The Fay Family and the Fay School

Fay Lines and School Census in Southborough
Peter Fay's discussion of Southborough Fays
Portraits and Other Items from the Fay School
The Fay School was started in Southborough by a Fay wife and her sister, and it was run by Fays for decades. Others have discussed the growth of the Fay School, and the excellence of its present programs, among them Scott C. Steward in "The Fay School: A History: 1866-1986," published by the Trustees of the Fay School in 1988. It seems appropriate for this site to look at the school's "Fay Family" against the backdrop of the "Fay Family" descended from John of Marlborough and of the town of Southborough.
--from material in the Fay School Archives, used with permission
Special thanks to Mr. Stephen C. White, Headmaster, for his help and encouragement
Anyone interested in the history of Southborough does well to start with Peter Fay's Historical Sketches concerning the Town of Southboro, Mass., and other Papers, published originally in 1888. Peter Fay, born in 1807, and living at the time of the foundation of the Fay School, was a descendant of John of Marborough.
I have included a diagram of Peter's line, together with the complicated relationships among the Fays connected with the school, as well as census documents for 1850, 1860, 1870 and 1880, with discussion.
Peter begins with "Reminiscences of Childhood Days," taking us "for a little chat in the old brick school-house." His descriptions are fascinating ["The dress of the girls was a sort of linsey-woolsey, some calico, but very light under-clothing. The girls would go through snow-drifts from two to three feet deep."]. Touching on the look of the room and the windows that opened only "three inches at the top", as well as the absence of woodshed and privy until 1822 ("barbarism"!), Peter devotes considerable space to the behavior of the teachers. Larkin Newton and Phineas Gleason were condemned for physical abuse of the pupils; Barnums Rice for what amounted to mental abuse in using shame as a weapon. Those teachers who did well and fostered spirit and mind were noted also, including Burleigh Bullard, marked with special praise, and Charles Devens and William Brigham.
Three other teachers are treated at length.
"John Barrett, of Hopkinton, the famous linguist and grammarian, sometimes went to the adjoining towns and taught grammar schools, and at the same time languages. He was an intemperate man, but when teaching never used any intoxicating liquor. In the spring of 1818 or 1819, Joel Burnett got him to come to Southboro and teach school. He taught in the West district, having about twenty scholars. Joel Burnett, Calvin Newton and Temple Fay studied languages, the others grammar. He boarded at my father's. He was then writing his grammar, and he would sit up till one and two o'clock in the morning, and then go to bed and lie till breakfast time. He weighed about 250 pounds, and was the nearest to a pig of any animal I ever saw....He would sit and sing Latin, Greek and Hebrew. He was perfect in those languages. He was sometimes very cross in his school, and when his scholars did not recite right, he would say: 'Go over it again, you, and repeat it.'"
An interesting man, at least, and in great contrast to the next in manner, method and material content.
"The next were Misses Olivia Thayer and Abigail Thayer, who taught in the hall of the house owned by Fitch Winchester. Col. Jonas Ball procured the teachers. Their mode of teaching was something new for the town of Southboro. It consisted of reading, elocution, grammar, politeness of manners, how to sit in a chair, to stand, walk, to leave a room, to receive company, to courtesy, and last, though not least, how to kiss with civility--that comes very natural to some people--and to have the programme complete they had to have four little boys in the school....for the dialogue at the close of the school, they introduced four more young men, Sullivan Fay, Temple Fay, Nahum Fay and Cutting Bullard. There was a great improvement in society, especially in the fine arts."
I can't help wondering what Temple Fay made of this, to go from Latin, Hebrew and Greek to 'kissing with civility'!
Beginning his account of the setting off of Southborough [by the way, both in old times and today, both spellings are used, so that Southboro is as common as Southborough], Peter writes short biographies of "early leading men." Included are: William Ward; William Johnson; John Bellows; James Newton (Peter remarks that the name of Newton has been "more numerous than any other name in town"); John Woods; Jonathan Witt; Othniel, Samuel and Daniel Taylor; John Mathis; Timothy and Nathan Brigham; Samuel Lyscom; and John Amsden. And, of course, DAVID FAY.

The mention of David leads to a long discussion of the Fay families, with special attention paid to the three sons of Francis: Dexter, Francis Ball and Sullivan. Summarizing the exploits of these three, Peter writes that they were "cradled in poverty, but it never took away any of their manhood but made it brighter. They commenced at the lower round of the ladder and gradually ascended to the top...." By Peter's own time, in his view, the Fay family was no longer at the top in Southborough: "the name and the property are on the wane, and the glory is past."
See the full text of Peter's remarks on the Fays.
It was this Sullivan who became the guardian of Eliza and Harriet Burnett when their father died in 1845; and it was Dexter's son Sylvester, Sullivan's nephew, whom she married in 1858.
There are stories about Eliza's reasons for starting a day school with her sister Harriet (discussed by Steward, pp. 18ff, among others). What is clear is that there was a tradition of academic interest in the town and in her family. Joel Burnett, Joseph Burnett, and many of the Fays in Southborough and neighboring towns, valued and supported educational endeavors. 'Mrs. Fay's Boarding School" started with classes for a few day students, and gradually grew to a thriving community today, providing quality education to a growing extended "Fay Family."
For those who wish to read more, I recommend the following:
Fay, Peter, Historical Sketches concerning the Town of Southboro, Mass., and other Papers, 1888.
Steward, Scott C., The Fay School: A History 1866 - 1986, The Trustees of Fay School, Southborough, Massachusetts, 1988.
Noble, Richard E., Fences of Stone: A History of Southborough, Massachusetts, Peter E. Randall Publisher, 1990.