Lydia Sprague: Young Artist and Scholar (Part 1)

IMG_3205Our archives contain a partial school record of an artistic young Hingham scholar.  Her name was Lydia Sprague, and she attended Derby Academy from 1844, when she was 12, through 1846. Her sketchbook, hand-drawn maps, copybook, and other school work provide a glimpse into schoolwork at Derby Academy in the mid-19th century and reveal a schoolgirl’s love of drawing and a desire to excel by attention to detail.

Lydia’s small sketches of possibly local scenes, landscapes, and figures engaged in play and daily life suggest a family talent shared with the more famous Hingham artist Isaac Sprague. Isaac Sprague, an older second cousin, was born in 1811. Like Lydia, he was the son of a box-cooper and grew up in Hingham Center. It is likely that Lydia knew and looked up to her cousin Isaac.

Isaac Sprague was a self-taught artist and naturalist who met early success when he accompanied John Jay Audubon on the 1843 expedition up the Missouri River that led to Audobon’s famous portfolio, “Quadrupeds of North America.” An obituary of Isaac Sprague quoted him as saying, on the subject of his training, “I always had a fondness of making pictures and made small drawings at school.”

IMG_3216Young Lydia Sprague also made “small drawings at school,” and we have in our collection three of her pencil sketchbooks, highly detailed maps of American states and territories, and a copy book of exquisite penmanship. This fascinating legacy conveys her individual achievement as a diligent student and young artist.

The repetitive penmanship exercises of moral phrases and the exhaustive information included on her maps provide a glimpse of Derby Academy’s high expectations both of virtuous behavior and proficiency in these areas of study.

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Before the advent of universal public primary and secondary education, most children who received a good education had affluent parents who could pay for it. Lydia was the daughter of a box-cooper and born in 1832, when most Hingham girls of her class were taught only enough reading, writing, and arithmetic and needlework to prepare them for their lives as the wives or tradesmen, mariners, and artisans. IMG_3198She had the good fortune to have been raised by parents who valued education and who enrolled her for a few years at Derby Academy. This progressive school, the first in New England to offer a rigorous education to girls, was founded shortly after the Revolution and perhaps reflected a new republication concern that women be prepared to raise knowledgeable and patriotic citizens.

–To be continued

A Trip to the Principal’s Office — in 1799

Old Derby Academy, soon to become the Hingham Heritage Museum and Visitors Center.  It was built to house Derby Academy in 1818.

Old Derby Academy, soon to become the Hingham Heritage Museum and Visitors Center. It was built to house Derby Academy in 1818.

Derby Academy in Hingham, founded in 1784, is one of the oldest co-educational schools in the country. Its founder, Madam Sarah Derby, stipulated that the boys were to be educated in “the Latin, Greek, English, and French languages, and in the sciences of Mathematics and Geography”; the girls in “writing and in the English and French languages, arithmetic, and the art of needlework in general.” She directed that a “preceptor” be hired to teach these subjects to male and female students alike—with the exception of needlework, for which a “sensible, discreet woman” should be retained.  At Mrs. Derby’s request, the first Preceptor of Derby Academy was Abner Lincoln of Hingham. One of the many documents concerning Derby Academy found in our archives is his April 16, 1799 report to the Trustees of Derby Academy. Mr. Lincoln started his report with the academic progress of the school’s pupils:

The attention & improvement of the Lads, during the last term, have been pretty much as usual, no material difference. Some have been very industrious & some have been slack.  The young ladies have been more attentive than usual when they could attend with propriety. But a want of health & the peculiar badness of the passing, have caused many absences. I have not been able to pay them that attention which I expected.

The “principal’s office” in the 18th century does not appear to have been so different from the principal’s office today: by far the largest part of Lincoln’s report to the trustees involved disciplinary reports. “[T]he Lads” broke “a number of windows in a fit of snowballing” and were required to mend the windows. It was discovered that two boys had been stealing from local shops. Lincoln was ready to expel them l when he learned that

[t]heir mother was dead, their father absent at sea & they left under the care of their grandfather, Mr. Stephen Hall of Boston. He repeatedly urged me in a very earnest & feeling manner to receive them again. I finally consented on condition that the Lads would come & make a public confession of the enormity & heinousness of their crime, ask forgiveness of the scholars for the very bad example exhibited in their conduct & pray them to receive them again into their friendship. This was done & their request granted in a very affecting manner. . . .

