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Chapter 1: childhood and youth

It is difficult for the human mind to determine what is its earliest recollection. Connected with the place where I was born, the remembrance that is most distinct is of an occurrence which took place when I was three years old. There is a dreamy sensation connected with the preceding, and with much of that which was subsequent to this one event.

My parents lived in a large, plain, two-story frame house, facing toward a north and south road about a quarter of a mile westward from it. The front hall on the west side was remarkable for the broad frieze extending around it, on which was inscribed in plain letters, near the ceiling, the name of my grandfather, Seth Howard, repeated as often as necessary to the completion of the border. The kitchen part, the sheds, the corn building, and the barn began at the northeast corner of the house and extended in broken lines to the orchard. The main house had upon it a roof comparatively flat, with a small portion fenced in at the crest by a balustrade. The house was upon the [4] northern slope of “the great hill” of Leeds. With its tall chimneys, its balustrade, its white color, and green blinds, the structure was as noticeable as a lighthouse upon a promontory. It was seen and known for miles around as the residence of Captain Seth Howard.

At that time the family consisted of my father (Rowland Bailey Howard), my mother, and my grandfather, who was a little past seventy.

Occasionally a neighbor, assisting father in the work of the farm, sat at our table, but habitually we four made up the household.

During the winter, probably in February, 1834, just before night set in, I was looking out of the south window of mother's sitting room and saw something new and startling to me. It was a team of horses hauling a pung with high, brightly painted sides. Just above the pung body on a cross box were seated two men, warmly dressed, having on mufflers, fur caps, and mittens. One of them was driving the horses. Openmouthed sleigh bells were attached to the shafts. The team stopped near our side door, the driver gave his reins to the other man, and ran up to the house and knocked. My father went out to meet him, and after a little conversation the horses were taken from the pung, properly stabled, and the men came in and took supper with the family. I was permitted to sit up during that memorable evening, being too excited to think of sleep.

In the front hall my father's cornsheller was placed. Why it was put there that night I never could tell. There was a bin of unshelled corn in the northwest room where stood my mother's loom and all that belonged to it, not used in the winter. The corn on the cob was brought and put through the machine, [5] one of the men turning the crank and the other feeding it in. I saw the cobs fly in one direction, the dust in another, and the shelled corn fall into its proper receptacle. It was put into bags and carried out every now and then by the men and emptied into the body of the pung. This went on till that singular sleigh was heavily loaded.

After this operation, so absorbing to a child, we all gathered in the sitting room, where a table was spread with refreshments. There was a cheerful fire in the old-fashioned fire-frame. As the party drew their chairs in social order so as to look at the fire, everything appeared unusually pleasant, and I am sure that my grandfather and one of the strangers had lighted their pipes. My father said, as his curious little boy was noticed: “Otis, you must speak your piece. Step up on the bench there beside the door.”

I did so. My father then said: “Now, Otis, make your bow and go on.”

I did the best I could and stammered through that wonderful speech which children learn without knowing for many years its meaning:

You'd scarce expect one of my age
To speak in public on the stage,
And if I chance to fall below
Demosthenes or Cicero,
Don't view me with a critic's eye,
But pass my imperfections by.

This was the event, and the whole sweet picture of it is still before me, more than seventy years after its occurrence.

Grandfather, with his thin, silvery hair and very genial face, was already infirm with age. He helped [6] mother about the house more than he did father in the farm work, yet he did many chores in the woodhouse and in the garden and around the barn, which gave father hours of time. My father, a man about five feet eleven in height, with dark-brown hair and sandy whiskers, which he wore at the sides of his face, was not very strong and often tortured with rheumatic attacks, yet he resolutely did the farm work. To me now it is wonderful how much he accomplished in the course of a year, for the winter never set in till the cellar was well replenished with meat, vegetables, and fruit, ample for a comfortable living and sufficient for our wants.

Coming with his young wife to his father in Leeds, Me., some four years before, he had succeeded in freeing the farm from a heavy mortgage and in giving support to all his household.

That farm, nearly half of which was wood and pasture land, did not exceed eighty acres. We had several cows, a yoke of oxen, and between fifty and sixty sheep. We raised hens and turkeys in sufficient numbers for our home use, and had also a beautiful apple orchard, which never failed the family in its fruitfulness.

