William L. (William Ladd) Chaffin.

History of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) online

. (page 36 of 78)
Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 36 of 78)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

each costing five dollars. There were fifty shareholders, and
ninety-five shares were sold. Any one might become a subscri-
ber and have the use of the library and reading-room by paying
at the rate of two dollars per year. There was an annual assess-
ment of one dollar on each share. This library was located in
the same building with the post-office, and George B. Cogswell
was chosen librarian. A convenient reading-room was fitted up
there, papers and magazines provided, and it became for eleven
years a place of pleasant resort which will long be remembered
by those accustomed to frequent it. In 1880, in anticipation
of the opening of the Ames Free Library, the association voted
to appraise and sell its property, to close up its affairs, and to
dissolve. This it did about the end of the year.



The Ames Free Library of Easton, Massachusetts, originated
in a bequest of the Hon. OHver Ames, the second of that name,
who died March 9, 1877. The following is the bequest copied
from the will : —

" Clause 10. I give and bequeath to my executors hereinafter
named the sum of fifty thousand dollars, in trust, for the construction
of a library building and the support of a library for the benefit of
the inhabitants of the town of Easton. The building is to be located
by my executors at such place in School District No. 7 in Easton as
will in their judgment best accommodate its users. Not more than
twenty-five thousand dollars of the above sum of fifty thousand
dollars shall be expended in the purchase of the land and in erecting
the library building, and ten thousand dollars only shall be in the first
place expended for books, maps, and furniture for the library; and the
remaining fifteen thousand dollars shall constitute a permanent fund
to be invested in stock of the Old Colony Railroad Company, the in-
come of which shall be devoted to increasing the library and keeping
the building and its appurtenances and contents in repair. When the
building is completed and the library purchased as aforesaid, I direct
my executors to convey the same, by a suitable deed of trust securing
the purposes above set forth, to five trustees, to be appointed by the
Unitarian Society at North Easton ; and the said trustees shall have
charge and control of the building and land under and belonging to
the same, and the library and its funds. Any vacancy in the board of
trustees shall be filled in the same manner the original appointment
is made."

The amounts for the several purposes named in the bequest
were largely increased by the heirs of Mr. Ames. The cost of
the building, books, appurtenances, the cataloguing of the books,
etc., up to the date of the opening of the library, was upwards
of eighty thousand dollars. The permanent fund was increased
from fifteen thousand dollars to forty thousand dollars by a gift
of Mrs. Sarah L. Ames, widow of the donor. The library was
opened to the public March 10, 1883.

In accordance with a condition prescribed by the will, a board
of five trustees was chosen at a meeting of the Unitarian Society
of North Easton, held February 17, 1883. The following persons




were chosen trustees: Frederick L. Ames, William L. Chaffin,
Lincoln S. Drake, Cyrus Lothrop, and George W. Kennedy.

There are now over eleven thousand books in this library,
which were very carefully selected in order to form the basis of a
first-class collection. The catalogue is thoroughly and elaborately
prepared. A large number of papers and periodicals supply the
needs of the beautiful reading-room. The library is an inesti-
mable advantage to the town, furnishing the means of extending
and elevating the knowledge and increasing the rational enjoy-
ment of its residents, by whom it is liberally patronized. The
library building is a handsome edifice, built of sienite from a
quarry a stone's throw distant, and has red sandstone trimmings.
It is elaborately finished inside, the waiting-room and reading-
room being of black walnut, the latter having a massive and
beautifully carved fireplace of red sandstone, the stone-work on
each side of and above the fireplace reaching to the ceiling,
with a medallion of Mr. Ames in the centre. The library-room
proper has two tiers of alcoves, and the exquisite wood-work is
of pohshed butternut. In the second story of the building is a
tenement for the librarian. The accompanying picture of this
building makes further description of it unnecessary. H. H.
Richardson was its architect.

Charles R. Ballard was appointed librarian on the opening of
the library, and he still occupies this position.




