previous next

Chapter 3: Journeys

In 1855 the Worcester pastor with a few friends took a trip to Mount Katahdin. This jaunt he described in a current number of “Putnam's magazine.” These bits of description are taken from his letters home:

Mattawaumkeag, Maine, Stopping to tea September 5, 1855
We see Katahdin gloriously all day-pale blue, finer than Monadnock, with vast scars of slides down the sides. All say we can go to the mountain easily and partway up, at least.

Lake Camp (Camp No. 2) Outlet Wissatacook Lake September 8, 1855
Dearest Mother:
The dotted line [in a sketch] is a lake about half a mile broad; beyond this are woods stretching up to the bare magnificent top of Katahdin — some four miles from us in an air line, but ten by our pathway. Yesterday we walked about nine miles, seven harder ones to-day; seven more to-morrow bring us to our highest camp halfway up at the foot of a slide.... Thence we ascend on Monday morning, thus making an easy day's work, these two days. We left our first camp at 7 A. M. and reached here at 2, and have had a delicious rest this afternoon. [118]

I cannot say how glorious this mountain is — the most personal mountain I ever knew, more so than Monadnock. It stands out magnificent and lonely, in a sea of woods, the chief peak like a broad crater, and on the right stretches out another, with an awful semicircular basin into which we can look and see its bare precipices, five hundred feet high, without a spyglass. Over the whole mountain grows each moment a soft film, and it retires farther and farther. A few soft clouds, reddish brown and golden, linger along its solemn outline and make us feel as if Pomola were right in forbidding its ascent, as Indians fable.

The lake is a little ruffled by the evening wind. Three figures stand catching fish rapidly (we have about a hundred trout and chubs this afternoon); a few are sitting on a stone to watch them. Three are writing; Mr. Battles [a Universalist minister from Bangor] is dressing fish, and Martha and Mr. Brown are helping our guides in picking hemlock boughs and piling our soft broad couches in tents. We have all had such a happy afternoon; the freedom of the woods descends deeper and deeper into us; all obstacles have vanished, and everything is easier than we expected.

All of us are better and stronger than when we started, although we have had for twenty-four hours only very hard crackers, either dry or fried pork, salt pork, and milkless tea, all which I have learned to like. To-night we have enough for several days and may have moose or deer hereafter. I never slept more delightfully than in our tent last night, a booth open on one side to the great fire and only too warm for us all. [119] We all found it impossible to realize our blessings, and yet all thought the fact better than all previous fancies. I never was with so happy a party. One of our guides calls it “the pleasantest gang he ever came up with” -he being a young lumberer. The chief guide, a noble youth of twenty-three, an Indian in figure, strength, and quietness, a natural gentleman, “head of a gang of lumberers” who never used tobacco or drank a glass of spirits in his life, gave me his opinion thus, “There's no better grit to be scared up anywhere than them women have,” and truly they deserve it. All wished to go farther to-day, but it was more convenient here. It only seems absurd that strong and active women should go anywhere else. Nothing equals this; we have all enjoyed every step of the way. Now, goodnight, light is gone, and the fish almost ready.


Up at five. It had rained in the night, and I feared a rainy day, but found it only cold and raw. Sent off the ladies to bathe in the brook below the dam, while we went to the lake, some to fish, some to bathe. Had a delicious swim, while fish flapped rapidly on our lines. This was a work of necessity; so I learned afterwards to dress the fish.

The mountain this morning was a new wonder. Instead of the radiant outline of filmy brightness, there was a vast tower of chill cloud, with dark towers of precipice showing here and there between. It was no longer our summer friend, but the dark and awful home of the Indian's Pomola. I remembered what Thoreau said, that perhaps it was an insult to the Gods to climb their mountains, and shuddered to think [120] that our night's camp would be within that skirt of white, soft, impenetrable material. Should we dare it? But moment by moment clouds went and came, and always more went than came, and at last the sunlight came and shone brightly on the wood-fringed lakes; and meanwhile we bathed and fished and dressed our fish and went up to breakfast.

An adventure! . . Last night we heard mysterious steps round our camp, and the men watched for moose, but none came. Just before breakfast came two rifle shots in quick succession, while our one rifle lay quiet against a tree!

Who might it be? Some said “Demons.” All rushed in different directions-I to the waterside, where stood a dripping and soiled man with eyes like blue fire, haggard and torn. He looked drunk or insane, but turned out at last a wandering hunter who had come from Hunt's since 2 P. M. yesterday, on our track, lost himself in a swamp, and was sleepless, tired, and hungry, and just washing himself. He was a Lowell man, but seemed to have been all around the world. Our woodsmen received him to their hearts at once and we to share our delicious fish and he in return had partridges for us. So he has accompanied us to-day on our four-mile walk to our noon camp on Roaring Brook at the foot of the mountain. I write now on a tree which McLane has felled for our bridge.

Another mountain excursion involved a visit to the Adirondack camp of sundry Worcester friends: [121]

Worcester, September 11. 1859
Dearest Mother:
Last night brought me back from my pleasant nine days trip to the Adirondack. It was somewhat hurried, but the region is fascinating and it was perfectly delightful to me to be in the woods again. I cannot compare it with my trip to Katahdin very well, that being entirely a pedestrian affair and this almost entirely boating. On the whole the Katahdin region is wilder, though both have been “lumbered” over too much for thorough wilderness. Still, there we were beyond houses for five days, while there is hardly any one of the lovely Adirondack lakes without one or more clearings somewhere upon it, where supplies or shelter can be got in case of need. There we shouldered our packs and were reduced to a minimum of comforts for that reason; here we had boats for carrying everything and lived in comparative luxury; the party having, for instance, got milk every day, thus obviating Mr. Emerson's grand objection to the wilderness, that the cows were not driven in. On the other hand, the style of camping was not so agreeable as in Maine, closed tents being used and the fires not kept up all night. Indeed, I personally only camped out one night, the others being more or less under shelter. ... As to scenery there was no one mountain comparable in lonely glory to Katahdin, nor did I ascend any, but there was a far greater variety of mountain background. . . . After all this comparison with Katahdin, remains the perpetual boating, a thing ever fascinating to those who enjoy it all, gliding on from lake [122] to lake, like Evangeline, beneath cliffs and wooded islands, under overhanging boughs just tinged with autumn, and through dawning and dying days; large lakes with rippling waves ( “chibogles,” as the boatmen say) breaking their darkness into blue; little fairylike ponds with outlets inscrutable; creeks losing themselves in bushes; the fascinating Raquette River, soft and shaded as the Artichoke, down which for many miles we travelled; with tall pine trees left by the lumberers, cedars hung with long white moss, and mounds of trailing grapevines. The immediate banks are seldom so high as one expects, but the backgrounds are always beautiful.

