John Gorham Palfrey (1796-1881) graduated from Harvard in 1815. He was preacher at the Brattle Square Unitarian Church in Boston beginning in 1818, was a member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives (1842-1843), MA secretary of state (1844-1848), and a Representative in the U.S. Congress (1847-1849).
PRONOUNCED AT BARNSTABLE
ON THE THIRD OF SEPTEMBER, 1839,
AT THE CELEBRATION OF THE
SECOND CENTENNIAL ANNIVERSARY
SETTLEMENT OF CAPE COD.
By JOHN GORHAM PALFREY.
We are assembled to celebrate, with suitable observance, the two hundredth anniversary of the legal organization of a civilized community on the peninsula of Cape Cod. It was in the summer or autumn of 1639, and, according to a credible account, on the third day of September, that an act of the General Court of Plymouth Colony incorporated the town of Barnstable; which accordingly is found to have deputies present at the next quarterly Court, held in December of that year. 1 The incorporation of Sandwich and Yarmouth, it seems, had already taken place, as they were represented at the Court held in the preceding June, the first after the adoption of the representative form of government in the place of meetings of the whole body of freemen. From these three towns, which, with the four others of earlier settlement, namely, Plymouth, Duxbury, Scituate, and Taunton, then constituted the whole of the Plymouth jurisdiction, the plantations, in process of time, were extended to the extreme point, in what is now Provincetown. And when, in the year 1685, the territory of Plymouth, having then a population, it is probable, of about eight thousand souls, was set off into three counties, the Cape towns were made to constitute the county of Barnstable, as they have continued to do to the present time.
The Committee, at whose invitation I occupy this place, know the strong misgivings with which I undertook a service otherwise on every account most grateful and welcome, because of my inability, for reasons stated to them, to do it even that poor justice, to which, under more favorable circumstances, I might have been competent. But, being here, I will take up none of your time with apologies, nor use any further preface, except to say, that, if my hearers find themselves called upon to honor a longer draft upon their patience than either they or I would have wished, it is simply because, as Erasmus said of his too long letter to a friend, “I had not the time to be shorter.”
This great concourse bears witness at once to the inherent interest of the occasion which has invited it, and declares that there is no insensibility to that interest on the part of those, to whom belongs the precious joint inheritance of the good name of a brave and godly ancestry. We are no such unworthy sons of worthy fathers, that we could be content to have this day see us anywhere but by the gentis cunabula nostrae, the cradle of the now wide-spread race, or to have it see us assembled here only as cold spectators of a pompous pageant. No; I am sure, that I only express the thought, which is uppermost in every bosom that claims an hereditary share in this day’s commemoration, when I say for myself, that no earthly bribe would tempt me to resign the knowledge, if it could be resigned, that I belong to the lineage of those staunch and true men, who sowed the seeds of that harvest, which two centuries have been ripening in this excellently productive region of Cape Cod. Productive, I make free to call it. Unpromising, penurious, it may look upon the surface. Largely bountiful, however, it has proved itself in the best abundance, that of sense and virtue.
Some of us have lived, as they were born, near to the spot where we are assembled. Others, from their wanderings to and fro, come to-day to do it reverence as the native soil, from which they drew principles and habits, that have made them prosperous and honored wherever they have gone to seek their fortunes in the wide world. To the hearts of others yet, who may not claim it s their birthplace, it is hallowed by moving associations as the home of beloved parents or revered forefathers; and in this class I include our friends, who have gathered with us from the neighbouring towns to keep this festival; for who is there of them, that has not blood in his veins from this our copious Barnstable fountain? In short, here we are, fellow-citizens and friends, a band of brothers and sister,--of cousins, at the furthest,--seated, a widely-gathered family meeting, on the broad and hospitable ancestral hearth-stone. We meet in hearty good-will; and we do not mean to separate till we have made each other’s better acquaintance, talking over old times so sociably together, that, parting, we may go again on our several ways, rejoicing in and profited by the interview, more concerned for each other’s good fortune and honor, and more ambitious, one and all, to do credit to the stout stock we grew upon.
In proceeding to tell that old world’s tale, with which alone the occasion prompts the lips of the speaker, it will be necessary for me, in order to keep any terms with the extent of the subject, to confine myself, for the most part, to events of which the town of Barnstable has been the scene; and, still further, to limit my observations to a few prominent periods in its history. And in this latter particular of the course proposed, I shall feel the rather justified, because I think it will be found, that, at critical periods, this town has always come forward to take its full share in public measures and responsibilities; while, in quiet and prosperous times, it has been content to give a quiet attention to its own affairs, still doing well its own work in the world, but contributing few materials for history.
The southern cape of Massachusetts Bay has been known to navigators since the year 1602. On the fifteenth day of May in that year, Bartholomew Gosnold, on a voyage from Falmouth in England to the north part of Virginia (a name which early included almost all the territory now known as New England), saw a headland in the forty-second degree of north latitude, near to which he anchored, and, catching there “great store of cod-fish,” named it Cape Cod. When, in 1620, the first company of Pilgrims, in the Mayflower, were treacherously brought far north of their destination, which was to Hudson’s River, the first land which they made was Cape Cod; and, in the harbor of Provincetown, on the eleventh day of November, old style, was executed that document, which, realizing, for the first time in the world’s history, the philosophical fiction of a Social Compact, became the basis of their colony government.
In July, 1621, Barnstable harbor was visited by a party of ten men from Plymouth, in a shallop, commanded by Captain Miles Standish. They came in quest of a boy, who had been lost in the woods, and who, it appeared, had fallen in with a party of Indians, and been conducted by them to Nauset, now Eastham. They were courteously received by the young sachem of the territory, who was named lyanough. He accompanied them to Nauset, and, having aided them to accomplish the objet of their expedition, dismissed them, after many mutual pledges of friendship. Subsequently, frequent excursions were made by the Plymouth people to Cummaquid and Matakiest, both which names belonged to what is now included in Barnstable, for the purpose of obtaining corn from the natives.
There were some English settlers here as early as 1638, as an order of the Plymouth Court, for that year, appointing men in each town and plantation to exercise the people in arms, assigns that charge to Thomas Dimmock for Barnstable. But the number probably was small; and the body of the early planters belonged to the Scituate church, which (or rather a majority of its members), with its minister, the Reverend Mr. Jon Lothrop, emigrated from that town to this, arriving here on the eleventh day of October, 1639.
This circumstance makes the First Church in Barnstable the representative of the first Congregational church established in England, unless, which perhaps was the fact, the church of John Robinson, now surviving in that of Plymouth, was organized on Congregational principles before he left the mother country for Holland. Mr. Henry Jacob, a clergyman of the English Church, who had written a book against the English Congregationalists, or, as they were then called, Brownists, who were in exile on the continent, going over to Leyden, and falling in there with Robinson, ended by embracing his principles of church order and discipline. Returning home he established, in 1616, a society after the Congregational model, and ministered to it himself eight years; at the end of which time, departing to Virginia, he was succeeded in his place by Mr. John Lothrop, a graduate of the University of Oxford, who, like himself, had been in Episcopal orders. At the end of eight years more, the congregation, which, of course, conducted its worship in strict privacy, was discovered, by the bishop’s pursuivant [attendant], at the house of a brewer’s clerk in Black-Friars, London. Forty-two persons were apprehended; eighteen escaped. Those who were taken were confined in different prisons for two years, and were then released upon bail, except their minister, for whom no favor could be obtained. “During the time of his imprisonment,”—this is the simple record of Morton, in his “Memorial,” who wastes no words, for he had many such sad stories to tell,--“his wife fell sick, of which sickness she died. He procured liberty of the bishop to visit his wife before her death, and commended her to God by prayer, who soon after gave up the ghost. At his return to prison, his poor children, being many, repaired to the bishop at Lambeth, and made known unto him their miserable condition, by reason of their good father’s being continued in close durance, who commiserated their condition so far as to grant him liberty, who soon after came over into New England.” What a picture of the condition of those melancholy times! That meek witness for Christ obtaining, as a great boon, the privilege of going to make one prayer by his dying wife’s bed-side; those poor orphan children drying their eyes with their mother’s shroud, to go and implore of the bishop’s clemency, that he would let their widowed father out of a loathsome gaol, on condition that he would betake himself to the ends of the earth, never more to lift a voice for his Master within the realm of England.
Another interesting fact, connected with that primitive English Congregational church, which still survives in our church at Great Marshes, is, that from its bosom also proceeded the first English Baptist church; so that it is further entitled to the eminent rank of parent of the now very numerous churches of that denomination, both in England and America. It was in Mr. Lothrop’s church, that the question respecting the authority for infant baptism was first moved in England, and it was seceders from that church who laid the foundation of this respectable communion.
Mr. Lothrop, leaving Mr. Canne, still well known as the author of the marginal references to the Bible, to minister to the portion of his flock which remained in England, came, with the principal part of it, to this country, landing at Boston, on the 18th of September, 1634. He proceeded in a few days to Scituate, where a meetinghouse had previously been erected, and there, to use the phrase of those days, he was presently “called to office,” being the predecessor there of President Chauncy. Five years he remained in Scituate, during which time the differences respecting the rite of baptism, which had divided his friends in England, manifested themselves also there; and partly; it is probable, on this account, as well as for the distinctly alleged reason of a view to the benefit of “the hay-grounds,”—that is, on the Great Marshes,--he resolved to emigrate with the majority of his church to this place. Their first destination had been to Seipigan, now Rochester, and lands had there been assigned to them. But this spot was their mature preference.
