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[11]

Chapter 2: Parentage and Family.—the father.

Charles Pinckney Sumner, the son of Major Job Sumner, was born in Milton, a suburb of Boston. His name was at first Job, but was afterwards changed to Charles Pinckney by his father, who probably had friendly relations with the South Carolina statesman.1 The boy passed his early childhood on the farm of the parish sexton, working hard, and attending in winter the public school.2 He then entered Phillips Academy, Andover, Mass., at that time under the charge of Ebenezer Pemberton, and was placed in the family of Rev. Jonathan French, the minister of the South Parish of that town.

Mr. Pemberton was a graduate of Princeton College. James Madison and Aaron Burr are supposed to have been his pupils. It has been said of him that ‘no teacher had a higher character for scholarship, manners, elegance, and piety.’ While of a kindly nature and beloved by his pupils, he maintained discipline and respect for authority after the old style. He died, June 25, 1835, at the age of eighty-nine.3 Rev. Mr. French was of Braintree nativity. He was, in early life, a soldier and subaltern [12] officer in the colonial army. While so engaged, he applied himself, in leisure hours, to medical studies. He began to practise as a physician; but, changing his plan of life, he prepared for college, entered Harvard, and, graduating with the class of 1771, became a clergyman. He maintained zealously the patriot cause during the Revolution. Taking with him his gun and surgical instruments, he rode on horseback to Bunker Hill and shared in the battle. While a clergyman, he was accustomed to receive students of the academy into his family. At the suggestion of Washington, when President, Colonel William Augustus Washington sent his two sons, Bushrod and Augustine, to the academy; and Charles Lee also sent the two sons of his deceased brother, Richard Henry Lee. The young Washingtons were received into the family of Rev. Mr. French.4 Josiah Quincy was, from 1778 to 1786, an inmate of Mr. French's family, while pursuing his studies at the academy under Mr. Pemberton and his predecessor, Dr. Eliphalet Pearson, afterwards Hancock Professor at Harvard College.5 Mr. French has been commended for his fidelity and success as a Christian teacher. He died, July 28, 1809.6

To both Mr. Pemberton and Rev. Mr. French Major Sumner wrote with earnestness concerning the education of his son, laying much stress on his manners as well as his progress in knowledge. To the former he wrote, Aug. 26, 1787:—

It rests with you, sir, entirely, to form his mind while young, and lead him into the paths of virtue, of education, and good breeding; which will redound to your glory and his felicity. He is now brought into a new line of life, and will probably finish his education under your direction. Do with him, in all respects, as you shall think most proper. . . . I wish the child's manners to be particularly attended to, and that he may see and be introduced to as much company, in the house where he may live and others, as may be consistent with a proper attention to his studies.

The letter also referred to ‘the army, the law, physic, or merchandise,’ as the boy's future occupation, to be determined by his capacity and choice. In a letter written in October of the same year to Rev. Mr. French, he enjoined upon him to correct [13] Master Charles's ‘mode of speaking, his spelling, and manner of address,’ and ‘to hold frequent discourse of reason with him, and treat him as you would a child of your own.’ On Nov. 6, 1787, he wrote from New York, and on July 16, 1788, from Savannah, anxious letters in relation to the funds for the boy's maintenance, which he had expected his friend and debtor, General (afterwards Governor) Brooks, to advance. Disappointed in this resource, and lamenting his own pecuniary misfortunes, he relied upon a loan from a friend. But, soon after, the boy was taken from the school. On Oct. 9, 1788, Ma or Sumner, then in Boston, wrote to Mr. Pemberton,—

I like the appearance and improvement of Master Charles, for the short time he has been with you, very much; and am happy to hear you are also pleased with him. I lament his having been from you so long. I hope no circumstance in future will prevent his being with you continually. I desire you would put him into all the studies he is fit for. I think he had better go into Latin, as though he was designed for college, if you judge this study proper for him. Whether he will be sent there or not will depend entirely on his disposition for study and your opinion of his genius. However, for the present, I would have you neglect nothing towards him necessary for a boy so intended. If he discovers an active, capable mind, I shall either send him there, into a counting-house, or to France for his education, according to his disposition and my ability to support him. In short, I mean to give him every opportunity to fit him for a gentleman and scholar that he himself is capable of receiving. To you, sir, I consign him as though he were your son, and beg from my heart you will consider him as such. On himself will depend his fate. I hope he will do you honor.

On Dec. 14, 1788, eight months before his death,7 he wrote from Savannah to his agent in Boston, expressing great pleasure at Charles's return to school, and providing carefully for his future expenses, so that no further interruption might occur in his studies. In this letter he wrote,—

Should any thing take place that I should not make you regular remittances, I desire you to call on my friend, General Henry Jackson. I know he will advance thirty or fifty dollars at any time, after hearing the circumstances, rather than see Charles taken from school. Remittances are hard to be forwarded from this place, but not the less certain; and all advances made by any friend of mine on this score, I will repay with interest and gratitude. Give my love to Charles, and tell him I expect he will be a studious, good boy, and learn eloquence and manners, as well as wisdom and the languages, at the academy. These are the grand pillars of all great objects and great [14] men. I lay great stress on the two first acquirements, because I think them very essential, and by far the most difficult for Charles to attain.

These letters prove the writer's love of learning, which often descends with the blood. The patriotism and scholarly tastes of the soldier, who closed his books to enter his country's service at the first drum-beat of the Revolution, were to be the inheritance of his illustrious grandson.

