Friday, February 10, 2023



As early as 1744, Ben Franklin had worried that wood as a fuel for heating and cooking was becoming scarce in the settled regions of the Thirteen Colonies. As one modern historian notes, however, old-fashioned fireplaces were “insanely inefficient,” with up to 90% of the heat disappearing up the chimney. The discovery of anthracite coal in Pennsylvania changed the dynamic later – since anthracite burned with less smoke than bituminous coal. The introduction of stoves, however, struck some as “un-American.” 

One of the first testimonials for the new fuel came in an 1825 letter written by Mathew Carey, a Philadelphia publisher, who boasted that coal kept his room “a toasty 60 degrees Fahrenheit during chilly months. ‘My feet used to be cold almost always at night, in winter,’ he wrote. ‘Since I have used this coal those grievances are removed entirely.’” 

The debate remained unsettled for several generations: 

In an 1864 essay, Harriet Beecher Stowe fulminated: “Would our Revolutionary fathers have gone barefooted and bleeding over snows to defend air-tight stoves and cooking-ranges? I trow [believe] not.” In his 1843 short story Fire Worship, Nathaniel Hawthorne argued that gathering before a flickering hearth was crucial to bringing families and citizens together.


“Social intercourse cannot long continue what it has been, now that we have subtracted from it so element as firelight,” Hawthorne fretted. “While a man was true to the fireside, so long would he be true to country and law.”


The cultural arguments piled up. Food cooked in stoves was baked, not broiled, and that, too, offended American tastes. Meanwhile, Andrew Jackson Downing, an early landscape architect, argued in 1850 that stoves were “secret poisoners,” worse than “slavery...tobacco, [or] patent medicines.”


“People were blaming coal-fired stoves for impaired vision, impaired nerves, baldness and tooth decay,” says Barbara Freese, author of Coal: A Human History. It certainly smelled less pleasant than wood. Further, coal – particularly soft coal – produces soot, which choked some towns with dangerous particulates.


Apart from the cultural backlash, coal was a pain to light. Anthracite stoves often required multiple attempts to start the flame and demanded constant fiddling with a poker. An 1827 guide for servants devoted 15 full pages to the black art. One period analysis found the new stoves added an hour of work to a housewife’s chores.


It would not be until 1885, that Americans – with increasing numbers living in burgeoning cities – would burn more coal than wood.



February 9: No candidate for president having won a majority of the electoral votes, the decision falls to the House of Representatives, as set forth by the U.S. Constitution, to decide. With each state having a single vote, the final tally is as follows: 13 states vote for John Quincy Adams, 7 for Andrew Jackson, 4 for William Crawford. 

Ladies had been excluded from the galleries of the House originally, in accordance with British precedent. But one night at a party a lady expressed her regret to Hon. Fisher Ames, of Massachusetts, that she could not hear the argument, especially his speeches. Mr. Ames gallantly replied that he knew of no reason why ladies should not hear the debates. “Then,” said Mrs. Langdon, “if you will let me know when next you intend to speak, I will make up a party of ladies and we will go hear you.”


The notice was given, the ladies went, and since then Congressional orators have always had fair hearers – with others perhaps not very fair.”  (Benjamin Perley Poole, Reminiscences; Volume 1, pp. 77-78)



The New York Times reviews Doomed Romance, which tells the story of Martha Parker, who in 1825, ran afoul of the moral police of the era. Born in Dunbarton, N.H. in 1804, she was one of eight siblings. They lost their father when they were young. 

With two elder sisters, she attended the “deeply religious” Bradford Academy, in Essex County, Mass.; the eldest, Ann Parker, soon married and went to the Palestine mission in Beirut. Teaching at another such school, Martha was besotted with the idea of “forsaking all” for Christ. 


All went well for her until, at 21, overwhelmed by a crush of courting during the summer of 1825, she made a series of romantic missteps. Fatefully, she dallied with [Thomas] Tenney, her second cousin, known to her since childhood, an earnest young man redolent of the “odor of sanctity” who had first courted another of her older sisters, Emily. His proposal rejected by Emily, he turned to Martha, proposing again and causing sisterly astonishment over his fickle affections. Martha turned him down twice but that summer changed her mind, dangling before him the prospect of winning his “highest earthly happiness.” His affections violently rekindled, he decided that “she loved me ardently.” She and Tenney became engaged that December.


