John Pierpont.

by Rev. Henry C. Delong.
[Read before the Medford Historical Society, April 20, 1903.]

WE have the story to tell of a man who made a distinct mark upon his time, but whose picture must be drawn chiefly by means of such occasional writings as he has left, which have been rescued from oblivion by the passion of librarians to save all the material from which history can be made.

Mr. Pierpont was born in Litchfield, Conn., April 6, 1785. He graduated from Yale College in 1804, at the age of nineteen, and from Harvard Divinity School in 1818. He received the degree of A. M. at Yale College in 1820 and at Harvard College in 1821. On leaving college in 1804 he was for four years tutor in the family of Col. William Alston at Charleston, S. C., and in 1809 he entered upon the study of law in a well-known law school at Litchfield, Conn., and was admitted to the bar at Newburyport, Mass., in 1812. His friend, John Neal, says: ‘He opened a law office at 103 Court street, Boston, where he found nothing to do, and spent much of his time in cutting his name on little ivory seals, and engraving ciphers— “J. P.” —so beautiful in their character and so graceful that they were enough to establish any man's reputation as a seal engraver. The one I have before me bears about the same relationship to what are called ciphers that Benvenuto Cellini's flower-cups bore to the clumsy goblets of his day.’ Mr. Justice Story thought it a pity for him to abandon his profession so long as there was a fair chance of his living through his ‘briefless’ experience. [p. 76]

But he was now about thirty years old, married, of precarious health and a feeble constitution, without property, and he could not wait till clients came to him. His brother-in-law, James L. Lord, persuaded him to abandon the law and go into the jobbing and retail dry good business with him, at the corner of Court and Marlborough (now Washington) street. This was after the declaration of peace with England in 1815. Prices were greatly inflated—sure indication of reverses and collapse soon to follow. The firm had but little money, their notes were rapidly maturing, and something must be done at once. It was decided that Mr. Pierpont should go to Baltimore and open a way for a branch of their business there. Mr. Neal went as its manager, and for a brief time he had remarkable success. He says, ‘With one clerk I sold more goods, and for cash, than any three or four of the large dealers; and at prices that fairly took my breath away. Irish linens, for example, by the case at $2.50, worth not over eighty cents before the war; and assorted broadcloths by the bale at $14.00 a yard, which within a twelve-month would have hung fire at $3.50. I remember selling $14,000.00 worth of goods one day for a clear profit of more than forty per cent., and this while my poor friends in Boston were gasping for breath in that exhausted receiver; but they were kept alive by the remittances I made from Baltimore, which not only furnished them with funds for immediate use, but gave them for a few months almost unbounded credit.’ Soon the remittances began to fall off, and weary of the usurers who were lending them money, both Pierpont and Lord went to Baltimore where their harvest had been reaped. Mr. Lord started a wholesale business and Mr. Pierpont went to Charleston, S. C., to set up a retail establishment. He took with him an Englishman whose acquaintance he had made in Baltimore, who it proved had lived from hand to mouth, Mr. Neal remarks, ‘Until we took him up and he took us in most pitiably. . . After a brief struggle,’ he continues,‘and the [p. 77] establishment of another retail store in Baltimore, with what there was left of the Charleston adventure, we failed outright, and all this within six or eight months after we had called our creditors together and obtained an extension of twelve months and testimonials in our favor of the most gratifying character, and within little more than a year after leaving Boston.’

The man himself will challenge our attention from this period in his life, but we shall have to see him as others have described him. Says Mr. John Neal: ‘He was tall, straight and spare, six feet, I should say, and rather ungraceful in fact, though called by the women of his parish not only the most graceful, but the most finished of gentlemen. That he was dignified, courteous, and prepossessing, very pleasant in conversation, a capital story-teller, exceedingly impressive, both in the pulpit and elsewhere, when much in earnest, and in after life a great lecturer and platform speaker, I am ready to acknowledge; but he wanted ease of manner till after he had passed the age of three-score.’ Says Geo. W. Bungay: ‘See him standing in that magnificent Music Hall reading his poem before the members of the Mercantile Library Society. He is straight as a palm-tree, fanned by “The Airs of Palestine” ; his snow-white hair looks like a halo of glory about his head, and the rosy glow of health upon his face shows that his heart can never grow old. Few men of his years (he is upwards of sixty), have been young so long as he; few men of his age are so young as he is now. He always dresses neatly, and has an air of military compactness, looks well in the street or on the platform. His eyes are blue and brilliant; forehead stamped with the lines of intellectual superiority, temperament sanguine—nervous. As a speaker he is always interesting, often eloquent. There is a rich vein of poetry running through his sermons and speeches which enhances the value of his efforts. While speaking he stands erect, and has a habit of shaking his hand with his forefinger extended when he is earnestly [p. 78] emphatic on any particular subject under discussion, at the same time moving his head, while his eyes flash as though he was shaking stars out of his forehead.’

Mr. Pierpont was a man of such positive convictions concerning slavery and temperance, on account of them having a long and painful contest with the important church over which he was settled in Boston, that we should naturally suppose they ran in his blood and that he had always held them. This would be to mistake him. Perhaps they were more firmly held because they were mature convictions to which he gave the full consent of his mind and heart. At any rate, in his youth, after leaving college, he was neither an abolitionist nor such a temperance man as he became afterward. As to the first, he was rather tolerant of the evil of slavery as it existed in the South, where he had been familiar with it during the four years he spent in Charleston after graduating from college. He was then a believer in the colonization of the negro, a mild but impossible cure for the evil which had many advocates among humane people who could not think the ‘patriarchal institution’ divine, but shrank from the heroic remedy of the abolitionists. As to temperance, instead of being a teetotaler, whose praise he has sung more than any other of our poets, he had wine on his table when he gave dinners, and sometimes drank toasts with his friends. On both of these subjects there was a radical change in his thought and in the habit of his life, probably induced by the greater seriousness which marked him after his purpose and vocation in life became clear to him.

Mr. Pierpont's great-grandfather, the Rev. James Pierpont, was the third minister of the First Church of New Haven. The faith then known as Orthodox was that of his family and was his own until coming to Boston in 1812, when he attended the Brattle Street Church. While in Baltimore a Unitarian Church was formed, and he identified himself with it, a religious connection which he maintained ever afterward. [p. 79]

Something should be said of Mr. Pierpont's place as a writer of poetry, something also as a compiler of one of the best anthologies of our English literature.

It was while he was a member of the school committee of Boston that he felt the need in the higher schools of a collection of the best literature, which led to his compilation known as the ‘American First Class Book,’ which passed through many editions and was widely useful in introducing to minds approaching maturity much that is best in our English tongue. It proves his familiarity with our literature that he was able to make such choice selection, and it must have had what he desired, a profound influence in shaping the mind of youth by means of pure sentiment expressed in the finest style of the great masters of classic speech. He thought also that it would be an influence in the formation of character, saying in the preface, ‘The book will fulfil my hopes, if, while it helps the young on towards the end of their scholastic labors—the general improvement of their minds it shall enable them better to understand and discharge their duties in life and lead them to contemplate with pleasure and religious reverence the character of the Great Author of their being as discovered in his works, his providence and his word; and thus help them to attain the end of their Christian faith, the salvation of their souls.’

As early as 1812, Mr. Pierpont delivered a poem before the Washington Benevolent Society of Newburyport, named ