This contains a transcription of chapter XVII about schools from The History of Canaan, New Hampshire by William Allen Wallace, edited by James Burns Wallace, Concord, N.H.: The Rumford Press, 1910.
Chapter XVII; Pages 248-254
Looking back over all the years my mind uncovers the events of early life like a ploughshare in the grass. There were school scenes for all of us. A little square-roofed school house stood upon the common; it was painted yellow. Many of us learned our letters in that house under the arbitrary rule of old Olive Cross, whose father built the Landon house, as well as the house where he lived and where Mr. Brais now lives. I say old Olive Cross, because I have no recollection of her as ever having been young. Her years seemed to have been perennial and eternal. A brother of John P. Calkins and uncle of Rev. Charles Calkins, who lived in a log house near H. G. Elliott’s old farm, once besieged the affections of this prim Methodist teacher. Olive’s castle was impregnable — she declined to yield to his proposals, as she did to every one else, and died an old maid. She was a stern old Puritan, and required pure submission to her rules, and her punishments were such as the Inquisition could hardly have improved upon. She was considered a very good woman, very religious and proper in her manners, and seemed to have earned the prescriptive right to teach the rudiments of education to all the children in town. She won the confidence of the parents by her zeal in watching for offences and in punishing offenders. I have often thought if she had children of her own she would have been gentler in her nature, and would have learned that love in a school room, or in a family, is a more powerful weapon than fear. But the parents of those days were great sticklers for force. Children needed flogging as much as horses, and they got it too. There were the Dows, the Wallaces, the Athertons, the Averys, the Barbers, the Wellses, the Tiltons. What would any of them ever have amounted to if they had not been flogged? And what would a school have been good for, unless it conformed to the parental discipline at home? I have often wondered if in the happy home to which, when her spirit ceased from troubling, good old Oliver Cross was triumpantly [page 249] removed, she ever has visions of the little girls and boys in that old yellow school house, standing in the floor, their noses pinched with split sticks, holding heavy books out at arm’s length until they fell to the floor through weariness; or with screws vibrating between the fingers until the blood flowed, and that great, wide ferule, that raised blisters wherever it fell. But these were facts which seemed all proper and right and served to develop the self-respect and intelligence of the pupil! She was the embodiment of despotic tyranny, and seemed to have absent spells while she invented new tortures for the little ones. I sometimes observe the comity which exists in families, that is, the reciprocal sentiments that pass between parents and children. I never saw a boy yet who discovered much affection for the “old man” who “licked” him upon occasion. He did it again, and he lied about it, too, if it would redeem the whip. In families where they keep a whip you do not see much caressing. The little boy when he comes home all tired out, does not drop into his father’s arms and kiss him as he falls asleep. Little boys think; they observe the ways and the temperaments of men. A boy always looks in a man’s face when he passes by. He is ever watching for little acts of courtesy, or a recognition from older persons. Speak to him pleasantly and notice what a joy pervades his face and shines out in his eyes. He sees that the little manhood that fills his jacket is recognized, and he goes on his way happy.
Many men and women forget they were ever boys or girls, and look down upon them so far off that they seem never to distinguish them from birds or cattle. Thank God! I always loved children; I always liked to be with them; I like to have them in my house, filling my yard and playing in the shade of my trees. They are like the birds among the branches thereof. Their voices are music to me, because they are the voices of innocence and happiness. And there is a far-off future for them in the coming years, when they like me, will be grey-headed, looking back over the events of half a century, and perhaps, unlike me, singing,
“Oh! would I were a boy again,
When life seemed formed of sunny years.”
[page 250] My recollection of the teachers in that old school house is that they were all alike. They never appealed to the manhood and self-respect of the pupils. Their laws like Draco’s had penalties, and could only be appeased by corporal suffering. There was Edward Olcott, a rusticated student; and Elijah Blaisdell, who spared nobody — somebody was being punished all the time; and the Rev. Joseph L. Richardson, who afterwards became notorious as one of the leaders of the mob that destroyed the academy; he used to believe that children could endure cold and thirst as well as bodily tortures. He would tell us that these things, although they appeared to be severe judgments, were intended as blessings, and if we profited by them we should receive a crown of righteousness at some future time; but I never seemed to appreciate his prophetic promises in our behalf.
