Chapter 1:

Nothing is more shameful for a man than to found his title to esteem, not on his own merits, but on the fame of his ancestors. The glory of the fathers is doubtless to their children a most precious treasure; but to enjoy it without transmitting it to the next generation, and without adding to it yourselves,--this is the height of imbecility. --The true grandeur of nations, by Charles Sumner.

The Sumner family1 is one of the most ancient and respectable of New England. The name Sumner is said to have been originally Sommoner, [12] or Somner, given to one whose office was to summon parties into court. The family has long been noted for its physical strength and intellectual energy; and from it have sprung many men of mark and influence. The name is frequently met with in the college catalogues, and in the early archives of the Commonwealth. The American head of the family was William Sumner, who, with his wife Mary and three sons,--William, Roger, and George,--came from Bicester, Oxfordshire, Eng., and settled in Dorchester, Mass., anterior to 1637. The country now covered with highly-cultivated farms and gardens, and decorated with handsome villas and imposing mansions, was at that period a wilderness, the dreary abode of prowling beasts and savages. With the other colonists, William Sumner bravely met the dangers and endured the hardships of the new settlement, and bore a prominent part in laying the foundation of the important town of Dorchester. He was made a freeman in 1637, and for twelve years was elected as a deputy to the General Court. In 1663 he was chosen “clerk of ye training band;” and in September, 1675, was on a jury for a trial “of ye Indians in Boston.” The old portraits of William and Mary Sumner, surmounted with the family coat of arms and insignia, and bearing date of 1623, were kept until within a few years by one [13] branch of the family, when they fell “to shreds under the hand of Time.”

From William, the original settler, through his son William, grandson George, great-grandson Edward, and great-great-grandson Increase (noted for his colossal size and herculean strength), was descended Gov. Increase Sumner, a man of commanding presence and of vigorous intellect, who was born in Roxbury, Nov. 27, 1746; graduated at Harvard College in 1767; and succeeded Samuel Adams as governor of the State in 1797. In reference to his stately bearing, as contrasted with the decrepitude of his predecessor, an old apple-woman said, on seeing him pass at the head of the legislature from the Old South Church, “Thank God! we have got a governor that can walk, at last.” Among the many honest and characteristic declarations which he made, the following seems to have been a guide, not only to his own, but to the political course of other members of the Sumner family:--

The man who, regardless of public happiness, is ready to fall in with base measures, and sacrifices conscience, honor, and his country, merely for his own advancement, must (if not wretchedly hardened) feel a torture, the intenseness of which nothing in this world can equal.

Roger Sumner, second son of the original settlers [14] William and Mary Sumner, early removed to Lancaster with other Christians for “the gathering of a church.” Remaining there until the town was destroyed by the Indians, he returned to Milton, where he died May 26, 1698. His son William, it is supposed, married Esther Puffer of Dorchester, Jan. 2, 1697, and had, inter alios, Seth, born Dec. 15, 1710; and married for his second wife Lydia Badcock in 1742. He was the father of thirteen children; among whom Job, the fifth son, born April 23, 1754, graduated at Harvard College in 1778, and became a major in the Massachusetts line of the army of the Revolution. He was a man of ability, “sustained the reputation of an attentive and intelligent officer,” and died from being poisoned “by eating of a dolphin,” Sept. 16, 1789; leaving a son Job, who was born at Milton Jan. 20, and baptized March 17, 1776. His name was subsequently changed to Charles Pinckney. He was educated at Harvard, and possessed considerable poetic ability. At his graduation he delivered a commencement-poem on “Time,” together with a valedictory class-poem, both of which possess some degree of merit, and are still preserved. In the last year of his collegiate course he published a poem entitled “The Compass,” in which occurs a quatrain that seems to indicate, to some extent, the leading idea, the aspiration, and the effective lifework, of his illustrious son. [15]

More true inspired, we antedate the time
When futile war shall cease through every clime;
No sanctioned slavery Afric's sons degrade,
But equal rights shall equal earth pervade.

Mr. Sumner studied law, was admitted to the bar, was several years elected clerk of the General Court, and in 1825 was appointed to the office of sheriff of Suffolk County. In this position he remained until his decease, which occurred on the twenty-fourth day of April, 1839. “He was the last high sheriff who retained the antique dress derived from English usage.” He was a gentleman of the old school,--tall, well-bred, and dignified in demeanor, fond of reading, and of considerable oratorical ability. He delivered an appropriate eulogy on Washington at Milton, Feb. 22, 1800; and a Fourth-of-July oration in Boston in 1808. He was highly esteemed for the integrity and independence of his character. Mr. Sumner married Miss Relief, daughter of David2 and Hannah (Hersey) Jacobs of Hanover, April 25, 1810,--a lady of strong mind, of an amiable disposition, [16] and of graceful bearing. They resided in Hancock Street, and were attendants of King's Chapel, of which Mr. Sumner was for some time the clerk, and of which the Rev. James Freeman, D. D., the Rev. F. W. P. Greenwood, D. D., and afterwards the Rev. Ephraim Peabody, D. D., were the eloquent pastors.

Charles Sumner, whose name is intimately associated with the stirring political events as well as with the literature of the country for the last thirty years, and whose life and public services this work is intended to commemorate, was the oldest son of Charles Pinckney and Relief (Jacobs) Sumner, and was born in May (now Revere) Street, Boston, on the sixth day of January, 1811. The site of his birth-place is now occupied by the Bowdoin Schoolhouse. His father subsequently removed to the plain, unostentatious, four-story brick building, No. 20, Hancock Street, which was for a long period the home of the family. The house, of which a good view is here given, fronts toward the west, and stands on an eligible site about half way down the declivity of the street. It is now occupied by the Hon. Thomas Russell, late Collector of the port of Boston, and contains many interesting mementoes of the Sumner family, among which may be mentioned the old mahogany writing-desk on whose tablet the eloquent senator penned many of those pregnant sentences

The early home of Charles Sumner, no. 20 Hancock St., Boston. Now the residence of the Hon. Thomas Russell.