School Management of the last Century. — The School-Committee
System. — Superintending Committee since 1826. — Men and Wo-
men Teachers. — Teachers' Wages. — The High School. — The
Perkins Academy. — The History of the Schoolhouses of all
the Districts. — The Oliver Ames Fund for Support of Schools.
— The Oakes Ames Fund for North Easton Village. — Late

THREE children of the Rev. Matthew Short were unable to
write their names when far along in their " teens." Quite
a number of the early settlers of Easton, especially of the wo-
men, had to "make their mark." This appears not only in wills
which might have been signed in sickness when the signer had
no strength to write, but also in deeds, surveys, etc., made in
full health. Our early ancestors were much more interested in
churches than in schools, and were far more liberal in providing
for the former than for the latter. The importance of education
was however recognized by the General Court. Section 2 of the
Act of Incorporation of the town of Easton reads as follows : —

" And that the inhabitants of the said town of Easton do, within
six months from the publication of this Act, procure and maintain a
schoolmaster to instruct their youth in writing and reading ; and that
thereupon they be discharged from any payments for the maintenance
of the school at Norton."

This was December 21, 1725. No notice was taken of this
requirement until fifteen months after Easton became a town.
Attention was then called to it, and the people felt that some-
thing must be done. The town voted for a schoolmaster ; but
some opponent of the scheme, evidently wishing to defeat it,
proposed a salary for the master equal to that of the minister.
The following votes on the subject will illustrate the animus of
the voters in this matter : —


"Easton, March the thirty-first clay, 1727, at a Leagall meeting of
the Inhabitants of said town for to make choice of a schollmaster, and
to rais money to pay him, and to appoint a place for the school to be
Keept, . . • , —

" I. We made choice of Josiah Keith, moderator for said meeting.

" 2ly. A vote was called for to give fourty pounds to a schollmaster
for one year to keep schoU, but not voted.

"3ly. A vote was called for to give twenty pounds to a schollmas-
ter to keep scholl one year, but not voted.

" 4ly. A vote was called for to give ten pounds to a schollmaster to
keep scholl for one year, but not voted.

" 5ly. A vote was called for to give five pounds to a schollmaster
to keep scholl for one year, but not voted.

" 61y. Voted and agreed to give three pounds to a schollmaster for
one year to teach youths to Read and to write, and to keep it at his
own House, and to find himself diete." ^

This action illustrates the sentiment of the small community
of early settlers on the subject of education. Yet this vote of
three pounds for the salary of the schoolmaster, who must use
his own house for a schoolhouse and board himself, was the
most liberal school appropriation made in Easton for thirteen
years ; in fact, it was the only one. This was in March. The
people talked the matter over, and the opposition even to so
small an appropriation increased. It seemed a useless waste of
treasure, and the town repented such extravagance. In the
next November in town-meeting they "Voted and Dismissed
paying the Schoolmaster." This vote seems ambiguous ; it
looks like a refusal to pay the master. There is no subsequent
record of any payment having been made, and Thomas Pratt,
Jr., the first schoolmaster, dropped the birch rod, and quietly
accepted the situation.

For the next nine years nothing was done toward maintain-
ing a school in Easton. One might conjecture that for love or
money the minister might have done some teaching, were it not
that several of his own children, as before stated, could not
write their names. Of course, some private attention must have
been given in the homes of the more intelligent to reading and
writing and arithmetic ; but no public action was again taken

1 Town Records, vol i. p. 5.


until March, 1736, when, no doubt fearing that a legal fine
would be imposed for such neglect, it was " voted and agreed
that the Town shall be provided with a schoolmaster." But no
appropriation was made to cover expenses, and nothing was
done to carry the vote into effect. In 1740 it was again voted
to have a schoolmaster, and it was "voted to raise fourty pounds
for to support and uphold a school in Easton in ye 1740." Ap-
parently this appropriation lasted two years ; for the next action
was in March, 1742, when, seized with another economical spasm,
the town "voted not to raise any money to support school."

But the remissness of Easton in regard to education had been
made a subject of complaint, and in 1743 an action was begun
in the Bristol County Court of Common Pleas against the town
for not providing for the instruction of its children according to
law. Now, at last, a stir was made, a town-meeting called, and
it was " voted to Raise money for ye support of a school for ye
Instructing of children in Reading and writing one quarter of
a year." A schoolmaster was immediately hired, and then
Benjamin Drake, one of the selectmen, hastened to Bristol
(now of Rhode Island, but then our county seat), assumed an
innocent manner, and stated that there waz a schoolmaster in
Easton. The fine was therefore remitted, the town however
paying the costs of the prosecution. But, alas ! in November of
the same year, though voting money for a school for one quarter,
the town also voted " not to keep any school for the present ; "
and foreseeing the penalty, but knowing that it was cheaper to
pay the fine than to pay the schoolmaster, it was " voted to Raise
teen shillings in money to pay Mr. Benj.' Drake for His paying
ye fine yt ye town was likely to pay for want of a schoolmaster."