The boy remained at Phillips Academy till 1792,8 studying Cheever's Latin Accidence, Nepos, Caesar, and Virgil. Late in life he visited Andover, and recalled those early days in a letter to Mrs. Abigail Stearns, the daughter of Rev. Mr. French:—

‘I went to Andover a few weeks ago, to look at the places which I began to know, 28 August, 1787. That was the day, fifty-one years ago, when I first entered your father's house and became a student at Phillips Academy. How changed is every thing now! Fifty-one years ago Andover was a pleasant, noiseless town: now it is a bustling manufacturing village. I saw no old face that I knew. I looked over and about the land that was once your father's parsonage. It is now divided into house-lots, and much of it is covered with buildings. The railroad goes close to your native mansion. The large rock and the grape-vine that were in the garden still remain, but the garden is no more a garden. There are no currant bushes; nor is that lead-lined, square box to be found in which your father caught the rain as it fell, and measured its depth and noted it down in his meteorological table. The fence of your front yard is entirely gone. Those beautiful elms are cut down, and no trace of them remains. From the summer of 1787 to that of 1792, the house, the elms, the woodland (half-way up the road to the academy), and the fields around, all looked beautiful to my eye. That pump is gone that stood in the low ground of the common, between your house and the meeting-house. How often have I seen your mother, your brother, and your sister go by that pump or near it, in your orderly walk together on the Sabbath, to and from the meeting-house!’9

Charles Pinckney Sumner entered Harvard College in 1792, and graduated in 1796. The members of his class who became most widely known were Dr. James Jackson, the eminent physician, who survived till 1867; Rev. Dr. Leonard Woods; and John Pickering.10 His college quarterly-bills, including board [15] in commons and tuition, varied from twenty-eight to thirty-six dollars.

In college his compositions were largely poetical. Among his themes of this kind were, ‘Non omnia possumus omnes,’ ‘Winter,’ and a ‘Dialogue between Churchill the Warrior and Churchill the Poet.’ At the end of his Junior year, he delivered before the Speaking Club a valedictory poem, on the occasion of his classmates leaving it. At the exhibition in September, 1795, his part was a poem, entitled ‘The Compass,’ which was printed in a pamphlet. It contains these lines:—

More true inspir'd, we antedate the time
When futile war shall cease throa every clime;
No sanction'd slavery Afric's sons degrade,
But equal rights shall equal earth pervade.11

When his class had completed their studies, he delivered (June 21, 1796) a valedictory poem in the College Chapel, in the presence of the officers and students, in which his muse, after the style of such performances, recognized gratefully the instructions of President Willard and Professors Tappan, Pearson, and Webber.

His part at Commencement was a poem on ‘Time.’ Two years later, he delivered a poem before the Phi Beta Kappa Society. This taste for versification lasted during most of his life. He wrote many odes for the anniversaries of benevolent societies, and for patriotic or festive occasions, and New-Year's addresses for the carriers of newspapers.

One of his best passages in verse is the following, given as a sentiment at the Doric Hall of the State House, July 4, 1826: ‘The United States, one and indivisible!’

Firm, like the oak, may our blest Union rise;
No less distinguished for its strength than size;
The unequal branches emulous unite,
To shield and grace the trunk's majestic height;
Through long succeeding years and centuries live,
No vigor losing from the aid they give.

This is quoted by Charles Sumner at the close of his address, Are we a nation, delivered Nov. 19, 1867: Works, Vol. XII. p. 249.

It was then the fashion for aspiring youth to attempt verses after the style of Pope's grave and sonorous periods. But there [16] was little of genuine inspiration in American poetry prior to the period which gave to it Bryant, Longfellow, Whittier, Holmes, and Lowell.

Leaving college, young Sumner accepted the place of an assistant in the Billerica Academy, of which his former teacher, Mr. Pemberton, had become the principal. While here he received a playful letter from his classmate, Leonard Woods, then at Cambridge, who had been enlivening his theological studies, which he had pursued at Princeton, with the reading of ‘Don Quixote,’ ‘Cecilia,’ and other novels; Shakspeare, Ossian, Pope, and the ‘Spectator;’ and admiring ‘Belfield’ in ‘Cecilia,’ and ‘the character of Sancho, Esq.’ Remaining at Billerica but a short time, he obtained, through the influence of Rev. Dr. Freeman and Colonel Samuel Swan, of Dorchester, a place as assistant in the private school of Rev. Henry Ware at Hingham, on a salary of £ 150, with special reference to the instruction of two lads, one of whom was John Codman, afterwards the pastor of the second church in Dorchester.

An intimate friendship had grown up in college between Sumner and Joseph Story, of Marblehead, who was two years his junior in the course. A correspondence ensued. Their letters are playful, and hopeful of the future. Sumner's letters refer to books and poems he had read, as ‘Hogarth Moralized,’ Roberts' ‘Epistle to a Young Gentleman on leaving Eton School,’ Masson's ‘Elegy to a Young Nobleman leaving the University,’ Pope's ‘Eloisa to Abelard,’ Goldsmith's ‘Edwin and Angelina,’ Shenstone's ‘Pastoral Ballad,’ and some pieces in Enfield's ‘Speaker.’

Sumner did not persevere as a teacher. In 1797-98 he passed nearly a year in the West Indies. He then began the study of law with Judge George R. Minot, an historical writer and effective public speaker. As early as 1799 he accepted an invitation from Josiah Quincy to a desk in his law-office; and was, while the relation continued, accustomed to have charge of the office, and to sleep in Mr. Quincy's house on Pearl Street during his absences from the State.

Mr. Quincy was soon absorbed in politics, as a leader of the Federal party, and severed his active connection with the profession; but he remained the friend of his pupil, notwithstanding their differences in politics, which made sharp divisions in society in those days. Mr. Sumner, in company with Richard Sullivan [17] and Holder Slocum, was proposed as an attorney in the Court of Common Pleas in Boston, at the April Term, 1801 (May 7); and admitted to practice at the July Term (July 11), before Chief Justice Shearjashub Bourne and his associates, William Dennison and Samuel Cooper. His office was at one time on Court Street, at number ten and a half, on the north side; and later at number ninety, according to the numbers of that period.

For some time in 1802-3 he was at the South, attending to business which grew out of his father's estate. He remained three months at Savannah, in the early part of 1803, and was present at trials in which John M. Berrien, then a young man, won his first distinction.

He delivered, Feb. 22, 1800, when twenty-four years of age, a eulogy on Washington, then recently deceased. The occasion was a commemorative service at Milton, his native town, where he spoke upon the invitation of the selectmen. Pieces of music were performed, and a prayer was offered by Rev. Joseph McKean. The eulogy was printed, at the request of the selectmen and other citizens.

