MY SCHOOL DAYS.
Sarah O. Jewett
I am afraid that when I went to Berwick Academy, I really cared more for the outside of the school than the inside. I remember a good deal more about the great view toward the mountains, or down river, and the boys and girls themselves, or even the ground sparrows and little field strawberries that grew in the thin grass, than I do about learning my lessons. I must take my place at the foot of the list when the Academy's best scholars are named over, but I owe a great deal to my school days nevertheless. Many of my associates were stimulating and interesting to me because they brought a certain foreign flavour and interest into the routine of school life.
In my first year or two at school, in 1862 and 1863, we were very fond of two girls, both a good deal older than I, who came from a seaport town far down the coast of Maine. Nothing made me happier than to decoy them into relating their experiences on ship board, for they were each daughters of captains in the merchant service and had spent much of their lives at sea. What wings that gave my fancy! I used to point to places on my geography maps in school hours (when whispering was forbidden) with a questioning look and be answered by a nod or a shake of the head, and then I used to try to imagine what these pleasant-faced Searsport girls had done and seen in Lisbon or in Havre or at the Hague and even in Bombay. And it used to seem quite fitting that they understood the broken English of some young Cubans who boarded with them down at the old Academy boarding house. All the boys and girls who are left to recall with me the handsome dark faces of those lads from Trinidad in Cuba must often have wondered what became of them as I have. They were most conspicuous in the school life, admired by the girls and fellowshipped with by the boys -- Francisco and Edwardo and Venancio. I can see them every one and remember, too, how generous they were with their importations of guava jelly -- and this I only whisper -- of their small cigarettes. These must have been chosen by judicious parents, for they were curiously sweet and little like tobacco. There was a wild curiosity at first about these new scholars. They stood in our minds for Cuba itself -- for rich sugar planters, and buccaneers and pirates and Christopher Columbuses all at once, but as I recall them now they were only laughing, quick-tempered, brown-skinned little fellows who seemed to me already like men. I have always hoped that one or all of them would some day make a pilgrimage to the old school house. It startles me to think what middle aged gentlemen they must be.The Old AcademyA little later than the Cubans' pre-eminence the war made many changes in the village and even in the school. I used to have great inspirations of patriotism which were neither deep nor sincere until long afterward when I had grown older and understood what the war really meant. Sometimes an elder scholar who had been at school a year or two earlier would appear on the playground in his new uniform and startle me into a sudden consciousness of Southern battle-fields. We made great heroes of these young men; soon it came about that there were soldiers' funerals in the village churches and we were dismissed to take our places in the crowded pews. More or less youthful patriotism worked itself off at the Wednesday declamation and rehearsal hour, and once or twice at the Exhibition we had dialogues, in one of which the loyal and seceding states had a placid altercation and the Southerners spoke their little pieces and covered their heads with black veils. It did not seem in the least droll to me then, but I cannot help smiling over it now as I write. At last there came a spring day when word was brought to us that Richmond had fallen and Mr. Stockin dismissed his flock and we all followed the drum two by two down into the village as proudly as if we were Grant's army itself.
There were two Danes who came to school just before this time and one of them always gave me great pleasure. He had come in to Kennebunk with one of the shipmasters and was a thorough-going, cheerful, rough young sailor. I used to tease him to tell me stories of his seafaring, and try to make him a continuation of my favorite Hans Andersen story book, which was not such a difficult matter with his simple-hearted ways and his love for a far away Northern home. Poor fellow! he went to the war, too, and I never saw him again and I believe he had been there before he came to school, for he was popularly supposed by us to have once commanded a small United States craft named the Pink on a Virginia river. A young officer in the regular Navy appeared on the hill one day fine with bright buttons, and as I timidly spoke to him I dared to say that our Dane had been a captain, but the officer gave me an incredulous glance which established for me at once the great distance between regulars and volunteers.
How serious and brilliant an occasion Exhibition Day was then, what a flutter of white dresses and what scattering of flowers from short locks that were perhaps for the first time arranged in grownup fashion. Some of the boys were going to college; we all said goodbye without an idea what we meant or what partings were really coming. There are few left here in town with whom I can talk over the old days.
The Trustees were always a most dignified body. Colonel Peirce used to come up from Portsmouth and Mr. John P. Lord and Mr. Cogswell and Mr. Hayes the President, and the village ministers and Mr. Hobbs and my father; those are the ones I first remember. Mr. Stockin, the teacher, was more sober than usual on this great day, but he used to reassure us kindly, and be very much disappointed because we could not all have prizes. How hot it used to be! how I can see the familiar faces and smell the wilting oak leaves on the graceful ceiling and rafters overhead.
