rev tompson7:30 pm (Berwick Academy)

Seth Hurd will discuss the founding of Berwick Academy and how many members of the Berwick community, including Reverend John Tompson, enthusiastically embraced the need to further the education of the youth in their growing town.

A horseback journey to Boston in January may have taken days and been hazardous for a 55-year-old rider in 1791.

But John Tompson had dedication to his mission and prevailed, returning home with a charter passed by the Massachusetts legislature and signed by Governor John Hancock, to start a school that today is Maine’s oldest educational institution, Berwick Academy.

This program will begin at 7:30 pm on Thursday, April 25, at Berwick Academy's Jeppesen Science Center on Academy Street. The public is invited and refreshments will be served.

Hurd’s lecture is part of the Old Berwick Historical Society's 2013 series of talks, walks and historical events tied to the 300th anniversary of the Berwicks’ existence as an independent town. Events will include lectures, tours and public programs focused on the history of this area of Maine and the Piscataqua during the 1600s and 1700s.  The anniversary series is made possible by member donations and by grants from the Maine Humanities Council and Kennebunk Savings.

Hurd, a 1990 Berwick Academy graduate, today holds the post of Director of Finance and Operations at the school. He teaches upper school chorus and directs theatrical production.  A resident of Acton, Maine, he directs music at the Acton Congregational Church, and is Music Director of the Granite State Choral Society.

The 1791 Berwick Academy charter called for “promoting piety, religion, and morality and for the education of youth in such languages and such of the liberal arts and sciences as the...Trustees shall direct.”  Citizens of Berwick, York, Kittery, Rollinsford, Portsmouth and Wells had raised 500 pounds to launch the school.

Tompson himself was pastor of the First Parish Church, which later became the South Berwick First Parish Federated Church of today.  In 1791, Maine was part of Massachusetts. Berwick – comprising today’s Berwick, South Berwick and North Berwick -- was founded in 1713 when it separated from Kittery. 

Parson Tompson, who was Berwick Academy’s president from 1803 to 1825, also preached throughout the Seacoast area, delivering sermons in Somersworth, Eliot, Kittery, York, Dover, Newington, Durham, Rochester, Wakefield, Portsmouth, Kennebunk, and Wells in addition to Berwick.  Tompson followed the latest ideas of his day.  He was considered an Arminian, a follower of the theology of Jacobus Arminius, a Dutch pastor and theologian in the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

In 1806 classes at Berwick Academy were held six days a week year round, with Thursday and Saturday afternoons off. Vacations of one or two weeks took place at the end of August, November, February and May.  Holidays included “annual thanksgivings, fast days and the fourth of July...[and] all town meeting days,” according to trustee minutes.

Beginning as a private school, the academy was co-ed after 1828. It served as South Berwick’s public high school from about 1886 to 1960.  Its famous graduates include John Noble Goodwin, the first territorial governor of Arizona, and authors Sarah Orne Jewett and Gladys Hasty Carroll.  

A boarding school from 1960-1974, today Berwick is an independent co-educational “country day school,” grades K-12, serving about 600 students from the Seacoast area of southern Maine and New Hampshire.

More information on the Counting House Museum and all the Old Berwick Historical Society’s programs is available at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it., or by calling (207) 384-0000.

To Read the Old Berwick Historical Society's Strategic Plan,  Click here.


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