(Christine Leigh Heyrman, the author of Doomed Romance, notes that double standards were common in that era, as always. One in five New England brides, she says, reached the altar in a pregnant state.) 

Martha’s problems revolve around Tenny, and two other suitors of greater or lesser success. The second is Elisha Jenney, a student at Dartmouth, who tries to win her affection but fails. The third is Elnathan Girdley, a Yale grad preparing to go to Palestine “to minister to the heathen,” as the Times reviewer notes. When Martha first accepts Tenney’s proposal, then tosses him over for Gridley, who seems to offer her a chance for “missionary glory,” again, as the reviewer puts it, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions becomes involved and an investigation results. No taint of scandal can be allowed to tarnish the reputation of their missionaries, in an era when some who travel overseas become martyrs, subjects of great admiration and spark for significant donations. 

Martha breaks with Tenney, accepts a proposal from Gridley, and then faces Tenny’s wrath. He labels her “a base girl, a deceiver, a liar” in one letter. He comes to believe it is his duty to keep such a woman from serving as a missionary in, of all places, the Holy Land, or anywhere else. Jenney testifies against her, and, says the reviewer, the investigating board “grilled poor Martha like a trout.” 

It was even said that if she married Gridley, it would be tantamount to “adultery.” Now she broke with her second fiancĂ©e. Gridley headed overseas by himself, and soon died of some disease in Turkey. Under great pressure, Martha Parker agrees to marry Tenny, and is, says the reviewer, “silenced forthwith.” 

The review continues: 

Mining missionary records, Heyrman unearths some astonishing revelations. Even as church leaders were turning the screws on women, they were tolerant (given what would come later) of same-sex relationships. She quotes male partners in the mission at Beirut, Pliny Fisk and Levi Parsons, who had pledged to “give ourselves to each other,” “our hearts knit together as the heart of one man.” A pair of Virginia Methodists went further, with one “covenant brother” telling the other that he dreamed of “kissing you with the kisses of my Mouth.” She finds revenge too: The Tenneys’ eldest daughter, Mary Eliza, grew up to join the ranks of foreign missionaries with her aunt Ann’s help, fulfilling her mother’s ambition. She became a popular writer, and Heyrman catches her, in her fiction, dissing the very prototype of her “unprepossessing” father.



Boston has several horse-drawn omnibus lines in operation. By 1845 “some twenty lines carried the Bostonian about his business quickly and expeditiously.” In this era, Oscar Handlin wrote, only one Bostonian in 64 was brought to court. Only one in 107 was convicted. (21-18.)

President John Adams dies.

President Jefferson dies the same day.


John Adams dies. A few of his thoughts on life: 

“To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.” 

“A scholar is always made alone.” 

“He was no man’s enemy but his own.”   (Referring to his on son Charles’ death from alcoholism) 

“The longer I live, the more I read, the more patiently I think, and the more anxiously I inquire, the less I seem to know...Do justly.  Love mercy.  Walk humbly.  This is enough.” 

“He who loves the Workman and his work, and does what he can to preserve and improve it, shall be accepted of Him.” 

“Will you tell me how to prevent riches from producing luxury?  Will you tell me how to prevent luxury from producing effeminacy, intoxication, extravagance, vice and folly?   (Letter to Thomas Jefferson)

The home of future presidents.

Quincy, Massachusetts.



Massachusetts passes a law that requires any community of more than 500 inhabitants to maintain a school higher than the primary grades. “But,” says Ruth Finley, “there was much opposition to this levying on public funds.” (113/232)



Charles Carroll, the last surviving signer of the Declaration of Independence “laid the first stone of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad.” (124/345)



Van Loon on Andrew Jackson’s election: “he assumed complete charge of affairs and for the next eight years he ruled the country by the grace of his own will…at heart he was a conservative.” (124/317) 

The emancipation of the black man, because it was accompanied by a costly and bloody war, has attracted a great deal of historical attention. The emancipation of the white man, however, is apt to be overlooked because it took place without any interference on the part of the executioner and his gallows. But in this movement to set the white man free from the last shackles of his ancient serfdom the new dictator played a prominent part – perhaps not a conscious one but a very important one all the same.