I left Worcester on Friday, reached Keesville that night, rode forty-six miles on Saturday through a dark and dusty iron region to Martin's on the Lower Saranac, the end of civilization; there took boat and guide on Sunday afternoon, the morning being too windy, and went in pursuit of my party. Fifteen miles that night brought me to a log house, Steve Martin's; the next day we partly spent off the right track in going up Follansbee brook and pond in pursuit of them, but we saw that pretty pond, where “the philosophers” went last year, but a party of ladies and gentlemen from New Haven were camping and deer-hunting that morning ; then back to the Raquette River again and down to Stetson's, the most picturesque of log houses, where a handsome and intelligent household charmed us; here we had something to eat for the first time since morning and found that our party were still ten miles farther after rowing and paddling twenty-five; [123] on we pushed under the moonlight, and at nine stole upon them at their camp-fire and were enthusiastically received-that is, I and my guide and his dog. . . . They had quite given me up, but had had a jovial time in spite of much rain; indeed, everything is jovial and successful which Tom Earle leads. They were camped in the most charming place on Tupper's Lake, opposite the Bog River Falls, which flow into the head of the lake, lovely as Trenton. The next day we stayed only for another unsuccessful deer hunt and then turned homeward and had two delightful days of boating back to Martin's, reaching there Wednesday night, and they leaving Thursday morning, while Edward Spring and I stayed another day to penetrate to the new Philosophers' Camp at Amperzand Pond and see Stillman, the artist, who had invited us all. You who have not seen Eddy Spring, son of Marcus, do not know how sweet and chivalrous and handsome and charming a young man of twenty-two can be, but I found him the most delightful of companions. Amperzand Pond is a region of romance; you go seven miles by water up a secret brook, then four miles' hard climbing through wild and beautiful woods; suddenly the path ends, between great trees, in the loveliest of lakes with no sign of human life. In despair you discharge your rifle, and suddenly a boat comes out from a wooded point, and receives you as guests in fairyland. Stillman is the presiding spirit; he stays there all summer and paints while the other artists and savants who make up the Adirondack Club (or Amperzanders as the boatmen call them) come and go. This summer [124] there have been James Lowell, Estes Howe, Judge Hoar, Horace Gray; and Emerson and Longfellow and others are now coming. John Holmes came, carried in an armchair through the forest by four men; they said it was hard, but he was so funny. They are just buying the pond and its whole surroundings, to keep them sacred from lumbering and injury, and have taken this out-of-the-way place to avoid company and disturbance; besides, it is by far the most beautiful lake we saw, the mountains coming closer and steeper round it than in any other place we saw, and they are laying out rude paths to all the points of interest in the neighboring wilderness, while their camps and dining-room and kitchen of logs and bark are perfectly picturesque and show exquisite taste of arrangement. Stillman was hospitable, though not quite satisfactory, and dined us on venison boiled and broiled, cranberries and guava jelly, and by and by we came away and let the wilderness close around the lonely artist.

Coming back we stopped to see the finest of all the fine arts, most graceful of all things ever done by man -fly-fishing as practised by a great master, Henry K. Brown, the sculptor, Larkin Mead's teacher, of whom he will like to hear. . . . The next morning we left Martin's, got to Burlington that night, and home the next (Saturday); and now the lakes and mountains are fading into dreams.

In 1855 the Higginsons sailed for Fayal for the benefit of Mrs. Higginson's health. [125]

Worcester, July
. . .For companions on the voyage we may have Mr.Dabney and Mrs. Charles Dabney ... very pleasant people. There seem plenty of entertainments there — oranges, music, whaleships, Catholic priests, and a steep mountain. “Pico” half as high again as Mount Washington.

Barque Azor., 650 miles from home, October 30
“What's the name of the place? ” asks Mary of Captain Burke. “Atlantic ocean,” he promptly answers. . .

... In the middle of the first night (having been implored by Barbara not to worry me or anybody about any conceivable noise she might hear), she despairingly remarked, “Four men have just fallen flat on the deck above my head” ; and then plaintively, “But you told me not to mind such things” at which we both roared and then went to sleep. The third night was perfectly tremendous; the ship rolled enormously, all the lamps fell down or went out, all doors flapped open and shut violently, tin cans and plates rolled in all directions over the cabin floor, the rain came in through cracks in the cabin skylight, all manner of roarings and creakings came from the deck, and in the morning all we could do was to stagger and stick where fate permitted.

November 3

. . . Our days have settled into a routine. In the morning I . . . go on deck in a light and graceful [126] deshabille, to be soused with two or three pails of Gulf Stream water by a grinning sailor, to the great glee of the Portuguese steerage passengers. ... Twelve sometimes brings a lunch of pears and grapes and apples. ... It is the most lotus-eating life. I do not see how a person can be fit for anything after six weeks of it; what, then, must an imprisonment be?--a thought which comes naturally to my mind, since I have been reading the sheets of Mr. Parker's “Defence,” which he gave me, and which have recalled the times when I used to build visions occasionally of the inside of a jail.

