, and at the same time, so characteristic of the people of Massacusetts in that age, and the law itself is one so worthy of being known, that no apology is deemed necessary for inserting both the law and the preamble, without abridgment or alteration:

"It being one cheife priect [project] of yt ould deluder, Satan, to keepe men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in formr times by keeping ym in an unknowne tongue, so in these lattr times by prswading from ye use of tongues, yt so at least ye true sence & meaning of ye originall might be clouded by false glosses of saint-seeming deceivers; --yt learning may not be buried in ye grave of or faithrs in ye church & comonwealth, the Lord assisting or endeavrs.--It is therefore ordrd yt evry towneship in this irisdiction, aftr ye Lord hath increased ym to ye number of 50 householdrs, shall then forthwth appoint one wthin their towne to teach all such children as shall resort to him, to write & reade,--whose wages shall be paid eithr by ye parents or mastrs of such children, or by ye inhabitants in generall by way of supply, as ye major prt of those yt ordrye prudential [affairs] of ye towne shall appoint; prvided those that send their children be not oppressed by paying much more yn they can have ym taught for in othr townes; and it is furthr ordered yt they shall set up a gramer schoole, ye mr thereof being able to instruct youth so farr as they may be fited for yeuniversity, prvided yt if any towne neglect ye prformance hereof above one year, yt every such towne shall pay 5£ to ye next schoole till they shall prforme this order."

On another occasion, the General Court having premised that "the good education of children is of singular behoof and benefit to any comonwealth," and that "many parents and masters are too indulgent and negligent of their duty" towards their children, enacted such a law as, in their opinion, the case demanded. It was made the duty of the selectmen in their several precincts and quarters, to have a vigilant eye over their brethren and neighbors, to see, in the first place, that none of them should suffer so much barbarism in any of their familes, as not to endeavor to teach by themsleves or others, their children and apprentices learning enough to enable them perfectly to read the English tongue, and to give them a knowledge of the capital laws, under penalty of twenty shillings for each and every neglect.

What provisions was made for the education of the children in this town, during the first ten years of its history, is not known. To suppose that no means were employed for their instruction, would be derogatory to the character of a people, who, from the very settlement of the town, had shown a willingness to make sacrifices in order to maintain among themselves the institutions of religion. While the religious interests of the community had been so well cared for, it is not probable that the intellectual culture of the children had been wholly neglected. We know that Harvard college had taken a deep hold upon the affections of all the people, who cheerfully endured many privations, that they might contribute to its support and enhance its usefulness. The inhabitants of Hampton were not wanting in their attachment to the college; and when called upon for aid, they contributed cheerfully, if they could not bountifully, to its necessities.

The progress of education within the town is connectedly set forth in the chapter on public schools.

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