A Child’s Ciphering Book

By Meredith Salton

Hi, it’s Meredith! The object of the week this week is a ciphering book that belonged to Philip Hasbrouck in 1793. Ciphering books held mathematical definitions as well as arithmetic exercises and problems. Recently donated to Huguenot Street, this book gives a clear view into the learning habits of the everyday child in New Paltz in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. Philip Hasbrouck was born on October 22, 1783, to Joseph Hasbrouck and Elizabeth Bevier. He probably owned this book when he was 10 years old. The book contains examples of multiplication problems, as well as other simple exercises. HHS holds a number of ciphering books in the permanent collection that were owned by descendants of New Paltz patentees. These books tell us the story of what communities valued and taught their children.

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Many ciphering books from New Paltz and the surrounding area that survive today contain religious rhetoric. There are also examples of application problems that revolved around commerce and business within the books. Though many ciphering books survived from the time, this one contains charming and interesting doodles probably drawn by Philip during his lessons. Most of them are of a man with a horse and pipe. Philip ends the book with a poem that indicates how crucial these personal ciphering books were to learning:  “Heal not this Book my Honest friend/ For fear the Gallows will be your end/ Steal not this book for fear of shame/ For in it stands the owners name/ If it loose and you it find/ Return it home for it is mine”.

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The New Paltz educational system was a fuse of Dutch and French Huguenots and focused on “three R’s”: reading, writing and some ‘rithmetic. Children would practice their handwriting by copying portions of the bible. They would do this continuously until their handwriting was perfect, as shown in the handwriting of this ciphering book. Education methods did not differ between boys and girls, because it was necessary for everyone to be able to read the bible. Along with the basics, children were taught trades to prepare them to support themselves. For example, young girls were often taught to weave cloth, and ended their schooling by their mid-teens to continue textile working. Ciphering books with doodles as sweet as Philip’s remind us that although methods and values may change, the fun mind of a child remains the same.

Sources:

Ciphering Books.” Library Muse: Inspiring Ideas from the Dartmouth College Library.  Hanover, New Hampshire: Dartmouth College Library, November 14, 2014. Web. 4 August 2016.

Starr, Linda. “Back in the Day: Lessons from Colonial Classrooms.” Education World. Colchester, CT: Education World, 2010. Web. 4 August 2016.

Shuster, Caitlin. “Huguenot Education in Colonial America.” Web. 4 August 2016.

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