... . We have had no calms or storms, and few wonders, though many beauties. One night dolphins sent lances of fire beneath our bows; yesterday we saw a shoal of great leathery blackfish rolling their broad bulk half out of water, and to-day a little shower of white foam-flakes across the distant trough of a wave was pronounced to be flying fish.

... I have been reading Edward Hale's monograph, and Mrs. Dabney has been giving information respecting Fayal, delighting Mary's fancy with thoughts of nuns' delicacies, such as kitten's paws, angel's crops, royal eggs, and golden straws, and terrifying her, on the other hand, with fears of boys, dogs, and crazy donkeys. She avers that she never dreamed of finding her sweet enemy, boys, in Fayal, and has thoughts of returning in the vessel forthwith.

Fayal, Friday, November 9

O wonderful, wonderful, and most wonderful, and again past all whooping! Nobody ever told us, nobody [127] ever prepared us, we knew nothing of it They told us of the views and the mountains and the ocean, but that we should step suddenly into all the South of Europe at once, set our feet in Lisbon and Madrid and Naples all in one, a place where not a person looks as any person ever looked in America, not a sound but is new! . . . We have had the day that comes but once in a life — the first day in a foreign country. At Singapore or Batavia we should feel no farther from home. It has been a day of absolute intoxication. I have seen no beauty in Nature, I have scarcely looked at the lovely Pico across the bay, in the wonder of this new human existence. From that moment when I stumbled on deck at five and saw the dim ghostly island round which we were gliding, through all the gradual approach and the dawning of light, bringing out the great bluffs and the bare high hills, all patched in squares of vegetation, hedged with cane plants, down to the lofty precipice of rock, and while we rounded into the bay and saw the Dabney flags run up here and there and the red and yellow flag from a Spanish steamer, and the long semi-circle of bare square white stone houses and churches, up to the time when we were hoisted over the vessel's side and landed with difficulty at the old stone steps among such figures as we never dreamed of in Italy — we were drawn gradually into a bewildered spell, under which we are now prostrate.

Saturday, November 10

Fayal is more digestible on the second day. What I wrote last night relieved my mind a little and to-day I [128] am a little less bewildered. ... I have only looked and walked up and down the main street as yet, for this little narrow stony lane seems to be the main street. . . . Gibraltar may be more varied in its picturesqueness and more brilliant in costume, but this is as much so as we can take in at once. It realizes all and more than all my dreams of southern Europe--everywhere the same picturesqueness of dress or undress, reminding one of “Anzoleto” and “Consuelo” and all sorts of books. . . . Scarcely any men wear coats, hats, or caps, but little round or pointed caps half covering their black hair, vests of different colors or jackets, and trousers often rolled up; some women wear broad straw hats, some handkerchiefs, but nearly half of each sex have something on their heads, baskets of fruits, vegetables, and poultry, jars or high pails of water — loads of all kinds; for instance, each article of our baggage or freight (hundreds in all) went from the landing to the customhouse, a mile nearly, on somebody's head, and this wild procession came and went along the middle of the street. My heaviest trunk was carried by a boy of fourteen, on his head, for this whole distance. Next to the human passers-by in importance rank the donkeys, almost as constant a procession, sometimes with one high pile or box or basket, sometimes with two panniers. ... Or they go back empty, with men, boys, and girls riding. Once in a great while pass two oxen yoked to an uncouth cart, made of basketwork on a solid frame, supported by an axle which turns with the wheels, creaking so that the whole street resounds. Once only we have [129] seen a two-horse carriage, of the most ancient and astonishing structure; I have not seen another horse in town. Ladies use donkeys and sedan chairs, and to-day the Dabneys sent a pretty palankeen with two bearers for Mary. ... It is excitement enough to stand at the window here — every moment some figure passes so picturesque and strange. The children are picturesquely naked, barelegged at least, and with little caps and handkerchiefs on their heads; they and the young men are sometimes beautiful, and fine eyes are very abundant. I went this morning to a little beach worthy of Naples-the strange, handsome figures in the boats, groups of women and children basking in the sun, or talking with eager gestures; radiant fishes heaped in baskets in gorgeous combination of red and blue and yellow. I see that picturesqueness consists in a proper mingling of nudity and dirt; introduce comfort and the art of printing, and it vanishes. I am thankful to see these things, but only too grateful that I was born in New England. Yet the beggars, though as dreadful in their appearance as I expected, are not quite so importunate.

Horta, Fayal, December 29

Our chamber window looks down upon the white surf which lashes the sea-wall on the other side of the narrow street; the black curving beach lies to the left, the old fort projects over the rocks to the right; before us is the sheltered bay with its six or eight brigs and schooners lying off in the deep water; and behind these, five miles away, but not looking half a mile, rises [130] the glorious background of Pico, the great, graceful, conical, extinct volcano, girded with its belt of vineyards and villages below and its seldom-failing garment of clouds. Yet if these clouds are not too dense, at my first glance in the morning a glory of approaching sunrise strikes through them, and at the same time there glides across the foreground a bulky lateen-sailed boat, light-winged and heavy-bodied, like all the seabirds; it is crammed so densely with men and women that one wonders at their rashness in this rough sea; but another and yet another follows, and if I were to follow them, as they disappear past the fort, I should witness the tumultuous landing. ... I should see them linger, in a picturesque crowd, till not merely the persons, but the live stock and freight are landed from that comprehensive boat, baskets of fruit and vegetables, cows and pigs, bundles of evergreen for firing, and finally a load of wood is thrown upon the water, to reach the steps or the beach as it can. And out of all those picturesque women (strong and erect), dressed in blue or white skirt and blue man's jacket, barefooted while their husbands wear hairy cowskin shoes, there is not one who over her dark face and great black eyes and profuse hair and nice white kerchief — not one who does not wear a broad straw hat with a red and white cord, precisely like yours, Mary, and yours, Margie, which are awaiting next summer, behind the front door or in the front entry closet.

