OLD NEW ENGLAND TRAITS
... this story's actually true. If any person doubt it, I appeal To history, tradition, and to facts, To newspapers, whose truth all know and feel. BYRON
NEW YORK PUBLISHED BY HURD AND HOUGHTON Cambridge: the Riverside Press 1873
Entered, according to Act of Congress, in the year 1873, by GEORGE LUNT, in the Office of the Librarian of Congress, at Washington.
RIVERSIDE, CAMBRIDGE: STEREOTYPED AND PRINTED BY H. O. HOUGHTON AND COMPANY.
The Editor of this little volume does not deem it incumbent upon him to explain in what way the author's manuscript came into his possession. He hopes it may be enough for him to say, that the writer believed himself to be the only person whose memory retained most of the incidents and anecdotes herein recorded; and a long and familiar acquaintance with his character enables the Editor to state, that entire credence is due to his narrative of facts, written down as occurring within his own knowledge and to his relation of whatever he alleges himself to have derived from others. A slight veil of mystery seems to have been originally thrown over the story; especially in regard to the names of persons; but, as all who are familiar with the locality will at once recognize its general features, the Editor has thought it best, for the benefit of others not so well informed, to make all proper explanations on this point in the Index.
Sometimes, New England has been spoken of as devoid of the elements of romance; but perhaps this idea may be owing to the fact, that the means of presenting a different aspect of the case have not been sufficiently investigated. A similar impression has prevailed in respect to Roman history and literature, whether fabulous or otherwise; and the fathers of New England, at least, have been thought to have exhibited some of the traits, especially the simplicity and severity of character, which distinguished those more ancient worthies, whose names and deeds have been so long famous. But without making other citations, I may remark, that I am scarcely acquainted with a poem more thoroughly romantic in conception and sentiment, than "Gallus," the tenth eclogue of Virgil; and Macaulay, in his "Lays of Ancient Rome," has turned some of its legends to fine poetical account. Where can be found, for instance, a prettier, or more suggestive picture, than the passage in his "Virginia," which some inspired painter might make immortal upon canvas, as it is in verse:—
"With her small tablets in her hand, and her satchel on her arm, Home she went bounding from the school, nor dreamed of shame or harm."
Perhaps, the solemnities of the colonial history of New England may have overshadowed much of whatever poetical interest might be discovered in its private annals. It depends upon the reader, whether the present narrative may be thought in some measure to qualify the imputation in question.
OLD NEW ENGLAND TRAITS.
It was the winter of 18—, between fifty and sixty years ago. Certainly the winters of New England began earlier and were more severe than they have seemed at a later period. After the fervid heat of summer has become subdued by the progressive changes of the season, no atmosphere could be clearer, purer, more exhilarating than the prevailing tone of our October days, and this kindly influence, as if by way of preparing the human frame for the gradual approach of winter, generally extends, with occasional stormy intermissions, through November, and often very far into the frosty domain of December itself. And such snow-storms as we once endured! It may be alleged, that distance of time forbids accuracy of comparison, and that masses of snow, which appeared vast to a child, would not seem so immense to a full-grown man, and were really no more huge than some of those with which winter nowadays envelopes the ground. But facts within my memory do not admit of such an explanation, for I distinctly recollect the driving storm which continued for days and piled its accumulating heaps against the front of our dwelling-place, so as entirely to cover the windows of the lower story of the house, and to rise above the main door which was of ordinary height, and that at length we were released from this imprisonment by means of an archway to that entrance, dug through the drift by the friendly efforts of an opposite neighbor.
Our deliverer was a superannuated seaman; inspired partly, no doubt, by the good-heartedness formerly, at least, thought to be characteristic of that class of men, and, partly, by respect for the memory of my father, who had been dead for some years, in the early prime of life, leaving behind him the best of reputations as a shipmaster and a man. Perhaps Tom Trudge had, at some time, sailed under him. I well remember the triumphant air with which this ancient mariner introduced himself into the kitchen, where all the family was assembled, doffing his tarpaulin, flourishing his shovel, and cutting one or two capers, in token of his hilarity at the accomplishment of his somewhat arduous job. Of course, there were profuse thanks and congratulations on the occasion; but I recollect only, that, after the second glass of grog furnished by my mother,—a refreshment to which Tom was only too partial,—he executed another spring from the floor, snapped his fingers and cried, "Tired, ma'am!—not a bit of it! For all I've done to-day, by the blessed binnacle I should think nothing at all of jumping over a meetin-us,—yes, a meetin-us, ma'am!" to the amazement, at the idea of such a feat, of certainly all the younger fry who were present at the ceremony.
The town in which we lived was one of the very oldest of the New England settlements. Its situation is uncommonly beautiful, upon a slope descending from a moderately elevated ridge towards the bank of a noble river, which of late years has furnished more motive power to various manufacturing establishments in the towns and villages, which have sprung up on its borders, than any other stream in the world. At the time of which I write, there was not a mill throughout its whole extent. It is told, that Louis Philippe, when a fugitive in this country, in his youth, passing up the road which leads mostly along the margin of the river to a point where the first falls interrupt the navigation, pronounced the scenery the most beautiful he had ever seen. The river was then chiefly famous for the rafts of admirable timber which it sent down from the primeval forests above, for the construction of the unsurpassed ships built near the town, and for the commerce flourishing upon its bosom and extending to every quarter of the globe. It was idle enough, in comparison, at a later period.
Early in the present century, and for a long series of years in the past, no town on the American coast surpassed it in commercial enterprise and activity. The habits and traditions of the place were well calculated to nurse a hardy race of seamen, and their reputation for skill and courage was well known throughout the maritime world. Persons are very apt to look at some direct circumstance, nearest at hand, for the cause of events, which may after all result from much more remote contingencies. So, at first, in the days of the declining trade of the town, they said the obstruction to its commerce was owing to the sand-bar at the mouth of the river. But the bar had been there from time immemorial; and though it is true that modern-built vessels, with their cargoes, could not pass that barrier, as ships of lesser tonnage were formerly accustomed to do, yet the main cause for this decay of business was to be found in the growth of the capital of the State, and the greater facilities for the transaction of business which exist in larger than in smaller places.
But the bar itself was always of very dangerous passage in boisterous weather, and often the daring pilots of the station, than whom none upon the coast were more competent and courageous, were exposed to extreme peril, in their small craft, in returning to the river, when they had been on the look-out for inward-bound vessels in the bay.
It so happened that a schooner in which I was a passenger, when a youngster, was detained outside the bar, and was likely to be detained for several hours, waiting for the tide to make. A young pilot, accompanied by his still younger brother, came alongside in their whale-boat, and having some acquaintance with me invited me to sail with them to town; and, having been some time absent from home, I gladly accepted their offer. Their boat was under a single low sail. The breeze was fresh and the day fair, though I could not but be aware, as we bowled along towards the bar, that a retreating storm had left some indications of its past presence in the tossing foam that sprang upwards as the waves dashed upon that treacherous heap of shifting sand. The pilot sat in the stern-sheets of the dancing boat, steering steadily with an oar. His brother tended the sail, and I was crouched amidships. As we approached nearer the scene of commotion, our younger companion assumed a station in the bow of the boat and began to sound with an oar. This looked a little formidable to a landsman; and soon turning his head in the interval of hastily pushing his implement into the water, the bowsman called out to his brother, "Joe, are you going to try it?" Joe made no sign, but steered steadily on. Again and again the sounding oar went rapidly down, and I suppose at last to the bottom, and again the young man cried out with renewed energy, "Joe, are you going to try it?" Joe uttered no word, but chewing his quid, looked steadfastly forward. In a moment a heavy wave struck the boat, drenching us plentifully, but not filling her, and bounding up, staggering a little, she dashed on, and with another like slap or two, we were over and in fairly smooth water. Had the boat struck bottom, she would have been instantly dashed to pieces and we should have met the sad fate of others who, before and since, have been drowned and lost to sight forever in that seething tide.
In a conversation with a very eminent English novelist, of profounder skill and more permanent fame, in my opinion, than any other since Scott, he expressed his surprise at the solid aspect of the city of Boston, in which we had met, on the day after his arrival in this country, upon his first lecturing tour. He had enjoyed the best opportunities of viewing "men and cities," not only in Europe, but in various parts of the farther East. I took the liberty of replying that Boston had been growing nearly two centuries and a half, and inquired if he expected to see wigwams, or even those slighter fabrics which betoken the earlier stages of advancing colonization. He said, "No, of course not; but it had quite as substantial an appearance as an English city." But it is to be remembered that the persons who came to this country, at first, and from time to time, afterwards, were already civilized, and brought with them and transmitted to their descendants much of the knowledge and many of the habits, peculiarities, and even the traditions of their ancestors "at home." Our town, too, looked old; though far from being so substantially built as Boston.