The misbehavior of one of the girls at the school was particularly noteworthy:

Complaint was made by the Preceptress that Sally Wilder’s conduct in the Academy was very exceptionable & improper. After stating the charges, I observed that I could not with propriety make any inquiry respecting them, but begged that she would, which she accordingly did. It appeared by ample evidence that her conduct at times was such as will hardly bear explaining, that she had paid no regard to truth, that no Language, neither obscene nor profane was too gross for her frequently to use; some of the Misses absented themselves on her account; many were late because they did not wish to be entertained by her. The general character was despicable & there appeared no probability of reformation. It was our united opinion that she ought not to remain in the Academy . . . .

Co-education fell into the category of novel experiments when Abner Lincoln found himself confronted with Sally Wilder’s misbehavior, and his discomfort is evident. We are left wondering whether there were appeals for clemency, explanations in mitigation, or a decision by the trustees that she should remain in school after all. One suspects not.

Battling “that Old Deluder, Satan” with a School

On April 6, 1714, a grand jury in Boston presented a series of charges against a number of individuals and entities.  Many of the offenses were exactly what we would expect from a group of 17th century Puritans:  “Richard Hancock of Boston for Selling Drink without license sundry times since last Session,” “Seth Smith of Boston for allowing unlawfull gaming,” “Nathaniel Ford of Weymouth for nott attending the publick worship of God,” and—a hat tip to Nathaniel Hawthorne—“Hannah Hall of Boston for fornication.”

MLD001One of the charges explains why this single-page manuscript came to Hingham, to be preserved in our archives:  “the Town of Hingham for not keeping a school according to law.”  This offense, as it turns out, is as characteristic of the Massachusetts Bay Puritans as the others charged on that day.

33447_2Education was very important to the founders of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.  The first public school in this country, Boston Latin School, was established in Boston in 1635, and the nation’s first university, Harvard College, was founded in Cambridge the next year.  In 1642, Massachusetts passed a law requiring parents to ensure that their children could read English or face a fine.

This concern with education grew from the very roots of Protestant theology:  the belief that Christian laity had the right–and a duty–to read the Bible in the vernacular and participate directly in the affairs of the church.  These fundamental goals are explained explicitly in the preamble to Massachusetts’ 1647 statute, sometimes called “The Old Deluder Satan Act,” that shifted the responsibility of education onto the growing towns:

It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these later times by perswading from the use of tongues, that so at least the true sense and meaning of the Originall might be clowded by false glosses of Saint-seeming deceivers; and that Learning may not be buried in the graves of our fore-fathers in Church and Commonwealth, the Lord assisting our indeavors: it is therefore ordered by this Court and Authoritie therof;

That every Township in this Jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to the number of fifty Housholders, shall then forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the Parents or Masters of such children, or by the Inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the Town shall appoint. . . .

And it is further ordered, that where any town shall increase to the number of one hundred Families or Housholders, they shall set up a Grammar-School, the Masters thereof being able to instruct youth so far as they may be fitted for the Universitie. . . .

Hingham town records reference schoolteachers and a school building as early as the mid-1600s.  According to Francis Lincoln’s chapter on education in the 1893 History of the Town of Hingham, the increasing size of the town led to disagreements as early as 1708 and 1709 over where the school should be held.  Second Precinct—later Cohasset—wanted a rotation, so that school would sometimes meet in its area, as did “Great Plain”—South Hingham.  But there is no suggestion that HIngham’s school was ever closed.  Indeed, in a comprehensive list of the schoolmasters in Hingham from 1670 on, Lincoln reports that Jonathan Cushing was the schoolmaster from 1712-1713, after which the 1712 Harvard College graduate became the minister in Dover, New Hampshire.  Twenty-year old Job Cushing, Harvard College Class of 1714 succeeded him, remaining four year before becoming the first minister of the Shrewsbury church.

Bottom of documentPerhaps there was a lapse while the Town waited for Job Cushing to graduate.  There may have been complaints.  17th century grand juries could “present” charges based on their own knowledge and did not, as today, have to wait to be asked to hand down an indictment.  Was a disgruntled Hingham parent on that grand jury?  Perhaps we will learn more as we continue to dig through the archives.

Widow Sarah Humphrey’s Discharge

A sad, tattered scrap of paper in our archives lets us see the effect on families of the colonial era’s high mortality rate–here the untimely passing first of a father and then of a child.

