In New Hampshire, supported by taxation, the first public school opened in Hampton on May 31, 1649. It was presided over by John Legat for the education of both sexes. The sole qualification for admission of the pupils was that they be "capable of learning."
Erected in 1965 in Hampton, this marker is on the front lawn of the Centre School, on Winnacunnet Road.
Ok, where to start. I guess we start down in Massachusetts again where the Governor was busy creating new laws for the towns. This one was known as “The Old Deluder, Satan Act” of 1647. Oh my!
Here’s the first few Paragraphs of the Law (PDF):
It being one chief project of that old deluder, Satan, to keep men from the knowledge of the Scriptures, as in former times by keeping them in an unknown tongue, so in these latter times by persuading from the use of tongues, that so that at least the true sense and meaning of the original might be clouded and corrupted with false glosses of saintseeming deceivers; and to the end that learning may not be buried in the grave of our forefathers, in church and commonwealth, the Lord assisting our endeavors.
It is therefore ordered that every township in this jurisdiction, after the Lord hath increased them to fifty households shall forthwith appoint one within their town to teach all such children as shall resort to him to write and read, whose wages shall be paid either by the parents or masters of such children, or by the inhabitants in general, by way of supply, as the major part of those that order the prudentials of the town shall appoint; provided those that send their children be not oppressed by paying much more than they can have them taught for in other towns.
Actually, teaching children to read and write for the primary purpose of reading and studying the Bible isn’t a bad idea (Don’t tell the NEA or ACLU). There is however a historical story that should be looked at. Witches! Oh yeah!
Though Salem, MA gets all the good Witch press, the fact is that folks back in jolly old England had been executing suspected Witches since the late 1500s, and really started going crazy in 1645. And it had spread. All the way to Massachusetts.
"The first suspicion of witchcraft in the New England colonies began at Springfield, Massachusetts, as early as 1645. Several persons were, about that time, tried and executed in Massachusetts; one at Charlestown, one at Dorchester, one at Cambridge, and one at Boston. For almost thirty years afterwards, the subject rested.”
So by 1647, the Governor wanted to make sure that expanding towns had a school where children could learn to read and write. The reasoning, is that they would be able to read the Bible themselves, and not be lied to by Witches about what it contains. Perfectly reasonable.
A bit about the first teacher in New Hampshire, John Legat, before we resume. He was a Hampton resident as early as 1640, but had since moved to Exeter. The town hired him in 1649:
"On the 2 of the 2 Mo; 1649: The Selectmen of this Towne of Hampton have agreed with John Legat for this present yeare ensueing. To teach and instruct all the children of or belonging to our Towne, both Mayle and Femaile (wch are capiable of learning) to write and read and cast accountes, (if it be desired), as diligently and as carefully as he is able to teach and instruct them; And so diligently to follow the said imploymentt att all such time and times this yeare ensueing, as the wether shall be fitting for the youth to com together to one place to be instructed; And allso to teach and instruct them once in a week, or more, in some Arthodox chatechise provided for them by their parents or masters. And in consideration hereof we have agreed to pay, or cause to be payd unto the said John Legat, the som of Twenty pounds, in corne and cattle and butter att price currant, as payments are made of such goods in this Towne, and this to be payd by us quarterly, paying £5 every quarter of the yeare after he has begun to keep school."
Not a bad curriculum. Reading, writing, some math if the parents of the students wanted it, and a religious class at least once a week that the parent would specify for their child. But I don’t think he was happy with the pay. Cows, corn and butter paid once a quarter? In October of 1650 he sued over his wages, but later dropped the complaint.
Now back to the Witches!
Hampton did end up with a Witch or two as well. The most famous is Goody Cole, who was imprisoned in 1656, beating the Salem brouhaha by 20 years.
Goodwife Eunice Cole, the witch of Hampton, was for a quarter of a century or more the terror of the people of that town, who believed her to have sold herself body and soul to the Devil. Whom we hate we also fear. The bare mention of her name would, it is said, hush crying children into silence, or hurry truant boys to school. Although she was repeatedly thrown into prison, she was yet unaccountably suffered to continue to live the life of an outcast, until death finally freed the community from their fears. In 1680 she was brought before the Quarter Sessions to answer to the charge of being a witch; and though there was "noe full proof" that she was a witch, yet for the satisfaction of the Court, which "vehemently suspects her so to be," and probably too of the people, Major Waldron, the presiding magistrate, ordered her to be imprisoned, with "a lock kept on her leg," at the pleasure of the Court.