The people of the frontier might not care whether they had ever heard of Europe or not, but Europe was beginning to hear of them and the success of the great experiment in popular government in America encouraged them in their own efforts to shake off the yoke that had become unbearable. (124/318-319)


The democratic ideal, in the hands of the wrong people, can do more damage in a shorter space of time than any other form of government ever devised by the ingenuity of man. Worst of all, it had (and still has) a terrible tendency to encourage mediocrity and to make a virtue of ignorance and inefficiency. (124/320)



Charles Francis Adams has asked Abigail Brooks to marry him. Now he has a problem. He must dump a mistress. 

In the evening I went through one of those disagreeable scenes which occurs sometimes in life. No man of sense will ever keep a Mistress. For if she is valuable, the separation when it comes is terrible, and if she is not, she is more plague than profit. Ever since my engagement, I have been preparing for a close of my licentious intrigues, and this evening I cut the last cord which bound me. What a pity that experience is always to be learned over and over by each successive generation. (45/71)


In a novel of this era (Smith doesn’t give a date), the heroine is against anything like women’s rights. 

The heroine is clear, that “women were secondary objects of creation. … Nor have we any right to require of superior men an example of the virtue to which he would train us. … Our state of society is a dependent one,” she says, “and it is ours to be good and amiable, whatever may be the conduct of the men to whom we are subjected.” Helen Wells, in the Step-Mother, endorsed the axiom that the man was “lord and master, from whose will there is no appeal.” The unmarried woman was an object of amusement or derision. Often, as in Constantia Neville, a “tall meagre female…a virago disappointed in the accomplishment of her favorite wish.” (45/72)  



Cherokees helped make slave raids with settlers vs. other tribes as early as 1710. Helped fight Shawnees in 1750s; traded with English. 

Fought in 1760 after murder of 40 men, who had served the British (murderers were scalp hunters); punished by loss of land when they lost war. 

Sold land in Kentucky, 1770s. Sided with British in Revolution; lost land east of the Blue Ridge. 

About 1803 began to accept Christian teachings, live like whites, helped fight Creek “Red Sticks” in 1815, turned down Tecumseh’s offer to join broad coalition of tribes; meanwhile tried to adopt settler ways (newspaper, courts, laws patterned after U.S., George Guess, known as Sequoia, develops 86-letter alphabet; schools set up; own slaves!) 

Later: they help the Confederacy in the Civil War.


The governor of Georgia sent surveyors out across their lands despite federal treaties with the tribes. The Cherokee went to court and the U. S. Supreme Court ruled for them. Andrew Jackson said, “John Marshall has made his decision; now let him enforce it.” Politically, it made good sense to stoke fear of the natives and to ignore their treaty rights; and AJ was a politician. (Life History of the United States: 1829-1849, p. 42) 

McLaughlin, (56/317-318): 

The Cherokees especially were well advanced. They had churches, schools, and courts of law, and had well-tilled fields and comfortable homes…Georgia desired the Indians’ lands, and was not willing to wait. She demanded the immediate removal of the tribes beyond the Mississippi. A treaty was made by the National Government providing for the sale of most of the land of the Creeks. But Georgia would not wait until the time came for carrying out the treaty. State surveyors were ordered into the territory of the Creeks. The president forbade the survey. At first the State obeyed, but finally became very impatient. The Governor announced the doctrine of State sovereignty, and asserted that the State had an equal authority with the United States ‘to pass upon its rights.’ Adams was prepared to protect the Indians in their property, and ordered the United States District Attorney and marshal to arrest any one endeavoring to survey the Indian lands west of a certain line. The Governor prepared for resistance, and ordered the militia officers of the State to be in readiness with their forces to repel invasion. The majority in Congress were opposed to Adams and did not wish to support him, and he hesitated, naturally, to bring on civil war on such an issue. The Creeks were soon compelled to leave their lands. About the same time encroachments were made upon the Cherokee territory, and the final outcome was much the same as in the case of the Creeks.