Title Widow Sarah Humphrey's DischargeSarah Humphrey was 32 years old and the mother of six living children (aged 11, 10, 8, 5, 2, and 4 months) when her husband Ebenezer died in 1745 at age 41.  Ebenezer Humphrey had been a weaver and a descendent of Hingham’s first settlers.  The family lived on High Street and appears to have been fairly well off (the inventory of his estate listed real and personal property worth £494).

Cropped top of Discharge The document is Sarah’s sworn statement discharging John Thaxter from any further obligations as the court-appointed guardian of her daughter Rachel.  Rachel had died at the age of 17 and John Thaxter had returned to Sarah the property which he had held on Rachel’s behalf.  Sarah provided Thaxter a receipt acknowledging his full performance of his obligations:

 Rec’d of Captain John Thaxter the sum of six pounds four shillings and three pence.  He was guardian to my daughter Rachel Humphrey a minor dec’d which sum is the whole of the money in His Hands belonging to s’d dec’d minor.  Rec’d of him all s’d Rachel dec’d wearing appearell and what of Household Stuff or Goods that were in his possession and I do hereby for my self my Heirs acquit and discharge Him the s’d John his Heirs from s’d dec’d Estate having rec’d the whole of s’d dec’d Estate that was committed to his trust & care.  In testimony whereof I have sett my Hand & Seal this twenty second day of June A.D. 1758.

£6:4:3.                         Sarah Humphrey  (Her Mark)

Signed sealed in presence of

/s/ Welcome Lincoln

/s/ Hannah Barker

Sarah Humphrey Her MarkWhy was Thaxter named Rachel’s guardian (and the guardian of her younger siblings Mary and Ebenezer)?  The answer lies in colonial laws of property and inheritance that are very different than those with which we are familiar today.  Although Ebenezer Humphrey’s estate was relatively large, he did not leave a will.  Under Massachusetts law at that time, Ebenezer’s six children—not his wife—were his heirs.  Sarah was afforded a “dower share,” that is, the right to the use of one-third of her husband’s estate during her widowhood, but she did not own any of it.  It was very common, then, to appoint a guardian to take charge of the childrens’ inheritance during the years of their minority.

As administratrix of Ebenezer’s estate, Sarah accounted to the Probate Court in 1746 for amounts she had paid out of the estate, including the payment of Ebenezer’s debts, the “many implements of household allowed the widow,” and the expense of “maintaining and cloathing of three children . . . one of them 5 years, one 2 years, and one 4 months” for a year after her husband’s death.  Why just the younger three?  Perhaps her older children had been “put out” to work or learn a trade.  Perhaps they lived with relatives.  Probate records confirm that John Thaxter was appointed guardian of the three younger children in 1757, 12 years after Ebenezer’s death, for the express purpose of safeguarding what each of them had inherited from their father.  Why such a delay?  Had money started to run short?  The eldest child, Benjamin, had turned 21 the year before and Rachel’s big sisters, Hannah and Susanna, had just married.  Perhaps Benjamin, who was entitled to his share of the estate upon his majority, or Hannah’s or Susanna’s new husbands had raised questions about Sarah’s stewardship of her childrens’ inheritance.

We do not have any written discharge of John Thaxter as guardian of Rachel’s younger siblings, but his role as guardian was almost complete.  Ebenezer died in 1762 and Mary married in 1764.  Sarah Humphrey never remarried.  Having survived three of her seven children, she died, aged 70, in 1784.

Lincoln on Lincoln (and the start of the Civil War)

When John Barker, subject of two prior posts on this blog (“A Soldier Writes Home” and “John Barker at Gaines Mill”), went off to war in 1861, 15-year old Francis H. Lincoln of Hingham was a student at Derby Academy.  In two bound volumes, preserved in our archives, he minutely described his primary and secondary education.  The Academy’s rules (memorialized in these books) provided that “the writing of compositions be required of the scholars as often as once a fortnight during each term.”  Lincoln recorded each of his efforts in these volumes.

Two of Lincoln’s compositions written during his last year at Derby took current events as their subject–South Carolina’s secession from the Union, the election of a distant relation as President, and the coming of war.  In February 1861, two months after South Carolina seceded, he penned “A Fable on the Times”:

“Once upon a time” when the people of the United States elected their President, the South or Southern States, the inhabitants of which were mostly Democrats, generally outvoted the Republicans and other parties of the North; but in 1860 at the Democratic conventions, for nominating candidates for the Presidency they were unable to agree, and Republicans outvoted the other parties, and selected Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, President.

