Rhode Island Reading Room
These documents are made available free to the public by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project


The Narragansett Historical Register

Volume V. July 1886. No. 1.

A magazine devoted to the antiquities, genealogy and historical matter illustrating the History of the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations. James N. Arnold, Ed.
Narragansett Historical Publishing Co., Hamilton, R. I.
E. L. Freeman & Co., Printers, Central Falls, R. I. 


THE OLD SCHOOLS OF PROVIDENCE.
A Paper read before the Rhode Island Veteran Citizens Historical Association, by Hon. Elisha Dyer, President of the Association.

p. 220 - 240.

Some Reminiscences of how, when, and where the 'young idea was taught to shoot' in olden times; the late Hon. William R. Staples says in his 'Annals of Providence', page 493:

'The first schoolmaster in Providence, of whom any memorial remains, was William Turpin.  When he came is not known, but he was here the 11th day of June, 1684.  On that day, he executed an indenture with William Hawkins, and Lydia, his wife, in which he covenanted to furnish Peregrine Gardner, with board and schooling for one year, for six pounds, forty shillings, of which in beef and pork; pork at two pence, and beef at three pence half penny per pound; twenty shillings in corn at two shillings per bushel, and the balance in silver money.  He was to be instructed in reading and writing.  This instrument is in the hand-writing of Mr. Schoolmaster Turpin, and exhibits plenary proof of his ability to teach writing.  It also proves conclusively that schoolmasters in those days were not very exorbitant in their demands.'

In Mr. Henry C. Dorr's book, the 'Planting and Growth of Providence', on page 185, he says:

'Turpin's inn stood in the Town street on the site not many years since occupied by the late Mr. William P. Angell.'

William Turpin was an Englishman.  Nothing is known of his earlier life save that he was here so early in 1685, and that he taught a private school.  Finding small encouragement as a teacher of boys, the unfortunate man of letters betook himself to inn-keeping for their elders.  The transition was not violent or surprising, when we remember what manner of men English schoolmasters too often were in those and in later days.  The old inn, which was kept by several generations of his family, was in building in 1695.  Turpin was more popular in his character of landlord than in that of schoolmaster.

The first William Turpin died July 18, 1709, leaving what in his day was an ample estate.  His son succeeded him in his property, his business and his public employments.

The next schoolmaster mentioned by Mr. Dorr, page 111, in 1735, is George Taylor, 'the church schoolmaster'.  He was allowed by the town-meeting the use of the upper story of the 'County-house', in King's (now Meeting street).  Mr. Taylor was sent over by the 'English Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts.'  It seemed to be the custom of that society to send with their missionaries the schoolmaster, whose duty it was to attend to the germination and cultivation of the principles and doctrines taught.  One of the conditions of Mr. Taylor's occupancy was that he should keep in repair the sun-dial in the street.  In view of the habits of school boys in those and in later days, this was an undertaking of no little hazard.  At this time there were one or two other dials in the town street, before the houses of prominent citizens; at this period clocks and watches were by no means in common use.  When Williams disputed with the 'Foxians', at Newport, in 1672, it was agreed that each party should be heard in turn, for a quarter of an hour.  A difficulty at once arose.  No clock was available in Newport, and the whole population who flocked to the debate had not a watch at their disposal, 'for unless he had clocks and watches and quarter-glasses (as in some ships), it was impossible to be exactly punctual; however, by God's help, I said I would study such exactness that I would rather omit much I had to say than fail in my promise to them.'  The privation was long endured.  The people were not in worse plight that those of most English villages.  Few in those days had watches, but the village church-tower had very commonly its sun-dial.  The following is from the records of the 'Society for the Propagation of the Gospel in Foreign Parts', in the library of Brown University:  Names of missionaries, etc., on list January 31, 1732;  Mr. Flemming, schoolmaster at Providence, January 28, 1736;  Mr. Taylor, schoolmaster at Providence, in place of Mr. Flemming.  The above schools and teachers were all of whom I can ascertain as being of record, and were all private schools, as up to this period there appears to have been no free schools.  I find on page 496, in the 'Annals of Providence', the following account:  In 1767, the town again took up the subject of education, with the apparent design of providing schools for all the children of the inhabitants.  At a town meeting holden December  8th, they resolved to purchase or build three school-houses for small children, and one for youth, to provide instructions and pay the expense from the treasury, and these schools to be under the supervision of a school committee.  John Brown, John Jenckes, Nathaniel Greene, Charles Keene and Samuel Thurber were appointed a committee to select locations for the houses, to purchase land and make contracts for their erection.  Darius Sessions, Samuel Nightingale, Jabez Bowen and Moses Brown were appointed to prepare an ordinance for the building, supporting and governing the schools.  These committees reported to an adjourned meeting, holden on the first of January, 1768.  For an account of the further action in this matter, reference is made to the Hon. Judge Staple's book as heretofore mentioned.  For the schools of memory I am indebted to several persons, as follows, viz:  Mrs. Mary Ormsbee, a daughter of the late Nathan Horton Miller; she was born in Rehoboth, Mass., June 6, 1788, and now lives at No. 9, Cady's Lane, in this city, possessing a remarkable vigor of mental and physical ability.  She says the first school-house, as she remembers, was the long, one-story building on Benefit street, where Master Bradford kept in one end in the year 1791, or when she was 3 years old, and a Miss Marshall (or Aunt Sally, as she was called), kept in the other, (both private schools).  The first free school, as she remembers, was kept by John Dexter, in the same house and year as above.  Marm Ruff kept in the Nash, or Sessions house, now 351 North Main street, about the year 1798.  Marm Low was in the Thomas Arnold house, now Nos. 429 and 431 North Main street, about 1781.  Miss Balch subsequently kept in the same house.  Mr. Philip W. Martin, born in 1785, says he attended Major John Dexter's school when he was 6 years of age, in 1791.  The ushers of Major John Dexter, at the Benefit street school, were Eliphalet Dyer and Noah Curtis.  Mr. George W. Bowen, born in 1794, says Major Dexter's school was kept in 1803; they all refer to the building as a long one-story building, one of which was occupied by the large, old-fashioned chimney; the other end was appropriated to the instruction of very young children, under the charge of school mistresses.  Mrs. P. W. Martin was at one time one of the pupils, but does not remember the name of her teacher.  Mrs. Ormsbee further stated that she attended Miss Balch's school when kept on the lower floor of the Arnold house, at the corner of Short alley and North Main street, and leaving the school about 1798, when 10 years of age.  Her school days were finished under the instruction of Major Dexter, in 1803, at 15 years of age.  I can find no records of the three schools voted to be established at the Town Meeting of December 8th, 1767, but must depend upon the memory of those who were their pupils, for their location and instruction.  From the memories of Mrs. Ormsbee, Messrs. Martin and Bowen, the first of the three schools referred to, was that of Major John Dexter, on Benefit street, on the site of the present grammar school; the second one was located on Claverick street, between Pine and Friendship streets, as appears from the statement of Mr. Benjamin C. Simmons and Mrs. E. Weld; the third, as stated by Mrs. Parmilia A. Barber, (born in 1803), was located on Transit street, next in rear of the Church of the Saviour, formerly St. Stephen's.