Fayal, December 31, 1855

. . . Have I told you that the one delicious fruit I [131] have tasted is the custard apple, or cheivamoia; it has more positive flavor than the other fruits; though Mary compares it to poor baked apples, flavored with cologne.

January, 1856

To crown all, a bright little English girl of ten (Calcutta-born, however) said she thought American people were all black! I have often heard of such ignorance before.

There were terrible winter storms at Fayal and many disabled ships were seen. An extract from the journal describes some of these wrecks.

January 16, 1856
During our enjoyment of the storm ... we knew that it must end in disaster.

... A man came across the island to tell Mr. Dabney that two distressed vessels were in sight. He at once ordered out the Hortense, a schooner of his which happened to be in port, and while they were fitting her out with provisions, spare sails, spars, etc., another messenger came from the north signal station, announcing that the vessels were a brig and a schooner, both American. In an hour they both came slowly in by the north passage, as predicted, only that the schooner turned out a barque, partially dismantled.

The brig came to anchor before dark, and as her stern swung round we read with the glass the familiar name of Newburyport, the vessel being the venerable Keying, one of old Captain Cushing's great brigs. ... [132] In Captain Cook, who came ashore the next day, I recognized a familiar face, and I could safely congratulate my former townsman for his success in weathering the storm with only the loss of a bowsprit and topmast and some damage to the rudder. He was also favored above all the succeeding vessels by being admitted to quarantine. . . .

The poor barque was less fortunate, and when I went alongside of her in the customhouse boat on Saturday, she was certainly a sad spectacle. She was the Warren of Thomaston, Maine, Captain Condry, from Philadelphia, with flour and grain; and as we approached her she seemed like one of Herman Melville's ghostly ships. She lay deep in the water, her starboard bulwarks almost wholly broken away, no vestige left of bowsprit and foremast, only the lower mainmast and mizzenmast standing. . .. Two women and a baby were on the quarterdeck; and to crown all the sufferings, she had no bill of health and was refused quarantine.

All this I learned from the captain, questioning him in behalf of the customhouse officers. I shall never forget the quiet, rather dogged calmness with which the poor fellow told his losses, one by one, too inured to despair even to court sympathy. “Did you do anything to lighten ship?” “Threw overboard five hundred barrels of flour.” “Any water in hold?” “Four feet. Pumps choked.” “Cargo damaged?” “All of it.” “How many in your crew?” “Six left” (with a glance round), “three lost in the gale.” So we left him, at last, with an inward thrill of sympathy [133] and of detestation at the inhuman strictness of the quarantine laws which kept that sympathy from being actively exhibited. Five days are passed, and she is not yet admitted.

. . . During Monday the vessels pitched fearfully, and communication between them and the shore was almost wholly suspended. It grew dim and dark and misty, and as the wind howled round our windows in the night, we thought of that poor mother and baby.


All this time, however, a sadder tragedy was preparing. During the gloom and the gale of Monday, there swept slowly in at the southern entrance, seen dimly through the mist, the half spectral figure of a great American ship, with topgallant-masts and bowsprit lost.... Slowly, slowly she passed by, now clearly visible at some three miles distance, now half concealed; and my fancy is still haunted by her weary and helpless look, as she disappeared behind the northern headland and drifted out to sea. Nothing could be done for her. Mr. Dabney in vain attempted to induce the captain of an English schooner to go out to her to supply spars and sails and to stay by her. An American captain, he said, would have gone, but this more cautious individual refused to weigh anchor. And the night closed wearily round us, thinking of the doomed and wandering ship.

On Tuesday morning the wind had changed. What was that which stood out against the horizon, six miles off, at the northern edge of the rocky Pico? A glass revealed it; the ship had been blown back again and [134] gone ashore in the night. . . . She had struck at the very worst points on the shore, inaccessible for boats, and far from any village. The surf was not unusually high, and only very rarely seemed to break over her. There she lay, and whether the crew were saved, no one could judge; though it seemed, on the whole, probable. The prospect of saving her cargo seemed small, indeed.

Those acquainted with the reputation of the Dabney family will not be surprised to hear that in two hours after the vessel was seen, two of the gentlemen of the family had set sail in a boat, furnished with provisions and clothing for a fortnight. ... I felt greatly disappointed at being absolutely prevented, by circumstances, from joining this expedition.

. . During [the same] morning an American barque rounded the southern point, which proved to be the Sumter, Captain Humphrey, which had left Charleston soon after the Keying and was now leaking badly with the pumps choked. She was soon followed by a French barque of the same size and in similar condition; making the sixth distressed vessel. But the wind was directly ahead for them, and it was pathetic to watch hour after hour and see the great wounded creatures spreading their wings in vain and toiling with the harbor full in sight unable to gain it. It is singular how one personifies a vessel; my sympathies seem to be much more with her, individually, than with any person on board. It shows how live a thing a ship is, thus to condense into itself all the anxieties and sorrows she bears.


January 17

A boat from Pico brought the news, indirectly, that the party had reached the vessel, which proved to be an American, laden with silks and brandies. The crew had got on shore, with the loss of one boy only, but the Captain was on board.

January 92

. The great waves came rushing in, sometimes five feet deep, each with condensed rainbows in its bosom, and Niagaras of foam blowing from its crest; seen from the beach they were a wall against the horizon, over which only the topmasts of the tossing vessels could sometimes be seen. The scene around us was peculiarly wild, from the presence of some fifty men and women, who were anxiously searching in the sand, after each receding wave, for silver coins long since sunk in the wreck of a whaling vessel near by, and still washed on shore in storms. Eighteen Spanish dollars were found that morning. In other places the surf plunged furiously against the sea-wall which protects the town, rising sometimes a hundred feet in snowy foam, and deluging the fronts of the houses exposed to the sea. The wind blew violently; hail-stones alternated with gleams of sunshine; and in the midst of the uproar a noonday salute (for it was a saint's day) from the guns of another fort mingled their flash and smoke and boom with the glitter and spray and roar of the ocean. All this on the lee side of the island!--while on the western side, as we heard afterwards, the spray went to the top of Castello Branco, a promontory eight hundred feet high!