In fact, while reading the fragment of Scott's autobiography of his earlier days, and Dean Ramsay's "Reminiscences," one might almost think that their descriptions of character and manners, in so ancient a city as Edinburgh, were in many respects but a recapitulation of popular ways and even of personal oddities in our own respectable American town. Especially, the great novelist's vivid narrative of the desperate street conflicts between the lads of the several quarters of the "auld town," revives many boyish recollections. In my youth, the division was into Northenders and Southenders; but as our own residence was in the central part of the town, we stood, as it were, between two fires. The conflicts usually took place in the winter, when the snow was on the ground, and though heartily engaged in, and sometimes quite too rough for play, were generally good-natured enough to avoid any very serious danger to life or limb. In the higher schools, the lads were drawn from every quarter of the town; but upon dismissal for the day, or upon the afternoons of Wednesday and Saturday, when no school was kept, the partisans of the several sections offered combat which was seldom refused. The usual weapons were snow-balls, which were sometimes, I regret to say, dipped in water and frozen over night, and kept in some secure place to await the expected battle, and occasionally a pebble, the missile commonly used by the Scottish combatants, was inserted,—a practice which was almost universally condemned. Very seldom did we come to a hand-fight, for a spirited "rush," when either party felt strong enough for it, was almost always followed by a rapid retreat on the other side. But woe to the luckless stripling whose headlong courage carried him far in advance of his companions; for upon a sudden turn of affairs he was a captive, and down in an instant, and mercilessly "scrubbed" with snow by a dozen ready hands, until the rallying host of his compatriots advanced vigorously to the rescue. The normal alliance of us middle-men was with the Southenders, though a good deal rougher than ourselves; and in times of truce a solitary boy would walk a little gingerly through their quarter, as errands or family occasions led him that way. But the principal commercial interests centered in those parts of the town, and if, upon the breaking out of determined warfare, we could secure, in the capacity of leader, the services of some lubberly boy who had made a voyage, even a mere coasting trip, to sea, though I remember that these were sometimes far less adventurous in the field than those who had no experience of the perilous deep, the issue of the contest was not for a moment doubtful. The forces of our adversaries melted away, like the snow with which they fought, at the very presence of a champion supposed to be of such redoubted prowess. The dependence of those adverse combatants was rather upon some of the younger hangers-on at the ship-yards, in their territory, for such a casual auxiliary. Sometimes, the elements of military skill would be displayed. While the two forces were closely engaged, a flanking party would make a sudden rush up some short by-street, and then the complete demoralization and panic-flight of the warriors thus newly assailed was something truly disastrous to behold.
Of course, we enjoyed the ordinary boyish sports of boating, swimming, and skating in the season for it; or, of a pleasant afternoon, would roam away "over the hills," as the phrase ran, huckleberrying, perhaps, or gathering penny-royal and other wild herbs for the old folks at home; to be dried and reserved for future occasions. For, in those days, a garret would hardly be considered complete, without bunches of these simples hanging from the beams by strings, or stored away in paper-bags. In the fall of the year, we had another resource, long since interdicted by the owners of farms in the neighborhood of populous towns. This was the pleasure of nutting; for the urchins of those days regarded these kinds of fruit, growing on trees in the fields, as a sort of ferae natura and free to every passer-by; though the more surly proprietors, even then, took much pains to circumvent and capture the lads, as they returned with their poles for beating the branches and with their loaded bags, borne by two or three of them, hanging by the middle across those implements. Sometimes, predatory bands proceeded in force and defied the farmer on his own ground. The story was told of one luckless individual who went nutting alone and was caught and imprisoned, for a time, in the cellar of the farm-house, but mischievously contrived to set all the taps of the cider-barrels running, before he was released. These excursions led us often to the Devil's Den, an excavation in an abandoned ledge of limestone, in a solitary situation at some distance from the town, and guarded, now as then, by three rather spectral-looking Lombardy poplars, which to us boys had a sort of mystic and undefined significance. Here we procured bits of serpentine, interspersed with veins of rag-stone, as we denominated asbestos, which, strangely enough, we used to chew. I suppose that no boy ever went to that place alone, and a sort of solemn ceremony attended his first visit with his older playmates, to a scene bearing an appellation ominous enough to call up every vague dread of his youthful heart. The approach on these occasions was rather circuitous, through the pastures, until an elevated mass of stone, standing quite solitary, was reached, designated as "Pulpit Rock." To the summit of this, the neophyte was required to climb, and there to repeat some accustomed formula, I fear not very reverent, by way of initiation, and supposed to be of power to avert any malign influences to which the unprepared intruder upon the premises of the nominal lord of the domain might otherwise be subjected. For these youngsters the ordinary means of education were abundantly supplied, and the girls, too, had their Academy for those who aspired to something beyond the common range; and when, at a later period, I became conversant with their circle, I must say that I have never known young ladies of better manners or more cultivated minds. As an evidence of more expansive benevolence than usual, and of profounder interest in the affairs of the great world abroad, I remember that when the class of students in Goldsmith's Ancient History came to recitation, one young lady burst into a torrent of tears. The astonished teacher anxiously inquired into the cause of her emotion. In the midst of her sobs she ejaculated, "Oh, that good man, Socrates! To think they should have treated him so!" She was finally soothed; but considering that the incident in question was of a rather remote date, this ebullition of feeling evinced a generous sympathy with a victim of past injustice, truly worthy of a philanthropic mind.
It is still a town of stately mansions upon its principal street, and one more beautiful can scarcely be imagined. The magnificent elms, of the graceful American kind, which line its borders, have always been reckoned a feature of extraordinary beauty. Of late years, special means for supplying and preserving this elegant and useful kind of embellishment of the streets have been provided by the liberal bequest, for this purpose, of Mr. John Bromfield, a native of the town, but long a respected merchant at the capital of the State. A conspicuous house standing upon a gentle elevation, at some distance from the street, with pleasant grounds in its front and rear, was appropriately named by its original proprietor "Mount Rural," though not, perhaps, with the most exact observance of the requirements of grammatical construction. Still, it has some authority for being considered idiomatic, for does not "Pilgrim's Progress" tell us of the "Palace Beautiful?" And doubtless many other instances might be cited of the substitution of an adjective for a noun. At all events, the worthy owner, who built his house in the most approved style of former New England architecture, spacious, square, and with projecting windows in the roof, made some pretensions to classical allusion; for cultivating extensive gardens in the rear of his dwelling, he placed for an inscription on his front wall,—
"Miraturque novas frondes, et non sua poma,"—
a citation which, it is to be feared, would be taken rather as encouragement to mischievous urchins, if any of them understood it, rather than as a warning to abstain from the fruit.
Near the extremity of the opposite quarter of the town still stands an ancient edifice of solid stone, with a couple of stories of porch of the same material, approached by a lane, bordered with trees, leading some distance from the highway, and constituting, with some modern additions, the dwelling-place of a considerable farm. It boasts an age of more than two centuries, as appears by the figures above its entrance, and was apparently built for defence, when precautions against Indian incursions were thought necessary, though afterwards used as a powder-house; and tradition has it that, on one occasion, an explosion took place by night, which blew away a part of the side wall, lifted the bed on which a negro woman, the slave of the occupant, was asleep, bore her safely across the road, and planted her, bed and all, upon the spreading branches of an apple-tree, without injury. An early owner of the place was the ancestor of one of the recent Presidents of the United States, and it was known, until quite a modern period, as the PIERCE Farm.
Not many years ago, there still remained at the corner of a street, between the points just designated, one of those ancient houses not common in this country, the second story resting on heavy beams, which showed themselves in the outside walls, and the walls of the long, low dwelling filled in with a coat of dark plaster braced by wooden cross-pieces, like those of Shakespeare's birthplace at Stratford. The handsome houses before alluded to were the residences chiefly of merchants, or sea-captains, who had retired from their maritime or commercial occupations with a competence, or of prosperous professional persons. But a competence in those frugal days was an insignificant sum in comparison with the fortunes of our own time, scarcely approaching the annual income of the shoddy-masters, who now regulate the avenues of social and so-called aristocratic life. Indeed, I was once informed by an old inhabitant, that the richest person in the town, near the close of the last century, was assessed upon only ten thousand dollars' worth of personal property. But I think there must be some mistake in this statement, unless the rate of taxation was exceedingly low; for this same prosperous merchant devoted twenty times as much as that reputed capital to certain pious uses, during his protracted life-time, and still left forty times as much at his decease. Doubtless in those better days, the inevitable "rates" ("death and rates," they used to say, "were certain") were so small as to press but lightly upon the incomes of individuals in moderate circumstances, and the means of getting at the exact measure of a man's worldly "worth," had not reached their present degree of perfection. Indeed I may state, upon unquestionable authority, that, late in the first quarter of the present century, a highly respected trader of the town, who lived genteelly and was taxed upon a supposed capital of eighteen thousand dollars, waited upon the assessors and blandly told them, "Gentlemen, I have been more than usually prosperous the last year, and am willing you should tax me upon an additional thousand." Such combined integrity and disinterestedness was the theme of universal commendation; but when the old gentleman went to another reckoning a few years afterwards, his heirs had the benefit of an estate nearer one hundred thousand dollars in value, than the limited capital which had contributed its quota to the public burdens. In a word, I have heard my Aunt Judith say, that in her youth it was usual for respectable young women to take service with more thriving neighbors or friends, for the annual allowance of their board and a single calico gown, at four and sixpence a yard,—as the price was before mills were established on our own ground.