In reference to the second school, Mr. Simmons makes the following statement:

'The public school-house near the corner of Pine and Claverick streets, was built about 1800.  Its first teacher was the Rev. James Wilson, the assistant was William E. Richmond.  I recollect that about 1816, Daniel Young was the principal and Isaac Southworth the assistant in the upper part of the house.  In the lower story Amos Warner was the principal.  He was succeeded by Christopher Hill and Daniel Baker, as assistant.  About 1819, the school-house in Summer street was built, which changed the district, and I changed with it.  My deskmate was Walter Danforth, who, although young, promised to be a fine scholar.  The school-house in Richmond street was built in 1828.  Its first principal was Joseph W. Pettis.  He was succeeded by Esek Aldrich, Albert Ainsworth and James C. Hidden being the assistants.  I recollect the private school of Richard Marvin.  The school hours were kept by an hour-glass.  His reading books were Shakespeare and Pope's Essay on Man.  There were two school-masters of the olden time:  The first, Terrence O'Reilly, and Irishman, kept a school where Wheeler's exchange office was subsequently located.  The second was that of Major Box, an Englishman.  He made his own arithmetics, copying his rules, tables of multiplication and subtraction in a book which I have, dated A. D. 1794, both schools being near the Providence bridge.  The successor to Daniel Young, in the school above mentioned, was Elisha Atkins, the brother of Gen. Thomas F. Carpenter's wife.  The school-house stood on a sand bank, beneath which was clay, in which many an urchin found, to his sorrow, that he had lost his shoes.  It was indeed a horrible pit of miry clay.  The school-house was surrounded by John Field's cornfields and apple orchard, in which stood a very ancient cider mill in A. D. 1816.'

In a previous account Mr. Simmons refers to the old Dilworth Spelling Book, as the second book of instruction for the earlier schools.  Mrs. Weld says:

'The recollections of my sister, Mrs. Barnes, of the first public school on the west side, was the building situated near the corner of Pine and Claverick streets.  According to a historical record in our possession, the Rev. James Wilson was the teacher.  He commenced in December, 1800, and taught eleven years.  He was much beloved by his scholars for his just and impartial dealings with them.  My impression is that Daniel Young was the first usher under Mr. Wilson, and when his school was divided, Mr. Young was appointed principal up stairs.  Mr. Hill was the next principal, taking Mr. Wilson' place. He was succeeded by Daniel Bake, a good and kind teacher, popular with his scholars.  His brother,  Elisha Baker, was the next appointment, a very different man and unpopular teacher.  I left soon after he came to attend Mr. Rawson's school on Meeting street, about 1822 to 1825.  My sister remembers attending Marm Gardner's school at the time of a great fire down town in 1801.  I commenced attending there in 1813.'