Prosecutions of this kind were brought against the town in
1747, 1750, and 1756. Either being thus so sharply looked after
by the law, or, let us hope, being more alive to educational needs,
the town henceforth showed more regard for the maintenance
of schools. Until 1746 there had been but one school for the
whole town at any time, and in some years, as we have seen,
none at all. But at this date it was decided to keep school in
three parts of the town, — the southwest, southeast, and north-
east parts. Evidently the same master had charge of them all,
teaching alternately in these several localities. In 1754 the


town was divided into four school quarters, and we see the be-
ginning of the district system, in the fact that at this date the
town voted that the inhabitants of each of the four quarters
should determine where their school should be kept. The town
then voted to pay for the boarding of the schoolmasters. No
schoolhouses were as yet erected. In 1768 the plan of 1754
was still further developed. Each quarter of the town was to
draw its proportion of the school money, the whole amount
raised being thirty pounds. This was to be done by a person
chosen in each one of the four quarters of the town. This was
for Easton the beginning of the prudential committee plan that
so long prevailed in New England towns. There was no super-
intending committee then, as in later years. In addition to the
four quarters alluded to, there was set apart in 1768 a centre
district or "school rick," as it was called, which centred at
Benjamin Pettingill's (now L. K. Wilbur's), where had been
erected "the monument," — a stone post that indicated the exact
centre of the town.

Ten years before this there was established a Grammar
School, which was independent of the common English schools.
This was in accordance with an old law of 1647, which required
that every town of one hundred families, in addition to the
elementary schools, should establish and maintain a Grammar
School, where pupils might fit for Harvard University. This
was in fact a High School, where at least the Latin and Greek
languages might be studied. From 1759 the Grammar School
is frequently referred to on our town records. For many years
of its early history it was taught by a Mr. Joseph Snell, of
Bridgewater, a Harvard graduate. Jn the arrangement of 1768
the selectmen were instructed to draw from the appropriation
for schools the amount needed to support the Grammar School,
and the amount left was to be divided among the five " school
ricks " in proportion to the amount of the school tax respec-
tively paid by these districts. Only thirty pounds were appro-
priated ; as a result schools were kept for a short time only,
and the pay for teachers was very small. Mr. Snell received
six pounds per quarter, and the masters of the English schools
rather less. The town usually paid their board. Widow Mary
Kingman, who kept an inn a few rods northeast of Ebenezer


Randall's house on the Bay road, received five shillings a week
for boarding Schoolmaster Webb ; and the town also voted her
" four shillings for finding him an hors to ride to meating," so
careful were they to have their schoolmasters set the good ex-
ample of church-going. The inn alluded to was, by the way,
the same in which General Washington stopped over night
when he journeyed between Boston and New York during the
Revolutionary War.

As already indicated, under the new system of 1768 each dis-
trict chose its own committee. The first prudential committee
ever chosen in town were Benjamin Pettingill for the Centre,
Henry Howard for the southeast quarter, Joseph Grossman for
the northeast, Silas WiUiams for the southwest, and Joseph
Gilbert for the northwest. For a time the Grammar School
seems to have been under the charge of the selectmen. In
1772 the northeast quarter, which extended south to the Green,
was divided into two school districts by a line running east and
west. In 1779 the district now called No. 3 was made. Before
1800 there were eleven districts ; but their numbers did not in
all cases correspond to the numbers as finally settled, and the
limits frequently changed, because families were set from one
district to another for convenience' sake. About this time also
the name " school rick " was changed to " school wards." In
April, 1790, it was voted to have the Grammar School kept
in the four quarters of the town, and it was put in charge of
a special committee, — Elijah Howard, Abisha Leach, Macy
Tisdale, and Samuel Guild. This was a general committee ;
but it did not have charge of the district schools, and after some
years this committee was jiot chosen with much regularity.
The arrangement was in consequence of a law passed in 1789.