It was a little hard to begin this rambling paper, but it is a great deal harder to end it. I wish that other old scholars would follow me and write something of what they remember. I should like to hear about Dr. Gray's time at the Academy, perhaps the most interesting years of any. How few of the younger scholars know anything about that wandering Oxford scholar who liked his work and who gave the school an impulse which it did not lose for many years. His grave should not be unmarked and neglected as it is in the Old Fields burying ground. Mr. Goodwin's scholars, too, remember him with love and gratitude and owe to him much of their knowledge of good books. For my part I am as grateful to my fellow scholars as to my teachers for lessons of patience and of generosity and thoughtfulness. I have watched many of them lift and carry the burdens of life with closer sympathy and truer affection than they have ever suspected.
"My School Days" appeared in The Berwick Scholar I,i (October, 1887), p. 1. The essay was not illustrated. The illustrations shown here appeared with the original publication of "The Old Town of Berwick," by Jewett.
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great view: These views are no longer seen from Berwick Academy because of trees, but in the 1800s the landscape was open agricultural countryside. (WP)
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Searsport ... Lisbon ... Havre ... the Hague .. Bombay: Searsport is a coastal town south of Bangor, Maine. Lisbon is a port city in Portugal, Le Havre on the English Channel in France, The Hague in southwest Netherlands, Bombay on the west coast of India.
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boarding house: In The Old Academy on the Hill, Marie Donahue records that The Hayman House on Vine Street had since the 1850s served as Berwick Academy's boarding house, "for pupils whose families do not reside in the village," according to the school catalog. (WP)
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Trinidad: Trinidad is 90 km from Cienfuegos, in central Cuba. A colonial sugar-producing town (http://www.netssa.com/trinidad.html), also known as a haven for smugglers through the late 1700s, it attracted an influx of French planters following Haiti's slave revolt of the early 1800s. Through this period, several South Berwick merchants, including Jewett's grandfather and great uncle, traded in Cuba and the Caribbean, but why Cuban families would have sent young people to Berwick Academy in the early years of the Civil War is not clear. A connection could perhaps have been a merchant such as John Holmes Burleigh, who had been at sea for seven years after graduating from Berwick Academy in 1837, and returned with a fortune with which he took control of the local woolen mill. In 1862, he represented South Berwick in the Maine House of Representatives, and in 1864, Jewett's senior year at Berwick Academy, he became a trustee. He served in the U. S. Congress in the 1870s, and built a hillside mansion next door to the school.
Foreign nationals in South Berwick would have been rarities in the 1800s. Mary Jewett, in her late 19th century essay about South Berwick Village before the fire of 1870, describes the Main Street business area across from the Jewett House. One structure was owned by Noah Pike. "The Pike building was much larger than its surrounding neighbors and held accommodations for two families above the two stores, one being the Deacon's harness shop, and the other had a changing tide of affairs. For some time a Cuban, Ambuday by name, had a barbers shop there, and in his spare hours made the neighborhood cheerful by the tinkle of his guitar and his songs, greatly to the pleasure of the school children." Edward B. Pike (1841-1928) wrote, in a similar essay, "Next the building owned by Noah Pike a harness maker and in a part of it by one Ambuday a Barber said to be a Spaniard who used to sit on the front steps and play a guitar in the evening." Whether Ambuday had any connection to Sarah Orne Jewett's class at Berwick Academy is unknown. The above noted essays are found in the Old Berwick Historical Society archives. (WP)
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the war: The American Civil War, 1861-1865.
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crowded pews: A list of South Berwick soldiers who served in the Civil War is engraved on the monument at Portland Street and Agamenticus Road. (WP)
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Stockin ... Grant: Marie Donahue identifies this teacher as Abner Stockin, and notes in The Old Academy that the trustees specially commended him in 1864, Jewett's senior year. Stockin served as preceptor (headmaster) throughout Jewett's enrollment, from 1861-64. (WP) Ulysses S. Grant (1822-1885) became the general in chief of the Union Armies during the American Civil War in 1864. His capture of Richmond, Virginia in 1865 was decisive in bringing an end to the war. He was President of the United States 1869-1877.
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Kennebunk: A town on the Mousam River, south of Portland, Maine.
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Hans Andersen: Hans Christian Andersen (1805-1875) was a popular Danish writer of novels, stories, and fairy-tales.
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old days: Most of the Academy's graduates of the Civil War generation - those who might have become South Berwick's leading citizens -- left the area as adults, as the local mill-based economy faltered and was not soon replaced by other opportunities. (WP)
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Colonel Peirce ... Mr. John P. Lord and Mr. Cogswell and Mr. Hayes the President, ... Mr. Hobbs and my father:
Colonel Peirce has not been identified.