January 29, 1856

I am now able to add some particulars of the wreck. She turns out to be the ship Ravenswood, from Havre to New York, with a cargo of dry goods, wines and liquors, a cargo said to be insured for $200,000. It is a terrible business. ... The mates state that they saw the land distinctly, and attribute their wreck to the grossest misconduct on the part of the captain ... I regret to say that the condition in which the captain was found in his own cabin by the Messrs. Dabney confirms this story. . . . What a warning against the careless selection of captains, others may say! What a warning against cargoes of champagne and brandy, say I!

But what a tremendous labor the Messrs. Dabney have had with that cargo It was really like the case of the man who drew the elephant in the lottery. A cargo worth $200,000 in the midst of bare, sharp rocks, on a bare island, six miles from any village on that island, with no roads, no vehicles, no storerooms, and not a man in their employ whose honesty could be trusted. .. .A population of paupers, where the few men of property are less honest than the beggars! Goods protected by guards who are no better than those they keep off! It cost one hundred dollars to get a hole cut in the vessel's side with their clumsy hatchets, and every step since has been costly. But the cost is nothing to the fatigue and annoyance, day and night; toiling almost without food, and sleeping on the ground in a hovel. . .. When I say, under these circumstances, these two gentlemen have saved $100,000 [137] worth of property, I attribute to them what very few men could have done. The difficulty is that this property lies outdoors still, or in insecure and unprotected storehouses, and to preserve it requires as much effort as to obtain it. A road has first to be made to convey the articles to Magdalena, a seaside village, and it may take months to transport them across the rough sea to Fayal. Yet here alone can they be in safety, as you will perceive when I tell you that one of the principal men in Magdalena has already headed a gang of organized pilferers. There is also a set of marauders from this island who flocked to Pico like vultures.

So long as the Messrs. Dabney are on guard, the property is comparatively safe, but they cannot sacrifice themselves much longer. . . . They hope, however, to remain until the goods reach Magdalena.

After his return from Fayal, Mr. Higginson was plunged into the Kansas troubles. The following letters to his mother explain themselves:

Worcester, June 26, 1856
I have a momentary lull, having yesterday sent off my second party to Kansas. ... The first had forty-seven and our Committee will send no more, leaving it for the State Committee, which was appointed yesterday, chiefly on my urging. ...

At Chicago they show an energy which disgraces us; have arrangements and men already and need only money. The night I came from Brattleboroa, Friday, [138] we had letters from Chicago, and our Finance Committee voted them fifteen hundred dollars and voted to add three thousand dollars more, unless I could raise this second party by Wednesday, which I did. Saturday, the day after, I was sent to Boston, with the same letters, to urge the Boston Committee to send money to Chicago. With great difficulty I got five minutes each from Pat Jackson and several other merchants, and at two they came together for ten minutes and voted to send two thousand dollars, Ingersoll Bowditch being happily absent, who had just told me he should come and oppose it entirely. I saw the telegraphic despatch written and came back.

That very night we got a telegraphic despatch from Chicago, imploring us to send that precise sum, for the relief of a large party of emigrants, detained at Iowa City for want of means. The two despatches crossed on the way.

This two thousand dollars, with our remittance, and our two parties of emigrants (which would not have gone till by this time if I had not gone to work on it the first night I came) are absolutely all that has yet been done by New England for Kansas, in this time of imminent need. This I say to show you how ill-prepared we are for such emergencies. The busy give no time and the leisurely no energy, and there is no organization. I should except the Committee here, which has done admirably, and that in Concord, Massachusetts, and Dr. Howe, Sam Cabot, Charles Higginson, and a few others in Boston.

There is talk now of sending Dr. Howe to Kansas [139] with a large sum of money, and this will be the best thing possible, but it should have been done a fortnight ago.

August 29

We have excellent news from Kansas. . . Our men are nicely settled in the northern part of Kansas, which is more peaceful. Colonel Topliff, who has just come from Lawrence, speaks quite encouragingly and thinks they can resist invasion.

Meanwhile it will be probably necessary for me to go out West again for several weeks [he had previously been sent to Chicago and St. Louis to aid emigrants] to the Nebraska border, and perhaps some way inside. But my mission will not be a very warlike one, and I have only the same general sense of possible danger that one has in setting foot in a ship or in the cars, or in running fast downstairs, or (if feminine) in meeting a drove of cows. .. . Frank Sanborn is to stop here to-morrow, safe back from the same ground I am going over.

August 31

Some good news and some bad — the good being that our private advices state that things really are much better than is represented, in Kansas; the leading Missourians are making great efforts to raise men to invade, but find great reluctance to follow. They are considerably intimidated, in fact.

The bad news (for you) is that I leave for Chicago to-morrow, shall go to Nebraska City and probably [140] into the Territory.... I allow six weeks, but it may be only a month, and hope to write a good deal to you and Mary and the “Tribune,” though letters may be intercepted. Letters for me to be directed to

James L. Armstrong

Mary taxed her wits to invent this name and intends to write in the character of an affectionate grandmother!


I shall take out a nice supply of boots and clothing for our Worcester men and a plum cake and some other dainties, and long to see their delight at my appearance. Good-bye, darling mama.

Chicago, September 3

Arrived here in safety. I find to my regret that I shall be employed more out of Kansas than in Kansas. They are very glad to have me here, and are in need of efficient agents.