Mrs. Weld's reference to Marm Gardner's school, and Mrs. Ormsbee's to Marm Low's, recalls the fact that mention has been made of the school of the latter being the successor of the former.  I am indebted to Mrs. M. R. Marshall for Marm Low's personal history.  'Her maiden name was Mary Allen, daughter of Stephen Allen, of Rehoboth.  She married Thos. Low, who died in the war of the revolution, leaving her a widow with two children.  She commenced her first school in the upper part of the Thomas Arnold house, now 429 and 432 North Main street, in 1781.  There are persons living now who remember her as located at the corner of Orange and Weybosset streets.  It is safe to conclude that she taught school for forty years or more, until the year of 1832.  She lived to the advanced age of 93 years, and died in 1848, possessing great vigor of mind in her declining years.'

As a pupil of both schools, the contrast between the two dames is most vividly recalled.  Marm Gardner was of medium stature, rotund in face and figure, with a mild, genial countenance and manner.  Marm Low was very tall, of gaunt figure and sallow face.  She always wore a large cap trimmed with black, which gave a sombre look and influence upon all around her, which was in strong contrast to the neat white cap, blue gingham dress and spotless white aprons of Marm Gardner.  I am informed at the time of the gale in 1815, the school of Marm Low was located in the then Baptist lane, now Waterman street, and from which she removed to the corner of Orange and Weybosset streets, as the successor of Marm Gardner.  In these and similar schools, the first book of instruction for the young children was the New England Primer, published in Boston in 1777, in which, as the principal attractive illustration was the enlivening spectacle of the burning of John Rogers at the stake, on the 14th of February, 1554, 'in the presence of his wife and nine small children and one at the breast.'    Also a representation of Adam and Eve under an apple tree with the Scriptural fact, 'That in Adam's fall, we sinned all', with many other Scriptural facts and cautions.  The seats in the school were of oak plank on four fire wood standards, at an elevation of sixteen or eighteen inches form the floor, with no rest, relief or protection from falling, and the surface of those I refer to, having had the wear of the preceding schools, were of more than mirror-like smoothness and polish.  At the present time where music  is taught much attention is paid to the study of counterpoint (harmony), but as there was no music in the schools in those early days, the pupils substituted counterpoise, as the necessary protection against the law of gravitation, when 'tired nature yielded to its sweet restorer, balmy sleep.  Harmony was then induced and practiced by the presence of appliances kept for its maintenance.  There was, as memory recalls, a variation to the monotonous sounds of 'ab-eb-ib-ob-ub' in the seething sounds that came forth from the old dame's bowl of cider into which the good boys, as a reward, were allowed to drop the hottest coals form the tongs until the desired heat was produced.  The other expression of her approval and reward was in going to old Mrs. Heath's to have her capacious snuff box refilled with the best of 'Macaboy', as she not only enjoyed the common luxury with the nasal organ, but with a liking for its taste.

The next progressive instruction book to the Primer was the 'New Guide to the English Tongue', by Thomas Dilworth, published in Boston in 1764, which were practical and religious maxims, grammatical rules and examples, a curious book of antiquity.

My connection with Marm Low's school was from about 1816 and 1817, from which latter time I was sent for a limited period to the schools of the Rev. Willard Preston, on Richmond street, Stephen Rawson, on Meeting street, Moses Noyes on Aborn street, Luther Ainsworth, on Orange and Eddy streets, and the Rev. George Taft, on Benefit street.

In April, 1822, I went to the school of the late Dr. Rowland Greene ('Father Greene', as we called him), at Black Hill, in Plainfield, Conn., an account of which school, by one of the pupils, was published in the Rhode Island Schoolmaster, of November, 1861.  Returning in the fall of that year to attend the school of the late James Scott, 'a Friend', which was then on Hydraulion street, now Exchange street.  My attendance at so many different schools from 1817 to 1824 was not, I presume, from excessive precocity or strength of intellectual ability, but from a most praiseworthy paternal desire and effort that my mental bow should have the greatest tension and projectile power in directing the ideal arrow to the highest point of intellectual attainment.

James Scott was born in North Providence, in 1788, and died in 1862, aged 74 years.  The inscription on his headstone is:  'Rev. James Scot, son of Job and Eunice Scot.  Born April 7th, 1788, died, Nov. 17, 1862, in the 75th year of his age'.  In mind, character and manner, he possessed the mildness characteristic of the sect to which he belonged.  He was an exceedingly intellectual person, and with proper advantages and culture, would have been preeminently distinguished in the age and times in which he lived.