My father's fondness for horses helped increase his income. He would buy up six or eight, as many as his stables would hold, and train them carefully, feeding them well for a few months, then lead or drive them to the nearest market. He succeeded in this trading so well that he was able to clear the farm of its obligation sooner than he could have done by the ordinary profits from the crops.

I love to think of my father and to remember how fond he was of music and how sweetly he played of [7] an evening upon his flute, while my mother and sometimes others sang to this accompaniment. He was fond of books, and poetry was his delight. To me he seemed, as a rule, stern and unbending, but I am sure from what many have told me that there was never a man prouder of his children or more faithful to them during his short life.

My grandfather, Captain Seth Howard, was, next to my mother, my favorite companion. His usual stories concerned the Revolutionary War, in which he had served, during the last part, as a private. Subsequently during Indian troubles he obtained the rank of captain in the militia. He was born in Bridgewater, Mass., and was known as “Captain Seth Howard” in Massachusetts, as in Maine after his migration to that State, which was on his arrival but a province, a part of Massachusetts. His father was Jesse Howard, who at the breaking out of the Revolutionary struggle entered the service against the British as a lieutenant in Captain Ames's company; he was subsequently a captain himself, according to the Bridgewater record.

Tracing the family back through three generations beyond Jesse, we find John Howard, who was an aide and helper to Miles Standish. This John Howard came from England to America shortly after the arrival of the Mayflower. If a Howard can trace his relatives in the line of heredity to Bridgewater, he is almost sure to belong to the very numerous family of which John Howard was the progenitor. The English connection is not so very clear and to me it does not seem important. It is, however, a source of gratification to a man to find his family tree representing men exceptionally industrious and respectable. [8]

A little later, during that same winter of the cornshelling incident, another event impressed me. Early one day my mother dressed me and herself with warm wraps and we joined my father in his sleigh. The weather was exceedingly cold, so that to keep me from being nipped with the frost I was made to sit down on a little bench under the “buffalo.” I am confident that there was a piece of oak wood there which had been previously heated before the fireplace. It kept my mother's feet warm and was a comfort to me, so that I soon fell asleep. When I wakened we had reached the lake, then called Wayne Pond, and were riding across it on the ice. The crushing of the snow, the sound of the bells, and the peculiar gliding motion of the sleigh have left their impression upon my memory.

Just at dark we stopped at a tavern in New Sharon. My mother and I entered the tavern through a dark entry. The office room was heated by an oldfashioned Franklin stove and we went to it to get warm, for in spite of all precautions we were chilled by the ride.

My mother not noticing me, I started back to join my father and opened the door, as I supposed, into the dark entry, but it proved to be the cellar way, equally dark. I rolled down the stairs from top to bottom, making my nose bleed and bruising my forehead, but without much other damage. A tall man came and picked up the little bundle of a boy and brought him to his mother. Just then my father came in, and I never quite forgave him for reproving my mother for not having taken better care of Otis. Indeed, Otis was wholly to blame.

The next day we proceeded to Bangor, Me. There [9] two things occurred which have become part of my life. One was the impression produced by Mrs. Richmond's large music box that she wound up several times for my benefit, and the other was a misfortune which I had while playing with a little girl about my age. I shut the door upon her fingers, without meaning to do so, nearly crushing them. A young man with a stiff leg, supporting himself on crutches, rushed upon me, seized me, gave me a shaking, and a good scolding. My heart was broken already when he came because of the afflicting accident. Imagine then my complete prostration and long sobbing after the chastisement. Surely I learned a wholesome life lesson from that occurrence.

In the summer of 1834, when I was four years of age, I began to go to the district school, nearly one mile south of our home. From that time I continued, summer and winter, to attend till my father's death, which occurred during the spring after I was nine years of age. This school-going was a marked period in my boyhood life. We had a change of teachers each summer and winter term, and I recall to-day the names and faces of those teachers.

When there were fifty or sixty scholars and the school was not graded, it was an exceedingly hard task which any teacher had to so arrange that every scholar should have an opportunity to receive his personal instruction in some branch of the curriculum. Reading, writing, and spelling were for all. Geography, arithmetic, and English grammar were for those who were advanced enough to be classified in these branches. I was fond of my teachers, and remember distinctly that I could be governed by kindness and by praise, interspersed with an occasional punishment. [10]

One of my earliest instructors was Ben Murray. To keep me out of mischief he would take me and put me in his lap and let me play with his watch chain. A little later Elizabeth Moore would try to shame me by making me sit with the big girls. Hannah Knapp, on one occasion, kept me in at recess on a back seat. Here I shed some tears and meanwhile surreptitiously drew out the ginger cake from my dinner, which had been placed for safety on the little shelf below the desk. I had hard work to eat the dry cake for the crying and the scattering of the crumbs from my overfull cheeks.

