Rowe-Curtis family papers  1833-1851
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Biography

In 1819, George Curtis entered the American Asylum for the Education and Instruction of the Deaf and Dumb, in Hartford. This seventeen-year-old was from Leeds, situated about 20 miles west of Augusta, in what is now Maine, but at the time was still part of Massachusetts. He was one of twenty deaf-mutes who received the support of the Massachusetts government, and this was the first time the patronage of a state was extended to an institution of benevolence beyond its own borders. Once Maine became a state, legislators had to decide whether or not to continue to provide support for students at the Asylum. In 1825, the Maine legislature appropriated $1000 a year for four years for the education of the state's deaf residents. Of the 200 people officially reported deaf and dumb, only a handful applied for funding, and nine were sent to Hartford. One of those nine was Olive S. Curtis, George's 18 year old deaf-mute sister. As is often the case with congenital deafness, two other siblings were affected as well: Ann and Ebenezer, who both entered the Asylum in 1831. Ann was 18 and Ebenezer was 11.

The Curtis family came to know an even larger family of deaf-mutes from New Gloucester, about 20 miles north of Portland, Maine. There were seven deaf-mute Rowe children, and at least five attended the Asylum. Nancy entered in 1829, at the age of 13; Nathaniel E. also in 1829, aged 12; Benjamin in 1841, aged 18; Lucy A. and Samuel in 1843, aged 15 and 18, respectively. Sister Persis and brother Washington were probably the other two deaf-mute siblings. The families most likely met while in school, and their common affliction created lasting bonds. George Curtis and Nancy Rowe got married around 1840, and several siblings remained in contact long after they left the Asylum.

The American Asylum at Hartford opened in 1817, and served as the educational institution for deaf-mutes from all over New England. Students also came from other states, like South Carolina and Georgia, that had yet to make any provision for the education of their deaf residents. The founder and first Principal was Rev. Thomas Hopkins Gallaudet (1787-1851). He resigned in 1830, due to failing health, and was succeeded by former assistant teacher Lewis Weld, older brother of reformer Theodore Dwight Weld.

After they left the Asylum, some of the Rowes and Curtises returned to farm in Maine, but others worked as trades people in New Hampshire and Vermont, and even as factory workers at the new cotton mills in Lawrence, Massachusetts. George and Nancy were two that did return to Maine, and they farmed and raised children in Leeds. Late in 1845, Nancy joined the Baptist Church, to the dismay of her old Congregationalist Church pastor, Samuel H. Shepley, whose congregation had been steadily eroding for years.