Gateway to the Classics: Ruth of Boston by James Otis
Ruth of Boston by  James Otis

Master Pormont's School

Five years after we were settled in this town of Boston, a school was set up for young people, and such children of the Indians as wished to attend were allowed to do so freely without payment, although every white man was forced to pay each year a certain amount, either in money or in goods, for the hire of the teacher, who was Master Philemon Pormont.

It must not be supposed that we children knew nothing whatsoever of reading, writing, or of doing small sums in arithmetic, up to this time. A certain portion of each day did my mother or father teach me my lessons, and when Master Pormont opened his school, I could write as fair a hand as l do now, which seems fortunate, for he was not skilful in teaching the art of writing.

As for myself, I truly believe that had my first lessons in the use of a quill come from him, I had never known how to form a letter, because of his being exceeding harsh in his ways.

A child who failed in doing at the first attempt exactly as Master Pormont thought fit, was given a sharp blow over the knuckles of the hand which held the quill, and Ezra Whitman was punished in this manner so severely on a certain day, that it was nearly a week before he was able to use his fingers. Even then the teacher declared that if the blow had been sharper, the boy would, before the pain had ceased, have known more about that which he was endeavoring to show him.


The school was first set up in the house that had been built by Josias Plastow. If you remember, he was one who had been under the discipline of the court, and it was forbidden any should call him save by the name of Josias.

Feeling that he had been harshly dealt with, Josias left Boston, and went into Plymouth to live, therefore did his dwelling belong to the town, according to the law. It was made into a schoolroom by having benches set up around the four sides, in such fashion that the scholars faced a ledge of puncheon planks, which was built against the walls to be used when we needed a desk on which to write, or to work out sums in arithmetic.

Master Pormont sat upon a platform in the center of the room, where he could keep us children well in view, and woe betide the one who neglected his task, for punishment was certain to follow.

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