Return to Boscawen, Part 1

wp-1469634912831.jpgThis is the first in a series of blog posts on my recent visit to Boscawen, New Hampshire, where I learned about the first two preceptresses of the Jacksonville Female Academy, Sarah Choate Crocker (1833-1835) and Emily Preston Price (1835-1837). Today’s post offers an introductory photo essay to establish a sense of place and show off the efforts of volunteers with the Boscawen and Webster Historical Societies. I owe them a debt of gratitude for their enthusiasm and kindness.

The Boscawen Academy was founded in 1828, with Sarah Crocker as the first preceptress of the female department. The building (pictured above), served as a school until the 1960s and is now home to a museum operated by the Boscawen Historical Society. As you know, I’m an advocate for local history, and the Boscawen Historical Society is a perfect example of how a crew of dedicated volunteers can be incredibly effective in preserving the past.

Arriving at the school house, I met Elaine Clow, Librarian and Secretary of the Boscawen Historical Society, who showed me in and let me pull on a heavy rope just inside the door that rang the Revere bell (donated by Daniel Webster) – the same bell that Sarah would have used to summon her students nearly 190 years ago. The museum contains all kinds of historical goodies, but I was at once struck by the small space, wherein Crocker taught thirty-three girls in her first year. Emily Price did not attend as a student until 1829, after which time she attended the Ipswich Female Academy under the direction of Mary Lyon and Zilphia Grant.

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The school house has two rooms, one on each floor. Downstairs follows Boscawen’s history from Native American settlement until the late 19th century, with a cool collection of agricultural implements (not featured in the photo – sorry Ag friends). If you look through the yellow doorway, you can see the rope that rings the bell.

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The upstairs room contains artifacts related more toward domestic concerns, including clothing, butter churns, children’s toys, and a beautiful quilt created in 1976 for the Bicentennial. They are currently in the process of updating the displays.

Next door to the school is the former Much-I-Do Fire station which, like the school house, is on the National Register of Historic Places. More recently, it has been converted to an office and storage facility for the historical society. Elaine pulled out some fantastic documents for me, including town histories, as well as an original 1828 catalog from the Academy. She described Boscawen in the 1830s as a thriving village, with taverns and inns housing travelers just a half-day’s journey from the capitol at Concord. It was also a center for reform-minded folks interested in temperance, abolition, women’s activism, and religious revival. It sounded to me an awful lot like Jacksonville.

Elaine let me explore the book collection wherein I found an 1833 copy of Isaac Watts’ Improvement of the Mind, edited by Joseph Emerson. Zilphia Grant studied under Emerson and it was he who encouraged her and Mary Lyon to establish female academies, so this may be evidence of Crocker’s and Price’s networks in the educational community. I also found an 1846 copy of Mitchell’s geography, which featured an etching of Illinois College. Cool stuff.

After that, we hit the road, driving through the mountains, past Daniel Webster’s first law practice, as well as his birthplace and family farm.

We arrived in the village of Webster, where we met Marjorie Blanchette, President of the the Webster Historical Society. It was a hot day, and Marjorie had already been at work placing a massive set of nine-foot mast wheels back into their historic carriage house (a contraption used to transport trees used to make ships’ masts). This photo doesn’t even do them justice. A nearby town had just used them in a parade.

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Marjorie then showed Elaine and me around the town meeting house, where Emily’s father, Rev. Ebenezeer Price, preached from 1804 to 1837. Today, the 1791 meeting house is nestled high on a hill, but it was moved in 1941 from the Blackwater River flood plain by the Army Corps of Engineers. Not one pane of glass was broken during the move, and Marjorie pointed out how the ripples in the glass proving its age.

The Webster Meeting House is now a museum. The carriage house is in the background.

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The upstairs of the Webster Meeting House, where you can still see the seams where they built the ceiling to ensure no religion permeated the civic meetings held downstairs. I sampled the benches and wondered how anyone, let alone children, sat still through long sermons.

Like Boscawen, the Webster Historical Society also houses its storage in a refurbished fire house just across from the meeting house. Marjorie took us over there and chatted with Elaine about a very exciting prospect for collaboration, while I poured over Ebeneezer’s Bible and hand-written sermons, with one from 1822 titled “Female Excellence Illustrated.” Marjorie invited me to sit down to read the manuscripts, but I was too excited and had to stand up to read them.

Elaine continued the tour, including a stop at the First Congregational Church in Webster where Ebenezer Price served as pastor from its construction in 1823 until he retired in 1837. This is where Emily Price, as a teenager, would have worshiped and listened to her father speak about “Female Excellence.” There is a parsonage next door, and though it looked to be the right era, we can’t say for sure whether Emily lived there because Elaine wasn’t sure when it was built. That just means there’s more exciting research to be done…

When I decided to head up to Boscawen, I wasn’t sure what I would find and thought perhaps there would be little beyond the school house. Elaine and Marjorie taught me so much about the area and the histories of the towns, and I am so incredibly grateful that they took the time to show me around. And now that you know where Sarah and Emily came from, we’ll think next time about how their geographies and families compelled them to move west.

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