Thomas Bridgham, one winter, was obliged to punish me with the ferule, giving several smart slaps upon the palm of the hand, because I went off with some other boys at recess to search for spruce gum and did not return in time.

Indeed, I had learned to read by my mother's care before the first school, and progress was always steady and rapid enough. As a lad I was not complained of for want of quickness or intelligence.

The larger schooling came from the outside, from the three-score of boys and girls with whom I associated. Scarcely one of them is alive to-day. There were among the boys those who had every characteristic of sturdy New England lads. As a rule, the roughest plays were our delight, and I had a very early ambition to be a leader. Rufus Knapp was at least sixteen when I was eight, jovial with the younger boys, but huge in size, strong and sinewy as an athlete. I used to combine my forces from the small boys and lead them to attack him simply with a view of throwing him to the ground. I would first dive for his legs, and no matter how much I was bruised I [11] led those attacks with success. Rufus never was angry and laughed at the rest of us when we piled upon his prostrate form and held his arms and legs.

On one occasion something that has been a characteristic in later life showed itself. Several boys were on their way to school. There had been a freshet, and the deep ditches were full of water. At one place there was quite an excavation comparatively full. The surface in the early morning was skimmed over with thin ice. Henry Millet, one of the companions of about my age, called out and said: “Ote, you dasn't slide across that ditch!” As quick as thought I sprang forward and started to slide. When I reached the middle I went through to my neck in the cold water. Of course I sprang out as quickly as I went in, but I had to go on to school drenched to the skin. Indeed, all my life it has been hard for me to resist a challenge.

The year I began school my brother Rowland was born. Just after he was old enough to accompany me the fearful excitement attending the settlement of the northeast boundary came to a head. With other lads we ran from school to find the Leeds Company drilling with fifes and drums in Mr. Millet's large front yard. On arriving we were delighted with the beautiful uniforms and bright plumes of the company and excited as boys always are by the music. This was a new experience. Suddenly one of the boys told us that our father, Rowland B. Howard, had been drafted and would have to go to war. Little Rowland and I ran home sobbing and crying, not half understanding what the thing meant. Our mother soon explained that father accepted the draft, but on account of his rheumatism would send a substitute. He did so. The substitute's name was George Washington [12] George. He was cross-eyed, but avoided the examining surgeon, declaring that he could shoot as well as anybody by closing one eye. George's full equipment in the old style, with the flint-lock musket and all that went with it, so much interested me that I have never forgotten any article of its make-up.

The so-called war was brief, for the controversy was settled by General Winfield Scott in 1838 before there was any actual exchange of shots. This was called the “Madawaska War.”

Before I was six years old my father, having some business in the valley of the Hudson, made quite a long visit among his mother's relatives, living there. My grandmother's name was Desire Bailey, a sister of Dr. Rowland Bailey. On my father's return he passed through the city of Troy. For some benevolent reason he there befriended a little negro lad and brought him to our house in Leeds, Me. I remember well the night the boy first made his appearance in the household. His large eyes, white teeth, woolly head, and dark skin kept my eyes fixed upon him for some time, while my father was telling the story of his advent. This boy lived with us for four years. As he was vigorous and strong we had our plays together. The coasting, the skating, the ball playing, the games with marbles and with kites-all such things found us adepts. Also in work, such as comes to every New England farm lad, we toiled side by side, or at our respective stints in which we competed for success and finish. Edward Johnson, for that was his name, was always kind to me, and helpful. Indeed, I never remember quarreling with him, but he was never cringing or slavish. I have always believed it a providential circumstance that I had that early experience with a negro lad, for it relieved [13] me from that feeling of prejudice which would have hindered me from doing the work for the freedmen which, years afterwards, was committed to my charge.

In the year 1838 my younger brother, Charles, was born.