I know not, that there was any thing to distinguish the planters of Barnstable from the rest of those good men, who, escaping from the civil and ecclesiastical oppression which was grinding them in their English home, formed the early settlements of New England. It is enough to say in their praise, that they belonged to that noble company. Arrived here, such information as can be gathered from the town books respecting their pursuits, shows that these were for the most part agricultural, and that it was only by degrees, that the advantages of their situation for the employments of fishing and of navigation were perceived and turned to account, a they have been so largely in later times. Most of the records of that early period relate to titles to land, as purchased from the Indians, granted by the town to single inhabitants, and passing from hand to hand among them. The principle of original distribution of both meadow and uplands, it appears, was, that one third part of the common property should be assigned “in equal parts to every house-lot”; one third part, “according to men’s estates”; and the other third part, “to the number of names” that were “immovable,” that is, to such residents in the plantation as were married, or were twenty-four years of age. No one was allowed to purchase land of the natives on his private account. With them the whole intercourse was, from first to last, of the most amicable character. Not only were the town and county of Barnstable entitled to their full share in the boast of Governor Winslow, when, in 1675, he said, “Before the present troubles broke out, the English did not possess one foot of land in the colony, but what was fairly obtained by honest purchase of the Indian proprietors;” but I cannot learn, that, at any time since the settlement, a single act of hostility has taken place, within the limits of the county, between the planters and the natives.
The Indians sold their land, it is true, for what seems to us a very small consideration. But this implies no overreaching on the part of the purchasers. The first conveyance, of which the conditions are particularly recorded, was made in the year 1644, when Serunk, an Indian “dwelling on the South Sea,” sells and makes over to the town of Barnstable “all the lands and meadow lying betwixt the bounds of Sandwich and the bounds of Paxit,” another Indian, in consideration of “four coats and three axes”; and there are other transactions of similar tenor. But, if the Indian received but little in such bargains, what was it, let us ask, that he gave? Not the regular, permanent occupation of the soil; this, from his idle and roving habits, he never enjoyed, and did not care for; but simply the privilege of taking fish and game, now at this spot, and now at that within the limits of the tract conveyed. And even this privilege he sometimes reserved, in which case all that he obtained by the barter was so much clear gain. For instance, in 1648, Paupnumuck, Sachem of South Sea, “with the consent of his brother, and all the rest of his associates, bargains and sells to Miles Standish, in the behalf and for the use of the inhabitants of Barnstable, all his and their lands facing upon South Sea, a little beyond a brook, called the First Herring Brook westward, to Nepoyetum’s and Seagumuck’s land northward, excepting thirty acres [which he reserves for himself and his associates], and butting home to Iyanno’s land eastward.” 2 This he conveys in consideration of “two brass kettles, one bushel of Indian corn, and one half part of so much fence as will fence in the aforesaid thirty acres of land, to be made by the inhabitants.” Then follows the proviso, that Paupnumuck and his associates “shall have free leave and liberty to hunt in the said lands and set traps,” which, with their thirty neighbouring acres for wigwams, was doubtless all the use they would have wished to make of the land, had they continued to hold it in fee. While they kept substantially what they always had had, they got their fence, their kettles, and corn; and they probably gave themselves credit for having the advantage of the new-comers in that bargain.
Mr. Lothrop died November 8th, 1653. By his will he gave to his wife one house in Barnstable, to his son Thomas another, and to his sons John in England and Benjamin here, each a cow and five pounds; “daughters Jane and Barbara,” he says, “having had their portion already.” To each of his other children he gave a cow, and to each child “one book, to be chosen according to their ages;” the rest of his library he ordered to be “sold to any honest man, who could tell how to use it,” and the proceeds to be divided. Morton, in his “Memorial,” describes him as “a man of an humble and broken heart and spirit; lively in dispensation of the word of God; studious of peace; furnished with godly contentment; willing to spend and be spent for the cause and church of Christ.” Among his eminent descendants were the late Reverend Dr. Lathrop of West Springfield and Dr. Lathrop of Boston, and the Honorable Samuel Lathrop, recently President of the Senate of Massachusetts. Prince names, among the manuscripts used by him in his “Chronological History,” an “original register, wrote by the Reverend Mr. John Lothrop, recoding the first affairs both of Scituate and Barnstable.” But I suppose, that nothing is known of the fate of that previous document, and that there is no ground for hope, that it will ever be recovered.
Tradition designates the great rock in the highway, a little more than two miles west from us, near Mr. Isaac Hinkley’s brick house, as the place of worship in the early part of Mr. Lothrop’s ministry, as well as the place for elections, and for transacting the civil affairs of the town. A portion of that memorable rock was removed a few years ago, being thought to overhang the road in a dangerous manner. It was, however, happily only a portion; and it is to be presumed, that the fathers of the town will take are, that it be never molested again, except on some extreme occasion. The first meetinghouse, of the erection of which we find any record, stood about a mile and a quarter west from this spot, on the west side of the old burying-ground. Four acres for a house-lot had been assigned to Mr. Lothrop soon after his arrival, on the eastern side of that enclosure, which had probably been used for interments from the first settlement. After the first five years of Mr. Lothrop’s ministry, he was assisted for several years by Mr. Mayo, afterwards of Boston. From Mr. Lothrop’s death there was no settled ministry for ten years; at the end of which time Mr. Thomas Walley was ordained, whom, say the church records, and Morton, who copies them, “the Lord was pleased to make a blessed peace-maker, and to improve him in the work of his house there, until March 24th, 1678, and then he called him out of this earthly tabernacle into a house not made with hands.” Mr. Walley (who left children here, one of whom, Major John Walley, commanded the land forces in the expedition against Canada, under Sir William Phips, in 1690,) was succeeded, September 16th, 1683, by the Reverend Jonathan Russell, son of that Russell, minister of Hadley, who for a time afforded a hiding-place in his cellar to Goffe, one of the fugitive judges of King Charles. Our venerable friend, Mr. Isaiah Green, here present, is the representative of that excellent stock; his grandmother, wife of the Reverend Joseph Green, afterwards minister of the east parish, having been a daughter of the second Jonathan Russell, son and successor of him whom I just now named.
The company, which came from Scituate to this place, numbered twenty-five men. In 1641, some families were added from Lynn. In 1643, forty-five names of men are recorded; and in 1670, eighty-nine. In 1655, and the five or six following years, the Quakers occasioned much disturbance, and some dissension, in this as well as other parts of the colony; some good and influential men, among whom was Walley, the minister, being dissatisfied with the measures of severity towards them, which the majority thought it necessary to adopt. With this exception, as far as it appears, the affairs of the town and county kept on, quite evenly, the noiseless tenor of their way, till the year 1675, the date of the outbreak of the dreadful conflict so well known in New England history by the name of King Philip’s War. I say, as far as appears, such was the fact; for our Barnstable fathers were men of such business-like habits, they had so little taste for parade, and were so unconscious of the figure which what they were doing and suffering was suited to make in the eyes of posterity, that one may look through the records belonging to a period known from other sources to have been beset with all sorts of hardship and peril, and, unless there was something which needed to be brought to the test of a vote in town meeting, he shall find not the slightest allusion to the momentous events, which every burdened and anxious day was bringing forth. He turns these faded leaves to find some note of the spasmodic struggles, which were made in every high place and every low place, throughout the sad borders of the Plymouth Colony, to meet the dreaded Indian enemy; of the anguish which was brought daily into these village homes, by tidings from the distant field; and all that meets his eye, on the scantily covered page, is some proper, no doubt, but to us insignificant matter of municipal regulation, some law for the branding of sheep, the yoking of swine, or repairs upon the highway.
From two or three incidental facts, however, of the most agreeable character, we infer what direction the industry of the Cape towns had already taken, during the first forty years of their existence. We learn, from the Plymouth records, that in June, 1673, the excise on Cape Cod mackerel,--the excise, not the bounty, as in these better days for the fisheries,--was lessened, to citizens, from twelve pence to six pence, and, to foreigners, from two shillings to one shilling, on the barrel; and in the same year, the revenue from the Cape fishery was permanently appropriated to the support of Grammar School instruction;--could our cod and mackerel, fellow-citizens, have been put to better use? Our Nantucket friends are now proud, and justly, of their whale fishery, the adventurous enterprise of which extorted the magnificent eulogy of Edmund Burke. We have no grudge against the laurels which they have earned so well, and wear so gracefully. But neither would we have them forget the beginning of their greatness. Like so many other good things, the skill of their death-play with the sea monster is to be traced to the practice of our Barnstable fathers. In their records for 1690, they may find it written; “One Ichabod Paddock came from Cape Cod, to instruct the people in the art of killing whales.”
