Epsom History

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Address delivered 1899 Old Home Day and printed in a local paper.

Our Schools

Mrs. J. W. Fowler

It seems from little information that our forefathers immediately after settlement, consisting of twenty can be obtained from the town records families, reserved one hundred acres of land for the benefit of schools, and a meeting was held at the house of Capt. Andrew McClary on the 18th day of June, 1776, according to a notice by the Selectmen, to consult about the building of a schoolhouse. First, voted that the size of the schoolhouse be 21 feet in length, and 17 in breadth. This meeting adjourned until the 25th of June, at which time it was voted to build the schoolhouse on the school lot where the selectmen thought proper, and the cost to be paid in land or money. Ensign McGaffey, being the contractor and builder. Later on a complaint was made to Lieut. Ephraim Locke, grand juror, that the town had neglected to keep a stated school and May 22, 1780, a meeting was held, and a vote passed to raise what money the selectmen thought necessary that year for the support of schools. The next year two meetings were called, at the first one they voted to raise 100 pounds lawful money for schools, but at the second meeting, March 26, 1781, they voted to sell the schoolhouse at auction to the highest bidder, and the amount received be appropriated to the use of the town. It appears from what follows that this caused division and hard feeling among the intelligent part of the inhabitants; as a brief extract from a petition to the selectmen shows: "To the selectmen of the town of Epsom: That we ever have been and still are desirous to promote public schools in said town, for the instruction of our children, and of late used every exertion in our power to have a suitable schoolhouse in the district completed for that design, but every such effort proves abortive, owing to some among us who, from their conduct, seem to demonstrate a total disregard to the nest interest of their families, by depriving their children of the means of instruction, and thereby rendering them, in a great degree, useless members of society. We therefore seek to the town for redress, as we know of no other remedy, and pray that a meeting of said town may be warned as soon as may be, that this our grievance may be considered, and some method adopted to put in execution that shall remove the dissension among us, and give us speedy relief in finishing the schoolhouse already begun, that a school may be had seasonably for the purpose aforesaid." This was signed by James Gray and ten other citizens of the town July 15, 1798. The 5th day of August, a meeting was held and 10 pounds was voted to be raised to be expended in finishing the schoolhouse; and should there be a surplus, the same should be laid out for school-keeping the present year. As near as I can ascertain this schoolhouse was situated at the Center, very near where the present one now stands. We have been informed that there was a schoolhouse at an earlier period situated near Joseph Lawrence's residence. Also that schools were kept in some private houses, still inhabited. May 19, 1808, the town was divided into six school districts. In 1825 Josiah Sanborn, Hanover Dickey and Winthrop Fowler, were chosen a committee to sub-divide it; but it was not thought expedient to do so until January 1833, at which time it was changed to ten with two Unions. In a few years time it was again altered, so at the present time we have but seven. Very little information can be obtained as regards the early teachers of the town, but James Gray is said to have been a school teacher before the Revolutionary war, and tradition tells of Master Sutton, Casey, Thomas D. Merrill, Master Batchelder, noted for the severity of his punishment; School Master Ham, General Locke, John Chesley Esq., Hersey, the latter having taught several terms, as I have been informed in the Short Falls district. On one day as the story goes it was the custom (when the school master was asked by some of the large scholars, to do an example in arithmetic) that he invited some one of his large pupils to hear the small classes read. At this time one scholar who did not present a very tidy appearance, commenced the sentence, "Time was once when I was young and fair." Coming to the word fair, the reader not knowing what it was, the sub-teacher told her clean; this caused much laughter, attracting the attention of the Esq. He remarked, "Be careful, young man."
Of these old-time school teachers I can only remember three of them as citizens, General Locke, Mr. Chesley, Esq. Ham, the later as superintending school committee. After visiting a certain school in town, being somewhat absent minded, he got into his carriage, without untying his balky horse; some of the boys seeing it, exclaimed "Mr. Ham, your horse is hitched" to which the Esq. replied "Very well, very well, he'll go directly." Briefly I will allude to the wages of some of our early teachers. Among some old papers have been found the following receipts:
"Received 2 lbs. 8 shillings for 8 weeks' school keeping over the river in 1784, by me
Joseph Goss, Epsom , March 8, 1785"
"The town of Epsom to Elizabeth Emery, Dr
To teaching school, in school district No. 4, in Epsom, 7 weeks at 1 dollar per week, $7.00.
Received payment, Elizabeth Emery, Epsom, July 17, 1833"
This venerable lady is still living in Suncook, N.H. Though comparatively very small this was the usual price paid our lay teachers, besides the pleasant or disagreeable task of boarding round, as it was called just as the teacher found it among her scholars: the length of stay in each family varying according to the number of children sent from the home to school. This sum slowing increased from $1 to $3.50 per week to as recent a date as 1865.
As the inhabitants increased the old schoolhouse at the Center was insufficient to accommodate all of the scholars, who were large enough to attend school, and as many new seats as there was possible room for, were put in, and during some winter terms, boards were placed across the aisles. Here the lad and lass from 7 years to men and women, were wont to sit for six long hours, with, perhaps, from one-half to an hour at noon, and a few minutes recess in the forenoon and after. Well, I do remember the Sanborns, Halls, Lockes, Hoyts, Weeks, Chesleys, Griffins and Lawrences, who came to this box of learning as well as many others less in number to receive instruction from Henry F. Sanborn, Edwin B. Harvey and others. The former being a very successful teacher in governing a school of seventy five or eighty scholars; his sharp black eye and frowned forehead were usually good enough to quell the ill behavior of all except the most stubborn pupils, then some one of his most trusty boys were sent with jackknife, down to the gulf to cut a bunch of alders, of which a supply usually were found over the blackboard.
Some select schools were taught here by B. Van Dame, Mrs. V.G. Ramsey, Harriet McCutcheon, and later by some of our local teachers. As the length of schools were not over twenty weeks a year in the largest districts, and some of the smallest, perhaps twelve, this afforded the larger scholars very little schooling, so in 1854 the town hall was fitted up by certain interested citizens, purchasing the old seats that had been removed from Pittsfield Academy and on the 3rd day of August, of that year, Samuel G. Lane began a school, which proved to be both interesting and profitable, and for the next six years a school was kept there every autumn, taught by the following persons: James, W. Webster, taught two terms, and still is teaching in Boston, Mass.; Cyrus O. Brown, George W. Morrill and Thomas M. Chase, each taught one term. Still later other private schools were taught here by our resident teachers.
Thus far I have only spoken of some of the male teachers of our town, and were I to attempt to count the female ones my efforts would be a failure, as they have been so numerous, that it reminds one of "Mrs. Partington's men, " that they numbered one of the less usual when they got married.
But I feel that this history would quite incomplete without giving special mention to some of our lady teachers who have gone from this good old town. In memory I recall Mrs. Susan Brown Forbes of Byfield, Mass., Miss Jennie Harvey of Exeter, only recently resigning from school labors, Mrs. Abbie Wallace McAlister of Englewood, Ill., these having pursued this avocation for nearly a quarter of a century.
There are many, many others who have done credit to themselves and the town. Perhaps there are no residents among us at the present time that were engaged in town a greater number of terms than Mrs. Lucy Bickford Sherburne and Mrs. Mary Libby Dowst. Fearing my imperfect history may be too lengthy will go no father, only hoping that the present generation may so improve their much greater school district privileges, that as many useful men and women, may go out from the town of Epsom (or remain here) as in past generations.