The following passages are specimens:—

Americans! what a vast weight of your revolution did this mighty man sustain! Taxes were indeed great, were burdensome; but think how often your army was obliged to evade a decisive blow; think of the complicated hardships they endured (the relation of which might make you shudder) because the flame of public spirit too soon died away, and the resources of the country had become inaccessible. What must Washington have often felt! Every eye in America, in wondering, doubtful Europe, was fixed on him. He was a man of humanity; not a sentinel felt a grievance he did not painfully commiserate. He was a man of consummate bravery; and, to add to the full measure of his calamity, the country, whose fate was hourly in his hand, began to murmur, to reproach him with delay. Delicate situation! Unconquerable greatness of soul! His reputation, dearer to a soldier than life, he sacrificed to your good. . . .

For a life devoted to your service, what does Washington deserve? The rising trophied column shall from far attract the admiring eye. The enduring statue, with emulative care, will present to revering posterity his august attitude and awful form. History shall be immortal, as just to his worth. Poesy shall robe him in unborrowed charms. A city, after the majestic model of his mind, bearing his name, shall concentrate our national glory, as he does our affection. These a grateful empire will voluntarily pay; but he deserves more: he deserves that you be faithful to yourselves, that you be free, united, and happy; that party asperity from this memorable day [18] subside; and all, with liberal eye, seek private interest in the common weal.

Mr. Sumner did not become actively interested in politics till 1803, near the close of Mr. Jefferson's first administration.12 The antagonism between the Federal party, which opposed Mr. Jefferson, and the Republican or Democratic party, which sustained him, was at its height. The Federalists, as a minority, had departed from the traditions of Washington's administration, and to a great degree had become the partisans of State sovereignty and a New England confederacy. These notions repelled the sympathies of many who had borne their name, and led to the secession of John Quincy Adams from the party.

Mr. Sumner's first political address was delivered at Milton, March 5, 1804. It was a plea for the integrity of the Union, for a common love of all its sections, for faith in popular government, and for confidence in the national administration, and in Mr. Jefferson, its head. The young orator said:—

And has it come to this, that the Union must be dissolved? Because a particular set of men cannot engross the government, must there be no government at all? Shall party attachments supersede national allegiance? Shall State jealousies be summoned from the dead to overthrow the magnificent structure of the Union, which we have fondly hoped to see founded on their tomb?

On July 4, 1808, he delivered an address in the Third Baptist Meeting-house in Boston. It was an earnest defence of Mr. Jefferson's administration, and a protest against any national alliance with England against France, which the Federal party was charged with favoring. It rebuked, with great emphasis, sectional jealousies:—

There is, indeed, no diversity of interest between the people of the North and the people of the South; and they are no friends to either who endeavor to stimulate and embitter the one against the other. What if the sons of Massachusetts rank high on the roll of Revolutionary fame? The wisdom and heroism for which they have been distinguished will never permit them to indulge an inglorious boast. The independence and liberty we possess are the result of “joint councils and joint efforts, of common dangers, sufferings, [19] and successes;” and God forbid that those who have every motive of sympathy and interest to act in concert should ever become the prey of petty bickerings among themselves!

In a similar spirit he wrote, in 1812:—

De Witt Clinton, I fear, will be the advocate for State sovereignty and State supremacy more than any President we have yet had. If so, and he should be President from March 3, 1813, to March 3, 1817, we shall be far advanced on the road to confusion by the time his administration expires. The Federal party seems to be disposed to erect New England into a separate government. But where would be the boundaries of this fragment of our continent? What will be the benefit of a separation? Would not this fragment soon be split into other fragments; and if the process of separation is begun, where will it end?

Mr. Sumner's public efforts belong to the least interesting period of American literature, the first quarter of the present century. It followed the generation which was illustrated by the orators and writers of the Revolution, and the authors of the ‘Federalist;’ and it preceded the demonstration of Mr. Webster's marvellous forensic powers. It was an interval in which political speeches and writings showed little originality of thought, depth of feeling, or terseness and vigor of expression. There was a manifest effort to use words of Latin derivation, and to elaborate lengthened and swelling periods, after the style of Johnson and Gibbon. Letter-writing, too, had the same defects. The correspondence of friends had the stateliness of a page of history.

Mr. Sumner enjoyed the confidence of his party. He was chosen Clerk of the House of Representatives of Massachusetts, for the years 1806-7, and 1810-11. The last two years he was associated with his college friend, Joseph Story, who was the Speaker. Story, on resigning the office, soon after his appointment as Judge of the Supreme Court of the United States, wrote him a letter, stating it to be his last official act, and expressing his ‘perfect conviction of the ability, the correctness, and impartiality with which you have discharged the important duties of your office.’ In 1808, he desired Mr. Sumner to become the editor of a Republican newspaper in Boston, and pressed his excellent qualifications for the position. In 1815, Mr. Sumner urged Judge Story to deliver a series of law lectures in Boston, but the judge declined, for the reason that the Royall Professorship was about to be established at Cambridge, and a course, [20] delivered by himself, would be considered to be in competition with it.

Mr. Sumner's earnestness and activity as a partisan were confined to this early period of his life. When he became sheriff, he ceased to exert political influence, or to cherish any strong preference for one party over another. After that he seldom voted, and did not sympathize with the partisan bitterness of the day. His favorite notion, for the rest of his life, was that it was the duty of a good citizen to speak well of, and to sustain, the powers that be.

He was admitted, in 1803, into the Society of the Cincinnati, as the successor of his father.

Mr. Sumner was married, April 25, 1810, to Relief Jacob, of Hanover. They had formed an acquaintance while both were boarding with Captain Adams Bailey, on South-Russell Street. Miss Jacob, at the time of her marriage, was living with Shepard Simonds, on the corner of May (Revere) and South-Russell Streets. She had, since leaving Hanover, been earning her livelihood with her needle, upon work received at her room. Crossing the street from the Simonds house, they were married by Justice Robert Gardner, in their new home, a frame house which they had hired, situated at the West End, on the southeast corner of May (Revere) and Buttolph (Irving) Streets, occupying a part of what is now the site of the Bowdoin school house. Here eight of their children, all but the youngest, Julia, were born. Mr. Sumner occupied this house, as a tenant, till 1825, or early in 1826, when, soon after his appointment as sheriff, he hired number sixty-three (then fifty-three) Hancock Street, opposite the site of the Reservoir. In 1830, he purchased number twenty Hancock Street, which was occupied at the time by Rev. Edward Beecher. He removed to this house in November, and resided in it during the rest of his life. The family retained the estate until it was sold, in 1867, to Judge Thomas Russell.