To a friend:

Nebraska City, September 16, 1856
I know you will particularly like a word from the Border. ... Various camping grounds are scattered along from twenty-five miles north to the same distance south, of various parties, and in a day or two more it will be “Boot, saddle, to horse, and away,” as Browning has it. Only just at this moment things look discouragingly safe, and the men are beginning to fear [141] marching in without a decent excuse for firing anything at anybody. But we shall take in arms and ammunition and flour and groceries and specie, and shall be welcomed even if we go through safe. As one approaches Kansas, it becomes more and more the absorbing topic and every one here talks it all day, while waiting for real estate to rise. Then comes a cloud of dust on the western road and two or three horsemen come riding wearily in, bearded and booted and spurred and red-shirted, sword and pistol by their side --only the sword is a bowie-knife — wild, manly-looking riders, and they are the latest from Kansas and we get them quickly into a private room to hear the news-how the road is peaceful just now, and they need flour and lead woefully at Lawrence, and how four hundred men chased seven hundred.

. . . The wells are nearly dry, though I can't conceive that enough has ever been drawn from them to produce the effect, and the dirtiest thing in the landscape is the river .. The most discouraging thing I have heard for liberty in Kansas is that the Kansas River is just like the Missouri.

Topeka, September 24, 1856
People joke here as readily as anywhere, though all pronounce it the darkest time Kansas has ever seen.

. . Geary is conquering them at last and the leaders are flying from arrest. Just as they had thoroughly expelled the Missourians, the United States Government steps in, and arrests their best and bravest. Geary's intention is to give them peace and bread, at [142] the price of obedience to the laws of the false legislature. He is making a clear path, therefore, for a contest between the inhabitants and the United States troops, first or last.

Governor Geary aimed to take a neutral stand between conflicting elements, his orders being to “stop the fighting in Kansas.” His course did not commend itself to the radical abolitionists, but his later career as an officer in the Union forces of the Civil War led Mr. Higginson, at least, to change his estimate of Geary's character.

This letter was written to one of the Dabney family with whom he had been in close relations in Fayal:

Steamboat Cataract, aground on a bank in the Missouri River, October 9, 1856
I know you would enjoy going to Kansas, for it is as genuine a sensation as we expect it to be; things and people are very real there. It is precisely like waking up some morning and stepping out on the Battle of Bunker Hill; one learns in a single day more about Greeks and Romans and English Puritans and Scotch Jacobites, and Hungarians and all heroic peoples, than any course of history can teach. The same process is producing the same results before your eyes, and what is most striking the same persons whom you saw a year ago in Boston, indolent and timid, are here transformed to heroes. Perhaps this brings down the dignity of our courage a little, showing it to be the child [143] of circumstances, but still one sees great differences of temperament in Kansas as elsewhere. What struck me most was the unconscious buoyancy of the people. Living in the midst of danger, they recognize it as the normal condition of existence, and talk of it in the sort of way that sailors do. In the intervals of dinner (if dinner there be), they talk over the last fight as if it were a picnic. In fact it was plain that the excitement had become a necessary stimulus to them, and during the partial peace which existed while I was there, they confessed that they missed something. Women complained that there was n't much to talk about. At Lawrence, when the evening drum beat to call out the guard (of United States troops, placed there by Governor Geary, for protection) somebody would always exclaim, “That sounds good!” And the patience is about as remarkable as the courage. People would describe their way of living, sick wife and children perhaps ... and always end, “But we shall live or die in Kansas.” Of course there are exceptions; but the more men sacrifice there, the more they seem to love the country. The difficulty is, that there is not much left to sacrifice; everybody has grown poor. I hope nothing from Governor Geary; he means well and has energy of will, but no energy of character; he can take efficient single steps, but not carry out any systematic plan of action. ... I have less hope that Kansas will be a free State than before I came here. Before this last interference of Governor Geary, the Kansas men under General Lane (who is a very remarkable man) had driven out the Missourians in all directions; but [144] it is their policy not to resist the United States Government, and the Missourians are always ready to take the slightest advantage which that affords them. After the Presidential election the invaders will make a desperate effort; their success is certain if Buchanan is elected, and probably if Fremont is.

. . . On board I have thus far met no annoyance, though there is a company of young Virginians and Carolinians returning to their homes; they are of the race of “poor white folks,” commonly. My copy of “Dred” occasions some remarks. I trust your father will feel a becoming reverence when I say that I am a General in the Kansas Army, having been immediately presented with a commission to that effect by the redoubtable “Jim Lane” himself, the “Marion” of the age. I keep it as a valuable autograph, or to be used on my next visit to Kansas.

The Worcester summers were varied by occasional sojourns at Princeton, Massachusetts, and at Pigeon Cove, near Gloucester.

We do not see Wachusett — we are halfway up the ascent — but we look east and west over great valleys which need only more water to be radiantly beautiful. . . The little hamlet sleeps in profound repose — a two-horse wagon, or even a pedlar with a pack, are events for a day. We look between the two little white churches up a lane which leads to Wachusett; [145] last night we followed this up to its first summit — a little height before the real Wachusett begins; there was the skeleton of an old church, the strong frame uninjured, though raspberry bushes flaunt through the floor, and elders look in at windows; near it an old burial ground, Wordsworth's “Churchyard among the mountains.” . . . The strawberries were ripening all over the lonely hill-top, and five children with cows and tin kettles and the baby in a wagon — in the waning June sunset; five little sisters there were, with all bleached but their blue eyes.

Worcester, June, 1862
Mrs. Howell, of Philadelphia, a most attractive woman whom I met last year, is there [Princeton] already. She wrote Milton's verses on his blindness which were included in a London edition of his works, and there is a mild, chronic, Quakerly flirtation between her and Whittier, who wrote in the April “Atlantic” a charming poem about a ride with her at Princeton last year. She is a fine-looking woman of forty-five, but the hotel scandal of last year was that she wears what are called plumpers in her cheeks to preserve the roundness of early years, and though I hold this a libel, still the overwhelming majority of last year's Princetonians believe it. Miss Betsey Sturgis, that arbiter of fashion, says plumpers are very common in Philadelphia and she does n't doubt Mrs. H. wears them. Nature has plumped the cheerful B. S., but there is no telling what other beautifying appliances may not be purchased with Mrs. Cushing's bequest.