Both the Creeks and Cherokee would be driven from their lands.



Sam Houston runs into marital troubles: 

Soon after his inauguration he had married an accomplished young lady, to whom he one day intimated, in jest, that she apparently cared more for a former lover than she did for him. “You are correct,” she said earnestly. “I love Mr. Nickerson’s little finger better than I do your whole body.” Words ensued, and the next day Houston resigned his Governorship, went into the Cherokee country, west of the Arkansas River, adopted the Indian costume, and became an Indian trader. He was the best customer supplied from his own whiskey barrel…


Then he heard about the trouble in Texas. “A friend agreeing to accompany him, he cast off his Indian attire, again dressed like a white man, and never drank a drop of intoxicating beverage afterward.” (Benjamin Perley Poole, Reminiscences; Volume 1, pp. 369-370.)

Sam Houston - after he became famous.



January 26-27: Daniel Webster and Robert Hayne engage in debate over the future of the country. Webster’s reply to Hayne is called “the most famous Senate speech” on the U.S. Senate’s own website. Hayne stirred Webster to respond, after insisting that the nation was a collection of sovereign states, and, as such, each sovereign state retained the right to “nullify” laws passed by the federal government if they infringed on state interests. 

The senator from Massachusetts offers his rebuttal: 

“I hold it to be a popular government, erected by the people.” 

…It is, Sir, the people’s Constitution, the people’s government, made for the people, made by the people, and answerable to the people. The people of the United States have declared that the Constitution shall be the supreme law. We must either admit the proposition, or dispute their authority. The States are, unquestionably, sovereign, so far as their sovereignty is not affected by this supreme law. But the State legislatures, as political bodies, however sovereign, are yet not sovereign over the people. So far as the people have given the power to the general government, so far the grant is unquestionably good, and the government holds of the people, and not of the State governments. We are all agents of the same supreme power, the people. The general government and the State governments derive their authority from the same source. Neither can, in relation to the other, be called primary, though one is definite and restricted, and the other general and residuary. The national government possesses those powers which it will be shown the people have conferred upon it, and no more. All the rest belongs to the State governments, or to the people themselves. So far as the people have restrained State sovereignty, by the expression of their will, in the Constitution of the United States, so far, it must be admitted. State sovereignty is effectively controlled….the Constitution has ordered the matter differently. To make war, for instance, is an exercise of sovereignty; but the Constitution declares that no State shall make war. To coin money is another exercise of sovereign power, but no State is at liberty to coin money. Again, the Constitution says that no sovereign State shall be so sovereign as to make a treaty… I must now beg to ask, Sir, Whence is this supposed right of the States derived? Where do they find the power to interfere with the laws of the Union? Sir the opinion which the honorable gentleman maintains is a notion founded in a total misapprehension, in my judgment, of the origin of this government, and of the foundation on which it stands. I hold it to be a popular government, erected by the people; those who administer it, responsible to the people; and itself capable of being amended and modified, just as the people may choose it should be. It is as popular, just as truly emanating from the people, as the State governments. It is created for one purpose; the State governments for another. It has its own powers; they have theirs. There is no more authority with them to arrest the operation of a law of Congress, than with Congress to arrest the operation of their laws. We are here to administer a Constitution emanating immediately from the people, and trusted by them to our administration. It is not the creature of the State governments. It is of no moment to the argument, that certain acts of the State legislatures are necessary to fill our seats in this body. That is not one of their original State powers, a part of the sovereignty of the State. It is a duty which the people, by the Constitution itself, have imposed on the State legislatures; and which they might have left to be performed elsewhere, if they had seen fit. So they have left the choice of President with electors; but all this does not affect the proposition that this whole government, President, Senate, and House of Representatives, is a popular government. ... The people, then, Sir, erected this government. They gave it a Constitution, and in that Constitution they have enumerated the powers which they bestow on it…They have made it a limited government. They have defined its authority. They have restrained it to the exercise of such powers as are granted; and all others, they declare, are reserved to the States or the people. But, Sir, they have not stopped here. If they had, they would have accomplished but half their work. No definition can be so clear, as to avoid possibility of doubt; no limitation so precise, as to exclude all uncertainty. Who, then, shall construe this grant of the people? Who shall interpret their will, where it may be supposed they have left it doubtful? ... This, Sir, was the first great step. By this the supremacy of the Constitution and laws of the United States is declared. The people so will it. No State law is to be valid which comes in conflict with the Constitution, or any law of the United States passed in pursuance of it. But who shall decide this question of interference? To whom lies the last appeal? This, Sir, the Constitution itself decides also, by declaring, “That the judicial power shall extend to all cases arising under the Constitution and laws of the United States.” These two provisions cover the whole ground.