For his personal history I am indebted to the following persons:  Job S. Mann, of Albion, R. I., writes as follows:

'Friend Elisha Dyer:  Thy postal  containing inquiries concerning James Scott was received.  My sister, Ruth Mann, attended James Scott's school, at his residence in North Providence, for six months and two weeks, commencing in December, 1826, and leaving in 1827.  James's school was discontinued before the following winter, and Ruth thinks he did not teach more than two years in all.  James was then a married man.  His wife, Alice, was his first cousin, whose maiden name was Sisson, and was 27 years of age at that time, James being older.  They had three daughters, only one of whom lived to grow up.  She married Abner Lowell, of Portland, Maine, where she is now living with her mother, Alice, James's widow.  Job Scott, the father of James, died in Balliton (Ireland), of small pox, where he had gone on a preaching tour.  He left the estate where James was brought up, to him and his brother Oziel.  After his brother's death, which occurred not long after his father's James divided the property, giving each of his four sisters, Lydia, Mary, Sarah and Ruth, an equal share with himself.  Previous to his marriage he delivered a course of scientific lectures to Providence, for which he received several hundred dollars.  Ruth, my sister, thought him to be an excellent teacher, and gives the names of several of his scholars:  Henry Waterman, George W. Lippitt, Stephen Barker, Sarah and Eliza Esten, daughters of Esek Esten, his near neighbor.  Cornelius, their brother, is still living, and may give you some items of interest.  While living on his farm he would go to the city with fruit and vegetables, commencing his sales near home, and when reaching the Central Market, if he found his prices had been too high, he would go back over his route and refund the excess to every customer.  He was a member of the Society of Friends and a preacher therein, but afterwards he joined the Swedenborgian Church and preached in Pawtucket several years.  He was one of a committee of three to run the boundary line between old Smithfield and North Providence.  After he had become reduced financially, he sold his farm to Adam Anthony and went to live with his sister, Lydia, who married William Roach, of New Bedford, where he died.  He was buried in Swan Point Cemetery.  My sister Mary, who visited his grave, says the title of Rev. is prefixed to his name in the stone.'

Phebe A. Marble writes as follows:

'Friend Elisha Dyer:
James Scott was the son of Job Scott, a valued minister in our Society.  His life was published in 1797.  I do not find any reference in it to his son James, but I remember many years ago that he became what was called a 'New Light', and later a Swedenborgian minister.  He was a very fine reader.  Job Mann, of Albion, can tell thee of his early life, and Lydia Mann, of Slatersville, his later.'

Lydia Mann writes:
Woonsocket, Oct. 16th, 1883,
'I do not feel quite sure that the James Scott, of whom you inquire, is the James Scott of my acquaintance.  My friend was the son of Job Scott, an eminent preacher in the Society of Friends.  I did not know he ever taught school in Providence.  He may have done so when quite young.  If now living he would be 95 or 96 years of age.  He had a school in his own house, long years ago, afterwards he was a farmer, and then a surveyor, and finally became a minister of the New Jerusalem Church.  He was a man of much talent and great purity.  He married his cousin, Alice Sisson, who was living, the last I knew of her, with her only child, Mrs. Abner Lowell, in Portland, Maine.  She must be between 80 and 90 years of age.  He died between fifteen and twenty years ago.  I have known Mr. Scott since I was a child and living in the same house with him.'

Judge Staples writes in his 'Annals of Providence':
'In 1834, James Scott became interested in the writings of Swedenborg.  He had been educated among the Quakers and was deeply imbued with their principles.  He was appointed the reader in the 'New Church', in Bridgewater, in 1835.'

In 1824 I was prepared for admission to Brown University by Roswell C. Smith, entering in 1825.  Mr. Smith succeeded James Scott, both schools being kept in the building and premises formerly occupied by Messrs. G. & A. Richmond, manufacturing jewelers, in the rear and connected with the Hamilton Building.  For the account of Mr. Smith as an instructor and author of valuable school books, I am indebted to William W. Ellsworth, Esq., of New York City.  Nearly contemporary with the school of Mr. Smith was the school of the late Rufus Claggett, which is well-entitled to be mentioned.