Princeton, July, 1862
Here we are at this most placid of places, just now stirred to its Sunday excitement, the greatest it ever knows. Country wagons with people in their best bonnets go quietly by, or stop to call at our door because we are the Post-Office. During the week scarcely a person passes by day-only an occasional haymaker; the shop opposite with a large sign is a scene of profound repose, and you would only know it to be “business hours” by the door's being open. At half-past 6, however, the mail arrives and the current of life sets in, and from that time till eight we and the shop are in fashion — all manner of vehicles, from boys with wheelbarrows to Mr. Charles Appleton in his barouche; old farmers for the newspaper and young girls for letters from brothers or lovers at the war; and it is quite entertaining. The road is very narrow and turning round very difficult, so that Mary perceives why they have a doctor for postmaster, to provide for the broken bones.

The following letters were written from Pigeon Cove, the dates ranging from 1853 to 1864. The first paragraph is from the note-book:-- ,

It is a severe test of the mental health of a busy man to stay a few weeks by the seashore, without regular work. I have sometimes found it almost impossible to endure it.

Dear Mother:
Pigeon Cove is a bit of seashore, meant originally for the Isles of Shoals, but finally tacked on to mainland [147] and thus brought near a railroad and some woods, with plenty of granite quarries thrown in. ...

The rocks are precisely like Appledore and so would be the surf if there were any, but there never is any on our coast, except in storms. I always distrust that part of “Thalatta,” when I am on the spot. The secret of the ocean is in the horizon line; the actual height of the waves is always absurdly small.

Here we have, for lions, artists instead of authors, though Whipple is here whom you saw at dinner and who is thought very brilliant, though he seems to me only dry and keen and critical. At a house below are some H-and C — of Cambridge showy, dressy women who are or have been belles; one of them is just engaged to Darley, the artist, who is here also. Yesterday I went on a long walk in the woods with Darley and KensettKensett it was who illustrated Curtis's “Lotus-eating” and drew one curl of a wave at the bottom of a page which has haunted me ever since. Kensett is about my age, short, stout, and heavy with a pleasant, genial face, dark eyes and hair and beard; Darley is larger, of English frame and substance, with sandy hair and moustache; face pockmarked and rather coarsely colored; cool, semi-military air. It was pleasant to be seated in the woods and have Darley's sketches passed about: some fine figures of guides and Indians at Moosehead. . . . Kensett came for a day with Tom Appleton, the renowned, Mrs. Longfellow's brother; Curtis, “Mot Natelpha,” a famous wit and connoisseur; he it was who said, “Good Americans, when they die, go to Paris.”


August, 1860
The [boarding] house was further enlivened last night by the presence of Mr. Longfellow's son and heir . . . who with a companion sailed round from Nahant. Late in the evening — that is, probably so near the small hours as half-past 9--he was heard in the entry, rousing the echoes with the unwonted cry of Landlord! and when at last Mary Moody or some similar infant appeared, it appeared that they desired pen, ink, paper, and postage stamps. Mary thinks they had run away from their nurses and wished to send word home.

We have decided that Americans think their own race so beautiful, something must be done to disguise it; and bathing is taken as the occasion, certainly with great success. Mary was especially impressed with one man in scanty raiment, exhibiting an amount of bald head which Mary declared to be positively indelicate.

Also a tall, slim, red, unpleasing Californian with a perpetual pipe and a capacity for steady flirtation so long as his wife can be kept at a safe distance.

. . . To-day (Sunday) we thought would be hot, but there is a cool breeze and Miss Susanna's supposed lover is patiently stirring or revolving water-ice for dinner. Little “Parkie” Haven just called to him from the window, “Is it did yet?” --he responding, “No.”


I had a characteristic letter from Charles H. [a cousin] yesterday, closing with a hint that there was often trouble in the army about delay of pay, etc., and begging me to draw on him up to five hundred dollars [149] at any time, if needed. I have a great mind to take it and then turn miser and strike out a new path for Higginsons.

This is Sunday, the B — visiting day, and their, loud voices pervade the promontory — Miss Susanna; perhaps does not extend into the afternoon her impressive attire of this morning, which consisted of three vast curtains of white cotton (shall I say dimity?), the first draping her head, the second reaching to her waist, the third touching the ground, and the whole filling the horizon and making a shade in sunny places. She and Isa and brother David can protect this place from sunstroke, never fear. The present delight of visitors is the calf, to inspect which all are invited by the mighty voice of Mr. George Swett, resident ambassador from the court of Cupid near the headquarters of Susanna. “George” is the Gloucester widower of whom we used to hear, and who is now admitted to a nearer probation, and has been so indispensable in the family for two years that if he struck for higher wages I certainly think Miss B. would, with the family eye for the main chance, give him herself instead. Many are the anxious observations made with the sleepless microscopic eyes of childhood by Florence and Annie, who think nothing of popping out of bed for this purpose by moonlight, and who have composed a poem thereon, which ends, perhaps ingloriously, with

Another rhyme I wish to make
That his name is Mr. Swett,

which may remind you of some of Pet Marjorie's poetical difficulties. [150]

It is a singular compensation of human skill that while all other B — voices are so vast and resounding, that their copperness of head must go down to the lungs, at least; one youth of eighteen next door was born with a squeak. Yet by one stroke he has outwitted Fate, and by dint of a piano fortissimo and twelve hours daily and nightly practice he has attained skill to drown any of his relations, voice and all, and is now performing “The maiden's prayer” in tones to silence the Mighty Deep.