I cannot help referring more particularly to some of the families of the town, who imparted to it a well-founded reputation, not surpassed, if equaled, by that of any town or city in the land; for instance, there were the Lowells, who gave name, afterwards, to that wonderful city of spindles, which enjoys as world-wide a standing in the annals of manufacturing enterprise as the old-world Manchester of a long-anterior date, and one of whom, amid the desolate ruins of Luxor, struck by the hand of fatal disease, conceived the idea of establishing that noble Institute which bears his name, and will convey it to future grateful generations; a name, too, which has so resounded in the popular literature of the day. Then, there were the Jacksons, famous in mechanics and in two of the learned professions; Charles Jackson, the erudite and upright judge, and James Jackson, one of those skillful and truly benevolent physicians, whose memory is still in the hearts of many surviving patients. The Tyngs, too, resided there, long honorably connected with colonial history and still represented by descendants of national repute. Amongst other remarkable individuals was Jacob Perkins, the famous inventor, who at an advanced age ended his useful career with no little foreign celebrity in the great city of the world. I have read lately of his successful exhibition of his wonderful steam-gun, in the presence of the Duke of Wellington and other competent judges of the experiment, and know not what national prejudice, perhaps, or other casual reason, prevented its adoption. In science, too, we had Master Nicholas Pike, an ancient magistrate, whose arithmetic held its ground throughout the country, until it was superseded by that of Master Michael Walsh, which received the high commendation of so capital a judge, in matters of calculation, as the old land-surveyor and finally head of the nation, Washington. Master Walsh was an Irishman by birth, though "caught young," as Dr. Johnson remarked, to account for any distinction acquired by natives of Scotland; and he displayed much of that impulsive temperament imputed to the people of Erin's Green Isle. He dressed in the old style, his gray hair gathered into a queue, and wearing top-boots to the last. He was an excellent classical scholar, as well as mathematician. The pupils he prepared for college did justice to his instructions, and some have acquired great eminence in the several professions and in the conduct of important national affairs. As an instance of his patriotic attachment to his adopted country, upon casually meeting, late in life, a certain writer of the town, after a cordial salutation, he added with a slight dash of the brogue, "I thank ye for the Red and the Blue!" The young person was a little taken aback, not remembering the allusion, for a moment, when the old gentleman repeated emphatically,—"The Red and the Blue, ye know—Tom Campbell." It was in reference to a couple of stanzas, addressed to the United States by that great lyric poet, scarcely equaled in his day, namely:—
"United States! your banner wears Two emblems: one of fame; Alas! the other that it bears Reminds us of your shame!
"The white man's liberty in types Stands blazoned by your stars: But what's the meaning of your stripes? They mean your negroes' scars."
To this the American had retorted:—
"TO THE ENGLISH FLAG.
"England! whence came each glowing hue, That tints yon flag of 'meteor' light,— The streaming red, the deeper blue, Crossed with the moonbeam's pearly white?
"The blood and bruise,—the blue and red,— Let Asia's groaning millions speak! The white,—it tells the color fled From starving Erin's pallid cheek!"
The verses were at first circulated as above set down. Campbell afterwards altered the two first lines of the second stanza into:—
"Your standard's constellation types White freedom by its stars," etc.,—
impairing it, as some will think, both in force and in whatever poetical expression it may have originally had. Poets are apt to make similar mistakes, frittering away the first glow of thought and language, in revision. Has not Tennyson thus injured "The ride of the six hundred?" and did not Campbell himself half spoil "Hohenlinden," by taming its phraseology down into a supposed superfluous accuracy? For example, he first wrote,—
"'Tis morn, but scarce yon lurid sun Can pierce the war-clouds, rolling dun," etc.
It occurred to him, or some "stop-watch critic" suggested, that the sun itself was not actually "lurid," on that celebrated occasion, and he accordingly changed the expression to "level," thus signifying a mere natural phenomenon; and, besides the sacrifice of a fine poetical expression, forgetting that the sun must have appeared actually "lurid" through the interposition of "the war-clouds, rolling dun." Nor is this the only instance of misapplied fastidiousness in that splendid and stirring piece.
Then, there was the Rev. Dr. Spring, father of that celebrated clergyman, Dr. Gardiner Spring, of New York. He had been a chaplain in the army of the Revolution; and when I, as a boy, pulled off my cap to him in the street, I fancied there was something a little military in his polite salute in return. The good Doctor held to what were called Hopkinsian tenets, a special form of strict orthodoxy; and it was alleged that, differing from the ordinary practice of religious people in the town, and construing literally the record of the Creation, "The evening and the morning were the first day,"—the Saturday evening was observed with primitive strictness in the family, while on Sunday evening, after sunset, the excellent matron assumed her knitting-work, or attended to whatever secular occupation she chose. I have often thought, and it seems likely, that the name of Swett—that of one of the most eminent and excellent physicians of his day, in our community, and who in fact fell a sacrifice to the faithful discharge of his professional duty—was the same as Schwedt, borne by the Prince de Schwedt, well known at the court of Frederick of Prussia (so called) the Great. The good Doctor examined the throat of a yellow fever patient, in a vessel lying at quarantine ground in the river, and inhaling his infectious breath, went home declaring he had taken the disease, of which he shortly died. The efforts and liberality of his son, the late Colonel Samuel Swett, in promoting the establishment of the Public Library of the town, though himself long a resident in the capital of the State, will forever endear his memory to the inhabitants. The daughter of another distinguished physician, Dr. Sawyer, was Mrs. George Lee, who gained no little reputation by her "Lives of the Ancient Painters," and especially by a book which attained great popularity under the title of "Three Experiments of Living." I should do great injustice to a list of noted personages—to some of whom allusion is made elsewhere in these pages, and which might be extended, if consistent with the objects of this work, were I to omit mention of a lady, Miss Hannah F. Gould, whose poetical productions gained her well-deserved applause and many friends, and some of whose highly pleasing verses still retain their hold upon public esteem. Reflectively, too, we might claim some share in the distinction of the most popular American poet of our own day; for the direct ancestors of Longfellow were natives of our immediate vicinage. I had no intention, certainly, of offering any tribute to the living in these memorials of the past; but one name inevitably suggests itself, better known on 'Change, in London, than in the place of his birth. I speak of William Wheelwright, a lad, at the period to which these sketches refer, long resident abroad, though occasionally brought home by the obligations and affections of family ties, to whose enterprise, and arduous, untiring pursuit of his object are owing steam navigation and railway lines in the southern part of this Continent, and to whose praise the whole South American coast will respond.
There were others and many, of high personal character and local reputation, and not a few of strongly marked characteristics, whose names, perhaps, would scarcely sound familiar to modern ears; but I cannot pass over one wealthy merchant, distinguished for his strong common sense and decided individuality, as well as for a success in business scarcely equaled in this country, in his day,—the well-known William Bartlett, to whose judicious bounty the chief theological seminary of the State and its principal Academy for the instruction of youth owe so much toward the assurance of their permanent foundation.
Nor should the memory of Oliver Putnam fail of a record, who, long absent from his native town, provided by his will for a generous bequest, upon which a Free School of the highest character has been long established. Nor should due tribute be forgotten in honor of George Peabody, who, remembering those days of his youth which were passed in acquiring habits of business in the place, distinguished its Public Library by a munificent gift.
There had been many other men of marked character and great local influence: Tracys, Daltons, Greenleafs, Davenports, Hoopers, Bradburys, Johnsons, Coffins, Bromfields, Crosses; and many more, doubtless, might be thought worthy of mention. Among those named above, Nathaniel Tracy was one of the wealthiest merchants of his day, elsewhere referred to in this narrative as suffering immense losses by his advances to the government, when its needs were great and its credit was low, and in other ways. Tristram Dalton was a Senator of the United States from Massachusetts, in the First Congress under the Constitution; and Theophilus Bradbury, afterwards appointed to the bench of the supreme court of the State, was a member of the Federal House of Representatives during a part of Washington's administration. Indeed, from some of the early inhabitants of the town are descended not a few of the principal families in the capital of the State; and its representatives, by some tie of original or later connection, are scattered throughout the whole country.