John Perkins Lord, Esq. (1786-1877), son of Berwick Academy co-founder General John Lord, graduated from Harvard College in 1805, studied law with Daniel Webster and Jeremiah Mason in Portsmouth, and became a member of the legislature. He was also a merchant in Portsmouth and an officer of customs in Boston. Lord may have been a key figure in the construction of the Portsmouth Manufacturing Company cotton textile mill at South Berwick's river landing around 1830. He was a Berwick Academy trustee for more than 50 years. (Old Berwick Historical Society)
In the 1860s, William Lambert Cogswell (b. 1806) initiated prize books and gold medals awarded to leading students . Jewett herself won a prize book, according to Marie Donahue in The Old Academy on the Hill; Cogswell prizes are awarded to this day. Cogswell was the son of Northend Cogswell (1764-1837) and Elizabeth Lambert of South Berwick. Northend Cogswell may have been a lawyer, and another son, Charles Northend Cogswell (1797-1843), became a law partner of William Allen Hayes, Berwick Academy's president from 1832-1851. Donahue says William Lambert Cogswell was director of the Astor Library in New York City, precursor to New York Public Library, founded by the legacy of John Jacob Astor (http://www.nypl.org/admin/pro/nypl.info.html). It is difficult to confirm this, but Cogswell perhaps was related to Astor Library superintendent Joseph Green Cogswell (1786-1871) (Columbia Encyclopedia, http://www.bartleby.com/65/co/Cogswell.html ): "American librarian and bibliographer, b. Ipswich, Mass. After studying abroad, Cogswell taught mineralogy and geology at Harvard and became librarian in 1821. In 1823 he helped to found the Round Hill School at Northampton, Mass. He superintended the Astor Library in New York City (now part of the New York Public Library) and was librarian from 1848 to 1861 and trustee to 1864."Francis Brown HayesFrancis Brown Hayes, son of William Allen Hayes, and president of the Boston and Maine Railroad, according to Donahue, assumed the presidency of the Berwick Academy trustees following his father's death, and served from 1854-1885, from the time of the reconstruction of the school following the arson fire of 1851, through the Civil War and Jewett's student days, up until just two years before Jewett wrote this article. A portrait and a marble bust of Francis B. Hayes are displayed in Fogg Memorial Library at the Academy.
Hiram H. Hobbs was secretary of the trustees from 1846-1883, and was succeeded by his son Charles C. Hobbs from 1893 to 1913 (Old Academy on the Hill). Hiram H. Hobbs (1802-1884 according to South Berwick Maine Record Book, the 1967 cemetery guide by John Eldridge Frost) married a descendant of Thomas and Elizabeth Wallingford, whose family are models for characters in The Tory Lover.
Charles Cushing Hobbs was born April 7, 1835 (Vital Records of Berwick, North Berwick and South Berwick). See the Charles Cushing Hobbs Talk.
The school building where this likely took place was built in the early 1850s and was torn down after the construction of Fogg Memorial in 1894. (WP)
Jewett's father was Dr. Theodore Jewett (1815-1878).
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Dr. Gray: Donahue writes in Old Academy: "Though Dr. J. B. M. Gray was headmaster for only a year, he so moved his students that upon his untimely death they planted an oak tree at his grave site in the Old Fields Burying Ground and placed a plaque on a huge field stone with this inscription:
This tablet and oak tree mark the grave of Dr. J. B. M. Gray, an Oxford man who from 1855-57 was preceptor of Berwick Academy; an inspiring teacher of vast learning and greatly beloved. (WP)
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Mr. Goodwin's scholars: Ichabod Goodwin, a graduate of Berwick and Bowdoin and a tutor at the college, replaced Dr. Gray as preceptor in 1856-57. His portrait is in the Berwick Academy archives. In Old Academy, Donahue quotes Susan Hayes Ward, a student who later became literary editor of The Independent, a New York weekly edited by her brother, William Hayes Ward (the Wards published the young Robert Frost). Susan Ward said of her old teacher, whom she called the most inspiring she had ever had: "He loved the study of language… any language -- Greek, Latin, German, Spanish, French, all delighted him. He appreciated the beauty and power of words." Donahue continued: "A great admirer of Abraham Lincoln's way with words long before the country at large recognized his greatness, Mr. Goodwin read to his students choice passages from Lincoln's debates with Douglas and his electrifying speech at Cooper Union. A silver cup that Headmaster Goodwin received from his grateful students graces the mantel in the headmaster's office " (in 1991). Goodwin was related to Gov. Ichabod Goodwin, a Berwick alumnus and trustee of the 1850s, who served as governor of New Hampshire during the Civil War. (WP)
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Edited by Terry Heller, Coe College, and annotated by Wendy Pirsig, Old Berwick Historical Society, and Terry Heller.
If you find errors or items needing annotation, please contact the site manager.