Mr. Sumner was a well-read lawyer. His memorandum-books, which are preserved, contain, in his handwriting, copies of the rules of court, forms of pleading, references to authorities on various points of law and practice, and careful digests of law in different branches, showing him to have been faithful and painstaking in his profession. But he did not, for some reason, succeed in it. His mind lacked, perhaps, the vigor and aggressiveness [21] which qualify for forensic controversies, or even the aptitude for affairs which is needed in office business. His professional work was mainly the collection of bills, and these rarely of large amounts. He appears, as early as 1808, to have desired some official post, with a view to increasing his revenues.

In 1819, he left the bar to become a deputy-sheriff, a transition which then subjected a lawyer to less comment than it would now. He was impressed with his inability to increase his professional income, so as to educate his children, then five in number. His condition of health, as he stated at the time, advised a less sedentary occupation than he had been following. To Josiah Quincy, whom he called his ‘master,’ he wrote an apologetic note, stating his proposed change of life. William Minot, and other members of the bar who knew his worth, volunteered to be his sureties. The revenues of his office proved to be less than a thousand dollars a year. In 1823, he declined the office of City Marshal, tendered him by Mr. Quincy, then Mayor.

In 1825, his affairs took a favorable turn. On Sept. 6, by appointment of Governor Levi Lincoln, he became sheriff of Suffolk County; succeeding Joseph Hall, who had been appointed Judge of Probate. This office he continued to hold till April 11, 1839, thirteen days before his death. His first commission was during pleasure. Under a later statute, which fixed a term of five years for the office, he was reappointed by Governor Lincoln, March 14, 1831, and afterwards by Governor Edward Everett, March 23, 1836. To relieve them from fancied embarrassment, he at different times volunteered a resignation, which they declined to accept. The letters and action of Governor Everett, particularly at the time of the sheriff's last appointment, which met with some opposition, are highly creditable to him. They show how careful the Governor was, in his consideration of personal questions, not to do injustice to any one.

The office of sheriff, to which is attached the custody of the jail, brought Mr. Sumner an annual revenue varying from $2,000 to $3,000, and once or twice considerably exceeding the larger sum. With this assured income he had, in 1828, accumulated $17,000; in 1830, $27,000; and at his decease, in 1839, his property was valued at nearly $50,000. The office enabled him to give his son Charles a liberal education. He always entertained [22] the liveliest gratitude to Governor Lincoln, accounting him, in a letter to him, Jan. 21, 1834, his ‘greatest earthly benefactor,’ as, without his favor, he ‘should not probably have sent a son to college.’ Governor Lincoln answered, as he retired from office, in terms appreciative of the sheriff's personal and official character.

The sheriff's sureties, on his official bond, were William Sullivan, William Minot, Samuel Hubbard, William Prescott, John Heard, Jr., Timothy Fuller, and Asaph Churchill. These well known names show his high standing in the confidence of the community.

Mr. Sumner's home life, which before his appointment as sheriff had been regulated with severe economy, was now more generously maintained. Twice a year, at the opening of the Supreme Judicial Court, he gave a dinner to the judges, the chaplain, and members of the bar and other gentlemen. He gathered, on these festive occasions, such guests as Chief Justices Parker and Shaw, Judges Prescott, Putnam, Wilde, Morton, Hubbard, Thacher, Simmons, Solicitor General Davis, Governor Lincoln, Josiah Quincy, John Pickering, Harrison Gray Otis, William Minot, Timothy Fuller, Samuel E. Sewall; and, among the clergy, Gardiner, Tuckerman, Greenwood, Pierpont, and Lyman Beecher. His son Charles, and his son's classmates, Hopkinson and Browne, were, once at least, among the youngest guests. He gave a dinner, in 1831, to surviving classmates; at which were present Pickering, Jackson, Thacher, Mason, and Dixwell.

He made the duties and history of his office the subject of elaborate research. He read to the bar, and published in the ‘American Jurist,’ July, 1829, a learned exposition of the points of difference between the office in England and in Massachusetts, stating clearly its duties in each jurisdiction, and giving sketches of his predecessors in office. No sheriff in this country, probably, has ever pursued studies of this kind to the same extent.

An incident, which illustrates his professional learning and his independence of character, may be fitly given here.

In 1829, the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth held that an officer serving a writ, which directs him to attach the property of the defendant, may be resisted, as a trespasser, by another party, whose goods he undertakes to seize, honestly but erroneously [23] supposing them to be the defendant's.13 The decision imposed on executive officers a serious responsibility, and subjected them to personal peril. The sheriff regarded it as contrary to the precedents and policy of the law, and as depriving the officer of the protection to which he is entitled. So earnest were his convictions, that he did what would now hardly be thought deferential to the court. Besides communicating the decision to the sheriffs of other counties, with strong terms of disapproval, he addressed to Chief Justice Parker and his associates, before the printing of the opinion, an elaborate argument in writing, supported by a review of the English authorities and by reasons of public policy, with the view to obtain a reconsideration of the doctrine as held by the court. He failed to convince the judges; but his conclusion is in accord with the later authorities in other States, where it is held that the true owner, whose property an officer in good faith undertakes to seize, with a process against another, cannot lawfully obstruct or assault the officer, but must resort to a writ of replevin, or other civil remedy.14

Sheriff Sumner performed his duties with scrupulous fidelity and exactness. His fearlessness was remarked on the occasion of the riot in Broad Street, June 11, 1837, between the Irish and an engine company, when under the statute it became his duty to read the riot act. In the latter part of his life the perplexities of his office annoyed him. He was too formal and punctilious, too reserved, and too little pliant to the ways of men to please the general public. His last appointment drew out some opposition, but his sterling worth overcame it.