I linger somewhat longer and lovingly upon this preliminary part of whatever story I may have to tell, because I am aware of nothing in the literature of New England which furnishes precisely similar reminiscences, and because pictures of past manners, if truthfully portrayed, can hardly fail to be both interesting and useful. We heard plentiful stories, in our youth, of a higher style of living in colonial days, of coaches kept by the upper class of citizens; of their slaves, whom we knew in their emancipated condition as gardeners and waiters in general; of the cocked hats, the gold-embroidered garments, the laced ruffles of the gentlemen, and the highly ornamented, but rather stiff garniture in which the ladies with their powdered heads saw fit to array themselves, as they now present themselves to us on the living canvas of Copley. It was in the handsome residence of Mr. Dalton, long after his decease, that I saw hangings of gilded morocco leather on the walls of the principal room,—a substitute for the wall-paper in common use, and which I have never seen or heard of in any other instance, in the United States.
Our collector of the customs was peculiarly one of this class of gentlemen of the old school. He was a person of very warm temperament and of remarkable characteristics; an ardent Democrat, who, upon the accession of President Jefferson, had succeeded Colonel W——, the first collector of the port, appointed by Washington, under whom he had served with distinction in the Revolutionary War. The residence of the latter, and the office of customs itself, in those simpler days, were in the house which was afterwards the birthplace of the writer of these sketches. To that war the successor of the old soldier principally owed a large fortune, which he had accumulated as the result of his privateering adventures; and it is said that the prizes came in so plentifully, that once he lifted up his hand and declared, "O Lord, it is enough!" However this may be, it is certain that not long afterwards his riches gradually vanished, and he was compelled to seek and obtained the office upon which he supported his declining days. Though "aristocratic" enough in his own personal character and demeanor, he was not naturally in much favor with the grandees of the old Federal town; but they stood in awe of him, nevertheless; for he had been very rich, and in his less prosperous days was still a person of the most impulsive and resolute spirit. His appearance in public was very marked. His person was manly and his countenance singularly striking. He dressed in black, his small-clothes terminating in white cotton stockings down to his gouty foot. On his white head, decorated with a queue, was his three-cornered hat. He seemed to take a pride in walking up the principal business street of the town, at the time of high "'Change," and paying attention to no one, to utter his not always very conciliatory thoughts aloud, in regard to his contemporaries and matters in general, as he threw out sideways the gouty foot aforesaid, on his way to the one o'clock dinner, which was the fashion of the time.
But the Revolutionary War exhausted the fortunes of many prosperous men of the day; and the story is told of one very rich merchant, who could drive in his own carriage several days' journey—when such a journey over difficult roads was hardly so much as could be accomplished by "the hollow, pampered jades of Asia,"—and sleep in his own house every night. He lent immense sums, for the time, to the Revolutionary government, received what he could recover in depreciated currency, and failed. At the period of my narrative, the country was suffering from the consequences of another war, and the once active commerce of the old town was reduced to the lowest ebb. It was then that active emigration began from the sterile soil of New England—since rendered so much more productive by intelligent cultivation—to the fertile region known as "The Ohio;" just as, not much more than half a century ago, people talked of "The Coos country" in New Hampshire, and within a few years we spoke of the "Far West," brought at length within the compass of ordinary travel and civilization.
As a picture of the rigors and extremities, I fear only too common, of early New England life, among its hardy agricultural population, I present extracts of a letter received from a venerable friend, a few years ago, who from the depths of poverty, having emigrated in his youth to wild lands not very far West, had risen to comparative wealth, which he devoted to useful purposes. In fact, the son of an extremely poor Vermont farmer became, by his own energy and integrity, the possessor of a competent fortune, which enabled him, with views far surpassing the immediate claims of this transitory world, to build a church and to establish a flourishing educational institution, destined long, I trust, to dispense infinite blessings to future generations. Thus, after some preliminary matter, he proceeds to say, under date of March 16, 1866:—
"My father was one of the poor men of Vermont. When I was a small boy I have pealed many a birch broom for a sixpence. My Father could get one shilling for what he made, take them on his back, carry them four or five miles, sell them, bring home a little meal, or a little bread, sometimes a half bushel Potatoes. My mother would go two or three miles, and do a washing, bring home at night a loaf of wry bread, and a small peace was all we had for supper and a smaller Piece in the morning. Sometimes we was allowed one Potato roasted in the ashes—no Hearth in the old log-House. My mother has stirred butter in a tea-cup with the point of a knife, to keep her little children from starving. My Father had about half acre of oats—poor fence—the old cow got in the oats and died. Then came the pinch—we as little children had to flee to the woods to get something to sustain life—no schools, no meetings—nothing but hunger and despair. I lived with my Father until I was twenty-one years old. After I was sixteen my Father improved a little in living. When I was a little over twenty-one I got me a wife—we was both Poor—three knifes, three forks, three teacups, three chairs, a poor bed—hardly could we keep house. But our courage was good—my wife always standing by me, through all my trouble and trials—shoulder to shoulder—heart & hand, from the day of our marriage until the day of her Death. No man never had a better wife than I had—always kind to the Poor and to all her relations. She is now in the Grave Yard, and my judgment is, she is well prepared for the next world—and for the good feeling I have had for her for over fifty-six years, I have Erected a monument over her grave weighing 7 tons, and twenty-one feet high—it is a splendid monument—cost me over $600.00.
"On the Eighth day of last July the Bishop confirmed 28 in our Church at the —— everything in good order—the singing was complete—my Voice is still heard above all the singers and I still stand at the head of the choir—I am only 77.—On the 16th day of last October, Previous notice being given, the wardens and Vestry met at my house—one minister was also present, a Lawyer being called to do the business. At 2 o'clock, P. M. I commenced handing over Deeds of land, Buildings, Bonds, mortgages, money & furniture, to the amount of nineteen thousand and five hundred Dollars, the use and interest only to be used for the Church and the —— Institute; but in case there should be a failure of the Church & school, for seven years, at any one time, then the Property to go back to my Heirs.
"I have been schooling from 7 to 11 Poor children, yearly—I am now not schooling as many—my school is doing well—we have a good minister and he is a good Preacher. The Church is doing well. I am now commencing one more building, 60 feet long, 30 feet wide, and three stories high, for the convenience of more room for Boarders in the —— Institute.
"I wrung more Bells at the fall of Richmond than any man in the United States, which they was all purchased with one man's money—7 was the number, 4 large ones & 3 small ones—it is true I was a little opposed to the War—but no matter. The Brick Church and the Buildings I built for the —— Institute now with Interest cost me now over $43.000. They are all Paid for and I am out of Debt. I have furnished every stick of wood for the Church, and have carried the most of it in since it was built. I still wring the Bells on all occasions." etc. etc.
There is, perhaps, a touch of the garrulity of age in this good man's recital; but I consider his record of his early life, slight as it is, yet too strikingly suggestive to be left to chances which might await a private letter. Indeed, the character thus displayed is surely equal to that of the best of the old Romans, in the middling class of life, enlightened too by a living faith of which they had no conception; and the sketch gives fair warrant for the conclusion, that, in point of manly simplicity and integrity, the traits and the trials of those elder worthies who helped to settle our republican institutions have not been overdrawn.
——-  As I set down these reminiscences I observe the following paragraph in a Boston daily paper of November 27, 1872:—
"NOVEMBER SNOW. Fifty-two years ago to-day there were twenty-eight inches of snow on a level in the vicinity of Portsmouth, N. H."
 The late Mr. George Wood, of Washington, a native of our town, in some highly interesting Memorabilia, formerly published, says: "The aristocracy were not on High Street, as now, but on Water Street, and more at the South than the North end, as the old houses give evidence to this day. The Johnsons, Jacksons, Davenports, Coffins, Greenleafs, Bartletts, Pierces, Hoopers, Tappans, Todds, Carters, Lunts, Marquands, and others of wealth, were on Water Street or near it. There were their grand houses and fine gardens, and it was not till they thought of retiring from business that they removed to the West-end or up-town, as gradually as they always do in all places."
 After resigning his office of judge, which he had held for only a few years, but administered with extraordinary ability and integrity, Judge Jackson went abroad for relaxation, and a letter from a gentleman in London to a friend on this side the water says,—"Two of your townsmen, Judge Jackson and Jacob Perkins, now fill the public eye of England, and are the subjects of public and private conversation."
 "The meteor flag of England," etc. Campbell. "Ye mariners of England."
 These brooms are made by peeling strips from the stump, which are fastened below.
I should scarcely deem it expedient to enter at much detail into the eccentricities of our good townspeople, though it seems to me that in our own street I could recall enough to make a pretty sizable volume.