In the year 1810 the town began the practice of choosing one
committee-man for each district. These men were probably
nominated by the districts to which they severally belonged,
.each district managing its own school affairs. The system of
having a superintending school-committee was adopted in con-
sequence of an Act of the Legislature passed in 1826, requiring
towns to choose a school committee of not less than five persons
to " have the general charge of all the public schools in their
respective towns." They were to examine and approbate teach-



ers, visit schools, and have a general oversight ; they were also
required to make an annual report to the Secretary of the Com-
monwealth. They were not required to make any report to the
town until after 1838, at which date a law was passed making
this also a part of their duty. All the business details, such as
hiring teachers, care of schoolhouses, etc., were managed by the
district committees. This plan continued until the district sys-
tem was abolished in 1869, when the entire management of all
school matters was put into the hands of the superintending
committee. The number of this committee was at first not less
than five ; but the law was subsequently changed, making the
required number either three, or some multiple of three. In
Easton the number continued to be five until 1840, when it was
changed to three, and remained so until 1875 ; it was then in-
creased to six, but after four years it was restored to three.
The following is the list of members of the superintending school-
committee of Easton, the first being chosen in 1827 : —

Rev. L. Sheldon, 1827, 1841-1847,

1852-1855, 1857, — eleven years.
Daniel Wheaton, 1827-1832, — five

Dr. Caleb Svi^an, 1827-1840, 1841, —

fourteen years.
Cyrus Lothrop, 1827-1837, — ten

Dr. Samuel Deans, 1827-1838, 1840,

1S43-1846, — fifteen years.
Perez Marshall, 1828-1S36, — eight

Oliver Ames, Jr., 1833-1840, 1841,

1842, — nine years.
Joshua Britton, 1837.
Jonathan Pratt, 1837.
Tisdale Godfrey, 1838.
George W. Hayward, 1838-1841,

1844, 1846, — five years.
Tisdale Harlow, 183S-1841, - three

H. B. W. Wightman, 1842.
William Reed, 1843.
Rev. Paul Dean, 1845, 1846, 1848-

185 1, — five years.

Isaac Perkins, 1845.

Eugene W. Williams, 1847, 1848, -

two years
Thomas F. Davidson, 1847, 1850,

1S56, — three years.
Joseph Barrows, 1847, 1854, 1856, —

three years.
Hiram A. Pratt, 1848.
Amos Pratt, 1849-1852. 1855, — four

George L. Torrey, 1849.
Guilford H. White, 1851.
Erastus Brown, 1851.
Rev. William A. Whitwell, 1852-

1855, — three years.
Rev. Lyman White, 1852, 1857,

185S, — three years.
Charles E. Keith, 1853.
Daniel H. Pratt, 1855, 1S58, 1861-

1864, — five years.
Anson E. York, 1855.
Harrison Pool, 1856.
L. S. Greenleaf, 1857.
Oliver Ames, 3^; 1858, 1 866-1869,

1870-187S, — twelve years.




Rev. G. G. Withington, 1859-1871, —

twelve years.
Rev. L. B. Bate-s, 1860-1862, — two

H.J. Fuller, 1862-1866,— four years.
Rev. C. C. Hussey, 1864-1867, —

three years.
E. R. Hayward, 1 867-1 870, — three

Rev. William L. Chaffin, 1869 to

date, — eighteen years.
Oliver Howard, 1S71.
A. A. Rotch, 1872-1S77, — five years.

Sarah W. Barrows, 1873, — elected,

but resigned.
Rev. Francis Homes, 1875-1878, —

three years.
J. O. Dean, 1875-1880, —five years.
L. S. Drake, 1875 to date, — twelve

George C. Belcher, 1875-1879, — four

Rev. L. H. Sheldon, 1878.
James Rankin, 1879-1886, - seven

E. B. Hayward, 1886.

In early days in Easton the teaching was done only by
men. It was not thought possible that women could maintain
discipline. Those were more unruly times, and large, rough
boys attended the winter sessions, who were supposed to respect
the authority of no one who had not a strong arm to wield the
rod. Not until 1762 is there any mention of hiring a lady to
teach school. The proposal was then made that permission
so to do be granted, if a sufficient number of persons asked for
it. But the matter was not felt to be of sufficient importance
to be acted upon, and we merely have the record, " Nothing
done on the article relating to hiring a scool-dame." Another
allusion is made to the subject in 1768 ; but no school-mistress
is yet employed, though the experiment was soon tried. When
women came to be regularly employed it was only for the sum-
mer terms. During the winter terms, when grown-up young
men often attended in order to learn reading, writing, and a
little arithmetic, the schools were taught by masters. As late
as 1845 the school-committee of Easton refer to the employ-
ment of female teachers for winter schools as having been
tried only " within a few years past," and state that the experi-
ment had met considerable opposition, though it had become
a decided success. At the present time women are not only
very generally en-

Online LibraryWilliam L. (William Ladd) ChaffinHistory of the town of Easton, Massachusetts (Volume 3) → online text (page 36 of 78)