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Memoir of a Clever New England Girl

Childhood memories of Portsmouth

One of her earliest memories, Charlotte says, was watching the 1823 procession that celebrated Portsmouth’s 200th anniversary. A year later she watched the Marquis de Lafayette pass, standing in his carriage. "Wave your handkerchief!" her grandmother said. After the parade it rained, she says, and her brothers dug up a whole basketful of artichokes.

Charlotte’s father William Haven was born in 1770, and told her about making musket balls during the American Revolution. He was friendly with attorney Daniel Webster, who often borrowed money and finally returned it, without interest, decades later.

From age five to nine Charlotte attended Miss Olive Melcher’s school. Tuition was $2 for each 12-week session. Both boys and girls were taught to sew, plus the rudiments of arithmetic, reading, writing and geography. When Charlotte found a word she could not pronounce, she would shout out "Jerusalem!" Her final projects were a sampler and shirt for her father. The single classroom in a private home was fitted out with benches on all four sites.

"The teacher’s chair was in the middle of the room," Charlotte recalled. "She kept at her side a long pole which reached to the furthest corner of the room so that she could tap and unruly, or idle, child on the head."

Entering Society

Charlotte matriculated into a private school for girls run by two unmarried sisters named Adams, then later by the Langdon sisters. Tuition doubled to $4 per term. There she first met the "aristocracy" of Portsmouth. She attended parties with children from the Portsmouth upper crust – the Cutts, Pierces, Jaffreys, Rundletts, Wentworths, Ladds, Rices and Parrots, She also took dancing lessons from "a real Frenchman" named Mr. Shaffer, practicing minuets, cotillions and quadrilles. Waltzing was not allowed. Charlotte found the upper class stiff and formal, and preferred life among the merchant class side of her family tree.

Schools frequently closed as teachers moved on, creating a patchwork education. At the "Academy" Charlotte sat silently with 100 other girls lorded over by Mr. Merrill, a harsh disciplinarian. She writes:

"The girls had a habit of taking thin pieces of rubber to school and making them by a little twist into a bubble. Then striking them against their desk, they would go off with a big noise, like an explosion. Sometimes in the midst of a death-like stillness – pop! – would go a bubble."

Charlotte was among the many girls caught with bits of rubber in her desk, She lost her chair – seating was arranged by merit -- and had to move to the back of the class. But by age 12, she had moved up to Mr. Emory’s class among the older girls, where she struggled with French. By age 16, she was studying Philosophy and Astronomy. When her older sister Sophia married that year, Charlotte proudly became "Miss Haven", the eldest girl at home. She wore the title like a badge.


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Friday, December 15, 2017 
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