In the early settlement of Leeds, before there were any school privileges, Mr. Francis, a young Englishman, came with a party of prospectors from England. They were entertained by my great — grandfather, Thomas Stanchfield. After leaving his home, situated then in a wilderness near the eastern border of Leeds, the party kept on westward. After a few days, Mr. Francis, much broken and bruised by the journey, returned alone and accepted the offer of Mr. Stanchfield to remain and teach the children of the scattered families in that section of Maine. At a later period, seeing the moral and religious condition of this frontier, he began to give religious instruction to the adults as well as to the children, and was soon after ordained as the first Baptist minister in that community. He was still preaching in the meetinghouse before mentioned when my father and mother were young people. Through his influence and that of other ministers who followed him, a thriving church resulted, and the community of Leeds, far and near, became remarkable in its attention to religious matters.

Into this atmosphere I was born. In a letter written by my mother, which lies before me, of date July 14, 1833, I find not only expressions of deep affection for her husband and her then only son, but utterances which indicate piety and a simple trust in God, and also express a proper ambition subdued by humility of heart. She wrote: [14]

I think if we cannot fill so high a station in life as we could desire, we may possibly do as much good in some less exacting situation. Our children, though humbly educated, may fill important stations in life. Let us hope for the best and bear with patience whatever crosses our path in life.

At the church on Sunday there was preaching in the morning and in the afternoon. During the recess between the sermons the children were gathered into a Sunday school. Deacon Cobb had six or eight of us boys shut into one of those old-fashioned pews with back and front and door so high that we could not look out of the pew when on the floor. The usual routine was to recite verses previously learned at home. My parents must have been very faithful in having me prepare my lessons, for I committed to memory a great deal of Scripture about that time that has'since been of great service to me. There was no sign of religiousness in my first home. We did not even have family prayer. Once during my father's illness I came from a prayer meeting at my uncle's house much impressed with a desire to be a Christian. My father, sitting in his high-backed chair, asked me about the meeting. After telling him, I said, “Father, do you ever pray”

He was silent for a few moments and then said: “My son, would you like to have me pray?”

I said “yes” and we knelt together beside his chair and he repeated our Lord's Prayer. This was the only time that I heard my father thus offer a petition. My mother, however, had taught me the simple prayers of childhood and rendered me familiar with Bible stories too early in my life for distinct recollection.

One Sunday morning I was keeping the cattle out of the upper grain field. The wind was blowing hard [15] from the west. Just before church time my father called for me at the top of his voice, using all his strength to make me hear. At last I saw him and faintly heard his call and ran home at once. He told me to get ready for meeting. The meetinghouse was on the southern slope of the great hill, about two miles away. My father had been rebuilding the church edifice for the people and was much interested in it and in the meetings. I begged to be allowed to stay at home that day. My father, mother, and brother went and left me behind. Early in the afternoon they came back. Sitting in the church my father had been attacked with a sudden hemorrhage of the lungs, due undoubtedly to the strain of his morning call to me against the wind. He was never well again, and on April 30, 1840, he died. The scene at his death has always appeared to me to be a tragic one--the hemorrhage, the cries of my mother, and the tearful friends gathered around his bed. It was indeed my first idea of a death scene.

The whole ceremony following was like that in a country place in New England where one is taken away who is much respected and beloved by his neighbors. Every office from the undertaker to the bearers and the burial party was filled by a kind friend and late associate. The pastor of the Baptist church read the hymns and made the prayer, and with trembling voices the choir, which had so often sung to his accompaniment with his flute in social entertainments, sang precious hymns.

The family followed the improvised bier which was carrying my father to the little graveyard situated on the east side of his uncle's farm, and the people in a long column of twos and threes followed on in silence [16] and gathered around the grave, full of kindness and respectful bearing, while the last simple rites were there performed.

It was a sad house for my mother and the little boys after our return for many days, but my mother did not give way to grief so much as not to be able to perform the new tasks that devolved upon her, the care of the family, and the carrying on of the farm.

For the first year after father's death my mother employed a good strong Englishman to perform the farm labor and do anything necessary for our support under her supervision.

My grandfather did not remain with us long, but soon went to live with his eldest son, Stillman.

Two years after, my mother married a prosperous farmer, Colonel John Gilmore, living some six miles away in the southern part of Leeds. He was a widower and had a considerable family of his own. I was nearly eleven years of age when we moved to the new home. There were three boys. For all of us this marriage with the removal from the old place began a new era.

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