But one feature of the times deserves a passing notice. I refer to the inconsiderable number of insane persons, compared with the sad increase of that unfortunate class in our own day, and the manner in which they were treated. Of course, a more widely extended population multiplies the sum of every description of disease. Besides, our ancestors were a hardier race than their descendants, more inured to the regular routine of physical toil, less given than the men and women of the present day to hurtful indulgence, and far less exposed to the disturbing excitements of business and pleasure. So far as I know, there were but two really insane persons in our population of some seven or eight thousand, though doubtless certain others were more or less "light-headed." One of those two was sullenly crazy, and accounted dangerous, and therefore subjected to physical restraint; the other, generally harmless, roamed through the town at his own will, calling occasionally upon the acquaintance of his better days, and making magnificent promises of the benefits he intended to bestow, "when his ship came in." If I had inherited only a moderate dividend of the proceeds of the successive ships and their cargoes, which he promised my mother, on the above favorable contingency, usually calling her out from dinner to whisper to her these magnificent promises, more to her alarm than satisfaction, though being a woman of spirit she put a brave face upon it—I should look down upon a Rothschild, an Astor, or a Vanderbilt with natural contempt. Sometimes, incarceration was thought necessary, also, in his case; and I have a vivid recollection of the place of confinement allotted to each patient.
This was in the yard of the almshouse, for state and county asylums had not then been thought of, and the strong wooden building in which they were placed consisted of two apartments, perhaps twelve feet square, one above and the other beneath the surface of the ground; the latter, in fact, a dungeon with one barred window on a level with the yard. Here they passed their gloomy hours as they might, in solitude and darkness, scarcely relieved by light from without, with nothing to alleviate the horrors of their condition, and probably considered in a state too hopeless to admit of any remedy. The tenant of the upper cell was comparatively lively, on the occasion of resort to his window for conversation, or out of curiosity, which was freely permitted; but his neighbor in the dungeon was dangerous; and I can never forget the terror inspired by a sudden and vicious attempt made by him to seize the legs of us children through the bars, as we stood conversing with the inmate of the room above. Science and humanity have done very much, in modern times, toward the restoration of such unhappy beings, who are in a majority of cases susceptible of cure, or of improvement enough to warrant their return to domestic life. But it is to be feared we are yet far behind, in this country, the more enlightened and effectual methods pursued for this purpose in some other civilized nations.
On one side of the street above alluded to lived for a long time, in my boyhood, an ancient shoemaker entirely alone; and as he guarded his residence with great secrecy and sold none of his wares, curious people were puzzled to understand how he supported existence. He was known to be partially deranged. Mischievous boys, sometimes, gathered in numbers, would often assail his door with stones, standing ready for a start. But if they were on the watch, so was Pettengill, from previous experience, waiting behind his door with a heavy wooden bar in his hand, and giving instant chase to the flying urchins, would send the bar rattling at their heels. One day, after a season of unusual quiet, one of our lads anxious to penetrate his mystery, ventured to knock gently at the barred portal, was admitted, and expressed his wish to purchase a pair of shoes. The old man opened several chests containing the articles sought for, and finally selected a pair which proved a fit; but upon his visitor's making known his readiness to buy, the maker deliberately returned them to their receptacle, locked it fast and gravely declared, that he did "not like to part with them, for fear of spoiling his assortment."
The next building was occupied by a respectable English couple as a dwelling-place, with a small grocer's shop in front. They had no children, except one strapping son of the old lady by a former husband, grown to man's estate, and whose business seemed to be to lounge about the premises in drab small-clothes; for I never saw him do anything. The old lady might be seen of a morning, with iron pattens on her feet and her clothes tucked up, mopping the floor of the shop; but in the afternoon much more genteelly attired in silks of an ancient fashion. Mr. Brown was a very quiet, inoffensive person, the wife a little high-strung. It is certain that they had occasional domestic bickerings, perhaps about the young man in the knee-breeches; for on one occasion it is alleged that the old matron was overheard to address her spouse, with a slightly Hibernian accentuation,—"Brune, Brune, ye case-knife looking son of a gun! I married ye neither for love, nor for money, but the pure convanience of the shop!" As these worthy people have long ago passed away, there seems no scandal in detailing this little family incident.
Directly opposite these premises was a large old-fashioned house, still standing, and, a century before, the residence of the minister of the First Church. It was long afterwards occupied by a noted magistrate for the trial of small actions, who served many years as town-clerk, and was an energetic orator at town-meetings and in parish affairs. A culprit was once brought before him for stealing a gentleman's set of new shirts. The fact was stiffly denied. "A pretty story," said the accused party, "that I should take his shirts!" An official scrutiny, however, soon exhibited him standing with the half dozen articles of attire, one over another, upon his person. "What a villain!" said the astonished justice. "Why didn't you tell me you was a villain and save the time of the court, of the witnesses, and the spectators, by owning up you were a villain, in the first place?"
The citizens of the old town were pretty thorough Puritans, by inheritance and inclination, at the middle of the last century. But the minister of the First Church was, in his day, a gentleman noted for his liberal tastes and accomplishments. He had a picture painted on a broad panel over the fire-place of his library, representing himself and several others of the cloth sitting around a table, in the full canonicals of wig, gown, and band, before each a foaming mug of ale, and each supplied with a tobacco pipe from which rolled volumes of narcotic fumes. At the top of the painting was a legend in the Latin language, of which the following is, I believe, a correct copy,—
"In essentialibus unitas, in non-essentialibus libertas, in omnibus charitas."
They appeared to be having a jolly time, and evidently considered the slight indulgences to which they were addicted among the moral non-essentials, however necessary to their physical comfort. In this picture, which is still extant, the rules of perspective were not rigorously obeyed. In fact, the table is considerably tipped, whether supposed to result from some sudden hilarious movement on the part of the reverend compotators or owing to want of skill in the artist, I am not able to testify. Indeed, the manners of the times had not then attained their present professed strictness in regard to the use of exhilarating liquors, and I have inspected a tavern-bill rendered to the principal citizens, for articles of this sort consumed on some joyful public occasion, at a much later period, the amount of which in quantity, though not in price, would astonish a modern city council.
At the corner of the street stood an ancient tavern, the principal establishment of the kind in the place, at which in staging times all the stage-coaches from Boston and the eastward hauled up to change horses. It was kept by the father of the popular host of one of the best known of the long-established New York hotels. I well remember seeing a considerable body of British sailors halted there for refreshment, under guard, on their way to some prison in the interior, during the War of 1812. They were true British tars of the traditional type, with immense clubs of hair, tied up with eel-skins and hanging short and thick down their necks. They seemed in no wise depressed by their condition and in fact were treated extremely well, for the general feeling of the town was decidedly adverse to the war. I also remember a gathering in front of the tavern, when the evening coach was expected, with the idea of mobbing an unpopular general officer who was to pass through by that conveyance. But a better sentiment was inculcated by the more orderly portion of the assembly, and the obnoxious warrior was not molested, otherwise than by expressions of dislike, either upon alighting, or when taking his place to resume his journey. Politics ran very high at the time, almost to the entire suspension of social relations between the differing parties,—the Federalists, who opposed the war, and were accused of unpatriotic sympathy with the cause of the enemy, and the Republicans, often stigmatized as Jacobins, who were charged with the principles and designs which had given impulse to the great French Revolution. Doubtless these parties shared, on the one side and the other, in the hereditary enmity, long since allayed if not altogether extinguished, between England and France. But whatever might be the general turn of political sentiment, both sides felt a patriotic pride in the success of the American arms. Hence, it is probable, the temper of the crowd assembled to do dishonor to the unlucky general. While the Republicans were indignant at a supposed needless national disaster, the Federalists could scarcely rejoice at it; and thus the moderation of the latter tended to restrain the former from the display of any actually violent demonstration. At the same period, there was formed, among the older administration men of the day, a veteran military organization, of those beyond the ordinary age of military service, well-known locally under the significant appellation of the "Silver Greys." The corps was composed of elderly merchants and traders and retired sea-captains, and their drills manifested at least the ambition of military prowess. Their opponents alleged that their company was formed for merely political purposes, and to overawe the town; but their own doubtless more just solution of the matter was, that their object was to aid in repelling invasion, in the unlikely case that the British troops should land upon their own borders. They gave more promise, certainly, of efficient service, should danger arise, than could be expected of the superannuated Trojans chief of Priam's court, as their catalogue is translated by Pope from the living record of Homer:—
"Here sat the seniors of the Trojan race, Old Priam's chiefs and most in Priam's grace; The king the first, Thymoetes at his side, Lampus and Clitias, long in council tried, Panthus and Hicetaon, once the strong, And next, the wisest of the reverend throng, Antenor grave and sage Ucalegon, Leaned on the walls and basked before the sun; Chiefs who no more in bloody fights engage, But wise through time and narrative with age, In summer days like grasshoppers rejoice, A bloodless race, that send a feeble voice," etc.