In 1793, a meeting of the Center district was held for the following purposes:
“CANAAN, December 9, 1793.
At a meeting of the inhabitants of the Center District holden at the house of Capt. R. Barber For the purpose of consulting a spot to set a schoolhouse and the time when and the method how to Build said School House. Proceeded as follows:
1st Chose Capt. Joshua Wells Chairman.
2nd Voted to build a school house and set said school house on the north side of the road leading from Capt. Barbers to Capt. J. Wells as near the corner of the old road leading to Capt. Barbers mill as the land will admit of.
3rd. voted to build the frame of the above said house 18 feet wide and 24 feet long and cover the same with boards.
4th voted to build the chimney with stone as far as the beams. Meeting disolved.
OLIVER SMITH, Clerk.
This is the first mention of the building of a school house. There were three districts in town at this time.
The first vote to raise money for schooling was passed in 1786, when 16 pounds L. M. was voted. And Eleazer Scofield, Jehu Jones and Richard Clark were appointed a committee to divide the town into districts. There were no school houses, and the children had been taught by their parents at home. The people had begun to realize that more competent instruction was needed. But their efforts are feeble. They are not yet willing to give their children much of a chance. They thought that as their own [page 251] education was obtained for the most part by hard knocks and experience, there was no reason why their sons and daughters cannot get it in the same way. Knowledge that could be learned from books was no qualification, in knowing how to cut trees and burn brush. So little did they value book learning, that no mention is made of raising any more money for schools until 1789, when they voted not to raise any.
At the annual meeting in 1795 we find that the town voted to abate Asa Paddleford’s school tax. It would seem that the town had been supporting schools. The schools had not been well fostered, although the town had been divided into districts no school house adorned the forks of the roads. The schools were held where any convenient place could be obtained, and for the most part the teacher was paid by those who had subscribed to have a school. One of the subscription papers is as follows:
We the Subscribers, Do Agree to have a Woman’s school, to begin as early Next Spring, as we shall think Proper & to last Five months the School is to be Kept where the School House Frame is Near Capt. Joshua Wells’s in Canaan, and that we & Each of us Do Promise to bear our Equal Proportion in Getting, Boarding and Paying the Mistress for Teaching According to the Number of Scholars We Subscribe to send, as witness our hands.
CANAAN, February 6 A. D. 1795.
|John M. Barber
||Enoch Sweat jr
In this school Olive Cross commenced her long career as a teacher, at $4 a month, “boarding round” with the scholars. The frame spoken of, had been put up and covered in at the forks of the old road leading to Orange a little westerly from Joshua Well’s. This frame was afterwards taken down and rebuilt into the schoolhouse that used to stand near John Worth’s tavern.
In 1795 the town voted, “that the School rates collected by [page 252]Dr. Pierce Constable, shall be refunded back and paid the individual it was taken from.” “That the northeast district where Abel Hadley lives, or those who have not schooled out their money, shall have the privilege of schooling it out in their own district, and that they all have an order on the constable if they have paid it.” “That John Harris and Henry Springer have back their school money.” “That those who live in the district where Lt. R. Whittier lives, who have sent their children to the north district to school the winter past, shall pay their money to that district.”
In the warrant for the annual meeting in 1796 there was an article “to see if the town will vote to raise money to furnish the town with necessary school houses. No action was taken upon it. But this year for the first time the town chose school money collectors — John Currier, Ezekiel Wells, Jonathan Carlton, Clark Currier.
In 1798 John Bryant taught on West Farms and the other teachers were Job Wilson, Amasa Jones and Eliphalet Norris.
In 1799 Ezekiel Wells, Thomas Miner and Enoch Richardson were appointed a committee to divide the school districts “that are dissatisfied.” Nine districts were made.
