J. L. BELL is a Massachusetts writer who specializes in (among other things) the start of the American Revolution in and around Boston. He is particularly interested in the experiences of children in 1765-75. He has published scholarly papers and popular articles for both children and adults. He was consultant for an episode of History Detectives, and contributed to a display at Minute Man National Historic Park.

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Monday, November 19, 2012

A Schoolmaster During the Siege

I’ve shared reminiscences from Benjamin Russell and Harrison Gray Otis of how their Boston public schools closed in April 1775 with the outbreak of war (and how their stories got intertwined). That was the end of town-sponsored education in Boston until after the British military left the next March. Families probably kept up lessons for little kids, teaching them to read—which had always been a private responsibility. But I didn’t think anyone was teaching the handwriting, business math, or Latin and Greek of the public schools.

Then I found a mention of Elias Dupee in Zechariah Whitman’s 1842 history of the Ancient & Honorable Artillery Company. That eventually led me to this sentence in Caleb Snow’s 1828 History of Boston:
During the siege, the town schools were suspended: a few children attended the instructions of Mr. Elias Dupee, who remained in Boston, and gratuitously devoted himself to his employment of a teacher, in which he took peculiar delight.
A number of other books repeat that statement, sometimes in different words but without additional details. Oliver A. Roberts’s later history of the Ancients & Honorables says that Dupee was a Freemason and held several town offices, including tax collector and constable. From 1764 to 1769 he regularly advertised in Boston newspapers that he was selling goods in a “New Auction-Room,” which moved around a bit; in February 1769 he was “over Mr. John Dupee, Mathematical Instrument Maker’s Shop.”

Poking around for more information about Dupee’s pedagogical career, I found that on 9 Apr 1776 private-school teacher John Leach wrote from Boston to one of the public-school masters, John Tileston, then staying at Windham, Connecticut:
The Selectmen have been so busy that I have not had opportunity to see them in a Body. The people are flocking into Town very fast, and there are great Numbers already Come in. I see Mr. Webb, and Mr. Holmes, and Mr. Parker, and several of our Friends, and they are all of opinion that you had better return to your school as soon as you can. . . . Martin [Master? Samuel] Hunt is in Town, and Dupee still continues at your Schoole
So during the siege Dupee used the North Writing School, owned by the town. The selectmen voted to reopen the public schools on 5 June. Tileston was back by then, and the records don’t mention Dupee.

At some point Dupee set up his own school in the Sandemanian meeting-house off Middle Street (now Hanover) in the North End. The Sandemanians were a Christian sect out of Scotland that had won over some locals in the decade before the Revolution. Many left with the British troops. On 5 Oct 1785, selectmen Moses Grant and John Andrews became “a Committee to treat with Mr. [Isaac] Winslow respecting a Schoolhouse lately improved by Mr. [Elias] Dupe known by the Name of Sandemons Meeting house.”

Within a month, the selectmen and Winslow on behalf of the Sandemanians agreed to a rent of £20 per year, minus what “three indifferent Persons” judged to be the fair cost of the town’s repairs “to the Wood House & Necessarys.” That suggests Dupee may not have been teaching in that building very recently; he was the latest user, but perhaps not a recent one.

That building became known as the Middle Street Writing School and was assigned to Master Samuel Cheney. Tileston was still at the North Writing School, so it looks like the North End’s youth population was growing enough to require two schools in that part of town. In 1789 Boston undertook a big education reform, and the next year the town gave up the lease and built new schools for itself. Elias Dupee never became one of Boston’s public schoolmasters.

The 27 Dec 1800 Constitutional Telegraphe of Boston reported at the top of its list of deaths: “Suddenly, on Wednesday last at Dedham Mr. Elias Dupee, formerly a Schoolmaster in this town, Aged 74.” Dedham town records say he died “of old Age” at the house of Daniel Baldwin, where he was boarding, and was aged 76. Some sources say Dupee had been born in 1716, and was thus 84.

TOMORROW: The Constitutional Telegraphe?!

[The thumbnail above shows the historical marker for the site of teacher John Tileston’s house in the North End, courtesy of Leo Reynolds’s Flickr stream under a Creative Commons license.]

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