The town had suffered everything from the war and the interdiction of commerce in which it had been most actively engaged, preceding the event. Multitudes were absolutely ruined, and the gaunt wolf stood grinning at almost every other threshold. Among the memorials of that great struggle, it may be as well to mention the rusted cannon planted for posts at the corners of certain of the streets, the breech sunk in the ground and a bomb-shell fastened in the muzzle. At such a time, it is not strange that force occasionally took the place of law.
I could recall not a few instances in which, under the impulse of political resentment, passion got the better of judgment. One day, the marshal of the United States, in his cocked hat and with other official insignia, entered the tavern I have mentioned, in quest of a fugitive from justice. He inquired of a person whom he met in the public apartment, if he had lately seen one Captain E——, who, it seems, on some supposed provocation, had only thrown a custom-house officer into the dock in one of our eastern harbors. The person addressed by the marshal said that Captain E—— had just passed down the street, and when the marshal turned to pursue the culprit, that individual, who was no other than the one just addressed, slipped out of another door, ran by the stable in the rear of the tavern and called upon Jem Knox, the hostler, to harness a chaise with all speed and to follow him forthwith in his flight. It appears, that the story of the captain's adventure was already pretty well known in the public places of the town, and as a visit of the marshal from Boston was a very extraordinary event in a place usually so quiet, a prying character who was upon the spot asked him if he was not looking for Captain E——. Upon receiving an affirmative reply,—"That's the man," said he, "you have just spoken to." The marshal started in pursuit and the captain had called out to such persons of his acquaintance as saw him running, that he was chased by a United States' officer. Half way through the street, one Clement Starr, a stalwart Englishman, who lived at the spot and whose sympathies, political and otherwise, were with the weaker party, seized the marshal by the collar and insisted upon knowing what was the cause of the considerable tumult which the outcry—"Stop him!" had raised. Escaping this obstacle, the poor marshal was soon afterwards clasped in the vigorous embrace of a spirited matron, who stood on her door-step as he passed, and, besides being an acquaintance of the captain, was of the same political proclivities as those of the retreating mariner.
While tearing himself away from this lively lady, Knox drove furiously by, pulled up as he overtook the fugitive, who, as a witness of the affair told me, tumbled into the chaise, and was soon out of the reach of the threatening danger. Whether he was ever taken afterwards, or what became of the prosecution, I have never heard.
Not far from us lived a worthy widow, with a family of children, and on one occasion she was heard to mingle rather curiously an office of devotion with a somewhat severe threat of domestic discipline. It was a day in summer, and the windows being open, a passer-by heard her objurgation. It seems the family had assembled at the dinner-table, and her oldest son began by making premature demonstrations toward the provisions, when his mother emphatically addressed him: "You Bob Barker, if you stick your fork into that meat before I've asked a blessing, I'll be the death of ye!"
There was a worthy shipmaster, also, who used to trade to Hayti, when that stalwart colored person, Christophe, was the Emperor, who used to say, "Put a bag of coffee in the mouth of h——, and a Yankee will be sure to go after it." On one occasion, so the story ran, Captain H—— complained of some insult from one of Christophe's ragged soldiery. The fact reached the ears of that potentate, who desired to stand well with Americans, and our townsman was summoned before him. He found in the presence of the monarch the whole body of the scanty force on duty in the town. "Can you pick out the man who insulted you?" asked the sable autocrat. Captain H—— pointed him out; but beginning to fear the infliction of some punishment too severe, attempted to extenuate the offence. "Stop!" cried Christophe, and called the soldier near him. "Do you say this was the man of whom you have told me?" "Yes, sir, it is," replied the alarmed captain; "but"—In an instant Christophe had drawn his sword, and with one blow struck off the head of the unlucky culprit. The terror of the accusing party, at such a sudden and bloody consummation, may be partly imagined. He procured his clearance as soon as possible, and I believe made his future voyages to waters under a less summarily sanguinary domination.
We had also a soi-disant nobleman, of really the humblest extraction, and ignorant to a singular degree, but known by his eccentricities far and wide, who, on the score of a little money accidentally amassed, proclaimed himself, by an inscription beneath a wooden statue of himself, in front of his residence,—"LORD OF THE EAST, LORD OF THE WEST, AND THE GREATEST PHILOSOPHER IN THE WESTERN WORLD." He decorated his court-yard with an extraordinary amount of lumber of this sort, in the shape of human beings, and dumb creatures of many sorts, each statue standing upon its separate pillar, to the intense admiration of the gaping rustics who visited the town to inspect it; and he fairly beat the Scottish Earl of Buchan, who was infected with a similar mania. Upon an arch directly opposite his front door, he had placed Washington, Adams, and Jefferson. Adams, on the right, was bareheaded, and upon an inquiry by some one why this distinction was made, since Jefferson's chapeau was in its place, the great "lord" replied: "Do you suppose I would have anybody stand at the right hand of Washington, with his hat on?" He was said, also, upon certain hilarious occasions, celebrated in a tomb which he had constructed under a summer-house in his garden, to have indulged in the mastication of bank-bills between slices of bread and butter, doubtless to the envy of his boon companions; not, as might be inferred, of the better or richer classes, though, considering all things, it is perhaps needless to hope that these current symbols of value were a little cleaner than most of those of modern date. All this statuary rubbish, however, was long ago removed; and the house and grounds, by the taste of the present owner, have since ranked among the most pleasing objects of inspection in the town.
This notably low and singularly eccentric character, as I have remarked, fairly beat that other oddity,—in a different class of life and contemporary with him,—the Scottish Earl of Buchan, elder half-brother of Lord Chancellor Erskine. That nobleman was possessed with a passion for the busts of persons, eminent or otherwise, not dissimilar to that of our New England "lord" for wooden statuary, and perhaps was actuated by equal vanity, though a person of real literary accomplishment, and in no sense, except as mentioned, to be put in comparison with the other. He displayed to his visitors a large and most incongruous collection of these objects of art in a sort of grotto excavated in his garden, thus reversing, however, the more conspicuous procedure of his brother connoisseur, who exhibited his assemblage of rarities in his front yard. The Scottish Earl, certainly, had some literary pretensions, while the "lord" Timothy, who could neither read nor write with ordinary expertness, honored the Muses, also, by affording countenance to a poet. Whether this patronage extended to much material sustenance may be considered doubtful, since this son of Apollo generally stood in the market-place, when not wandering away to other parts, for the disposal of his wares, dressed in semi-clerical habiliments, himself being of a singularly grave aspect, and retailed frightful ballads of his own composition, and small wares of various kinds from a basket on his arm. It is questionable whether any of these literary productions survive to the present day; and I fear that not one of them had any spark of that vitality, potent to influence popular sentiment, which Fletcher of Saltoun attributed to the songs of the people.
In the centre of this market-place—a space inclosed on all sides by various shops or stores, and for some unaccountable reason styled "Market Square," since its irregular outline much more resembled a truncated triangle—stood the town pump, on the spot originally occupied by the meeting-house of the First Church, already mentioned. On two sides of the pump were set the wonted hand-carts of two superannuated individuals, whose gingerbread, candies, and apples were the delight of such urchins as were lucky enough to have coppers to buy with; for those convenient mediums of exchange were not too plentiful among boys in 18—, and frequently not with their parents either. These old men were the undisturbed possessors of the ground, wheeling their vehicles to the spot at early morning, and standing by them all day, though they never seemed to me to be driving a very thriving business.
But the glory of the Square was during the week before Thanksgiving,—then, as now, appointed for a day late in November, when it was often difficult to make one's way through the throng of teams, and especially sleighs, loaded with poultry fattened for the occasion, and sometimes venison and abundance of other commodities for domestic use. The mention of sleighs leads me to recur to a former remark upon the earlier approach of winter in those times; for the employment of sleighs implies the presence of snow upon the ground; and the farmers had frequently driven from a great distance, "up country," from parts of New Hampshire and Vermont, even from the borders of Canada, perhaps a hundred and fifty or two hundred miles and more away, to attend the market in our town; sometimes as many as a hundred loaded country sleighs, or on other occasions as many wagons, in a single day. The construction of the Middlesex Canal, connecting the waters of the Merrimack with those of the Charles, diverted the main part of this traffic to Boston; and railways finally conveyed to the capital most of the remainder which came from any considerable distance. Wistful eyes, in the presence of these heaping dainties, were sometimes averted, no doubt, from a consciousness of empty pockets; yet there were always generous hearts and bounteous hands to meet the exigencies of every neighborhood; and we may be sure that no householder of decent repute, however poor or unlucky, and probably few others, even if a little tarnished in the moral world's esteem, lacked some kind friend who saw to it, that the accustomed turkey or chickens smoked on the board before the eyes of his hungry children on that day, at least, of all the year.
