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.

As the Hingham Historical Society turns 100, a look back at its first year

2014 is the Hingham Historical Society’s centennial year.  Riding the tide of a national Colonial Revival movement, which began in the last years of the 19th century and reached a peak in the 1920s, manifesting itself in a fascination with colonial architecture and furnishings and an often romanticized vision of an heroic Revolutionary past, a group of Hingham’s leading citizens formed an association dedicated to preserving the past of one of the nation’s oldest towns.

1917 photo of Society founder and benefactor Susan Barker Willard, posed in 18th century dress

1917 photo of Society founder and benefactor Susan Barker Willard, posed in 18th century dress

The Hingham Historical Society’s organizational meeting was held on June 11, 1914 at the Town Office Building.  Those present included Clarence H. Knowlton, William W. Lunt, Henry W. Cushing, Walter C. Shute, Susan Barker Willard, Edith Andrew, Oscar W. Stringer, Elizabeth L. Crosby, and Allen P. Soule.  John D. Long, former Governor of Massachusetts, representative in Congress, and Secretary of the Navy, was voted our first President.

After several additional organizational meetings, the Society hosted Dean George Hodges of the Episcopal Theological Seminary in Cambridge for its December 1914 meeting.  Dean Hodges’ topic was “The Hanging of Mary Dyer.”  Meeting minutes note that this “most interesting paper . . . was much enjoyed, it being regretted,” however, “that his audience was not larger.”  After the paper, the minutes go on, “an informal discussion among the members brought out some forgotten facts regarding witchcraft in Hingham.”

At later meetings during its first year, the Society relied upon local talent for its programming.  Papers presented to the Hingham Historical Society during 1914-1915 included Mr. Samuel A. Cushing on “The Cushings of Rocky Nook,” Mr. Walter B. Foster on “Old Local Names,” Mrs. Henry W. Cushing on the old Cushing houses, and Thomas L. Sprague on “Hosea Sprague and Sprague’s Chronicles,” an early Hingham newspaper.  Mr. Clarence Knowlton gave a well-received tribute to local scientists Isaac Sprague, Charles J. Sprague, Thomas T. Bouve, and the Rev. John Lewis Russell.

At the first Annual Meeting, held on June 30, 1915, the Society once again looked abroad for its speaker.  Brooks Adams, author, historian, brother of Henry Adams, and  grandson of John Quincy Adams–but billed for this appearance as “President of the Quincy Historical Society,” addressed the membership on “the relation of the past to the present democracy.”   While Mr. Adams is reported to have presented his subject “in a most lucid and entertaining” manner, it seems that his views on history and democracy did not go down easily with his Hingham audience.  The meeting minutes note that “in the discussion following the speakers did not altogether agree on some of his address.”

The Society accepted gifts of books, manuscripts, and antiques from Hingham residents, recording its thanks in the monthly meeting minutes.  It lacked a place to keep its acquisitions, however, and a prime early goal was to raise funds to build a secure, fire-proof building for its holdings.  At the December 1914 meeting, Susan Barker Willard, an early benefactor who served on the Building Committee, suggested that “post cards representing the ‘Old Garrison House’ be placed on sale, the proceeds to go toward the creation of a building fund . . . .”

If the capital account grew slowly, the Society had ample operating funds after its first year.  At the first annual meeting in June 1915, the Treasurer reported that the Society had $61 in income (all from membership fees) and a scant $21.60 in expenses, which covered expenses of incorporation, purchase of record books, stationery, and postage, and the speakers’ expenses.

As the Hingham Historical Society enters its second century, much has changed and much remains the same.  The Society salutes these founders and the efforts they set in motion to collect, preserve, exhibit, and interpret the history of the town of Hingham, Massachusetts.

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.