McMaster notes that there was a time when the schoolboys (as least in the North) could recite many o Webster’s lines from speeches: 

“Our country, our whole country, and nothing but our country.” 

“Thank God. I, I also, am an American.” 

“Liberty and union, now and forever, one and inseparable.”



The high-crowned fur hat had long been a status symbol in Europe; and there was an enormous demand for beaver pelts. The Mountain Men filled the demand. “It was,” Time-Life explains, “an incredibly hard life, lonely and perilous, and it demanded a degree of self-reliance rarely found even among Indians. Its appeal was its independence.”



[The Great Plains] were not entirely uninhabited. Over them wandered bands of Indians mounted on fleet ponies; white hunters and trappers, some trapping for themselves, some for the great fur companies; and immense herds of buffalo, and in the south herds of wild horses. The streams still abounded with beaver. Game was everywhere, dear, elk, antelope, bears, wild turkeys, prairie chickens, and on the streams wild ducks and geese. Here and there were villages of savage and merciless Indians. (97-344)

The Native Americans of the Great Plains have no idea what's coming.

A tidal wave of white settlers - and a few blacks.


NOTE TO TEACHERS: McMaster’s last sentence passes as history in 1907. Typing this in the era of “critical race theory,” one wonders if history is ever entirely real, since historians have their own biases.



Halleck gives us a good view of Daniel Webster. We place his story in 1830, when he gave one of his greatest speeches: 

In Webster’s youth, a stilted, unnatural style was popular for set speeches. He was himself influenced by the prevailing fashion, and we find him writing to a friend:


“In my melancholy moments I presage the most dire calamities. I already see in my imagination the time when the banner of civil war shall be unfurled; when Discord’s hydra form shall set up her hideous yell, and from her hundred mouths shall howl destruction through our empire.”


Such unnatural prose impresses us to-day as merely an insincere play with words, but in those days many thought a stilted, ornate style as necessary for an impressive occasion as Sunday clothes for church. An Oratorical Dictionary for the use of public speakers, was actually published in the first part of the nineteenth century. This contained a liberal amount of sonorous words derived from the Latin, such as “campestral,” “lapidescent,” “obnubilate,” and “adventitious.” Such words were supposed to give dignity to spoken utterance. …


Webster was cured of such tendencies by an older lawyer, Jeremiah Mason, who graduated at Yale about the time Webster was born. Mason, who was frequently Webster’s opponent, took pleasure in ridiculing all ornate efforts and in pricking rhetorical bubbles. Webster says that Mason talked to the jury “in a plain conversational way, in short sentences, and using no word that was not level to the comprehension of the least educated man on the panel. This led me to examine my own style, and I set about reforming it altogether.” Note the simplicity in the following sentences from Webster’s speech on The Murder of Captain Joseph White:


“Deep sleep had fallen on the destined victim, and on all beneath his roof. A healthful old man, to whom sleep was sweet, and the first sound slumbers of the night held him in their soft but strong embrace. ... The face of the innocent sleeper is turned from the murderer, and the beams of the moon, resting on the gray locks of his aged temple, show him where to strike.”


