Hampton Reminiscences -- Part 8

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By Enoch P. Young

(July 3, 1824 - January 11, 1910)

The Exeter News-Letter

c. 1899

The Old Time Schools - Part VIII -

Editor, EXETER NEWS-LETTER. -- The school privileges of 65 years ago, primary, grammar and advanced, were for most of us confined to the district schools of that period. A small portion, usually of that class whose parents of means could afford the luxury, were favored with from one to three terms at the [Hampton] Academy, while another portion did not attend school at all, but were allowed to roam about as they pleased, and in after life suffered untold miseries, for which parents and guardians were largely to blame. The East [End School House] and Centre schools graduated most of us.

The pedagogue of those times was expected to acquaint himself with the ferule and the birch. Some teachers seemed not content unless provided with a good relay of birch and apple sprouts, and upon their desks lay a maple ruler, two feet in length, by two inches wide, and three-eighths of an inch thick, often used upon the tender palm of some boy's hand, severely enough to raise large blisters, -- brutality intensified, as witnesses still living can vouch. The school room might be crowded, for all ages attended, from the A. B. C. learner to men more than 20 years old. It was not uncommon for three scholars to occupy seats that were intended for two. Still, a space was always reserved for the "circus" when the exercise of disciplining came off, usually a sampling of barbarities once told of Dartmoor prison. Such exercises were enjoyed mostly by a select few, without regard to regularity in order of age.

I remember one occasion when some six or eight of the older boys, or young men, for they were then men grown, were caught pitching coppers near the east end of the old meeting house, then standing lengthwise in the street a few rods from the Centre school house. They neglected coming in to school at the proper hour. The teacher, hearing where they were, sent some younger scholars to warn them that their absence was noted, but they took their own time to return to school. By that time, the teacher had got loaded, and showed his mad way through. Chastisement by a calmer man would not have been so brutal. Persons to govern school children ought first be able to govern themselves. Conditions might sometimes occur when teachers should not be blamed.

I remember a time when a teacher commencing his first term in that school counted too much on having good order like that where he had previously taught. But the unruly few got the best of him on the start. Another teacher was secured to take his place. The first day with the new teacher the school did as in their late usual way, and seemed much pleased with the prospective outlook., The second day commenced as though they were to keep the school; the teacher then put in his explanation. He had purposely allowed them to keep school the first day. By taking that course, he had found out who the unruly were and marked them, and, as he had been employed to keep that school, he should be teacher himself the rest of the term, and he was to his entire satisfaction.

The common, or district schools, then taught reading, spelling, writing, grammar, geography, history and arithmetic. But few of us advanced in mathematics beyond the single rule of three in Walsh's or Welsh's arithmetic unless the [Hampton] Academy advanced course was taken.

Of the old teachers who back in the thirties [1830s] taught in our district schools but one I can remember as now living, Mr. George B. Webster, of East Kingston, one every loved and respected by all his pupils. Disciplining with a club was not his method. With kind words and a firm hand he won confidence, then the task of governing was easy.

No steel pens were then in use. The quill, usually the goose quill, furnished the stock from which all writing pens were made. The teacher, with his pen knife, had a busy hour each day, and his aptness with his knife was tested many times during writing hours. The writing paper was then generally unruled, the writing books mostly home made. The ruling and setting of copies for the scholars was usually done by the teacher at his boarding house, evenings or outside of his school hours.

Hampton Academy then stood comparatively well among the average of such schools in this section of our country, Phillips Exeter not excepted, the number of scholars averaging more than 1000 many of whom came from sections quite distant. I remember several from Truro on Cape Cod. Amos Tuck was then the principal, with a Miss Titcomb, from Newburyport, as assistant. The pupils were made up from both sexes, not confined to the male sex as in some other large schools. The large proportion of scholars from towns far distant made the business of boarding Academy pupils quite an interesting as well as profitable avocation.

It was not possible then to take your lunch basket and, taking the cars, either steam or electric in the morning, reach your destination in season for school hours,s and returning at night of each day.

Fitted for college in this school were those who in after life made their mark as enduring as the fabric of this republic. I call to mind United States Senators Daniel Clark, Moses Norris and James W. Grimes, that noted jurist, Rufus Choate, Representative Amos Tuck, and many other lesser lights, perhaps, whose brilliancy has left its mark on the horizon of our nation's prosperity.

The school exists to-day but in a partnership capacity, having merged with the Hampton high School. Latterly all branches of education have advanced rapidly. But as a rule only such large schools as shad ample funds to back their push could hope to progress and prosper. That was Hampton's greatest need, and for its lack it was compelled to retire. For the past dozen years or more this Academy, in connection with the high school, has been such as few country villages enjoy. It has been uplifting and quite satisfactory.


More Reminiscences of Hampton

Editor, EXETER NEWS-LETTER. -- Your interesting letters published concerning old Hampton remind me of another old-time store, existing in the early forties {1840s}, which in those days stood nearly opposite the Toppan estate, a long building with a generous watering-trough in front, and horse sheds in the rear. Besides rum, Honest John kept an assortment of West India goods, and in what might be called the small-ware department could be found cow-hide boots, tarred rope, black cambric, wrought nails, brown linen thread, Epsom salts and Hardy's salve.

When it was too rough weather to go out fishing, the unemployed would congregate at the store to discuss the topics of the day, which were chiefly politics and religion, sometimes in boisterous but friendly arguments, while the merits of Johnn P. Hale or Father Miller would be ventilated. Napoleon would have an able champion in "Tuft Marston."

On the outside of the building was a long flight of stars leading to a loft or hall over the store, which was sometimes let to any light entertainment that came along, which in those days was but seldom, "Blind Dexter's" museum on wheels and what was called a sleight of hand performance, swallowing the sword, etc., comprised about all the show business that visited us. At one of these attractions an episode that took place was not on the programme. During the evening the "Professor" asked the audience that as he was about to make an egg omelet, would some lad come on the platform to assist him? One very forward youth responded, who, from the guys and, jeers of the other boys, became somewhat nervous. When the "Professor" handed him an egg and told him to hold it up to his ear and shake his head to see if it was good, he literally complied with the request and caused roars of laughter that have not wholly subsided yet.

As Mr. Young says, the store keeper in those days did a large barter trade, taking every variety of farm produce and sometimes, alas! the farm itself went to settle the estate.

Gander parties from Exeter and above, bound for the beach, would make their first stop in Hampton at "Dunbar's" and, after having changed their breath, would drive along down to John's to procure the requirements for the day, and after having their flasks and themselves filled, would resume their journey to the beach. One day a load of cronies from Exeter came down for a day's sport of fishing; having their skipper engaged and the day being fine, all went well. One of the party being addressed as the Elder, the skipper inquired of the Major if that man was a minister, and being told he was, profanity was very much curbed. Of course this information being imparted to the Elder, fishing for him became a secondary matter of sport, and he at once became interested in the skipper's spiritual welfare, and exacted a promise from him that he would commence that night and render thanks for the blessings he enjoyed, living on "the fish of the sea and the fowls of the air," and for having neglected this duty all his life, gave him such an awful roast, that he shed copious tears and only became quieted when the elder promised that the next time he came, he would bring him a hymn book and teach him to sing. After getting ashore and about to start for home, the skipper asked the Major the name of the minister, and upon being told that they had been fooling him all day, that he was no minister, that it was Elder Twilight, a hotel keeper at Exeter, the skipper exclaimed, "Well, well, if that is so, what a darned fool I was to cry."

Yes, dear editor, the times and rum have both changed a great deal since then.

J. W. P.
Newton, Mass., March 20.

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