In 1800 Oliver Smith, Selding Pattee and Ebenezer Clark taught school in southeast district one month. In 1801 John Bryant taught on West Farms and at John R. Dustin’s.
In 1803, a strong effort was made to provide the town with suitable accommodations for the schools, and a vote was passed “to raise a sum of $500 to build school houses in each district, allowing each the privilege of building its own, if they build within 7 months.” The $500 was not assessed, through negligence of the selectmen. But the next year (1804) the town passed a similar vote, with this change, that the sum to be raised be $1,000, “allowing each district the privilege of building its own schoolhouse, if built within seven months.” A committee of nine was appointed to ascertain the limits of each district. And nine collectors were chosen to collect the money, one in each district. Moses Dole, John Cogswell and Benjamin Haynes taught the schools. A committee appointed the previous year to redistrict the town reported that they had divided the town into ten districts, and that the money appropriated was not [page 253] sufficient to build the needed schoolhouses. And in the following year (1805) the town voted an additional $500, “to finish the schoolhouses.” The town also made twelve districts and appointed twelve collectors.
The tenth district, called also the Center “Deestrick,” as reported, was contained within the following boundaries: “Taking Jonathan Carlton (C. P. King) and thence northerly to Mascoma river around by Joseph Flints (G. W. Davis) and all Broad Street and Caleb Welch jr, by request.” The schoolhouse in this district was located near Dudley Gilman’s Tavern, not far from the site of the residence of the late H. C. George, now Mrs. G. H. Robinson’s. It was built about the year 1800, and was the first schoolhouse built on the Street. It was a large one-story building with two stacks of chimneys. As the Street was to be the village it was called the “Academy.”
After being occupied for a term of years as a school, it was burned one night by one of the pupils, named Zebulon Barber, who came from the Gore. At this late day the reason for Zebulon’s incendiary act does not appear. This school was taught by “Master” Parker. The studies were not numerous, but embraced branches sufficient for what was then considered a fair education—spelling from “Webster’s Spelling Book,” and writing according to the method of those days. There were no arithmetics; even Pike’s had not found its way into our schools. The pupils were instructed in “figures” and “cyphering” by means of sums written out by the master, whose importance increased in the same ratio as his figures. From a little book of about one hundred pages called “The Ladies Accedence,” the rudiments of grammar were taught. The reading was confined to the few pages found in the spelling book, and to the New Testament, from which two long readings each day formed the opening and closing exercises. After the burning of “The Academy” the school was kept in a log house, situated in the field a little back of Miss Emma A. Bell’s barn, and was taught a term by Lawyer Blaisdell, who often found scant gleanings after Hale Pettingill had picked over the ground. This was the first house built on the “Street” by William Douglass the shoemaker, for a dwelling. And it was still doubtful whether this would be [page 254] the “Village,” so deep and unfathomable were the mud obstructions.
In 1810, thirteen school districts existed, and the same number of collectors were appointed.
In 1811, the first school committee was chosen, “Esq” Pettingill, John H. Harris, and “Esq” Blaisdell. The next year Abel Brown takes the place of John H. Harris.
In 1812, the “Center Deestrick” is divided at Moses Dole’s, he having his choice to which district he will belong “with his property.”
In 1813, Pettingill, John H. Harris and John Currier are the school committee. In 1814 there are fourteen collectors of school money appointed. In 1816 there are fifteen school collectors representing so many districts. In 1826 a committee was appointed that divided the town into fifteen school districts. This was not satisfactory, so in 1828 the number was increased to seventeen. In 1854 there were twenty districts. In 1861 they had increased to twenty-one. This number continued until 1886. After the passage of the new school law the town in 1885 voted to redistrict the town. The superintending school committee was abolished as well as the prudential committee for each district and a school board was elected by vote of the school meeting.
The town, in 1886, was redistricted into eleven divisions; in 1887 there were ten. This continued down to the establishment of the High School district, which made two districts out of the town. The town school district has been divided into ten divisions, but most of the time there have been nine schools. There are twelve schoolhouses in the town district. The High School district comprises the southeast corner of the town.