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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Thursday, October 08, 2009

Mrs. Tinkum and Madam Jenkins: one school-mistress or two?

When we last left John Jenkins, a public crier of Boston, he had fallen down dead in his yard in May 1767. I’m hoping to find out more about his family because they might offer clues to the most common and least documented aspect of education in colonial Boston: how children learned to read before boys were old enough for the public schools.

In 1835, Benjamin Bussey Thacher published Traits of the Tea Party, based on interviews with George R. T. Hewes (1742-1840). Of Hewes’s schooling, Thacher wrote:

The education he was able to get during these few years of his errantry, consisted, so far as literary matters were concerned, in learning to read and write tolerably well. For these accomplishments he was in the first instance indebted to “Miss Tinkum,” the worthy spouse of the town-crier, who lived and labored at the bottom of Water Street, in what was called Oliver's Dock,—having a school for both boys and girls in one of the rooms of her own domicil.
The Oliver’s Dock area was close to the center of town, in an area later called Liberty Square.

There was a Susannah Tinkum who had children baptized at the First Meeting-House (also near the center of town) from 1726 to 1740. She might have been Hewes’s teacher. But I’ve found no record of her husband, John Tinkum, being a public crier. Then again, as I’ve written before, once the job stopped being an elected office, the record of who filled it becomes incomplete.

Or could “Mrs. Tinkum” be how Thacher transcribed Hewes’s memory of the wife of John Jenkins, licensed to be a public crier in 1757? That was after Hewes’s childhood, but Jenkins’s prominent role in the town might have cemented his job in Hewes’s mind.

The Rev. Dr. William Bentley (1759-1819—shown above, courtesy of SalemWeb) recalled learning to read from a Boston widow named Jenkins. On 25 June 1816, musing at age sixty about people who had lived to a very old age, Bentley wrote in his diary:
My School Mistress, Madam Jenkins, died after 96 y. of age. . . . Madam Jenkins lived with her son in Law next door to the North [Latin] School, Boston, when I kept it [1778-80].
Two years earlier Bentley had also written about “My schoolmistress, Madam Jenkins.”

In 1791, a man named John Jenkins published a book called The Art of Writing; in the Boston Gazette he advertised that many prominent Bostonians had endorsed it. Here’s a look at that part of one. Was he a son of “Madam Jenkins,” carrying on his father’s name and his mother’s business?

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