But, unless respectable legends are to be peremptorily discredited, an incident once took place in this Market Square, of which I doubt if any other New England town can show the parallel. I am about to relate a statement made to me, not many years ago, by an elderly gentleman of excellent character and standing, a justice of the peace and of the quorum, and a devout member of the Orthodox Church. The story was told with all gravity and implicit confidence in its truth; and some may think it exhibits in a striking light the extent of human credulity and the imperfection of human testimony: "My father," said this worthy person, "has often told me of being in Market Square when a man, a woman, and a little dog appeared, and soon collected quite a crowd by the exhibition of feats of jugglery. At length, after a due collection of tribute from the standers-by, the man produced a ball of cord from his pocket, threw it into the air, and began to ascend it, hand over hand. The woman followed, and after her the little dog. While the crowd was gaping, in expectation of the return of this mysterious trio, some one drove into the market-place and inquired the occasion of this unusual congregation. Upon being informed, he said, that he had just met such a party on the road, about a mile from the town." I had read the most extraordinary accounts, by British officers and others, of exhibitions like this, which they alleged they had often witnessed in India. I remembered one, in particular, where tigers and other unwelcome guests, and even the somewhat unwieldy bulk of an elephant, had seemingly been brought down, before their eyes, upon a cable fastened by some mysterious agency far aloft; for I suppose it behooved to be made fast in some inconceivable region of the upper air. But that a similar demonstration could have been made in a sober New England town, at noonday, could scarcely fail to "put me from my faith." It impressed me, however, as at least an extraordinary relation, coming from such a source; and happening to meet another ancient and equally reputable friend on the same day, one, too, who had been much about the world in the capacity of a navigator to foreign climes, I took occasion to relate to him the strange narrative which I had just heard. "Oh," said he, "there is no doubt about it; my mother has often told me she was present and saw the whole transaction." "In the mouth of two or three witnesses," says the Scripture, "shall every word be established." In this case, it will be observed, the witnesses were two, but both at second-hand. I shall not vouch, therefore, for anything except that, as Scott says, "I tell the tale as 'twas told to me,"—and it may be set down as one of these veritable legends which all persons are at liberty to reject or accept, as they please. I expect to try the faith of the reader still further before I have finished this historical sketch. People often tell us, nowadays, that vulgar superstitions are altogether things of the past. This may be so in public; but I imagine that in private there is a lurking tinge of it in every human bosom.
In maritime towns, at a season of the year when there is no inducement for them to wander into the fields, boys who have nothing else to do, on play-days, are very apt to lounge, more or less, on the wharves and in the Market Place. When quite a youngster, I witnessed a scene on the spot last named, the incidents of which are as vivid in my memory as at the moment when they occurred, more than half a century ago. Though the commerce of our town had very materially declined from its former condition of wonderful activity and enterprise, it was still kept up with considerable semblance of its former spirit, and, besides our native vessels, a foreign ship occasionally sailed up our beautiful river. A few miles beyond the stream, in the neighboring State, dwelt a population chiefly agricultural, a portion of which, pursuing the avocation of small farmers and fishermen, alternately, for they were directly on the borders of the sea and somewhat isolated in their position, besides, were certainly a little wild in character and habits; though I am told that great improvement among them, in these respects, has taken place of later years. We called them "Algerines," from which epithet, more opprobrious than probably just, our estimate of their pretensions to civilization may be inferred. It was the practice of these people to bring their fish in whale-boats to our market, which was the nearest to their homes, and to dispose of this fruit of their often perilous labors either for money, or for such commodities as they required. I was standing, one afternoon, near a group of foreign sailors, believed to be Spaniards, with the natural curiosity of a boy, and rough-looking specimens of humanity they certainly were. It seemed that they had fallen into dispute with the crew, some three or four men, of an Algerine boat, and though the language on one side and the other was altogether unintelligible to the parties, the tones were uncommonly high. Doubtless, the Spaniards were resenting some insult offered by the Algerines,—prompted by that sort of jealousy and dislike with which the lower classes of English blood have been in the habit of regarding those of other nationalities. The quarrel seemed especially at its height between one of the Spanish crew and a young man of remarkable stature in coarse seaman's dress, with a great bush of long yellow locks hanging over the collar of his jacket, whose name it appeared was Souter. The Spanish champion had drawn an ugly looking knife, from which unfamiliar weapon, flourished so near his person, the Algerine instinctively flinched. At this critical moment, the patriarch of the Yankee crew, a tall, gaunt old man, with grizzled hair, stepped into the arena, and, seizing the foreigner by the collar, cried out,—"Now I'll bet Tom Souter" (pronounced Saouter) "could take this 'ere fellow right here by the collar and shake every g—— right aout of him,"—using a more vulgar phrase, and suiting the action to the word so vigorously that the reeling and astounded Spaniard was glad enough to relinquish the field and to slink away crestfallen with his companions.
As a further illustration of the ways of our neighbors, I will give one more anecdote of an affair which occurred years afterwards. Not far from the hamlet of our friends, the Algerines, but within the borders of Massachusetts, was another settlement, on the outskirts of a thriving village, the male inhabitants of which also followed the calling of small farmers and fishermen, some of them diversifying these pursuits by the occupation of shoemaking, at the ungenial season of the year. They were industrious, and far less rude than their compatriots, to whom reference has just been made. At this point lived three young men, hard by each other, and brothers, of the name, I will say, of Lowe. One day a tall and respectable looking old gentleman called upon the writer of this history, announcing himself as Colonel Lowe, and the father of the three young men in question. He had formerly commanded, it seems, a regiment of militia, and had a sort of semi-military bearing. He was now in great agitation and distress, occasioned by some trouble in which his sons were involved, through forcible resistance to the civil authorities of the Commonwealth, and he required the professional services of the writer for their defence. He justly regarded it as a case likely to lead to very serious consequences, and particularly dreaded for the young men the disgraceful punishment of the State Prison. It was a case to elicit every degree of sympathy for the worthy Colonel, and to prompt every effort for his relief. The facts, as they appeared at the trial before the Court of Common Pleas, were quite picturesque. A constable had appeared with an execution against one of the young Lowes, in the matter of a claim which he disputed as unjust; but without giving the peace-officer opportunity to discharge his duty, he was driven from the ground by the trio, in mortal terror of his life. The execution of the process was then undertaken by a somewhat fantastic country deputy sheriff; who was ordered off as he attempted to approach the parties in defence, and between them and the officer there was a good deal of raillery, which had an important bearing upon the final result of the trial. At length, the elder brother Lowe drew a line with a stick across the road and defied the officer to pass it, which he declined to do, but at once made good his retreat, smothering his indignation at such a rebuff, until he could give it vent in more safety than the existing circumstances warranted. Such reckless conduct was not to be endured, and no doubt the deputy was laughed at by his neighbors for his failure to carry his purpose into effect. The majesty of the Commonwealth had been insulted in his official person, and he determined to summon a posse comitatus, to vindicate the power and dignity of the law. Stories in the country, especially those involving any extraordinary incidents, sometimes fly faster than in town, and accordingly these young rebels forewarned, no doubt, of the peril in prospect, prepared themselves, as well as they could, to resist the more formidable invasion presently to be expected. Before daylight, one morning, the mustered force of some twenty men, variously armed, led by the valiant sheriff's officer, cautiously drew near the premises, in the hope of catching the culprits asleep. The brothers were too quick for their visitors, however, and evidently having been on the watch had retreated to a barn, securely fastening the door, and awaited the approach of the enemy. They had with them certain weapons, which were exhibited in the court, consisting of ancient rusty halberds and spontoons, probably borne in turn by their gallant father, in his several gradations of military service. As they were summoned to surrender, a musket was discharged out of a window of the barn, over the heads of the assailants, occasioning considerable confusion in their line. Assuming courage, at length, axes and crowbars were brought into requisition, and the door was forced. As the attacking party entered, however, the Lowes let down the stairs leading to the story above a heavy broad cart-wheel, and as it bounded clattering towards the floor below, the assailants fled out of doors in a panic, and taking advantage of their disorder, the Lowes, disregarding the vast disproportion of numbers, rushed upon them, and a regular melee began. It is thought, that the smaller party would have been victorious, but for an ugly blow on the head of the youngest brother, which felled and disabled him; whereupon his associates escaped unmolested and he was taken helpless into the house, where he remained until the time of the trial. Of course, the jury found him guilty, for the facts of the case were patent; but it was taken up, by exceptions to the ruling of the Judge, into the Supreme Court, in which, though it would be irreverent to intimate that the justices entered at all into the humor of such a Donnybrook Fair sort of scrimmage, yet, after argument, and it is presumed in consideration of some provocation on the part of the sheriff's deputy, especially the needlessly warlike and really ridiculous aspect he impressed on the affair, leading the young men to look upon it rather as an invitation to play their part, than as a serious purpose to violate the law, the sentence imposed was only a few months' imprisonment in the common jail. The prosecution was never enforced against the brothers, and never was more lively gratitude displayed, than at the escape of the convicted culprit from sentence to the ignominious seclusion of the State Prison.