In his speech on The Completion of the Bunker Hill Monument, we find the following paragraph, containing two sentences which present in simple language one of the great facts in human history:


 “America has furnished to the world the character of Washington! And if our American institutions had done nothing else, that alone would have  entitled them to the respect of mankind.”


He knew when illustrations and figures of rhetoric could be used to
advantage to impress his hearers. In discussing the claim made by Senator
Calhoun of South Carolina that a state could nullify a national law,
Webster said:


  “To begin with nullification, with the avowed intent, nevertheless, not
  to proceed to secession, dismemberment, and general revolution, is as if
  one were to take the plunge of Niagara, and cry out that he would stop
  half way down.”


To show the moral bravery of our forefathers and the comparative greatness of England, at that time, he said: 

“On this question of principle, while actual suffering was yet afar off, they raised their flag against a power, to which, for purposes of foreign conquest and subjugation, Rome, in the height of her glory, is not to be compared; a power which has dotted over the surface of the whole globe with her possessions and military posts, whose morning drumbeat, following the sun, and keeping company with the hours, circles the earth with one continuous and unbroken strain of the martial airs of England.”


For nearly a generation prior to the Civil War, schoolboys had been declaiming the peroration of his greatest speech, his Reply to Hayne (1830): 

“When my eyes shall be turned to behold for the last time the sun in heaven, may I not see him shining on the broken and dishonored fragments of a once glorious Union; on States dissevered, discordant, belligerent; on a land rent with civil feuds, or drenched, it may be, in fraternal blood!”


This peroration brought Webster as an invisible presence into thousands of homes in the North. The hearts of the listeners would beat faster as the declaimer continued: 

“Let their last feeble and lingering glance rather behold the gorgeous ensign of the republic, now known and honored throughout the earth, still full high advanced, its arms and trophies streaming in their original luster, not a stripe erased or polluted, nor a single star obscured….”


When the irrepressible conflict came, it would be difficult to estimate how many this great oration influenced to join the army to save the Union. The closing words of that speech, “Liberty and Union, now and forever, one and inseparable!” kept sounding like the voice of many thunders in the ear of the young men, until they shouldered their muskets.



As New York City grows, it is decided that a line of omnibuses should be started.

Uber - before Uber was invented.


August 28: With the Baltimore & Ohio Railroad now in operation, proponents of the new form of transportation stage a race between a horse pulling a car and a locomotive pulling the same load. 

The horse loses.


McMaster describes the state of transportation in the United States at that time, including the battle between advocates of canal vs. rail travel: 

Passengers traveled on the canal in packet boats, as they were called. The hull of such a craft was eighty feet long and eleven feet wide, and carried on its deck a long, low house with flat roof and sloping sides. In each side were a dozen or more windows with green blinds and red curtains. When the weather was fine, passengers sat on the roof, reading, talking, or sewing, till the man at the helm called “Low bridge!” when everybody would rush down the steps and into the cabin, to come forth once more when the bridge was passed. Walking on the roof when the packet was crowded was impossible. Those who wished such exercise had to take it on the towpath. Three horses abreast could drag a packet boat some four miles an hour.


While the means of travel were improving, the inns and towns even along the great stage routes had not improved. “When you alight at a country tavern,” said a traveler, it is ten to one you stand holding your horse, bawling for the hostler while the landlord looks on. Once inside the tavern every man, woman, and child plies you with questions. To get a dinner is the work of hours. At night you are put into a room with a dozen others and sleep two or three in a bed. In the morning you go outside to wash your face and then repair to the barroom to see your face in the only looking glass the tavern contains.”


These early railroads were made of wooden beams resting on stone blocks set in the ground. The upper surface of the beams, where the wheels rested, was protected by long trips or straps of iron spiked to the beam. The spikes often worked loose, and, as the car passed over, the strap would curl up and come through the bottom of the car, making what was called a “snake head.” …


Locomotives could not climb steep grades. When a hill was met with, the road had to go around it, or if this was not possible, the engine had to be taken off and the cars pulled up or let down an inclined plane by means of a rope and stationary engine. … When all the cars of the train had been pulled up in this way, they would be coupled together and made fast to a little puffing, wheezing locomotive without cab or brake, whose tall smokestack sent forth volumes of wood smoke and red-hot cinders.