None who are listening to me need to be told, that rarely has any people passed through a crisis of dismay and suffering, like what befell these infant colonies, in their life-struggle against the Indian confederacy, arranged by the Sachem of Mount Hope. Rarely has what was to be done and borne been in such immense disproportion to the means possessed. The political talent and energy of Philip were far above the standard, at which we are accustomed to rate the aboriginal races. He had succeeded in enlisting in his plot all the hitherto discordant, or, at least, jealously independent tribes, within the limits of New England, and in nerving them with the desperate courage of a determination, that, the tomahawk once raised, the issue should be extermination to the one party or the other. From the first rising, the war swept, with its train of most unsparing horrors, wherever there was a white settlement, from the mountains to the bay, and from the St. Lawrence to Long Island Sound. The red man encamped at night by the blaze of Christian dwellings, and rose in the morning to another quest of blood. The burning of Lancaster, and the slaughter of Bloody Brook, were no more than two of the most vivid of the rapidly shifting scenes of that awful tragedy. The Indian mood was not so much hate as frenzy;
“It spared not, in its murderous rage,
Childhood, or womanhood, or age.”
The population of the four colonies, at the time, has been variously estimated at from thirty-six thousand to fifty thousand; that of Plymouth was about seven thousand five hundred. The Indian tribes were around them and among them, over the whole length and breadth of New England. Under such circumstances, common men would only have despaired. The colonists were not common men, and they did not despair. All seemed against them; but they had stout English hearts, and stout yeomen’s hands, and the protection of the availing prayers that went up from pious homes; and, at length, by the blessing of the God of hosts, they triumphed. But it was a triumph won at almost intolerable cost. “About six hundred,” says Trumbull, “of the inhabitants of New England, the greatest part of whom were the flower and strength of the country, fell in battle, or were murdered by the enemy. A great part of the inhabitants of the country were in deep mourning. There were few families, which had not lost some near relation or friend. Twelve or thirteen towns in Massachusetts, Plymouth, or Rhode Island, were utterly destroyed, and others greatly damaged. About six hundred building, chiefly dwelling houses, were consumed.” The pecuniary burden of the war was so great, that the share of Plymouth Colony is believed to have nearly or quite equaled the whole personal property of its inhabitants. No considerable aid towards the discharge of this debt was received from abroad. Boston, after its manner in all times, and Conneticut, made donations; and the city of Dublin sent a hundred and twenty-five pounds, the only contribution from the parent country. The pressure was such, as made the time of decisive triumph a time of profound gloom and distress.
The vigor, with which this war was conducted on the part of the colonists, appears the more remarkable, and yields the more gratifying assurance of what there is in the transplanted English stock, which never is so lost by disuse, but that the proper circumstances will draw it out gain, when we consider, that the contest was conducted by men whose whole previous life had been passed in peaceful occupations. From 1624, when Standish had a skirmish with the Indians near Weston’s plantation, the Plymouth people had never been at war with the natives; though, in 1637, it is true they had raised levies to assist the Massachusetts colony, if need should be, against the Pequots. Nor, from the time of the Pequot war to that of King Philip, thirty-eight years, time enough for the former generation to pass away, had even the Massachusetts settlers had any experience in arms.
Of the part, which the town of Barnstable bore in the deeds and sufferings of this terrible contest, there is nothing upon its records to inform us. Of the new levy, however, of three hundred Plymouth men, in the spring of 1676, Barnstable was called on for one-tenth part; and in its share of the disbursements of one period of the war, which probably is to be taken for a sample of others, it is found to have been exceeded by only two other towns, namely, Scituate and Rehoboth. Matthew Fuller, captain of one of the Barnstable train-bands, was surgeon-general of the forces, and John Gorham, the first of the name in this place, commanded one of the two companies of the Plymouth contingent, in which service he died, towards the close of the expedition, of a fever, contracted in its dreadful fatigues and exposures. 3 In the spring of 1676, the four Cape towns, Sandwich, Barnstable, Yarmouth, and Eastham, sent a deputation to the inhabitants of the more exposed settlements of Rehoboth, Taunton, and Bridgewater, with a pressing invitation to come to them with their movable property. The answers to this proposal, which remain among the manuscripts of Governor Hinckley, in the Historical Society’s Library, breathe such a grateful and devout spirit, as it delights one to contemplate. They call it “a great offer,” and “return serious thanks for the sincere and abundant love” evinced by it, but decline to accept it, “lest,” they say, “we should betray much diffidence and cowardice, and give the adversary occasion to triumph over us, to the reproach of that great and fearful name of God, that is called on us.”
My remarks on this early period have unintentionally been so far extended, that it will be necessary to abridge what is to be said respecting the events of later times. Sixteen years after the close of Philip’s war, on the 14th of May, 1692, Sir William Phips arrived in Boston, with the Provincial Charter of William and Mary, by virtue of which instrument, this town and county, with the rest of the old Plymouth Colony, became part of the Province of Massachusetts Bay. It was natural, that a community, whose beginning and progress had been like that of Plymouth, should be averse to a change, that was to destroy its individual existence, and make it a mere appendage to a more populous and powerful commonwealth; nor, at this day, is it possible to think, without strong sensibility, of the closing of a history, which, though of a population probably at no period more than thrice as great s that of this single town at the present time, has exerted such a vast influence on the condition of mankind, and assumed permanently such a conspicuous place in the world’s annals. But, whatever natural feeling might dictate, practically there were no important evils in the measure, and some considerable benefits; and the men of that time were candid and calm enough to see this; so that the new arrangement was acquiesced in with less discontent, than might have been anticipated, and the more readily, as there had been an apprehension of a purpose, on the part of King William’s advisers, to annex the Plymouth Colony to that of New York. Plymouth could bear to be merged in the kindred English community of Massachusetts; but to be fastened to the Dutch population of the other province was a different and less agreeable thing, though the Prince of Orange, who was now king of England, might not see the difficulty in the same serious light.
At the time of the annexation of Plymouth to Massachusetts, Thomas Hinckley, of Barnstable, was governor of the former colony. He was a native of England, where he was born in the year 1618. Before 1639, he had come over, with his father Samuel, to Scituate, and, as a member of his family, removed in that year to this place. From an early age, he was appointed to important trusts in the town affairs; became a Deputy to the Colony Court as early as 1645; and in 1658 was elected Assistant to the Governor. To this office he was annually reappointed till 1681, when he was advanced to the office of Governor, which office he sustained during the remaining eleven years of the existence of the colony, with the exception of the three years of the usurpation of Sir Edmund Andros. In 1675, 1676, 1678, and the fourteen following years, he was one of the two Commissioners for Plymouth in the Board of Commissioners for Plymouth in the Board of Commissioners of the United Colonies. He lived and died in a house which stood opposite to the present dwelling of Mr. Jabez Nye, about two miles west from this place. His death, at the advanced age of eighty-eight, took place in 1706; and what of him was mortal lies interred in the upper burying-ground, marked by a stone which will continue to attract the steps of many and many a pilgrim, alive to the worth of our wise and good New England fathers.
Governor Hinckley’s course, distinguished, and, on the whole, prosperous as it was, was not without its vicissitudes and vexations. From some incidents of it, it is necessary to infer, that he was a man of much energy of purpose, which, when conciliation,--and that, too, not very abundant conciliation,--did not avail, was not averse to the use of urgency and coercion. He first came into the Board of Assistants on the ground of the strong part which he took against the Quakers, superseding Cudworth, who was for dealing with them more leniently. On the other hand, he did not escape the charge of undue pliancy in respect to one important measure, that of his consenting to take office under the administration of Andros. The same step, however, was taken by two of his townsmen, Thomas Walley and Barnabas Lothrop, who, like him, defended it as enabling them to exert an agency in staying the arbitrary proceedings of King James’s governor; and the honesty of their plea cannot be doubted, whatever may be thought of the wisdom of the course. During this mournful period of misrule, the place which Governor Hinckley held in the administration did not prevent him from distinguishing himself, by the earnestness of his representations on the subject of existing evils, in a petition to the King; nor does the part which he took in any of the transactions of the period appear to have occasioned any permanent abatement of the public confidence. While the question of a separate charter for Plymouth was pending, he seems to have been wanting in no proper endeavour to bring about the measure; and it was thought a great object to secure his service, had circumstances permitted, to proceed to England on the business. In what is said to his praise, it ought never to be omitted, that he had qualities to secure a matrimonial prize, such as, if the reports of the day are to be trusted, falls to the lot of few. His second wife, to whom he was united more than forty-three years, appears to have possessed a character excellently suited to correct the occasional impetuosity,--the acerbity, if so in any degree it were,--of his own. It was said of her by Prince, the Historian, her grandson, that, “at Barnstable, she, to the day of her death, appeared and shone, in the eyes of all, as the loveliest and brightest woman, for beauty, knowledge, wisdom, majesty, accomplishments, and graces, throughout the colony;” and her husband’s own tribute to her memory, written at the age of eighty-five, breathes not indeed the most tuneful spirit of song, but the very tenderest soul of affection. A few of the lines are as follows;
“Death was no terror unto her, nor fear;
No ghastliness did in her face appear,
But sweet composure, in her life, and death,
When her dear soul she, in her final breath,
Resigned to him whom she beheld in faith;
Whose own she was, and with him longed to be,
Where she is free from sin and misery;
Is entered into perfect, endless rest,
And with the blest above is ever blest.”