A term of the Court of Common Pleas was always held in the town in the month of September, and "court week" was a regular time of holiday for the pupils of the higher schools. Some of us attended upon these solemn proceedings with extraordinary interest, especially when criminal cases were before the court. I know not how it is, but suppose it to be the expected revelation of incidents, as in the plot of a novel, which draws crowds together, in most uncomfortable contiguity in a courtroom, whenever a culprit, especially one of more than usually notorious antecedents, is put upon his trial. While most of the old-fashioned lawyers of the Essex Bar were more than respectable for professional acquisitions and legal skill, there were persons among them of distinguished ability and character; and real eloquence seldom fails to prove peculiarly fascinating to youthful hearers. Who could forget, for example, with what rapt attention he listened, at a somewhat later date, to the glowing language and was stirred by the honest warmth of Saltonstall, incapable by nature of attempting to make the worse appear the better reason; or watched that marvel, the matchless ingenuity of Choate, whose faculties shone brightest, the more apparently hopeless was the cause at stake; or thrilled with profound admiration, under the resistless influence of Webster's force and closeness of argument, rising, with due occasion, to the highest point of eloquent illustration, when some more than usually important matter for adjudication by the court called him from the ordinary sphere of his great practice to the forum of a comparatively inferior tribunal.
Years afterwards, when I had the honor of a place at that Bar, I was much struck with the testimony of a respectable witness, a farmer named Sheldon, who lived near Beverly Corner, upon an indictment of a fellow for burglary, in entering Mr. Sheldon's house by night and taking the money from his pockets in his sleeping chamber without disturbing the occupants. One of the earliest questions proposed to him was,—"How did the robber gain entrance to the house?" and, by the way, the man had been previously employed as a laborer by the farmer. "I suppose he came in by the usual way," was the answer. "He came in by the door, do you mean?" "Yes." "How did he get it open?" "I suppose he lifted the latch." "Do you mean to say, that the door was not fastened?" "Yes I do; we never fasten it." The culprit was convicted upon various satisfactory testimony; but the incident betokens a state of security, at that period, and a rarity of flagitious offences, which puts to shame the demoralization of our own day. For the house in question stood on the high road and was scarcely more than half a mile distant from a populous neighborhood, and within less than three miles of a town with many thousands of inhabitants.
Strangely enough, considering the want of precaution on the part of the farmer, coming down, doubtless, from a still simpler period of social life, not half a mile from Mr. Sheldon's house stood a solitary habitation upon a desolate tract of land, and also near the highway, which at a time not long subsequent had acquired a very evil reputation; and with this house became connected circumstances which some may think scarcely admit of the solution of merely accidental occurrence. At the autumnal term of the court just indicated, when I had become a young practitioner at the bar, a certain vixenish old beldam was put upon trial for the offence of maintaining this ill reputed establishment. Her demeanor was singularly exceptional; for she did not scruple to interrupt the proceedings with the most fluent billingsgate, and upon receiving sentence berated the presiding judge in language betokening an extraordinary depth of desperate hardihood. Inquiry revealed the fact, that her solitary house, standing upon an elevated plain of some extent, the ground rising from the shores of Wenham Lake, in front but little removed from the road, and the space in its rear interspersed with scattered groups of funereal pines, had been the resort of various desperadoes, several of whom had suffered punishment for their crimes, and one of them had not long before committed suicide in jail, to escape public execution for a most atrocious murder.
Late one day, in the beginning of the following Spring, I happened to be called upon to proceed to Boston, distant some forty miles, upon the sudden requirement of certain business to be transacted the next morning in the city. It was before the railway was in operation, and to accomplish the object in view I was to drive this considerable distance in a chaise, at night and alone. I was accustomed to this mode of locomotion, in my attendance upon the several sessions of the courts in the county, and the idea of fear never entered my mind. Accordingly, starting about dusk, at half past ten o'clock of a starlit night, I had reached a point in the journey where the road rises by a gentle ascent to the plain, on which stood "the house of evil counsel." All at once, the scene and the narrative of the previous Fall flashed upon my mind. Before leaving home, I had bethought myself of a brace of pistols in my possession, which I had loaded and placed in the pockets of my overcoat. And now comes the remarkable circumstance to which I have already referred. These weapons had been borrowed of a friend, months before, when in the midst of an unusually exciting election for a member of congress, continuing some two years, and stirring up extraordinary rancor in the minds of some of the partisans of the several candidates, I had been threatened with violence, if I should attend the polls. I had notified my opponents that I should vote at a certain hour, on the appointed day, and placed these pistols in my pocket, by way of defence; but nothing inconsistent with my freedom of political action in fact occurred. This was the only time in my life that I had carried such implements, which were then put aside in the drawer of a bureau, and I have never thought it worth while to take them since, except on the occasion now referred to. I had thus provided myself with them, on an entirely different occasion, and took them with me, on a sudden thought, as I was about to proceed on my journey, more in the spirit of youthful bravado, than with any other motive; for the roads, at that period, were considered perfectly safe, by night as well as by day. As I have remarked, the thought of the shrewish and abandoned old woman, of her house and its evil companions, occurred to me, as my horse slowly ascended the rising ground towards the plain. In a few minutes I was in the neighborhood of a habitation which I looked upon rather with detestation than any emotion of alarm; when what was my astonishment to behold a man—the sound of the wheels of the chaise being doubtless audible at some distance in the clear, still night—come out of the gate in front of the house and station himself in the middle of the somewhat narrow highway. In fact, the stranger was within a rod of the vehicle, and must either be driven over or move out of the way. At this unexpected encounter, I own that my heart, as the saying is, jumped into my mouth; but I instantly drew and cocked my pistol, and the click probably disturbing the nerves of my proposed assailant, he turned aside without offering further molestation. In a few minutes, the lamps of the mail-stage, as it turned Beverly Corner on its way eastward, were a grateful spectacle, and my onward journey was pursued without other adventure. The driver of that stage afterwards informed me, that the trunks strapped to the rear of their coaches had more than once been cut off in that very neighborhood, and that on one occasion beams had been placed in the road so that the carriage would have been overturned, unless they had been discovered in time, and doubtless had been so placed for purposes of robbery. I inquired, why investigation did not take place on the spot; but the reply was, that the passengers were in haste to get on, were unarmed, and perhaps timid, and preferred to remove the obstacles and proceed upon their way. The contrast, however, is striking, between the habit of a farmer to leave his door unfastened at night and the machinations of rogues not a quarter of a mile distant, who could be guilty of such crimes. I believe, however, that the existence of such a nest of villains was quite exceptional at that period, and unknown to the farmer, and that his sense of safety, without the most ordinary means of protection to his premises, was at that time the rule. The reader may draw what conclusions he pleases from the facts of my own personal narrative.
I have remarked that politics, never stagnant in our ancient communities, at the period of my story, oftentimes grew extremely warm, and then every leading citizen took his personal part. Nor is it strange that the survivors of those who had borne their share in the Revolutionary War, who had the traditions, at least, of their fathers who served with the New England troops, and followed the gallant and generous Wolfe up the formidable heights of Abraham, and after the victorious field which cost that true hero his life, stood triumphant, under the Red Cross banner, upon the subjugated ramparts of Quebec, should exhibit marked peculiarities of character; should hold fast to strong opinions; and indeed should manifest that individuality and originality of thought and action which is scarcely witnessed in the promiscuous crowd of our own tamer times. Instead of that indifference, the bane of a republic, among the upper class, the result of accumulated wealth and luxurious habits, the chief men of both parties stood at the door of the Town Hall, on days of election, distributing votes, and encouraging the timid and the doubtful, and their influence was effectively felt in the direction of public affairs, which now seem mostly to be left to the management of the least competent, and often the most ignorant, mercenary, and corrupt. I firmly believe that the equal, if not preeminent position long maintained by Massachusetts, among rivals vastly superior in territory and population, was owing to the active interest formerly taken by her leading men of all professions and occupations in the politics of the day, and that thus the sources of political well being were kept comparatively pure. At present, these men take their political opinions from the newspaper they read, and trouble themselves very little further about a matter in which their own stake, one would think, would rouse them to exertion, from the promptings of enlightened self-interest, if not from the more generous emotions of public spirit.