[17] which moved to its profoundest chambers the free spirit of the nation.

The other children of Charles Pinckney and Relief Sumner were,--Matilda, twin-sister of Charles: she was slender and fragile in person, and modest and retiring in manner. She died of consumption, March 6, 1832, and is buried at Mount Auburn. Albert, born Aug. 31, 1812: he became a sea-captain, married Mrs. Barclay of New York, and was drowned, together with his wife and only daughter Kate, an interesting girl about fourteen years old, on their way to France, whither the parents were going for the sake of their daughter's health. Henry, born Nov. 22, 1814, married and died in Orange, N. J. George, born Feb. 5, 1817, who became a traveller, scholar, and author, and died in Boston Oct. 6, 1863. Jane, born April 28, 1820, a very lovely girl: she died of spinal disease, Oct. 7, 1837. Mary, born April 28, 1822, and died unmarried. Horace, born Dec. 25, 1824, and was lost by the wreck of the ship “Elizabeth” on Fire Island, July 16, 1850. And Julia, born May 5, 1827, and now the wife of John Hastings, M. D., of San Francisco. They have three children,--Alice, Edith, and Julia. Mrs. Relief, widow of Charles Pinckney Sumner, was born Feb. 29, 1785, died of consumption, in Boston, June, 1866, and is buried beside [18] her husband in the family enclosure in Mount Auburn.

Charles Sumner came into life under favorable auspices. He was of the vigorous and healthful Puritan stock: his father was a gentleman of education and of courtly manners, his mother a lady of remarkable good sense and benevolence. They were both emulous, and they had the means, to give a sound and accomplished education to their children. The tuition of Charles was at first confided to his aunt, Miss Hannah Richmond Jacobs,3 who long taught a private school on Beacon Hill, Boston, and who is still living in Hanover at the advanced age of ninety-one years.

He was a bright-eyed, obedient, and well-behaved boy, of tall and slender form, and quick of apprehension. He began to ascend the ladder of learning [19] by the study of Perry's Spelling-book and “The child's assistant;” and, with his twin-sister Matilda, was soon initiated into the elements of arithmetic, grammar, and geography. “The Columbian orator” of Mr. Caleb Bingham, then a popular school-book in Boston and vicinity, gave him great delight. He early became an excellent reader; and his speech, as might be well inferred from the influences of a home of culture, was naturally correct and easy. The eloquent Dr. James Freeman was his early pastor, and, with other learned gentlemen, a frequent visitor at the Sumner house, which was then, as afterwards, the centre of an intellectual and refined society. In accordance with Juvenal's idea,4 the courteous father of Charles Sumner entertained great reverence for boys, and most assiduously instructed his children, not only in respect to a polite behavior and the laws of health, but also in regard to the use of the most appropriate forms of speech; so that the training of his first-born son to the art of oratory might almost be said to have commenced with infancy.

It is felicitous that the earliest words which greet the ears of children are correctly spoken. The mother's tongue is the child's first grammar. To the care which his parents, his pastor, and his teacher [20] bestowed upon his speech in his young life, something of that elegance of diction and that copia verborum for which Charles Sumner subsequently became distinguished is no doubt attributable.

In his boyhood he was agile, healthful, hopeful, and obliging; yet ever more intent on reading and improvement than on boisterous sport and pastime. He was sent to the dancing-school; yet for this amusement he had but little inclination. Occasionally he attended his father in his visits to the court-room, and listened with juvenile curiosity to the arguments of the bar: now and then he sent his mimic boat across Frog Pond, his paper kite over the Capitol, coasted down the slopes of Beacon Hill, or spent a few days on a visit to his mother's early home in Hanover, where, instead of working with the boys upon the farm, he preferred to “speak his pieces” in the barn or the old pine grove.5 Yet his time was mostly passed in his father's family, or in his aunt Hannah's school-room, steadily pursuing the elements of learning under the severe and rigid discipline of that period. It was, however, noted even [21] at this time that he had an aspiration; and a boy with an aspiration is sent into the world for some high purpose. He had also a decided will; and where there is a will there is a way.

1 See Genealogy of the Sumner Family, by William B. Trask. Boston: 1854.

2 He was the son of David and Hannah (Richmond) Jacobs of Hanover. He served as one of the committee of safety during the Revolution; and died in 1808, aged 79 years. He was the son of Joshua Jacobs of Scituate, who married Mary James in 1726. His father was David Jacobs, who settled in Scituate as early as 1688, and was a schoolmaster, and a deacon in the church.

3 This lady, whom I visited in March, 1874, still retains her faculties, and writes a fair and handsome hand. She has knit four pairs of worsted stockings since Christmas last. She is tall and slender in form, correct and animated in speech, and very bright for a person of her age. She early went to live in Boston with her sister Relief, who boarded in the same family with Mr. Charles Pinckney Sumner, where an acquaintance was formed which eventuated in marriage. Her sister Matilda was the second wife of Deacon Galen James of Medford. Miss Hannah Richmond Jacobs speaks of Charles Sumner as an obedient, studious, and promising pupil, very fond of reading and of repeating speeches, and am having been uniformly kind to her through life. In his will he remembered her by a life-annuity of $500.

4Maxima debetur puero reverentia--Lib. 5, Sat. 14.

5 The old homestead of his grandfather David Jacobs, and the birth-place of his mother, is in that part of Hanover called Assinippi, and is now the residence of the Hon. Perez Simmons. An air of quiet and comfort pervades the place.

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