After Governor Hinckley,--if indeed we are to say after him,--there was no more eminent citizen of our town, during the term of the independence of Plymouth colony, than James Cudworth. I say, “of our town,” because he was one of the company, which came, in 1639, with Mr. Lothrop, though he remained here only a few years. He was born in England, and was, in 1634, with the earliest settlers at Scituate; after his return to which place, he was, in 1649, elected a Deputy to the General Court, and, in 1656, an Assistant to the Governor. In 1655 and 1657, he was also a Commissioner of the United Colonies. In 1658, in consequence of his views of the public policy respecting the Quakers, views more indulgent towards that sect than suited the spirit of the time, he was left out of the magistracy, being superseded by Hinckley, as I have already mentioned, in his office of assistant. At the accession, in 1673, of Governor Josiah Winslow, who reposed in him the highest confidence, he was appointed commander of an expedition against the settlement, at New York, of the Dutch, with whom a war seemed then impending. At the breaking out of King Philip’s war, he was made commander of the Plymouth forces. In 1681, when Hinckley was chosen Governor, Cudworth succeeded him in the office of Deputy-Governor; and, in the same year, was sent to England, to solicit a charter from the crown, in place of the patent from the Plymouth Company, which was all the authority the colony had yet had for administering its affairs. He died in London soon after his arrival. Mr. Baylies, in his History of the Old Colony, says, “The moral character of Cudworth stands out in bold relief….From the maxims of his pious philosophy, believing that he was not called by God to fill the high places of the state, he reconciled himself to his obscurity and privacy, and preferred the retirement of his farm to the highest civic and military honors.” Let me illustrate this modesty of his, and, at the same time, something of the domestic habits of the period, by a quotation from his letter in reply to the Governor’s communication of his appointment to lead the expedition against the Dutch. “The place,” says he, “is not below me nor beneath me, as some deem theirs to be, but is above me, and far beyond any desert of mine; and, had the Court been well acquainted with my insufficiency for such an undertaking, doubtless I should not have been put in nomination. Besides, it is evident to me, upon other considerations, I am not called of God unto this work at this time. The estate and condition of my family is such as will not admit of any such thing. My wife, as is well known to the whole town, is not only a weak woman, and has been so all along, but now, by reason of age, being sixty-seven years and upwards, and nature decaying, so her illness grows more strongly upon her. Never a day passes, but she is forced to rise at break of day, or before. She cannot lie, for want of breath. And when she is up, she cannot light a pipe of tobacco, but it must be lighted for her. And she has never a maid. And she has never a maid. That day your letter came to my hands, my maid’s year being out, she went away, and I cannot get or hear of another. And then, in regard of my occasions abroad, for the tending and looking after all my creatures, the fetching home my hay, that is yet at the place where it grew, getting of wood, going to mill, and for the performing all other family occasions, I have now but a small Indian boy, about thirteen years of age, to help me. Sir, I can truly say, that I do not in the least waive the business out of an effeminate or dastardly spirit; but am as freely willing to sere my king and my country as any man whatsoever, in what I am capable and fitted for; but do not understand, that a man is so called to serve his country with the inevitable ruin and destruction of his own family.”
So little was there of state, in those times, in the household economy of the commander-in-chief in a foreign war; so little of the lust of office had the New England statesmen and soldiers of the seventeenth century. Indeed, it is amusing and touching at once, to see how hard, in those days, it was to induce men to be willing to be great. “If now or hereafter,” says a Plymouth law of 1632, “any are elected to the office of Governor, and will not stand to the election, nor hold and execute the office for his year, he shall be amerced in twenty pounds sterling fine; and in case refused to be paid upon the lawful demand of the ensuing Governor, then to be levied out of the goods or chattels of the said person so refusing.”
When Plymouth colony came to its end, our fathers were not insensible to the interest of the occasion, and their last public act was to appoint a day for public fasting, humiliation, and prayer. Modest, sublime men; not a day of thanksgiving to praise God for the pregnant, the unparalleled part, which, in their short political life, they had been permitted to act in the world’s history, but a day of fasting and humiliation to lament their sins and short-comings, and implore forgiveness for having done no more. What an outpouring of pious hearts before God must that day have witnessed in the sanctuary and the closet! What would we not give to penetrate the privacy of our Barnstable Governor that day, and read, in some record which he might have kept, the swelling thoughts that must almost have burst his magnanimous bosom;--him who had stood by the cradle of the brae colony, had been from first to last the associate in weal and woe of its great and good men, and now had lied, himself the chief among the living, to see, as that day’s sun went down, the last chapter written up in its immortal annals.
The fall of Philip and capture of Annawon, who, with something of his spirit, had succeeded to the command of his forces, quieted the settlers in the possession of New-England; and the annexation of Plymouth to Massachusetts, destroying its distinct political existence, and so lessening its responsibility for public measures, as well as removing the seat of its government to a distance, caused its towns to have less concern than heretofore with the conduct of affairs. Also, as I have before remarked, in quiet times, the people of the Cape have always been a quiet people, in a respect to movements which furnish the material of history; being content then to expend their energies in profitable industry, at the same time holding themselves ready to serve the general cause as often as it really needed to be served. That they actually had a part in what was doing from time to time, we learn more from scattered memorials elsewhere, than from records of their own. In 1704, Lieutenant-Colonel John Gorham, whose body lies at the northeast corner of this church, commanded the whale-boats in the expedition under Colonel Church, against the eastern French and Indians, as he had done fourteen years before, in the expedition against Canada, under Sir William Phips. Indeed, this command of Cape whale-boats, which in the want of a better marine, seem to have been relied on, in those times, as a formidable force, appears to have been a kind of heirloom in that family; as in 1745, at the capture of Louisburg, another Gorham commanded the squadron of whale-boats, which, in an attack upon the “island battery,” so called, did the only hard fighting which occurred in the course of that most memorable enterprise.
As to matters of mere municipal concern, we find that nearly all, which were of interest, related to the proceedings of the parish, which, for seventeen years within the last century, continued to be coextensive with the town. In 1702, eighty acres of land were appropriated to the maintenance of a school or schools, and eighty more to the support of the ministry. The Reverend Mr. Russell, the third minister, called by Dr. Chauncy “an eminent and worthy man,” died February 2d, 1711. After his death, the question of a division into two parishes began to be moved. The proposal was met by strong opposition, and it labored unsuccessfully for four or five years. A record, in 1716, of the appointment of Colonel Gorham and Mr. Thacher as a committee to attend the church meeting in behalf of the new church, shows, that the friends of the plan had resolved, and were persons of sufficient substance, to carry it into effect. The following year, (the meetinghouse, which was lately removed from the place where we stand, then called Cobb’s Hill, having been already erected without a parish organization,) an ecclesiastical council of the neighbouring churches advised to a division into the East and West parishes, prescribing as a condition of the arrangement, that the minister, the Reverend Jonathan Russell, who had been ordained the year after his father’s death, 4 should make his election which of the parishes he would continue to serve. He elected to serve the West parish; specifying, in his reply, that the consideration which decided him so to do, against inducements of a contrary tendency, was, that in that part of the town he had most friends.
The West parish presently proceeded to build a new house of worship, the same which to this day they occupy; and the old church, which had stood only since 1681 (having been then erected at the cost of one hundred pounds sterling, in the interval between the ministries of Walley and the first Russell), was consequently deserted. Its site was on the top of the hill, ten rods west of the house of the late Sturgis Gorham. The East parish, which bought the meetinghouse, lately removed, of its builders, for four hundred and fifty pounds, continued destitute of a minister for eight years; at the end of which time, on the 12th of May, 1725, Mr. Joseph Green was ordained. In 1726, the peace of the West parish was invaded by that fruitful occasion of breach of harmony, difference of opinion respecting the manner of conducting the musical part of the service; and so far did the dispute proceed, that “the church and society,” says the record, “called upon the civil officers to detect and bear testimony against such iniquity.” Mr. Russell died September 10th, 1759. His successor, ordained in October of the following year, was the late Reverend Oakes Shaw, father of the present Chief Justice of Massachusetts. The two ministries of Mr. Russell and Mr. Shaw covered the term of a complete century, within five years. Mr. Green, of the East parish, died October 4th, 1770, and was succeeded, April 10th, 1771, by Mr. Timothy Hilliard, who, after twelve years’ service, was dismissed at his own request, and ended his days as minister of the church in Cambridge.
Within the limits of the period, to which the events thus hastily glanced at belong, a son of Barnstable had done a work, and attained a glory, scarcely equaled by any great name of the American continent. On the 5th of February, 1725, in a farmhouse at Great Marshes, which within a few years has gone to decay and been removed, but which, could money and art have preserved it, the gratitude of an emancipated people should have made to stand for ever, was born the pioneer of the American Revolution, James Otis.