The friends of canals [attacked the new railroads]. Snow, it was said, would block them for weeks. If locomotives were used, the sparks would make it impossible to carry hay or other things combustible. The boilers would blow up as they did on steamboats. Canals were therefore safer and cheaper. (97/304-307)



Lucy Larcom’s tale, A New England Girlhood, tells of her life growing up in the 1830s. McMaster recommends it. 

Like many books out of copyright, it is available online through the Gutenberg Project. 

It might bear reading. I note this passage, where Larcom (she was born in 1824, and went on to become a teacher herself) describes attending school at the home of “Aunt Hannah.” Children of all ages are enrolled, so long as they can walk and talk and learn their letters.


Aunt Hannah used her kitchen or her sitting room for a schoolroom, as best suited her convenience. We were delighted observers of her culinary operations and other employments. If a baby’s head nodded, a little bed was made for it on a soft “comforter” in the corner, where it had its nap out undisturbed. But this did not often happen; there were so many interesting things going on that we seldom became sleepy.


Aunt Hannah was very kind and motherly, but she kept us in fear of her ferule, which indicated to us a possibility of smarting palms. This ferule was shaped much like the stick with which she stirred her hasty pudding for dinner, – I thought it was the same, – and I found myself caught in a whirlwind of family laughter by reporting at home that “Aunt Hannah punished the scholars with the pudding-stick.”


There was one colored boy in school, who did not sit on a bench, like the rest, but on a block of wood that looked like a backlog turned endwise. Aunt Hannah often called him a “blockhead,” and I supposed it was because he sat on that block. Sometimes, in his absence, a boy was made to sit in his place for punishment, for being a “blockhead” too, as I imagined. I hoped I should never be put there. Stupid little girls received a different treatment, – an occasional rap on the head with the teacher’s thimble; accompanied with a half-whispered, impatient ejaculation, which sounded very much like “Numskull!” I think this was a rare occurrence, however, for she was a good-natured, much-enduring woman.


NOTE TO TEACHERS: I wonder what students today would say about this kind of schooling. And what was that unfortunate young African American boy sitting on the block thinking?


Larcom’s father died when she was young, leaving her mother to raise eight children by herself. The family moved to Lowell, Massachusetts and her mother started taking in boarders, girls working in the mills of the town. Lucy went to a real grammar school for the first time. 

She explains, 

For the first time in our lives, my little sister and I became pupils in a grammar school for both girls and boys, taught by a man. I was put with her into the sixth class, but was sent the very next day into the first. I did not belong in either, but somewhere between. And I was very uncomfortable in my promotion, for though the reading and spelling and grammar and geography were perfectly easy, I had never studied any thing but mental arithmetic, and did not know how to “do a sum.” We had to show, when called up to recite, a slateful of sums, “done” and “proved.” No explanations were ever asked of us.


The girl who sat next to me saw my distress, and offered to do my sums for me. I accepted her proposal, feeling, however, that I was a miserable cheat. But I was afraid of the master, who was tall and gaunt, and used to stalk across the schoolroom, right over the desk-tops, to find out if there was any mischief going on. Once, having caught a boy annoying a seat-mate with a pin, he punished the offender by pursuing him around the schoolroom, sticking a pin into his shoulder whenever he could overtake him. And he had a fearful leather strap, which was sometimes used even upon the shrinking palm of a little girl. If he should find out that I was a pretender and deceiver, as I knew that I was, I could not guess what might happen to me. He never did, however. I was left unmolested in the ignorance which I deserved. But I never liked the girl who did my sums, and I fancied she had a decided contempt for me.


There was a friendly looking boy always sitting at the master's desk; they called him "the monitor." It was his place to assist scholars who were in trouble about their lessons, but I was too bashful to speak to him, or to ask assistance of anybody. I think that nobody learned much under that regime, and the whole school system was soon after entirely reorganized.

Romance in the style of 1831.