He participated in the controversy concerning Masonry, which was carried on with greater or less zeal during the decade of 1825-35. He co-operated with the leading opponents of the order in the State,—John Quincy Adams, Pliny Merrick, Benjamin F. Hallett, Henry Gassett, and Amasa Walker. He had been himself initiated, about 1799, when quite a young man, and had become a master-mason in 1802. A year later he was the eulogist of the order, in a poem and an address before the Grand Lodge of the State. In 1806, however, he discontinued his attendance on its meetings. In 1829, he renounced his connection [24] with it. The same year, he wrote a paper on ‘Speculative Free-Masonry,’ in the form of a letter to gentlemen who had solicited his views. It was published as a pamphlet, and provoked against him much hostility and many newspaper attacks. The memorandum-books left by him show his sustained earnestness in the question. One of them was appropriated exclusively to his thoughts upon it from time to time. He attributed to his connection with this controversy some unkind treatment which he received.

Sheriff Sumner, while not participating publicly in the abolition movement, was always an antislavery man. His forecast discerned the conflict in which his son was to bear his great part. Tradition and his papers give abundant evidence of his opinions on this subject.

About 1820, in a conversation relating to slavery, he said to a neighbor: ‘Our children's heads will some day be broken on a cannon-ball on this question.’ At another time, rebuking the social aversion to the negro, he said he should be entirely willing to sit on the bench with a negro judge; and when complaint was made of the presence in the schools of children with colored blood, he protested that there was no objection to such association. He recorded himself against the law which prohibited the intermarriage of the two races. He saluted colored persons on the street with his customary bow, and made special efforts in behalf of prisoners of this class, to enable them to procure the witnesses for their defence. He wrote in the album of the daughter of his friend, Colonel Josiah H. Vose, Cowper's familiar lines, beginning with,—

I would not have a slave to till my ground.

At one time he wrote: ‘The South will say, in less than one hundred years, “Who shall deliver us from the body of this death?” ’ His memorandum-books contain numerous passages showing his sympathy with the antislavery movement. At one time he recorded his conviction that Congress ought to abolish slavery in the District of Columbia. He denounced the proslavery riots which took place in Boston, New York, Philadelphia, and Alton. Indeed, there was no topic on which he was more thoughtful and earnest.

His relation to an attempted reclamation of some fugitive slaves deserves a record. On July 30, 1836, two colored women, alleged [25] to be slaves, were held on board a brig in Boston Harbor, by one Turner, the agent of a Maryland slaveholder, with the intent to carry them to that State. On that day, a writ of habeas corpus was granted, at the instance of some philanthropic persons. A deputy-sheriff served the writ on the master of the vessel, and took the women into custody. They were brought into court, and the legality of their detention was heard on August 1. A large number of people, chiefly colored, were in attendance. Chief Justice Shaw, after hearing the affidavits, remarked that the captain had not sufficient authority to detain the women. At this stage of the proceedings, before any formal order of discharge had been given, and while the claimant was preparing other papers in order to obtain a new process for their detention, the counsel of the petitioners, Samuel E. Sewall, said to the women that they were discharged. The colored people present at once made a rush; and, in spite of the officers, carried off the women, who were pursued as far as Framingham, where all traces of them were lost. They were not recovered. The Chief Justice was displeased with the premature announcement of the discharge and the breach of decorum. The conduct of the sheriff, who was not present, but was at the time engaged in attendance on the Municipal Court, was called in question by the newspaper press of the city, then much in sympathy with the enforcement of the Fugitive Act of 1793.15 He had previously offered the deputy in charge of the process to undertake himself the duty; but the offer being declined, he (lid not concern himself further with the matter, and went to the Municipal Court. He seems to have been in no official default, even on the theory that his duties were the same as in the custody of a party accused of crime. He was charged with having, out of sympathy with the alleged slaves, intentionally neglected to provide an adequate force, and with expressing that sympathy to Mr. Sewall in the remark that he wished him success in his cause. In his published letter of vindication, he thus answers this last accusation: ‘Whether I addressed Mr. Sewall, as it is said, I cannot tell; but I should be ashamed of myself if I did not wish that every person claimed as a slave might be proved to be a freeman, which is the purport of the words attributed to me.’ The sheriff, in consequence of the adverse expressions of opinion on his action, [26] tendered his resignation to Governor Everett, who declined to accept it.

To George T. Davis, of Greenfield, then editor of the ‘Franklin Mercury,’ he wrote a note of thanks for an article in that paper, Aug. 9, 1836, which had ‘served as a breakwater to turn aside the strong tide of reproach, which, for a few days, had been setting against him;’ in which he said,—

‘It seems to me as if there were some persons in Boston who would have been gratified to see those women (after being liberated from one unlawful detention) seized in the court-house, in the presence of the judge, and confined till proof could be sent for to Baltimore, and from thence be sent to Boston, to make them slaves. I hope the walls of a Massachusetts courthouse will never be the witnesses of such a spectacle. What would the late Judge Sedgwick have said, if a human being had been seized in his presence, in the court-house, while he was on the bench, for the purpose of having him sentenced and certified as a slave? Though dead, he yet lives and speaks in the opinion he gave in the case of Greenwood v. Curtis, 6 Mass. Rep. 362– 378 n.’

It is interesting to note, in Sheriff Sumner's correspondence, how nearly alike were the questions of 1833 and those of 1861, between the government and slavery. His relative, Edwin V. Sumner, a lieutenant of the regular army in 1833, and a major-general of volunteers in the Civil War, wrote to him from Fort Niagara, Jan. 11, 1833,—

What think you of the nullifiers? Our affairs begin to assume a very gloomy appearance in that quarter. If South Carolina stood alone, there would be less cause of apprehension; but is there not every reason to fear that it will result in a controversy between North and South? We are ready at this post to move instantly; but we hope and trust that the difficulty will be quietly and happily adjusted without an interruption.

The sheriff replied, under date of Feb. 3, regretting that he could not call his country ‘a nation,’ enforcing the need of a government of greater strength and uniformity of pressure and of less regard for State lines, and expressing his fear that, ‘in an emergency, its authority will be aided but little by the militia south of the Potomac; and that Virginia, North and South Carolina, Georgia, Florida, and Alabama will sooner or later unite and bid defiance to the North.’ He added: ‘In the course of this year, 1833, I trust we are to see whether we are a nation or a confederacy.’ He had before this, Jan. 20, 1830, written to Mr. Webster, acknowledging the receipt of a copy of his speech [27] on Foote's resolution, saying that ‘the debate will be noticed in the history of our Union; and in that history you will appear as a man fulfilling the duty of your station, faithful to your country and to your own character.’