As she was first prosecuted as early as 1656, she must have been a very old woman when this harsh sentence was pronounced. For some years–how many it is not known–Goody Cole lived alone in a hovel which stood a little way back from the spot where the Academy now  stands; and in this wretched hut, without a friend to soothe her last moments, she miserably died. Several days elapsed before her death became known; and even then, such was the fear her supposed powers had inspired, that it required a great deal of courage on the part of the inhabitants to force an entrance into her cabin, where she lay dead. When this had been done, the body was dragged outside, a hole hastily dug, into which it was tumbled, and then–conformably with current superstition–a stake was driven through it, in order to exorcise the baleful influence she was supposed to have possessed.
Goody Cole left quite a legacy. In 1937 the town of Hampton passed a resolution clearing her of all charges. And she was immortalized in two poems by John Greenleaf Whittaker: The Wreck of the Rivermouth, and The Changeling.
by John Greenleaf Whittier
For the fairest maid in Hampton
They needed not to search,
Who saw young Anna Favor
Come walking into church,-
Or bringing from the meadows,
At set of harvest-day,
The sweetness of the hay.
Now the weariest of all mothers,
The saddest two years’ bride,
She scowls in the face of her husband,
And spurns her child aside.
"Rake out the red coals, goodman,-
For there the child shall lie,
Till the black witch comes to fetch her
And both up chimney fly.
"It’s never my own little daughter,
It’s never my own," she said ;
"The witches have stolen my Anna,
And left me an imp instead.
"Oh, fair and sweet was my baby,
Blue eyes, and hair of gold ;
But this is ugly and wrinkled,
Cross, and cunning, and old.
"I hate the touch of her fingers,
I hate the feel of her skin ;
It’s not the milk from my bosom,
But my blood, that she sucks in.
"My face grows sharp with the torment ;
Look ! my arms are skin and bone !
Rake open the red coals, goodman,
And the witch shall have her own.
"She’ll come when she hears it crying,
In the shape of an owl or bat,
And she’ll bring us our darling Anna
In place of her screeching brat."
Then the goodman, Ezra Dalton,
Laid his hand upon her head :
"Thy sorrow is great, O woman !
I sorrow with thee," he said.
"The paths to trouble are many,
And never but one sure way
Leads out to the light beyond it :
My poor wife, let us pray."
Then he said to the great All-Father,
"Thy daughter is weak and blind ;
Let her sight come back, and clothe her
Once more in her right mind.
"Lead her out of this evil shadow,
Out of these fancies wild ;
Let the holy love of the mother
Turn again to her child.
"Make her lips like the lips of Mary
Kissing her blessed Son ;
Let her hands, like the hands of Jesus,
Rest on her little one.
Comfort the soul of thy handmaid,
Open her prison-door,
And thine shall be all the glory
And praise forevermore."
Then into the face of its mother
The baby looked up and smiled ;
And the cloud of her soul was lifted,
And she knew her little child.
A beam of the slant west sunshine
Made the wan face almost fair,
Lit the blue eyes’ patient wonder
And the rings of pale gold hair.
She kissed it on lip and forehead,
She kissed it on cheek and chin,
And she bared her snow-white bosom
To the lips so pale and thin.
Oh, fair on her bridal morning
Was the maid who blushed and smiled,
But fairer to Ezra Dalton
Looked the mother of his child.
With more than a lover’s fondness
He stooped to her worn young face,
And the nursing child and the mother
He folded in one embrace.
"Blessed be God !" he murmured.
"Blessed be God !" she said ;
"For I see, who once was blinded,-
I live, who once was dead.
"Now mount and ride, my goodman,
As thou lovest thy own soul !
Woe’s me, if my wicked fancies
Be the death of Goody Cole !"
His horse he saddled and bridled,
And into the night rode he,
Now through the great black woodland,
Now by the white-bleached sea.
He rode through the silent clearings,
He came to the ferry wide,
And thrice he called to the boatman
Asleep on the other side.
He set his horse to the river,
He swam to Newbury town,
And he called up Justice Sewall
In his nightcap and his gown.
And the grave and worshipful justice
(Upon whose soul be peace !)
Set his name to the jailer’s warrant
For Goodwife Cole’s release.
Then through the night the hoof-beats
Went sounding like a flail ;
And Goody Cole at cockcrow
Came forth from Ipswich jail.