Mr. Lincoln being a man opposed to slavery, South Carolina, a miserable little State, tried to rebel against the Union, by seceding and making war, endeavoring to get some other small states to join her, and form what they intended to call the “Southern Confederacy.”

How this will turn out, nobody knows, but probably the Republicans will be masters of the Union.

“Haec fabula docet” that persons must not think that they can be masters of everything, that they must be sometimes willing to give way to others; and it is best to begin these habits in early life, for the child that is permitted to have its own way will grow up like South Carolina creating hatred, and perhaps war. Therefore, O parents, “lead up children in the way they should go;” therefore, O Republicans, do your best; correct South Carolina in her mad course, and “lead it up in the way it should go.”

Inauguration of Abraham Lincoln, March 5, 1861. Photo from Lincoln Collection, Library of Congress

The next months were eventful.  Lincoln’s June 1861 composition was titled, “Fort Sumter”:

 This fort, which is situated upon an island in the harbor of Charleston, South Carolina; was taken by Secessionists in the spring of 1861, shortly after the inauguration of Abraham Lincoln as President of the United States.

Although much might be said about Fort Sumter, I shall not confine myself to that in particular, but shall write concerning the present rebellion in general.

The Southern or slave-holding states, especially South Carolina, have probably desired to be separated from the Northern for more than twenty years; and until now have not had what they thought could be called a reasonable excuse. Once, I believe, during the administration of Andrew Jackson, they made an attempt at secession, but failed, as they must now.

They have now made the excuse, that Lincoln will interfere with their institutions, and do all in his power, to free their slaves; but this is nonsense; for Lincoln said in a speech before he was elected, “I shall not meddle with their institutions or slaves, but I shall certainly not permit them to extend slavery any farther than it has now gone.”

Persons who had sworn allegiance to the Government and Laws of the United States, have proved traitors, and have done all in their power to destroy the Union; and have done, also, to accomplish this object, the worst thing they could have done for themselves, that is, opened war upon us; and when Major Anderson (who was in command at Fort Sumter) and his handful of men, were nearly starved, opened fire upon him, and shame upon him, a Massachusetts man was the first to fire upon him.

The North should and will have revenge. “The Union must and shall be preserved.”  There are still at the South, many who would give all their property to preserve the Union, and such men should be delivered from the hands of those mean and cowardly scamps who are compelling them hither to die or fight for them.

But they will be freed, and their persecutors punished, and if the leaders, viz. Jefferson Davis & Gen. Beauregard and a few others escape with their lives they may congratulate themselves.

Christmas in Hingham, 1857

Christmas 1857.  Francis Henry Lincoln of Hingham was an 11-year old student at Derby Academy.  When school resumed in January, he wrote a composition, entitled “Christmas,” which is preserved in our archives.  Lincoln recounts how he and his older brothers Solomon and Arthur spent their “very merry Christmas.”

Christmas is the day on which the birth of Christ is celebrated.  It is a holiday.  In many parts of the world, the week in which the anniversary occurs, is devoted to amusements.  I had a very pleasant Christmas this year.  I will give you some account of it.  In the morning I awoke as usual and found in my stocking a very handsome present.  In the forenoon I went to Loring Hall to see the committee of arrangements prepare the tables for the party in the evening.  The First Parish usually have a special social gathering on that evening.  At noon I witnessed the firing at a target by two gentlemen in our neighborhood.

After enjoying a Christmas dinner Solomon Arthur & I went into the field in the rear of our house and fired at a target with Solomon’s gun.  I then read a while at home. In the evening I attended the Parish party at Loring Hall. There was dancing until eight o’clock, when there was an intermission; during that time the scholars connected with the Sunday School were collected in the saloon and marched into the Hall. Arthur acted as Marshall.

I had been appointed to present to my cousin Henry E. Hersey, the superintendent of the school, a writing desk in behalf of the scholars.  Mr. Hersey, being introduced, I made a short speech and presented the desk to him.  He made a short speech in reply, expressing his warm thanks to the scholars.  Dancing was then resumed.  Afterwards by an invitation of my Sunday School teacher, I went to his house and received from him a present of a very interesting book.  I then returned to the Hall and spent the remainder of the evening in dancing.  We had refreshments and excellent music.  I went home between twelve and one o’clock having spent a very merry Christmas.