Sheriff Sumner was in favor of a strong government both for the nation and the State. He was greatly disturbed by the mobs which were frequent in American cities from 1834 to 1838, and which usually grew out of Slavery, religious antipathies, or criminal trials; and he insisted often on a more vigorous police.

As early as 1830, he took an active interest in the temperance question;16 and, in the years immediately succeeding, delivered lectures, in which he enforced the duty of sobriety.17 He favored the restrictive legislation of 1837-38, and insisted on the immorality of licensing the sale of ardent spirits.

He promoted the improvement of public schools. In 1818, when there were only five such schools in Boston, and these were crowded, he published several newspaper articles, in which he urged additional schools and an increase in the number of teachers for each.18

Sheriff Sumner attended, in his early manhood, the services of the Protestant Episcopal Church, at Trinity Church, of which Rev. Dr. Gardiner was the rector. He was at one time the clerk; and, after the English style, had an elevated seat near the chancel, from which he made responses. About 1825, he began to attend at King's Chapel (Unitarian), of which Rev. F. W. P. Greenwood was the pastor. Here the family retained their pew till the death of his widow, in 1866. His religious belief was quite indefinite. He was indulgent to all shades of doctrine. He welcomed the Catholics when there were few in Boston. Once he discontinued a newspaper, on account of its attacks upon them. His feelings were strongly excited by the destruction of the Ursuline Convent at Charlestown by a mob, in August, 1834; and he sent thirty dollars, the amount he had received for a special official service, to Bishop Fenwick, to be used in aid of the sufferers. While disinclined to attend public dinners, he accepted an invitation to attend one given by the Irish Charitable Society, in 1830, at the Exchange Coffee-House, on St. Patrick's Day. When called on to respond to a sentiment, [28] he paid a tribute to Lord Baltimore, the founder of Maryland. His reply is a specimen of his efforts on such occasions:—

There is a name that was of great note between one and two hundred years ago, which does not seem to be remembered in this part of our country with sufficient respect. I mean the name of Calvert, Lord Baltimore, the founder of Maryland. He was a worthy son of Ireland, and an ornament of the age in which he lived. He was a Catholic and a statesman. As governor of Maryland, he received with open arms all who came to him suffering from the hand of religious intolerance. He studied the things that made for peace, and used his authority to inspire his followers with the love of it, always acting upon that maxim of political wisdom,— “By agreement a colony may rise to greatness; while by dissension an empire must come to nothing.” Sir, I offer a sentiment dear to my heart,—Respect to the name of Calvert.

He observed with scrupulous exactness the rules of good breeding, and taught them to his children. His thought on this subject was embodied in a sentiment which he gave, in August, 1827, at the customary public-school festival, in Faneuil Hall,— ‘Good learning and good manners; two good companions. Happy when they meet, they ought never to part.’

Sheriff Sumner was a scholarly man for his time. He read history like a student, using charts and writing out in memorandum-books tables of events in English and American history. He had a fancy for collating those which had occurred in different periods on the same day. He also noted down current events in war and diplomacy, and applied to them historical precedents. He transcribed choice extracts from English and Latin authors. His diligence in these respects was remarkable. His public addresses and newspaper articles, and also his letters to friends and his conversation—though in no respect brilliant or epigrammatic—were carefully worded, every sentence well weighed and spoken, or written out in his fair, clerkly hand. He took pains to lead his son Charles and his other children to the studies which he had himself pursued, teaching them, as their minds developed, to love history and all knowledge. Other homes enjoyed more of luxury; but his was enriched at least with the atmosphere of culture.

He was rigidly conscientious in his dealings with his fellowmen. His fidelity to trust, even in the smallest items, was never doubted. It was easy for him to procure, among his neighbors, the best sureties on his official bond, although his known integrity, rather than his acquired property, was the guarantee of [29] his trustworthiness. He was genuine in character, and would not consent to receive any undeserved consideration. In early life he declined invitations, the acceptance of which might imply a claim to a social position higher than he held, and even went out of his way by quaint methods to prevent any impression that his household life was more luxurious than it really was. His conviction that equal justice was due to all, without favor to any, was strong; and when a near relative, for whom he had the tenderest regard, had violated the law, and he was desired to intervene in his behalf, he answered, with Roman firmness, ‘The law must take its course.’ He applied the same high standard to corporate and public affairs as to private life. In October, 1837, during the suspension of specie payments, he moved, as a stockholder of the State Bank, that no dividends be paid till its bills were redeemable in specie. The motion was lost, but he recorded his determination to renew it the next year.

Sheriff Sumner's health was feeble in his later years. He became quite ill early in January, 1839, and after that month was confined to his house. He resigned his office, March 14. Governor Everett delayed action, hoping for his recovery; but relieved him, April 11, by the appointment of Joseph Eveleth as his successor. The judges of the Supreme Judicial Court, by a formal letter, drawn by Chief Justice Shaw, gratefully recognized his uniform kindness and attention during his administration. He died, April 24, at the age of sixty-three, the period which he had often designated as his probable end. In length of life, he and his son Charles differed less than one month.