. . .Looking about for some literature suited for “a lonely and athletic student” temporarily on half rations, I have selected Miss Austen, the only author except Dr. Bartol whose complete works the house possesses, and one whose perfect execution cheers, while her mild excitements do not inebriate the mind of man.

... There is a Mrs. D- of Cambridge, with a gentle dyspeptic daughter, whom (the mother) I should define as a Cambridge wailer--a perpetual tone of motherly despair, with the personal grandeur peculiar to that classic town, when represented by its citizens abroad. She was nee W--, and there is a suppressed-Quincy sacredness in her every gesture. Her husband is the noted antiquarian, I believe; but nothing unbends her but perch, of which she has caught more than anybody; thus linking her to humanity through the indirect tie of a fishline.

Twenty-five years later, the writer again saw his old seaport town, and wrote thus to his sister: [151]

I did wish so much that you could have gone with us in our lovely drive round the Cape. ... What I enjoyed most was seeing Pigeon Cove again after twenty-five years and finding it so much less altered than I expected — the same queer little fish-houses and dories, a few men mending nets or putting on fishhooks, the same breakwater, only increased, and the same green street. On the piazza at “Miss Susanna's,” where we boarded, sat her widower--, now proprietor, the house still carried on as a boarding-house. . . . I inquired about the one whose early bereavement touched you so, Susanna, called “Pink,” the fine-looking girl whose lover was lost at sea and to whom you sent Peabody's “Consolations.” “Oh, yes, Pink was married sometime after that to Mr. Smith, over in Rockport, and had three children; then her husband died and she afterwards married a cousin of his, another Mr. Smith, and she lives in Rockport now.” Thus pass the dreams of romance-Pink had always dwelt in my memory, a “Hannah at the window binding shoes” ; and meanwhile she had gone placidly through two Smith bridals and probably been happy as life goes.

This description of a remarkable old woman, unknown except to local fame, was found among Colonel Higginson's miscellaneous papers:

“ Aunt Hannah ” dwells in a house in the outskirts of W--, solitary and alone, aged ninety-seven, taking the entire care of herself and keeping her house [152] as nice as possible. Sometimes in the winter she is snowed up for weeks together, so that nobody sees her, and she is perfectly happy in this solitude, preparing for it by getting in her stores, like a squirrel. Her health is perfect and she can take great liberties in the digestive line, as eating rich cakes just before going to bed, and other feats formidable to her juniors. Her sight, hearing, and teeth are perfect; and she has worn for many years a wig of curling hair, which hides any ravages of time on that head (so to speak). She is very pretty.... M-- calls her one of the most graceful persons she ever saw. She dresses neatly and rather fashionably, having on, when M. was there, a dress with gored skirt, in the latest style; these things she makes herself, out of dresses and materials given to her.

She is perfectly poor, but has relations who are well off, in Boston, and who give and send her many things. She has great ingenuity about her furniture and household arrangements, manufacturing for herself cushions, ottomans, etc., of the most approved style, out of next to nothing. In youth she was a beauty and a belle, and her father was wealthy, but became a Tory in the Revolution and lost all. Her manners are elegant and stately; she dislikes greatly to be visited as a curiosity, and all new acquaintances are expected to have a genteel introduction; she being rather exclusive. . ... Children she is not fond of. .... She talks very agreeably and is eagerly interested about the [Civil] war, saying she felt just so in the time of the Revolution. [153]

Her house is quite in decay — the house she was born in. Sometimes she has a relation to stay; one male cousin of fifty from Boston made her a visit and was far more infirm than she, so that she waited on him.

She reads but little, though she was well educated and her eyes are perfect. But she is always busy and says the days are always too short for her.

. . . She very seldom shakes hands with anybody, and when M. went forward to do this, she made a curtsy instead.

A sort of little fairy of grandeur, Mary calls her.

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 United States License.

An XML version of this text is available for download, with the additional restriction that you offer Perseus any modifications you make. Perseus provides credit for all accepted changes, storing new additions in a versioning system.

hide Places (automatically extracted)

View a map of the most frequently mentioned places in this document.

Sort places alphabetically, as they appear on the page, by frequency
Click on a place to search for it in this document.
Kansas (Kansas, United States) (19)
Fayal (Portugal) (11)
Worcester (Massachusetts, United States) (8)
Chicago (Illinois, United States) (7)
Pigeon Cove (Massachusetts, United States) (4)
Magdalena (New Mexico, United States) (3)
Topeka (Kansas, United States) (2)
Rockport (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
Raquette River (New York, United States) (2)
New England (United States) (2)
Nebraska City (Nebraska, United States) (2)
Lawrence (Massachusetts, United States) (2)
Tupper's Lake (Montana, United States) (1)
Thomaston, Me. (Maine, United States) (1)
Singapore (Singapore) (1)
Princeton, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Pico (Portugal) (1)
Paris, Ky. (Kentucky, United States) (1)
Newburyport (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Nahant (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Mount Katahdin (Maine, United States) (1)
Mount Everett (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Milton, Mass. (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Maine (Maine, United States) (1)
Madrid (Spain) (1)
Lisbon (Portugal) (1)
Lake Camp (Florida, United States) (1)
Kaw river (Kansas, United States) (1)
Iowa City (Iowa, United States) (1)
Glocester (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Gibralter (North Carolina, United States) (1)
Europe (1)
Edward Spring (Utah, United States) (1)
Eddy Spring (Oregon, United States) (1)
Concord (Massachusetts, United States) (1)
Chambersburg (New Jersey, United States) (1)
Burlington (New Jersey, United States) (1)
Brattleboro (Vermont, United States) (1)
Batavia, N. Y. (New York, United States) (1)
Bangor (Maine, United States) (1)
Atlantic Ocean (1)
Adirondack (New York, United States) (1)

Download Pleiades ancient places geospacial dataset for this text.

hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: