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When the children's bedtime came, they lighted, sometimes a piece of rush soaked in grease and stuck in a piece of wood or half potato, sometimes their tallow dips, to whose manufacture one day in the year was devoted, and reluc
tantly left the cozy hearth and went to their cold beds, wondering why they should be sent to bed thus early, and thinking how happy they would be when the time for their retiring should be a matter of their choice alone.
The Early School.—Though poor and few in number, the early settlers neglected not the worship of God nor the education of their children, realizing that without virtue and education there is no true success. Both schools and churches were established almost as soon as settlement began.
The first schoolhouses, like the dwelling-houses, were built of logs; but their interiors were even more crude than those of the houses. Rough boards laid upon blocks of wood, or upon legs driven into auger-holes in the floor, were the seats ; and the desks, if there were any, were fashioned in like manner. With the coming of the frame houses, came also the “little red schoolhouse" with its clumsy, unpainted desks and meager furnishings.
Families were large in the early days, and the schools correspondingly so. In one district in the town of Clarendon, in 1797, ninety-nine children were in attendance, coming from only eight families, making an average of about twelve from a family.
Many of the children waded miles through the snow to attend the winter term, unless they were fortunate enough to find places near the schoolhouse, where they might work for their board by doing chores during the cold winter days. The schoolmaster usually boarded around, and so had to take his turn in plodding long distances with the pupils.
The teacher's pay was not high, and he was not always paid in money. One schoolmaster and farmer as well) was paid in work. While he was teaching the children to read, write, and calculate, their fathers were industriously clearing his land, sowing his seed, or harvesting his crops. In Windham, a schoolmistress was paid fifty cents a week in salts, butter, wheat, rye, or corn, according to her need or the convenience of her debtors.
In point of equipment the requirements for entering the profession were not high. In Newbury a young woman taught the summer term who had never attended school but one half day herself. She was not incompetent, however, having learned through her own efforts to read and write. She also knew a little something of the science of numbers, and, so far as we know, taught a successful term. As there was no mirror at her boardingplace, it was her custom of mornings to go down to a river, step into a boat, and look over its side, to see, in the reflection, whether her toilet were properly made.
School then kept six days in a week ; and there were two terms, a summer and a winter. Few branches were taught. Reading, writing, and arithmetic to the rule of
three, or proportion, was the course of study ; the girls, however, were sometimes given plain sewing as an extra.
The Meeting-House.— The meeting-houses were usually large, barnlike structures, without steeple or chimney, with high square boxes for pews, and a high pulpit approached
by steep narrow stairs. Sounding-board, Union Church, Strafford.
The pulpit was often over
shadowed by an umbrellashaped sounding-board, hung by a rod from the ceiling, from which words of wisdom and eloquence often reverberated. The far-reaching notes of the conch-shell often summoned the people to meeting as well as to meals.
Vehicles were few; and the good people did not think it beneath their dignity to go to meeting in ox-carts, or on sleds generously cushioned with fur robes. Sometimes the husband and wife went on horseback, the wife seated behind her husband on a cushion, called a pillion, while the children trudged across lots on foot. In summer, boys and girls often walked to and from church barefooted, carrying their shoes and stockings, which they drew on before entering the house.
For years churches were unprovided with any means for warming, and people sat and shivered in their thick garments all through the two hours' sermon. Sometimes the women brought small foot-stoves of perforated sheetiron, in which were placed pans of glowing coals.
A tithing-man, whose duty it was to enforce the observance of the Sabbath and preserve order at public worship, sat in church each Sunday with his long staff, which he used, as occasion required, to punch the nodding ones
and rap the prank-loving boy, oftentimes not overgently. The boy who was caught playing during the sermon was frequently walked up to a front seat by this same officer.
If any one in the society was ill, the minister notified the congregation, and members of the society took turns watching with the sick one; if the goodman himself was so afflicted, his neighbors turned in and did his work for him.