His will, signed a few days before his death, after gifts to some of his children, to equalize advances to others, bequeathed a life-estate in his house, on Hancock Street, to his wife, and the fee equally to his children; and the residue of his property to her, for her own disposal, adding these words:— ‘I have made the foregoing devises and bequests to my wife, confiding in her disposition to carry into effect my wishes, and in her affection for our children, and that she will, from time to time, and finally by her last will, make such disposition of the property given her as justice and the condition of the children shall require.’ This trust was faithfully administered, and the estate more than doubled in value during the period which intervened between his death and hers. [30]

Sheriff Sumner was very formal in his manners and punctilious in etiquette, not only in public, but in his family. In salutations he was somewhat excessive, bowing low, touching his mouth with his hand, and waving it back to his side. He was reserved to a marked degree, and was rarely seen in public to smile, at least in his later years. He had during his life, but more towards its close, a grave and sombre tone of mind. His rigid and cheerless nature was not one which makes a happy home. He was loyal to ancient friends, and grateful to those who had in any way befriended him; but he did not mingle easily with men to whom he was not allied by any tie of kin or early association. From natural kindness, and not from a desire to win favor, he was accustomed, in letters and personal greetings, to say pleasant things, in the way of compliment, to those whom he respected. His conscientiousness,—his fixedness of purpose in doing his duty, as he understood it, no matter what others might say or think,—was the prominent trait of his character. With this was associated love of learning, of social order, and of good morals. If he was wanting in the lighter moods, he had the sterling qualities which children respect and imitate. If he was not himself great, he had in him elements of character which are essential to greatness.

In person he was of average height, five feet and eight or nine inches. He was slender in form, and not well favored in countenance. No portrait of him is preserved.19


The mother.

Mrs. Sumner was a woman of excellent sense, and of unusual skill in domestic economies. By her own toil, and the prudent management of the household, she succeeded, even before her husband became sheriff, in keeping the family expenses within his income. In the care of the estate and the nurture of the children, after his decease, she justified the confidence which his will placed in her. She was equable, even imperturbable, in her temperament. She survived her husband twenty-seven years, and all her children, save Charles and Julia. She was the constant nurse, night as well as day, of three daughters, during wasting [31] disease which ended in death, and of her son Charles, during a severe illness in 1844. Her early education was that of the common-school only. She found little time for liberal studies during the season when maternal cares pressed heavily upon her, although encouraging them in her children; but her good sense and native understanding always insured her the respect of the best people.

One will observe the larger space which is almost always given to the father of any subject of biography. The life of the man is various, illustrated by adventure and incident; while the life of the woman is in her home, monotonous and undistinguished. She may have had, by force of her innate qualities or her nurture, an equal or greater share in the character and fortunes of her child, but the story of her life will be briefly told:—

Her lot to bear, to nurse, to rear,
To love,—and then to lose.

In person, Mrs. Sumner was tall and slender. She enjoyed health and cheerful spirits during her prolonged life. She died, June 15, 1866, at the age of eighty-one.


Brothers and sisters.

Sheriff Sumner had nine children. Of these, Charles and Matilda, twin brother and sister, were the eldest. Matilda died, March 6, 1832, of consumption, after a year's sickness, at the age of twenty-one.

Albert was born, Aug. 31, 1812; passed through a regular course in the public schools, and served some time in a counting-room. He sailed, at the age of seventeen, from New Bedford for the Pacific, on a whaling voyage, which lasted three years; and afterwards, as mate or captain in different ships, for South America and Europe. He retired from maritime service on his marriage, in 1840, to the widow of Thomas Barclay, of New York, and from that time resided in New York and Newport. He had a fine presence, cultivated the habits and tastes of a gentleman, and gave a generous welcome to friends at his fireside and table. He met an untimely fate in 1856. With his wife and their only daughter, Catharine, a girl of fourteen years, for whose health the journey was planned, he sailed, Nov. 1, [32] from New York for Havre, in the French steamer Lyonnais. On the following day, near midnight, she was disabled by a collision with the bark Adriatic, of Belfast, Me., bound for Savannah, when some sixty miles off the Nantucket light. The day after the collision, the passengers and crew left the ship, in the midst of a storm, for the boats and a raft. Of the one hundred and fifty persons on board, eighteen only were saved, two of whom floating on a raft and sixteen in a life-boat were picked up a week after. Captain Sumner and his family had entered another boat, which was seen the day after and then disappeared in a fog.

It appears to have been established that the mother and child died first, and that the father inherited their property. Mrs. Sumner's estate thus descended to the heirs of her husband,— his mother and surviving brothers, Charles and George, and his sister Julia. The Sumners surrendered voluntarily, and without the assertion of an adverse claim, to the heirs of Albert's wife all her property; and the Barclays certified in a formal letter to George Sumner, the administrator of Albert, that ‘the Barclays had no legal claim to the property, and this fact was known both to yourself and to the other heirs-at-law. Such conduct merits the esteem and approbation of every honorable man.’

Henry was born, Nov. 22, 1814, and died in South Orange, N. J., May 5, 1852. He received a mercantile education, travelled in the Southern States, and visited the West Indies and South America. In 1838, he held for a few months the office of deputy-sheriff, by his father's appointment.

George was born, Feb. 5, 1817, and died, Oct. 6, 1863. He was trained in the public schools and a counting-house. He developed in his youth the spirit of adventure; and, at the age of twenty-one, sailed as the supercargo of a ship for Russia, where he received many civilities from the Czar Nicholas and his court. From this time until 1852, he travelled, without the interval of any visit to his country, in the East and in Europe; studying languages, politics, and institutions, observing with rare diligence contemporary events, and profiting by a large acquaintance with scholars and public men. He made Paris his home, and knew French affairs well,—better, probably, than most Frenchmen. He was commended both by Tocqueville and Alexander von Humboldt for his intelligence and researches. During his residence abroad, he contributed to foreign reviews, and also [33] to American periodicals and newspapers. His themes concerned history, philanthropy, and the existing state of nations, including affairs in the East. After his return to this country, he was, for some years, an acceptable lecturer before lyceums in the Western as well as Eastern States. On July 4, 1859, he delivered the oration before the municipal authorities of Boston, taking for his topic the obligations of the people of the United States to other nations and to themselves. Some of his friends and relatives, and particularly his brother Charles, regretted that he tarried so long in Europe, and desired him rather to concentrate his mind on some definite literary work or occupation.20

Jane was born, April 28, 1820, and died, Oct. 7, 1837. She did not recover from a typhoid fever, which seized her two years before her death, and afterwards was afflicted with a spinal disease. Her delicate conscientiousness and religious thoughtfulness appear in a paper, written at the age of sixteen, in which she recorded a severe self-examination. Her father wrote of her: ‘She was tall, well proportioned and graceful, intelligent and discreet. Her light was clear and cheering. She was never impatient or irritated She was well informed for one of her years. She understood English well, and had some knowledge of Latin and French. She was tolerably proficient in music, and could sing and play well. She could dance well, and walk with strength, agility, and grace. But whatever were her accomplishments, goodness was her chief characteristic; and this, at all times, beamed forth from her clear, dark-colored, benignant eyes.’