I do not, fellow-citizens, call him the pioneer of American freedom. That is an honor which belongs not to any man, but to the men, the brave men,--not one, but many—who, with a noble scorn, left every thing they loved but liberty behind them on the other continent, and to whom and to whose children in the succeeding generations, here, on “this outside of the world,” as they called it, freedom was an ever-present blessing, and the independence that should make it securely theirs, an ever-present vision of the future. But, in the accomplishment of all its great purposes, Providence employs eminent instruments. The host that moves on in solid column for the triumphs of humanity, has always a vanguard. And as long as the question shall be asked, Whose ardent step pressed on foremost in that front rank, in the great action of American independence,--whose masculine understanding fastened the public grasp on the immovable pillar of right,--whose burning eloquence fanned that flame in this nation’s bosom, which never expires till the right is won, or till there is no more martyrs’ blood left to flow?—history will have to reply, that that illustrious instrument was the Barnstable boy whom I have named.
I do not propose, fellow-citizens and friends, to present to you a sketch of so much as the public life of James Otis. It is matter of too familiar history; and, besides, I might as well attempt to give an account of all of those measures, preparatory to the war of the Revolution, which took place between the time of his argument against the Writs of Assistance, in 1761, and that of the injury, which, in 1769, impaired his capacity for the management of public affairs. His individual greatness came not the less naturally for being attached to a long Barnstable ancestral line. The family, from which he sprang, was of ancient consideration in our town. John Otis, whose grandfather, of the same name, had emigrated from England to this country, and become one of the first settlers of Hingham, was born in that place in the year 1657, and removed, when a young man, to Barnstable, where he lived to attain the age of seventy years, having for twenty years represented the town in the General Court, and been twenty-one years a Counsellor of the province, besides filling the offices of Judge of Probate, and Chief Justice of the Common Pleas. His son James, commonly spoken of as Colonel Otis, born on the paternal estate in 1702, were not his fame eclipsed by that of his greater son, would fill a larger place in history than he now does, which, however, is by no means small. He was educated to a mechanical employment, but, gradually yielding to those impulses, which so often betoken to a wise man the destination which Providence has assigned to him, he gave some of his spare time to the study of law, whence he became known, in the first place, as a skilful conveyance, and, ultimately, rose to the best practice at the bar in this and the neighbouring counties. He obtained, at the same time, distinction and influence in public life. At the period of the arrival of Governor Bernard, in 1760, he was Speaker of the House of Representatives, of which body he was a member from this town. The appointment of Governor Hutchinson to be Chief Justice was a member from this town. The appointment of Governor Hutchinson to be Chief Justice was a disappointment to the friends of Colonel Otis, it having been expected by them, that he would be promoted to the supreme bench on the first vacancy; and Hutchinson, in his “History,” under an impulse naturally enough operating on his mind under the circumstances, does not hesitate to ascribe to the offence then taken, the subsequent political course of the family. Colonel Otis was, at one time, a Justice of the Common Pleas and Judge of Probate, as well as Colonel of the county militia, while several of his family and relatives held other public trusts; and the gossip of the day explained this on the ground, that Governor Bernard, perceiving the unfriendly impression which had been made on Colonel Otis’s mind, endeavoured to propitiate him by the grant of the whole patronage of the county; a statement, which is now of no other interest, than as it shows the importance attached in the popular estimation to his proceedings. He was several times negative by Governor Bernard, when elected to the Council Board; but was admitted to it by Governor Hutchinson, in 1770, and was still a member of it at the beginning of the war. He died in the month of November, 1778.
Of this parents, and of Mary Allyne, of Connecticut, his wife, was born James Otis, the younger, being the eldest of their thirteen children. He made his preparation for the University in his native town, under the care of his minister, Mr. Russell, and entered that institution at the commencement of 1739, just one hundred years ago. After completing the term of residence, he gave a year and a half more to a course of general study, and then entered upon that of the law under the direction of Jeremy Gridley, at that time the most eminent counselor of the province. Having been admitted to the bar, he passed two years at Plymouth, in legal practice, removing, in 1749, to Boston, the great theatre of his fame; where he devoted himself to professional labors, without evincing any ambition for public place. It was in 1761, that the occasion occurred which has so permanently connected his name with the history of liberty. The question, which came to involve all that was at issue between the mother country and the colonies, was, whether General Search Warrants, called Writs of Assistance, might legally be granted to officers of the customs, to give them admittance to suspected houses. The negative was of course argued by Otis; Oxenbridge Thacher, a worthy coadjutor, being the junior counsel, and Gridley, Otis’s master, appearing for the customhouse.
Even if the time allowed, it would hardly be in place for me to give here a sketch of the magnificent argument held on that occasion by him whose fame is ours. What belongs to history is the effect produced. “Otis,” said President Adams, the elder, who was one of his delighted hearers, and whose own ardor in the revolutionary cause it might not be too much to ascribe, in part, to the stirring influences of that hour, “Otis was a flame of fire. With a promptitude of classical allusions, a depth of research, a rapid summary of historical events and dates, a profusion of legal authorities, a prophetic glance of his eyes into futurity, and a rapid torrent of impetuous eloquence, he hurried away all before him. American Independence was then and there born. The seeds of patriots and heroes, to defend the ‘non sine diis animosus infans,’ the god-befriended, vigorous child, were then and there sown. Every man of an immense, crowded audience, appeared to me to go away, as I did, ready to take arms against Writs of Assistance. Then and there the child, Independence, was born. In fifteen years, that is, in 1776, he grew up to manhood, and declared himself free.” The same venerable witness testified, on another occasion, “I do say, in the most solemn manner, that Mr. Otis’s oration against Writs of Assistance breathed into this nation the breath of life.”
Mr. Otis was returned, the same year, for the town of Boston, to the House of Representatives, in which he immediately became the leader of the popular party, influencing the measures of that body more than any other member, and preparing most of the important papers. During one of his speeches, the cry of “Treason!” was raised, in consequence of a sally, similar to one in a speech of Patrick Henry, which excited the same cry in the Virginia House of Burgesses. In 1762, he published, with his name, a pamphlet, in respect to the importance of which I again quote President Adams. “Look,” he says, “over the declarations of Rights and Wrongs, issued by Congress is 1774. Look into the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Look into the writings of Dr. Price and Dr. Priestley. Look into all the French constitutions of government; and, to cp the climax, look into Mr. Thomas Paine’s ‘Common Sense,’ ‘Crisis,’ and ‘Rights of Man.’ What can you find that is not to be found, in solid substance, in Mr. Otis’s ‘Vindication of the House of Representatives’?”
But I am in danger of pursuing,--which I must forbid myself to do,--an account of the labors which shed such a glory on the crowded period of his public life. It was a career, alas! short a well as brilliant. Its tragical end,--more tragical that if it had been only death that closed it,--needs hardly be referred to. A blow, received in a barbarous assault by a mob of British officers in the year q769, made a wreck of one of the noblest intellects which the inspiration of the Almighty ever endowed. That more than imperial voice, to whose still deepening echoes the world has ever sine been listening, had lost its cunning to melt, to inform, to arouse, to affright, to overwhelm. “Like sweet bells jangled, harsh, and out of tune,” no friend could have the heart to mourn, when the once wonderful mechanism was stopped and put by. Two years more witnessed a not feeble, but yet not satisfactory, struggle to persevere in the accustomed course of action. But at length the endeavour was sadly relinquished; retirement and quiet were wisely sought; and on the 23d day of May, 1783, in the town of Andover, the retreat of his feeble years, a stroke of lightning brought the consummation, which, under the circumstances, it would have been cruel to lament.
So died James Otis, the pioneer of American Independence, the illustrious Barnstable boy. In reference, of course, to his services, some one has said, that “no spot in the country has made such a gift to the country, as the spot called Great Marshes, in Barnstable.” Let us be content to make one exception for the birthplace of the peerless man, who was “first in war, and first in peace,” and then we may be bold to stand by the remark, without further qualification. Our great compatriot rests not in his native earth. The soil covers him, which was the scene of his riper honors. But, if our ancient graveyard may not have that precious deposit, where rather would we have it lie, than where it lies? And what matter, whether buried here or there? His monument is in every free land. Buried, do I say? Such souls are buried nowhere. What is life upon earth, if it is not theirs who live in the wisdom of enlightened, in the spirit of free, in the prosperity of prosperous communities? Who lives, if he does not, whose influence is felt wherever, upon earth, the great victories of humanity are winning?
Others, of this Barnstable household, deserved well of their country. Two brothers of James Otis, the younger, are well remembered by many of us; Joseph, commonly known as General Otis, who passed his life in his native town, filling several important municipal and state offices, and taking a lead in the revolutionary movements of this section of the State, and who died here in the office of Collector of the Customs; and Samuel Allyne, who was successively a member of the Provincial Board of War, Commissary of the Provincial Army, a member from Boston of the Legislature of the Commonwealth, a Representative in the last Congress under the Confederation, and Secretary of the United States’ Senate, under the Federal Constitution; which last trust, through all changes of parties, he retained till his death, in 1814. He was father of our eminent contemporary, Harrison Gray Otis.
James Otis, as we have seen, was incapacitated for public action, before the revolutionary struggle, for which he had prepared the way, came on; though he lived to see its happy close. Had the measures of the town of Barnstable, as of other Massachusetts towns, in relation to that conflict, been registered at the time, they would make a history of the most animated interest. But the village fathers little imagined how the eye of posterity would strain after every simple record they should leave. What they did, they did for the peace of their firesides, for the safety of their country, for the satisfaction of their consciences and their feelings; that it should make them famous, was a thing they did not so much as dream of. But this unconsciousness of the importance of the part they were acting, while it leaves their records much more scanty than could be wished, only gives them the more profound interest as far as they go; since we are sure, that they represent to us, in the barest simplicity of truth, the feeling and the purpose of the passing hour. Access has kindly been furnished me to a little journal kept about the beginning of the revolutionary war, by Eli Phinney, a gentleman of distinction in the town, and frequently employed in municipal trusts. It was written solely for private use, and was principally employed about private transactions; but occasionally, amidst the details of such matters as the getting in of hay, the sorting out of winter fodder for cattle, the mending of a fence, sickness in the family and the remedies applied, a ride to one neighbour’s, and an evening’s visit from another, is a passing reference to what was going on in the larger world; and it may be supposed to be a fair specimen of a hundred such journals kept at the time, but which no care was taken to preserve. There are passages which carry us back to the heroic age of the nation, with a vivid impression of the reality of the passing scene. For a single example, there are a few lines relating to the stir made at this place by the first news of the Lexington fight;--Lexington being, as you know, some eighty miles from Barnstable, the means of communication being very different from what they now are, and great part of the people of the latter place having probably not so much as known of the existence of the former, till they heard that the blood of Massachusetts men had been shed there by British mercenaries. Here is the record I speak of.
“20th April, Thursday. Received the dreadful news of an engagement.” The engagement did not terminate till Wednesday at evening; and yet, on Thursday, they knew of it on the Cape. There were then no railroads, nor so much as fast coaches; if there had been, the news could not have waited for them; it flew through Massachusetts as if the indignant winds of Massachusetts had charge of it. “Received the dreadful news of an engagement between the Regulars and Provincials, at Lexington.” “Dreadful,” Deacon Phinney calls it on Thursday the 20th; and well he might, being a man of peace. But, how dreadful? Did he mean to say it was news to be frightened at? And were the people, on Friday, wondering what would come next, or sending up their submission to General Gage? Let us see.
“21st April, Friday. Soldiers mustered. Sent off nineteen men from our company.” And I warrant, fellow-citizens and friends, those nineteen stout Barnstable frames reported themselves at General Ward’s head-quarters at Cambridge as soon as nature’s vehicles could bring them there.
But here was a spasm. Three days and nights passed, and they had time to sleep over their rage, and go to church too, and get calm. What were they about at the end of that time? In what mood did they begin the next week? Let us ask our concise chronicler.
“24th April, Monday. Training our company.” They did not know what, by this time, might have become of the nineteen men, and they meant that, if need should be, there should be ten times nineteen to follow them. Training our company! There could hardly be a greater economy of words. But imagination easily fills up the picture. Friday, they had shaken hands with their nineteen friends, selected perhaps as readiest for the emergency, as having no wives or children to provide for. Saturday, the old muskets of the French war had been cleaned, the flints and cartridge-boxes looked to, and blankets folded in the compact knapsack by the loving care of trembling hands. Sunday, the favor of the God of justice and the God of hosts had been reverently sought; and nothing remained but to train our company, as our Deacon says, on Monday morning, and take such pains as might yet be taken, in order that the next party that went should be prepared to do its best measure of service. Yes, something, it seems, did remain in Barnstable, as was then found, towards the doing of New-England justice on outrageous oppression; but it was not suffered to remain long. This was Monday the 24th. Here is the record of the next day.
“Tuesday, 25th April. Town meeting.” They had had no town meeting till they found there was something to be done at it; getting together to harangue and pass resolutions was not a thing in their way. But, when Monday showed that something was to be done, it did not take them long to circulate a warrant. Barnstable sands are faster travelled over, on occasion, than strangers would suppose.
“Tuesday 25th. Town meeting to raise money to buy guns, &c. Voted three hundred pounds for a chest of arms and some ammunition.”
This dispatched, the next entry is, “28th. Ploughed with three teams;” and so the Diary goes back again, for the present, to its usual quiet jog over the farm.
An anecdote is related by Mr. Tudor, in his “Life of Otis,” who says he had it from a living witness, which must have been connected with the marching of the first nineteen men, though Mr. Tudor erroneously speaks of “a company” having been dispatched on the first day. “In the front rank, there was a young man, the son of a respectable farmer, and his only child. In marching from the village, as they passed his house, he came out to meet them. There was a momentary halt. The drum and fife paused for an instant. The father, suppressing a strong and evident emotion, said, ‘God be with you all, my friends; and, John, if you, my son, are called into battle, take care that you behave like a man, or else let me never see your face again.’ The march was resumed, while a tear started into every eye.” Well it might. The rhetoric of that speech might not be Greek; but the spirit was,--it was Spartan. There is commonly something else to be said to only sons, who are walking up to a ridge of bayonets.
What I have read gives some idea of the state of mind in Barnstable, at the beginning of the revolutionary contest of arms. But the Revolution did not begin when New England blood, terribly avenged before the setting of the sun, stained the meetinghouse green at Lexington. Let us go a little back, and, with some help of the town records, see how our fathers stood affected while affairs were ripening for that bloody arbitration. I premise, that, in looking at the Barnstable documents of that trying time, I have found no reason whatever to suppose, that foreign aid was sought in preparing them, as was sometimes in other places done, and certainly without the smallest impropriety. 5 Our Barnstable papers are not marked by the finish of an elaborate scholarship, but they are stamped with the clear and stern sense of men, who are no more to be cajoled out of their rights, than to be violently spoiled of them; who can command the arguments of strong heads, as well as of strong arms, to maintain what is rightfully theirs. On the 26th of September, 1774, during the operation of the Boston Port Bill, and the sitting of the General Court at Salem, the town held a meeting to instruct its representative, the late Honorable Daniel Davis, senior. The form of instructions adopted, after expressing the town’s persuasion, that ‘it will be agreeable to him to receive some instructions relative to his conduct in such a day as this is, notwithstanding its confidence in his wisdom and prudence to manage the public affairs in this time of difficulty, darkness, and distress,” goes on;
“We therefore, in the first place, instruct you, that you do all in your power to have those of our liberties that are wrested from us by arbitrary measures restored, and that those that are left be inviolably preserved.”
So much for the common cause. Next, fellow-citizens of Boston, see what care your Barnstable compatriots took of you.
“2dly. That, in conjunction with your brethren of the House of Representatives, you use every legal and constitutional method to have the port of Boston opened, and made as free as before the late act of Parliament was made for blocking up the same.” There is no want of explicitness in this specification.
“3dly. That you do not, in any instance, act in conformity to the late oppressive act of Parliament, entitled, ‘An Act for the better regulating the government of Massachusetts Bay, in New England’.”
This, again, is plain New-England English. And the next is no less so.
“4thly. That you do not join in any business with the new and unconstitutional Council, said to be appointed by mandamus, in consequence of the before-mentioned act.
“5thly. That you join in urging it on the Governor, that he will be pleased to call to his assistance and advice the standing Council of the Province, chosen for the current year, agreeably to the charter.”
So much for the ceremonious civility, which men in earnest sometimes use, in the first resort, when they are resolved, in the last, to have their own way. The next clause may serve as a comment on its meaning, though the language runs in a little different strain.
“6thly. In case the Governor shall dissolve the House of Representatives, you are instructed to join with your brethren to resolve yourselves into a Provincial Congress, in order to consult and determine the true interest of his Majesty, and the peace, welfare, and prosperity of this Province.”
So ends the matter of business. Then comes the devout and kindly close.
“Lastly. We wish you a prosperous journey, and that you may have the aid and assistance of the Divine Spirit, to guide and conduct you in your arduous undertaking.”
In the war which followed, Barnstable, though remote from the scene of regular conflict, had its full share of the disasters of the time. It had more than its share, because of its great dependence on the occupations of commerce and the fisheries, which were nearly annihilated by the superior marine of the enemy. The public burdens often pressed upon the point of possible endurance; but they never brought out any symptoms of faltering in the cause. In the strong excitement which acted on men’s minds, and the diversity of opinions which from time to time naturally arose on the practical question, whether, in a given case, measures of greater energy or greater caution would best accomplish the end alike aimed at by all, their representative in the General Court became at one period suspected, by the majority of his associates, of being cool in his attachment to the cause; but, when the town expressed their continued confidence in him by repeated reelections, it was not on the ground of any willingness to connive at such coolness, supposing it to exist, but because, as they alleged in their vote upon the subject, they had “by long experience found the said representative to be, in their best judgment, of a steady, unremitting zeal in their country’s cause; and that, on all occasions since the commencement of hostilities between Great Britain and the United States of America, he had been ready to afford them his best advice and assistance in raising men and money for carrying on the war with the enemy; and in justice to him and to ourselves,” they continue, “we must declare to the world, we know of no person among us, let his office or character be what it may, that has shown greater zeal for the defence and safety of his country.” Money was liberally raised from time to time, to increase the bounty offered by the Commonwealth for enlistments in the Continental service. In the month of the Declaration of Independence, for example, I find a vote to raise one hundred and seventy-three pounds, six shillings, and eight pence, to be paid to thirteen able-bodied men, over and above what was granted by the colony, to serve in the army of the United Colonies; and, in the spring of the following year, another vote, to give “fourteen pounds to each man that shall engage for three years, or ten pounds for each man that shall engage for ten months.” Considering the habits of the Cape Cod people, it is to be presumed that they did at least as much service in the war of Independence at sea as on shore. But I have not perceived in what way to obtain evidence of the particular amount of service, rendered by them on what may be almost called their native element; the less so, as the naval war of the Revolution was, in great part, carried on by private-armed vessels. A single significant fact, however, in this connection, is, that, when the ill-fated privateer, The Arnold, Captain James Magee, which sailed on the 30th of December, 1778, from Boston, went on shore at Plymouth the same night in a snow-storm, out of sixty-eight men of her company, who perished, ten were from this town.
