By Charles M. Whipple,
Posted December 2004
The Whipple Hall school house was chartered in 1768 by 50 contributing subscribers, including George Whipple. George5 Whipple (David4, Jeremiah3, David2, John1) was born in Cumberland, RI in 1742, and moved to Providence about 1766. His son, David became of school age just after the Hall was founded. He and his three children lived and died in Providence, and were buried in the North Burial Ground. Two other of the subscriptions, or rights, went to Captain John Whipple and his son Joseph4 Whipple (John3, Joseph2, John1) who donated the land. Each right carried the privilege of sending "one Scholar to the Master's Apartment and one to the Mistress's apartment and no more."[ 1 ]
In 1667, a town education committee agreed with Joseph Whipple "for two Lotts for the small school Houses, that is, one at the upper part of the Town, and one in the lower."[ 2 ] Whipple Hall was built on the corner of Benefit and Halsey Streets. The 1638 proprietor who originally owned this property was Edward Manton. John Whipple and his father, Colonel Joseph Whipple, bought the lots in 1738 from the heirs of Thomas Arnold, the father of Richard, the second husband of Sarah Smith, Colonel Whipple's sister. The Manton property was the next lot north of the 1659/61 purchase of Captain John Whipple, about three-quarters of the way up Constitution Hill.
The construction of Whipple Hall was completed in November of 1768, at a cost of £120 old tenor, to each proprietor. It was constructed of wood, one story in height, having a hipped roof, with a belfry. George Taylor was the first teacher in the upper grade, and was compensated by tuition fees of four shillings sixpence for each scholar; an additional charge of two shillings was charged to parents who were not subscribers. The curriculum was made extremely rigid, particularly in the interest of morality, politeness, and general good conduct.
The founding of Whipple Hall was the culmination of an educational process that had commenced several decades earlier when, "Att a Towne Meetting May the 9th 1663 Thomas Olney Senior Moderator: It is ordered by this present Assembly, that 100 acrs of upland, and 6 acres of Meddow, or low land Shall be Laide out within the bounds of the Town of Providence; The which land, shall be reserved for the maintenance of A Scoole in this Towne.[ 3 ] It does not appear that progress was forthcoming for next two decades. Then in 1683, the first ever request to open a school in Providence was recorded. "My request is whereas there is an order formerly made, in this Towne, of a Grant of a purchase right of land to be layd out in the Town for ye use and Bennefitt of a Schoole; which hath nott bene yet done, my Humble request is that the same may be fullfiled or accomplished according to the tenor of the syd order, and in soe doing you will oblige your Servant to Command. Jon Whipple, Jun'r."[ 4 ] Subsequent to this petition to the town council, William Turpin was contracted to teach individual students at his residence or at theirs.
The next recorded action regarding an educational institution occurred approximately ten years later. "Towne Meeting Jan. 27, 1695-6. Where as, there hath ben a Request made unto ye Town by Jon Dexter, William Hopkins, Enenetus Olney, William Turpin, Joseph Whipple, John Smith, Philip Tillinghast, and Joseph Smith, that the Town would accommodate them with a Small spot of land to set a School House upon in some place in this Town about ye Highway called Dexter Lane or about ye Stampers hill, The Town has Considered of the mater and Do by these presents freely Grant unto ye aforesaid persons ... a Spot of Land of Forty foot square ... about the place where it may be most convenient."[ 5 ] It should be noted that, except for Turpin and Tillinghast, all the above petitioners were part of the extended Whipple family at that time. It also must be noted that genealogical literature, following the lead of Austin,[ 6 ] has erroneously supposed that the creation of Whipple Hall was due to the above town council vote.
As a consequence of the town's foresight, it does, however, appear that Turpin was finally given access to a school room on Stampers Hill at a location about 50 yards north of Olney Lane on Towne Street and across the street from the Olney Tavern, which was owned by Captain John Whipple's daughter and her husband. Unfortunately, school teaching proved financially unprofitable, so he too soon opened a tavern in that same neighborhood. Turpin died in 1709 as a noted citizen and well respected tavern owner.
It was not until 1735 that town records next mention that a Mr. George Taylor, schoolmaster, was holding classes in a chamber room of the country courthouse, next to the Friends Meeting House. This was soon followed by the founding of a 1747 school opposite the courthouse on the west side of Main Street, and the appointment of a schoolmaster in 1752. An additional school was started on the west side of the town near Broad Street. These proved sufficient for the educational needs of the community until the mid 1760s when a commission of interested townsmen proposed to build three new school buildings, two on north and south Benefit Street, the other "west of the Great Bridge." The town treasury was to be responsible for the expense of building and maintenance, and for furnishing free instruction to the children of every inhabitant of the town. This proposal was subsequently not approved by the voters. As a compromise, the commission accepted the above offer of Joseph Whipple and contracted for two buildings only. A two-story building was constructed of bricks on Meeting Street. "This building has ever since been occupied by the town and city for educational purposes."[ 7 ] Whipple Hall, as described above, was the second school built at that time.
Shortly after its creation the Hall was closed due to the Revolutionary War. From 1773 until 1781, it was instead occupied by a Council of War, which included a store of explosives. The town eventually reimbursed the extensive damage done to the school during that time, placed at over 113 Spanish milled dollars. It was not until the year 1800 that the state of Rhode Island passed a free school act. At that time, a Providence committee of citizens recommended that four free schools be established ... one to be kept in Whipple Hall ... and that it be repaired.
"The Rhode Island General Assembly incorporated the Whipple Hall Society of Providence. This was an educational movement made by the proprietors of 'Whipple Hall' a building erected in the north part of Providence for a private school, which afterwards became the first district free public school, and continued for sixty years."[ 8 ] "Typical of the grammar schools was the Benefit Street school, erected on the site of Whipple Hall, a two-story brick building, 70 by 40 feet in area, enlarged in 1893 and still in use in 1950 at the corner of Benefit and Halsey Streets."[ 9 ] It is thus seen that although Colonel Whipple did not play a direct role in the founding of the Whipple Hall schoolhouse in 1695, his son and grandson, over 70 years later, decidedly did.