The Life and Death of the Ipswich Grammar School Trust: Is Enduring Dead Hand Control Possible?
ACTEC Journal, Forthcoming
21 Pages Posted: 24 Jun 2014
Date Written: June 9, 2014
This article examines the reasons for the 360-year longevity of the Ipswich (Mass.) Grammar School trust, which was in force from 1652 to 2012, the longest-running charitable trust in American history. It concludes that the cornerstone of the trust’s longevity was the emphasis of its major donor, the Puritan William Paine, on open-handed contribution to the community, rather than dead hand control. A wealthy merchant and landowner and friend of Massachusetts Bay Colony Governor John Winthrop and his son, Paine imbued his commercial activities with a profound civic-mindedness.
A 1647 law required the establishment of a grammar school by any town within the Colony that had 100 families or more. The town of Ipswich, where Paine then resided, established a formal trust in 1652 to fund the school. Upon his death in 1660, Paine devised a unique parcel of land called Little Neck to the trust, whose trustees (“feoffees”) were the elders of Ipswich. The only restriction on Paine's gift of the land “forever” was that the property not be “sold or wasted.”
Although the trust was terminated by agreement of the feoffees and their tenants, and approved by the Massachusetts Attorney General and Courts, the author contends that it could easily have survived with Paine’s vision intact had the feoffees, many of whom were conflicted and inexperienced, been replaced by more professional trustees. The article compares and contrasts the Ipswich trust to the less successful 17th century Hopkins trust and to the modern Barnes Foundation trust in Pennsylvania. The Hopkins trust, which created the Cambridge (Mass.) Grammar School among other entities, spawned litigation lasting 135 years. The Barnes trust, founded in the early- and mid- 20th century and containing some of the most important art works in the world, likewise triggered much litigation, which may not be over, even today. The article concludes that “the longevity a donor’s charity achieves depends on the donor’s swallowing his or her ego and leaving the charitable vehicle open to change by the living.”
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