Mary was born, April 28, 1822, and died, Oct. 11, 1844. She was a lovely character, and in person the fairest among the daughters. Her disease was pulmonary. She was the darling sister of her brother Charles, whose grief at her wasting sickness and death later pages will record.

Horace was born, Dec. 25, 1824, and was lost, July 19, 1850, in the wreck of the ship Elizabeth, on Fire Island, near New York. At two in the afternoon he left the ship to swim ashore, and was not seen again. The Marchioness Ossoli, nee Margaret Fuller, perished in the same disaster. Horace, for some time an invalid, was returning from a voyage to Italy, which had been undertaken for his health. He was a gentle, unaspiring youth, [34] not marked by any strong qualities, and with less intellectual vigor than the other children. He was placed on a farm for his health, and was at one time with the Brook-Farm Community, a well-known fraternity of social reformers. It was remarkable that two brothers, not at the time sea-faring men, should end their lives in different shipwrecks.21

Julia was born, May 5, 1827, and died, May 29, 1876; the last survivor of the nine children, and the only one who outlived Charles. She married, in 1854, Dr. John Hastings, of San Francisco. Her children, Alice, Edith, and Julia, are the only living issue of Charles Pinckney Sumner. She was an invalid for many years. She was beloved for her sweetness of nature and her true womanliness. Her last visit to the Atlantic States was in 1862, and her ill-health did not permit her to make a later one. She visited Washington at that time. Charles accompanied her to New York, and parted with her at the steamer, as she sailed on her return. ‘I shall never forget,’ she afterwards wrote, ‘his tender care at that time. My last sight of him was standing on the wharf as the steamer moved off.’

1 Charles Pinckney Sumner contributed, with the signature of ‘An Elderly Man,’ a sketch of Charles Pinckney to the ‘Patriot and Mercantile Advertiser,’ March 4. 1823.

2 On Aug. 15, 1829, he wrote, ‘I had but little time to enjoy the society of anybody. I scarcely remember the time from my eighth to my twelfth year, when all the summer long I did not perform half the labor of a man in the field from sunrise to nearly sundown, in the long summer days, and after that go every night about a mile, all over the Milton Church land, for the cows.’

3 History of Andover, by Abiel Abbot, Andover, 1829; Allen's American Biographical Dictionary. Edmund Quincy, in his ‘Life of Josiah Quincy,’ p. 28, says of Mr. Pemberton: ‘This gentleman lived till 1836, and was past ninety when he died. I well remember the handsome old man, and the beautiful picture of serene and venerable age which he presented, seeming in old-world courtesy and costume to have stepped out of the last century into this, and the pride with which he spoke of the eminent men who had been his pupils, and especially of his having offered two presidents-Kirkland and Quincy to Harvard.’ A sketch of Mr. Pemberton, written by Charles Pinckney Sumner, is printed in the ‘Daily Advertiser and Patriot,’ July 15, 1835.

4 Memoir of Hon. Samuel Phillips, Ll.D, by Rev. John L. Taylor. Boston, 1856. pp. 253-256.

5 Life of Josiah Quincy, by his son, Edmund Quincy, Boston, 1867, p. 26, where an account is given of Mr. French's family life.

6 Sprague's Annals (Trinitarian and Congregational), Vol. II. pp. 42-48, containing an account by Josiah Quincy. Memorial of Abigail Stearns. Boston, 1859.

7 A few months after Major Sumner's death, his brother, Dr. Seth Sumner, was appointed guardian of the boy.

8 A medal which was awarded him in 1789 is preserved.

9 Josiah Quincy, on the occasion of the death, in December, 1858, of Mrs. Steams, whose senior he was by four years, gave pleasant reminiscences of her childhood, and of his residence in Mr. French's family in his boyhood. ‘Memorial of Madam Abigail Stearns, with Funeral Discourses of Rev. Samuel Sewall, and of her son, Rev. Jonathan F. Stearns.’ Boston, 1859.

10 Charles Sumner's tributes to Mr. Pickering are well known. ‘Biographical Sketch of the late John Pickering,’ Works, Vol. I. p. 214; ‘The Scholar (Mr. Pickering), the Jurist, the Artist, the Philanthropist,’ Works Vol. I. p. 241.

11 As a grateful acknowledgment of this poem, his college friends presented him with copies of Shakspeare and Young's ‘Night Thoughts.’

12 Letter of Charles Pinckney Sumner, published Aug. 29, 1811, in the ‘Commercial Gazette,’ Boston, dated Aug. 2:3, 1811, replying to the charge that he is an ‘apostate.’ This letter was copied in the ‘National Intelligencer.’ In another letter he denied having been at any time a member of ‘a Jacobin club.’

13 Commonwealth v. Kennard, 8 Pickering's Reports, p. 133.

14 State v. Donner, 8 Vermont Reports, 424; State v. Buchanan, 17 id. 573; State v. Fifield, 18 New Hampshire Reports, 34; Faris v. State, 3 Ohio State Reports, 159.

15 Evening Transcript, Aug. 3 and 13, 1836; Evening Gazette, Aug. 6, 1836; Morning Post, Aug. 5, 1836; Centinel and Gazette, Aug. 15, 1836.

16 Article on exclusion of bars from theatres, in ‘Commercial Gazette,’ Nov. 8, 1830.

17 At Holliston, May 4, 1831; Boston, June 2, 1833.

18 Boston Yankee, May 15, June 11 and 18, July 2, 9, and 23.

19 The papers left by Sheriff Sumner are the chief sources of this sketch. Information has been sought from those who knew him, and ‘The Hundred Boston Orators,’ by James S. Loring, has been consulted.

20 A sketch of George Sumner may be found in Allibone's ‘Dictionary of English Literature.’

21 For a detailed account of the shipwreck, see ‘Memoir of Margaret Fuller Ossoli,’ bv R. W. Emerson, W. H. Channing, and J. F. Clarke, Vol. II. pp. 341-351.

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