'Roswell Chamberlain Smith was born in Franklin, Conn., April 6, 1797.  He had, as a boy, the ordinary education of a country lad of those days, but his thirst for knowledge led him to go further with his studies than he was able in the district school at Franklin.  By dint of teaching during vacations and by practicing the strictest economy, often walking to and from Andover, Mass., at the beginning and end of the term, he graduated from Phillips Academy.  He had before, for a short time, attended the Academy at Plainfield, Conn.  Later, he passed the examination at Yale College, taking a high stand, but poverty prevented his remaining, and he decided to make teaching his profession.  He taught at the Norwich, Conn., Academy, going from there to Providence, R. I., where he had a private school, succeeding in time and locality the school taught by James Scott, a Quaker.  Mr. Elisha Dyer, who was one of Mr. Smith's scholars, remembers him most agreeably.  'Not only as an instructor, but as having those qualities of mind and character which all must esteem.'  Mr. Dyer further remembers 'his intelligence and thoroughness, his quick appreciation of a scholar's mental ability, and his pleasing manners and address.'  It was in Providence that his first book was written, an arithmetic, and for some time before its publication he taught his scholars from the manuscript of his work.  In Providence, too, he found a wife who had been one of his pupils, the daughter of Deacon Josiah Cady.

'The success of Mr. Smith's first book led him to the making of others, and he soon gave up teaching and devoted his entire time to the work he grew to love so well - the authorship of school books.  The results of his life work were two grammars - one of which reached its one hundred and sixtieth edition in 1840, eight years after publication - five geographies and three arithmetics.  Another geography, began about the year 1862, was never finished, for the death of an only daughter, in 1866, took away all ambition for further work.

'About the year 1836, Mr. Smith removed from Providence to Hartford, Conn., where his publisher at that time lived, and here he passed the remainder of his life, quietly, and with sufficient means to live in comfort, but without the desire to accumulate a large fortune.  His death occurred in 1879.

'Throughout the life of Roswell C. Smith, the sterling Christian virtues were prominent in his character, and his years were spent in teaching the young, either directly or in the wider schoolroom reached by his works.  One of his grammars, although published many years ago, has still a large sale, and many who are now in middle life will remember its first abrupt question, 'What is your name?'

In reference to the school of the late Rufus Claggett, which was also kept in Hydraulion street, nearly opposite to the schools of Messrs. Scott & Smith, in the upper story of the building occupied by the late Messrs. Wheaton & Truesdale, wholesale grocers, as a storehouse, the following note is from Mrs. Claggett:

Brooklyn, N. Y., Sept. 28th, 1883.
'Dear Sir. --  I am in receipt of the postal you sent to my brother, requesting him to give you a sketch of the life of my deceased husband.  I enclose two notices, and in connection will mention that the late Mr. Claggett was born February 28th, 1803, and was one of a family of twelve.  In childhood he manifested a strong desire to acquire knowledge, and was proficient in its pursuit.  At an early age he prepared young men for college, by which teaching he was enabled to earn his own collegiate education at Dartmouth College, where he frequently delivered orations in the Greek and Latin language.  He was very fond of music, of which he possessed a thorough knowledge.  After graduating he studied law with Rufus Choate, and through life followed his chosen profession.  During his residence in Providence he was Judge of the Supreme Court [in this, however, I think Mrs. Claggett was mistaken] as he was probably Justice of the Peace.  He was ever mindful of the political  interests of his country, and was a true patriot to the end of his life; and at the close, passed peacefully to a purer and a better world.'

Mrs. Claggett adds in another note of Oct. 8th, 1883.

'Dear Sir.  --  I am in receipt of your postal card of the 6th, and am sorry that I cannot furnish all the information you desire.  I think Mr. Claggett came to Providence about 1828.  He taught there five years the English branches, Greek and Latin.  He had a large school.  The books he published were the 'American Expositor', 'Elocution Made Easy',  'A Manual', and an 'English Grammar'.  Mr. Claggett was very fond of the science of astronomy, and calculated a solar eclipse several years before it occurred.  The deceased was a New Hampshire man, and completed his preparatory studies at the Academy in Newport (New Hampshire), the place of the family residence.  He graduated at Dartmouth College in 1824, and studied law three years in Portsmouth; then went to Providence, where he was admitted to the bar, where, for several years, he pursued the labors of his profession, in 1841, he removed to New York, and in that city and Brooklyn continued the practice of law.  Though engaged in professional work, he took great interest in the cause of education, preparing and publishing books to aid the youthful mind in acquiring a correct and ready use of language, and a practical knowledge of Elocution.  As a man, Mr. Claggett was genial, courteous, modest, cheerfully communicative, and of a pure life.  As a lawyer, justly mindful of his clients' interest, honorable and upright in his feeling, quickly discerning the moral quality of an act, and having no fellowship with the dishonest and fraudulent.  In his theological views he was thoroughly evangelical, adhering to the doctrine of grace as taught by the New England divines.  In the early part of his life he was believed to have had experimental knowledge, and to have died in the faith and hope of the gospel.  He leaves a widow and a family of sons and daughters, who deeply feel his loss and with many friends cherish his memory with high and tender regard.  He died April 22d, 1875.  His obituary was published in a New York paper, and in 'The Manchester Mirror and Farmer.'

'Brown University, Nov. 3d, 1829.
To all whom it may concern:
This may certify that Mr. Rufus Claggett has received the following Degree of Bachelor of Arts at Dartmouth College and that of Master of Arts at this Institution.  For nearly a year he has resided in this Town, and as far as I have known has uniformly sustained an irreproachable character, both as a moral and literary man.  He brought to this place high testimonials of talents and worth from Portsmouth, N. H., the place of his previous residence.   Signed.  F. Wayland.'

Mr. Claggett died in Brooklyn, N. Y., April 22d, 1875, aged 70 years.

Susbsequent to the preceding reminiscences I have the following papers from Mrs. Rebecca Goodwin, of Bristol, R. I., daughter of the late William Wilkinson, Esq.

'William Wilkinson was born in Killingly, Conn., June 19, 1760.  He entered Providence College (then under President Manning) at an early age, and had not concluded his course when the College was broken up by the revolutionary war.  Soon afterwards he entered the army, and was private secretary to Col. Crary.  He did not graduate until after the close of the war, in which Mrs. Tibbitts, a sister of Mrs. Goodwin, says, 'that upon his representing to President Manning of his inability to support a family, he very generously offered to him a home in some of the vacant rooms of the College.  The offer was accepted, and he with his family lived in the College several years, two of his daughters being born there.  He was master of the Latin School, which was kept in the College building from 1772 until 1786, and then removed to the brick school-house on Meeting street.  Among his scholars were James Burrill, George R. Burrill, Nicholas Brown and Jeremiah B. Howell.  He was College Librarian from 1785 to 1788.  He was appointed Deputy Postmaster, in Providence, R. I., June 5, 1792, this commission being signed by Timothy Pickering, Postmaster General, when George Washington was President of the United States.  His appointment was renewed May 7, 1796, and he continued in office until Thomas Jefferson was President.  He went into partnership with John Carter, they opening the first bookstore in Providence.  Mr. Carter was a printer, and some old books are now in circulation that were printed by Carter and Wilkinson and sold at their book and stationery store opposite the market, 1794.  The connection and residence of the late Mr. Wilkinson in Brown University, and the birth of the two daughters there, would naturally  anticipate and foreclose any discussion or question that might have been between my venerated 'Alma Mater' and her esteemed Faculty, not only as to the propriety and expediency of admitting females as well as males within her classic walls, but also in defining the age at which humanity might begin its mental process, under her training and culture.  This  unusual occurrence probably required a suspension of attention to 'Homeric odes', and the substitution of the popular evening song and supplication of 'Hush my dear, lie still and slumber', and 'Now I lay me down to sleep.'  In physical culture there would be little necessity for 'horizontal bars', or 'vaulting horses', the rounds of chairs and legs of tables, being all that would be requisite for the attainment of strength of muscle.  For locomotion the standing stool on rollers and the old-fashioned bandana, much more appropriate than the revolving bicycle so little adapted to nursery limits and inexperienced muscle.  To 'good old Brown' must be awarded the front rank in the recognition of the rights and mental equality of the sexes, and the precocity of age available in admission to the 'Academic Halls'.'

A second paper from Mrs. Goodwin is as follows:

'Moses Noyes was a teacher of a school on the corner of Magee and George streets, as long ago as 1808.  It was under the control of proprietors, but at that date the children of others attended the school.  About the year 1810, Mr. Noyes resigned his position and opened a school for young ladies in his own house, on Mathewson street, where he taught for several years in a most acceptable and honorable manner.  Requiring larger and more central accommodations, he removed to a spacious room prepared for him on Exchange street.  He continued there many years, but eventually returned to his own house, where he closed his career as schoolmaster.  He was beloved and respected by his scholars.  This is the testimony of one who was his pupil more than seventy years ago, when his classes were composed of the most honored and influential names in the town of Providence.  But a few are left to confirm this account, and acknowledge their debt to their admirable instructor, Moses Noyes.'

The following account is given by his son, Mr. John L. Noyes:

'Providence, Aug. 28, 1883.
Hon. Elisha Dyer, President:
Dear Sir.  --- In reply to your question for information in relation to my father's early history as a teacher in Providence, &c., &c., &c., I would say that he taught the *'George Street Academy' (the building I remember well); also the names of several of his pupils -- John Carter Brown, Moses and Robert Ives, John H. Clarke and others.  He afterwards purchased of Pardon Mason, the house at the corner of Mathewson and Sabin streets (which formerly stood near the 'great bridge'), and was removed up the Cove on scows, to make room for the old Washington Insurance Company's Building, which remained until taken down, and was replaced by the present building.  He occupied the lower part of the house as a residence, using the west chambers as a school for young ladies, which he taught until he removed to a wooden building erected by Jacob Hartshorn, north of and adjoining the Hamilton Building, the lower floor being occupied by the firm of Hartshorn & Arnold as a wholesale grocery store.  This was about 1814.  I am not certain about the date, but I remember it was previous to the September gale of 1815.  This room he occupied until he was applied to and accepted the position of Principal of the **'Proprietor's Academy', near the corner of Aborn and Washington streets (the Methodist Church stood on the corner), where he remained several years, until he purchased and moved a building on to his lot and joining his dwelling house, where he continued his school until his health failed, and he closed his school in 1835.  During the year 1815, I attended 'Marm Philbrook's' school, nearly opposite my father's school, on what is now Exchange street.  She was assisted by her youngest daughter, Miss Ann.  I remember among her scholars, Jonathan Draper, son of Aaron D.; he is still living at the Old Gentlemen's Home, aged 82 years; Betsey Short, daughter of Jonathan Short; William P. Blodget, son of Col. William Bloget; Mary Billings, daughter of Sheriff Billings; these are all I recollect.  The school-room on Exchange street, which was long occupied by my father, was afterwards used as a school-room, club-room, law-office, &c., &c., and late by Galen & Aronet Richmond in addition to their other shop, for the manufacture of jewelry.  Should I live, I may give you some account of some of the old musical societies, as you request.  Very truly and respectfully your old schoolmate,  John L. Noyes.'

* The old George Street Academy was standing as late as 1817, as I remember, in a neglected condition, at the northeast corner of George and Magee streets, and was removed by James Brown, when Benj. C. Harris built the house now occupied by Samuel Foster.  It is now the residence of Hon. Henry B. Anthony, No. 5, Benevolent street.

** Names of some of the old scholars of Proprietor's Academy, Aborn street:  Shubael H. Cady, Caroline Cady, Mary A. Cady, David Cleveland Cady, Henry Talbot, Eliza Talbot, Susan Talbot, Albert Martin, Mary Martin, Caroline Dyer, Frances Dyer, Elisha Dyer, Benjamin Hoppin, Levi Hoppin, William W. Hoppin, Wm. Jones Hoppin, Anna Jones Hoppin, Thomas F. Hoppin, Sarah C. D. Hoppin, Wm. W. Brown, Thomas Brown, Zephaeniah Brown, Emily Brown, Harriet Brown, Alex. F. Adie, Harriet Adie, Charles Dyer, Albert Dyer, John F. Dyer, Delia Soule, Eliza Soule, Cornelius S. Jones, Caroline Jones, Sophia Taylor, Mary Taylor, Charles Taylor, Mayn Taylor, Julia Taylor, Frances W. Cutler, Caleb F. Rea, Alexander H. Vinton, Elizabeth Vinton, Francis Vinton, George M. Richmond, George C. Arnold, James O. Arnold, Mary Rhodes, James Rhodes, George W. Rhodes, Richard Rhodes, Charles Rhodes, Charles Blas, -- --- Rodman, Wm. Simmons, Delia Storrs, James C. Richmond, Mary Richmond, Eliza Richmond, Thomas C. Richmond, Francis W. Peck, Wm. Ormstead, Sophia T. Brownell, Thos. Wilson, Henry Wilson, Caroline Wilson, Samuel Gladding, Sarah Sweet, Joseph W. Sweet, Nathaniel Sweet, Daniel S. Paine, John J. Paine, Joseph A. Barker, Allen O. Peck, Caroline Grinnell, John Checkly Ames, Ann Ames, Sophia Ames, James B. Ames, Mary Eddy, Eliza Eddy, Susan Burrill, Eleanor Burrill, Sophia Dexter, Phebe C. Church, Sarah B. Mason.

In closing this paper, the length of which has far exceeded the writer's intention or wish, he freely acknowledges his conscientiousness of its errors, imperfections and incompleteness.  As much, if not more, could have been written than has been.  To all those who have assisted in its preparation he returns his sincere thanks, and earnestly appeals to all who have the ability and opportunity, to give a more full and historical account of the schools of the 'olden times.'

'Hon. E. Dyer:
Dear Sir --  I fear a part of the school notes I gave you may not be explicit, and that two of the teachers are put in the wrong place.  I write this from my notes and think now will prove correct.  At the April, 1800, town meeting, a committee consisting of James Burrill, Jr., Richard Jackson, Jr., John Howland, John Carlile, William Richmond, John Corliss and Joel Metcalf were appointed to devise a plan for free schools.  They reported, and recommended the establishing of four schools to be kept open during the year, viz.:  One in Whipple Hall, near north end of Benefit street; one in the 'brick school-house', Meeting street; one to be built at the south end, Transit street; one to be built on the west side, near corner of Friendship and Claverick streets.  In July the Council appointed four teachers as principals.  The schools were opened on the last Monday of October.  On the 23d of December, 1800, there were pupils in the first district, Whipple Hall, Mr. Dexter, 180; second district, 'brick school-house', Meeting street, Mr. Noyes, 230; third district, Transit street, Mr. Farnum, 240; fourth district, West Side, Mr. Wilson, 338.    Yours,   J. A. Howland.'

1768, Dec. 2.  --  The town resolved to build one school house, 30 x 40, two stories, near the Court House; a brick school-house.  In the house so built the town agreed to support a free school by a tax of £100, provided the sum of £182 17s. was contributed.  A committee of nine and the Town Council ex-officio.  The subscription failed.

July, 1769, I suppose --- John Smith was appointed to build the 'brick school-house', now stands on Meeting street.  The town owned the lower story and the proprietors the upper story, and the town appointed a master to teach in this part of the house, and it so continued till 1785.

1785 -- Proprietors built near the north end of Benefit street, a house called 'Whipple's Hall', which the town hired for a school.  About 1800 the town purchased the proprietors' right in the 'brick school-house', and in 'Whipple's Hall', which was standing in 1828.

1800, April --  A committee recommended four schools, viz.:  One in the Meeting street brick school-house, one to be built at the south end of Benefit street, one to be built on the West Side, and one in Whipple Hall, the principal to have $500 salary and the usher or assistant $200.  The one at the south end was located on Transit street, near Benefit.  The one on the West Side near the corner of Friendship and Claverick streets.

1800, July --  The town appointed as principals, James Wilkinson, John Dexter, Moses Noyes, Royal Farnum; and two assistants for West Side and one each for the others.  The assistants were to be James Wilson, Daniel Young, Lucius Bolles, Grovesnor Taft, Ezra Leonard and William Morton.  Schools opened in 1800, and on the 23d of December there were pupils in the first district 180, Dexter; second district 230, Noyes, Meeting street;  third district 240, Farnum, Transit street; fourth district 338, Wilson.  Subsequently the fourth district was divided, under masters, with no ushers, at $400.  This continued to 1812; from then to 1818 there were five schools.  The masters $500, ushers $200, which in 1818 was raised to $250.

1819 -- A school-house erected on the west side of Pond street, and two districts on the West Side till 1824, when there were five masters at $500 and five ushers at $250, and so remained till 1828, when primary schools were established.

Providence, Nov. 28, 1883.

In the comparison of the schools of the past and present, no greater contrast exists than in the cold, desolate, barn-like buildings of the old school houses with the architectural models and attractive edifices of to-day;  and the comparison is equally as marked in the interior of plastered walls, cheerless windows, and comfortless seats, with the oppressive heat of the universal coarse cast-iron box-stove, with its rough iron pipe extending the entire length of the apartment, with the luxury of detail in the sanitary and every other arrangement of the schools of the present time.  As of the buildings, so of the teachers, as many of these seemed to think the greatest mental progress could be had with the inflection of almost barbaric sufferings.  I remember, in one of the most popular schools, seeing the master with extended arms toss a scholar horizontally over the stove-pipe and catching him in his descent on the other.  There might not have been in this physical suffering, but what were the mental sensations of the pupil, and if perchance the master had failed to catch him in this fall, what would have been the result?  Again at arm's length, and when from exhaustion the arm would droop a severe blow upon it with his heavy ruler would make the sufferer with spasmodic effort try to regain the intended height.  Again he would place a prop of wood in a pupil's mouth after extending it as far as possible, and place him on a platform that all the scholars might witness his ingenuity of torture, and all this for slight offences or unlearned lessons.

Another teacher would compel his scholars when he was inimical to them to stoop forward as far as possible without falling, and then bind them in that position to his desk for as long a time as his ill-temper suggested.  In conversation with a friend a few days since, I asked if he had ever visited a certain school of the past?  He replied, 'only once, and that was when, as I was entering the door, the master hurled a heavy ruler across the room at a scholar's head.'  A volume could be filled in the recital of the cruel treatment from nervous irritable masters upon pupils whose fault being more from a mental inability of appreciating than from a perverse or obstinate spirit of offence or resistance.  The school-room in those days was destitute of the ordinary amenities in action or language, and was the object only of fear and aversion.  There was no inquisitive or intelligent examination of a pupil's mental ability for the acquisition of knowledge in tasks reasonable or unreasonable, which, if not acquired, would subject him to physical suffering.  Here again I am led astray in active thought and memory, whose flood-gates I will close, lest their current should exceed the limits of expediency.

December 12, 1883.


These documents are made available free to the public for non-commercial purposes by the Rhode Island USGenWeb Project.
Transcription 2004 by Beth Hurd
Mail e-mail