When the formation of a State constitution was proposed, Barnstable insisted, in the first place, that, whatever form of government the legislature might adopt, should be submitted to the people for ratification in their primary assemblies; and afterwards was constantly strenuous for the measure which was ultimately adopted, that of calling a special convention of delegates chosen for the purpose, inasmuch as the duties perpetually pressing upon the legislature were such as to disqualify them for doing such a work with sufficient deliberation. In respect to the Articles of Confederation between the thirteen States, adopted in 1778, it manifested great jealousy. The Plymouth spirit, which, nearly a century before, had been shy of a union with Massachusetts, was now equally averse to any approach to a consolidated government, which should implicate the concerns of Massachusetts too much with those of States of a different parentage; and it is striking to see how early was urged, among the vigilant yeomanry of our own towns, that doctrine, which since, more matured, and applied to a different instrument, has been known as the Virginia and the Carolina Doctrine of State Rights. “It appears to us,” say the Barnstable instructions, “that the power of Congress [that is, by the proposed Articles of Confederation] is too great. If the power of borrowing money and emitting bills on the credit of the United States, without any limitation and check, also regulating and directing the whole land and naval force of the States, is for ever hereafter vested in one supreme power, the future General Congress, we have no great consolation in contemplating the sovereignty, freedom, independence, power, jurisdiction, and right, with them remaining. You are accordingly to use your power, that none of these general powers be for ever delegated to future general Congresses. But it, during the present arduous conflict with Great Britain, it may be judged necessary to vest such extra powers in the Continental Congress, we will trust, that you will use your endeavours, that the same shall be but temporary, and for ever determine the case at the conclusion of the present unhappy war.”
Independence was won. The Federal Constitution was adopted. A half century was finished, a few moths ago, since it went into operation, giving to sense, principle, industry, courage, sobriety, enterprise, fair play to do their proper work; and Barnstable has become, what to-day we see it. What do we see it to-day? It meets our view with all tokens of being the seat of an intelligent, virtuous, efficient population. We see its harbor a scene of cheerful activity. In its fields, we look at substantial harvests,--thanks to the skill that rears them,--growing out of what looks to us like a very scanty soil. Its churches and school-houses catch our eye as we pass, proclaiming how God is reverenced, and how knowledge is prized. The ornaments of its dwellings,--tributes from every foreign clime,--tell us how few households have reared those “home-keeping youth,” who, if the old bard may be trusted, “have ever homely wits.” There are other things, which we do not see. We see no beggars, no idlers, no sots. The population of the town is over four thousand; its poor-house has eighteen tenants. The population of the county is thirty-two thousand; in its gaol there are three prisoners, and those three are foreigners. If I am correctly informed, there is not a licensed public house in the county, nor has been these three years. Its whole aspect is, to the agricultural school of economists, one perplexity and marvel.
Being desirous of seeing, with my own eyes, what I had heard of as the beau ideal of a sand-bank, I borrowed, three or four weeks ago, of two of my Barnstable friends, a yacht of theirs,--a craft so graceful and luxurious, that they had better not let it be seen by any travelling prince, if they do not mean that he shall covet it,---and that night I dropped its anchor in that harbor of Provincetown, where John Carver, the Leyden pilgrim, set the first name, that ever was set, to a primary constitution of government. When the morrow’s dawn showed me what is there called land, and allowed me to tread it, I was prepared to say, with the Queen of Sheba, that the half had not been told me. Sand-banks! I thought I knew what they were before. I thought I had seen them. But here was what distanced all competition. The mass of sand was almost as homogeneous and unbroken, as that of water around a ship in the mid Atlantic. In one or two hollows between the undulations, (I would not positively testify to more than one,) there was what seemed like a bowl-full of earth,--not much more than could be put into the Warwick vase; and from this, (by most careful husbandry it must have been,) had been partly furnished a meal of such relish, that, at least to an appetite edged by the tonic virtue of the salt air, it could hardly have been surpassed by the daintiest Parisian board. One looked around, and asked himself how there could be here any such thing as real estate, any land-titles, any metes and bounds, where that which was to be bounded seemed so purely an accident of the last northeaster. Hear the rest, and wonder, you, who, on some southern savanna, plough a black soil, deeper than is much of the water, that our homeward-bound Barnstable keels have to furrow. In that harbor, from which it was clear there could be nothing to carry away, and to which it seemed a mystery how there could be a motive to bring any thing, the morning sun was flashing on the moist sides of an anchored fleet of fishing vessels. A row of dwellings, of substantial structure, and some of them not inelegant, lined the street, along which foot-passengers are recently, for the first time, helped over the sand by a plank side-walk, built by means of the town’s share in the lately distributed surplus revenue. Provincetown, which had a right, on this occasion, to receive so much money, has also plenty of private funds of its citizens to lend, and has lately had a bank incorporated, to lend it with the more advantage. I took to the sea again; for man and water there are in such close alliance, that no conveyance was to be had to enable me to prosecute by land the journey which I had meditated along the length of the Cape; and passing through a scene still all alive with this miniature navigation, along a shore which seemed built of salt-works, I cast anchor again, twenty miles further down. Here the soil proved some shades less penurious, though far enough still from rich, according to any standard commonly acknowledged. But here still,--and so it is everywhere, from the Dan to the Beersheba of the Cape,--was movement, system, competence, prosperity. There was no “nakedness of” any thing but “the land” to be spied out. I saw not, upon the long road, a single house, which did not appear whole, sufficient, and comfortable; nor was there one of the several which I entered, where the neatness and comfort within did not more than keep the promise of the neatness and good order without. Will any one here tell me, that ever, along the whole length of the Cape, he saw or heard of a broken pane of glass, supplied by an old hat or an old garment, to keep out the weather?
Now, I ask, how is all this, which I have been feebly describing, to be unriddled? What have such elements to do with such a result? What does such a growth on such a soil, if, by courtesy, we are so to call it, mean? It means, that men dwell there; that there are manly minds and manly hearts; and that for such, the benignant nature within supplies what frowning nature without has denied.
The occupations of Barnstable and its neighbor towns continue, substantially, what they have been in the past generations, though, from their nature, sharing in the extension of the general wealth and prosperity of the country. The soil, wherever there is more or less of it, is cultivated, and the manufacture of salt is carried on upon a large scale; but navigation, employed in the fisheries and in home and foreign commerce, is the great, active, and profitable interest. Wherever, over the world, you see the stars and stripes floating, you may have good hope, that, beneath them, some one will be found, who can tell you the soundings of Barnstable, or Wellfleet, or Chatham harbor. The names, familiar in our town and county, figure among those of the hardy, energetic, and scientific navigators, who bring into our ports the wealth of either India, and of the conductors of those floating palaces, which, with their speed and security, make us almost feel as if we lived again next door to our English kindred; while those names almost monopolize the shipping-papers of the vessels, which carry on the busy coasting trade between the cities of our Atlantic shore. It is believed, that, at this time, there are as many as two hundred and fifty citizens of the town, either masters or mates of vessels of different descriptions. Randolph, writing in 1676, said of this, as of other parts of Plymouth colony, that it was “supplied with all foreign commodities from Boston.” He forgot to say who it was, that brought those foreign commodities to Boston, so that they might be there to be brought away. The duck does not take to the water with a surer instinct than the Barnstable boy. He leaps from his leading-strings into the shrouds. It is but a bound from the mother’s lap to the mast-head. He boxes the compass in his infant soliloquies. He can hand, reef, and steer, by the time he flies a kite. The ambition of his youth is, to “witch the world with noble seamanship”; and his manly “march is on the mountain wave, his home”—no, no!—I am too fast,--his “home is not upon the deep,” and, in his widest wanderings, he never forgets that it is not. His home stands on firm land, nestled among some lighthouses, which, in the blackest midnight of a polar winter, his mind’s eye sees, casting their serene radiance over the wide waters, to guide him back to the goal, as it was the starting-place, of life’s varied voyage. While he keeps the long night-watches, under the Cross of the southern hemisphere, his spirit is travelling half around the globe to look in at the fireside, where, the household duties of the day gone through, the mother, or the sister, or the wife, or the dear friend that is not wife, but shall be, is musing on her absent sailor. The gales of Cape Horn, or the monsoons of the Indian sea, are piping in his cordage; but clearer, and through and above all their roar, his ear is drinking in the low, sweet voice, that is lulling here his infant’s distant slumber. And, whether he eyes, with the conscious pride of art, the “thing of life” he is managing, as, all tight and trim, her upper rigging sent down, she leaps, free and sure-footed, poised by a scant edge of main-top-sail, from peak to peak of the now rising, now subsiding, watery Alps, while his hoarse voice, amid the mad uproar of the elements, guides her fierce way as if by magic,--or whether, on the quiet Sabbath, in the garish sunset, or beneath the broad enveloping moonlight, his beautiful vessel skims under the line, over the level floor of ocean, with all her snowy togging (I should say her bravery) set, as gentle and noiseless as a flock of white doves,--still, still, loved spot of his nativity,
“Where’er he roams, whatever realms to see,
His heart, untraveled, fondly turns to thee.”
The first sign, from which the neighbours gather that the lad has been prospering, is, that the old people’s house puts on a new coat of shingles, and another cow, if there needs one, is seen cropping their pasture; his second lucky adventure makes his younger brothers and sisters happy the next time they go abroad, not so much for the gayer figure it has enabled them to make, as because it betokens how kindly they were thought of by one so far away; and the third,--the third is very apt to serve as an occasion for whispering in some not reluctant ear, that it is almost time he had a snug home of his own, where he could be made more comfortable after these tedious voyages.
I believe it was Cotton Mather, who, in speaking of the mother of one of his worthies, said, “She was just the parent one might have desired to be born of.” He did not mean to disparage other people’s mothers,--he was too well-bred an historian for that; nor do we mean to offer any slight to the places of other people’s origin, if we ask whether there is any other place, to which, in preference to this, a reasonable man might reasonably desire to trace his own. We arrogate no more than the cautious Ulysses did of old, when he said of his flat and rocky Ithaca,
“Rugged she is, but fruitful nurse of sons
Magnanimous; nor shall these eyes behold
Elsewhere an object dear and sweet as she.”
What a gem upon the bosom of the fair globe, is the coast of this our Massachusetts Bay! What a grace sits upon its inland sweep of enclosing hills in summer! What a stern sublimity upon its rock-indented ocean boundary! How stately does it wear its naval crown! How it extends the graceful arms of its Capes, as it were to greet the affianced Ocean like a bride. And of what a grand action has it been the theatre, in the space of a short two hundred years. The books tell of the glory of the Mediterranean sea, and how civilization, knowledge, liberty, art, went forth from its borders, on their errands of blessing to the world; and surely Egypt, Greece, Italy, Spain,--these are great names, which it thrills and nerves one to utter. But they left a great work still to be done for humanity. It remained that a martyr-voice should be raised for the equal rights of man. The impartial Providence, that designed that this hemisphere, too, should not be without his glory, ordained, that from the honored coast of this Bay those glad tidings of great joy should be published to the nations; and where along its beach has the beneficent doctrine found truer advocates, and where have example and experience better manifested its beneficent power, than in the midst of that very population, whose anniversary we are keeping?
Fellow-citizens and friends! We have been looking to-day at the records of the acts and sacrifices of the God-directed bearers of that message. We have been listening to the voices of those, who, “though dead, yet speak” to us in the meekness and majesty of a high-principled wisdom. We have turned away to-day from the bustling present, to live for an hour in the solemn and monitory past. We have been wandering, as it were, among the tombs of our fathers. Nay, here are their sacred relics, close by us. O for some one, with a double portion of the spirit of “Old Mortality” to do them justice! For, to my thinking, there are few spots of the earth of such eloquent sublimity, as one of these our old Massachusetts burying-grounds. There is a universally admired English poem, which has for its subject “a country churchyard.” But the writer, perforce, wanted some elements of poetical combination which we could have supplied to him. In his country, only the memorials of humble life are to be read in churchyards. Greatness lies in cathedral state, not under the solemn cope of heaven, beneath the watching stars and the weeping clouds, but in Gothic aisles, and beneath overshadowing banners. There,
“Beneath the rugged elms, the yew-tree’s shade,
Where heaves the turf in many a mouldering heap,
Each in his narrow cell for ever laid,
The rude forefathers of the hamlet sleep.”
And they sleep apart from the dust which a nation’s reverence enshrines. Here greatness gives itself back to nature; and they who, living, have done earth good service, nestle in death to her matron bosom. Around us, beneath the bosom of the soil their virtues sanctified, our “forefathers of the hamlet” lie. But more were they than that. They were, at the same time, the statesmen and soldiers of an infant commonwealth, famous, through all time, for costly well-deservings to the cause of truth and freedom and righteousness, the cause of man and of God. Bend, inspired builder of the lofty line, bend over those lowly foreign graves, and pour out the strains, that make what they sing immortal. But, were it mine to woo the Muse, let me have rather for my theme one of those congregations of the dead, where not lowliness alone, but lowliness and greatness, both sleeping together under one sod, may prompt the sonorous anthem. Let me be warmed rather, while I lean over one of those stones of ours, that bear the legend of men as simple and modest as hamlet ever nurtured, yet as valiant and true as ever marshaled the perilous battle, and as prudent and grave as ever sat in an empire’s council-chambers. Rude poetry enough we have among our inscriptions; but then, what is it, that, in their unturned numbers, they tell of? They tell of the unambitious lives,--none could be more so,--of an industrious yeomanry; but they tell, too, of great principles, great dangers, great deeds. There lie the venerable dead, while we speak their praises, near enough for the echo to be sent back to us from the hollow ground. They lie mute, and unconscious of their glory.
“The breezy call of incense-breathing morn,
The swallow twittering from the straw-built shed,
The cock’s shrill clarion, and the echoing horn,
No more shall rouse them from their lowly bed.”
But, at sterner rousings than the cock’s shrill clarion and the swallow’s twitter, were the lowly beds of those now unconscious sleepers used to be forsaken. They have shaken off sleep erewhile in the silent midnight, to catch again the distant sound which might prove to be the signal of barbarian assault upon the home of all they held dearest. From short slumbers in woods, and marshes, and snow, the reveille beat has roused them to put them again upon the bloody and fiery track of the Indian spoiler. The morning gun from distant fortresses, where the flaunting lily waved in short-lived defiance, has full often been their rough summons to a day of desperate duty. Let us repress a natural smile at the poetry, and own what choice materials for poetry may be clothed in very plain adornments. Some “unlettered Muse” has inscribed as follows, over the hamlet father, who lies nearest to us.
“Here lies a valiant hero, and a saint;
A judge, a justice, whom no vice could taint;
A perfect lover of his country’s cause,
Her lives, religion, properties, and laws;
Who, in his young, yea, very youthful years,
Took up his sword ‘gainst Philip and his peers.”
There is more, but I read no further. Youthful adventure, patriotic daring, gravity in age, the dignity of irreproachable office, a community’s successful championship, saintly piety, honor in death,--these make the intelligible heraldic blazonry, that meetly graces a Barnstable tombstone.
We have moved to-day, fellow-citizens and friends, among the graves of our fathers. We are about to turn away from them. Let them be for altars first, where we will pledge ourselves to one another, never to dishonor our fathers’ memory. Did I say, that they sleep in their glory unconsciously around us? Who knows that? Who knows but that Lothrop, and Hinckley, and Walley, and Robinson, and Russell, and Fuller, and all the sainted company, have been with us, and are with us, in more intimate presence and communion than this blinding veil of flesh permits us to see? If it be so, be it our care, that no cloud of our base engendering be permitted to pass over the solemn joy of their spirits. And if the third century of Barnstable may not be what those two ages were, whose days on this day are numbered and finished, at least be it our care, that that portion of it which we are to provide for shall be such, that they who come after us shall not be ashamed to tell its story.
1. To the reasons assigned in the Report of the town’s Committee, May 8th, 1839, for fixing on the third day of September, as the date of the incorporation, the following may be added. A vote of the General Court of Plymouth, passed on the 1st of January, 1634, determined that the Courts should thenceforward be holden “upon the first Tuesday in every month, viz. March, June, September, and December;” and the first Tuesday of September, 1639, fell on the third day of that month, Old Style. (Return)
2. “Iyanno’s land” is the same tract, which now, by a corruption of the name, is known as Hyannis. (Return)
3. John Gorham, born in Benefield, Northamptonshire, was in Plymouth as early as 1643. The now numerous family of that name in this country are descended from him and his wife Desire, daughter of John Howland and of his wife Elizabeth, who, according to the uniform Plymouth tradition, was a daughter of Governor Carver, born in England. The Plymouth Court made a grant of a hundred acres of that beautiful tract, called “Papasquash Neck,” near Bristol, Rhode Island, to the heirs of Captain Gorham, “for as much as he hath performed good service for the country in the late war.” (Return)
4. October 29th, 1712. (Return)
5. For instance, the original draft of the famous resolutions of Petersham, in Worcester County, ws found among the papers of Josiah Quiney, Jr. (Return)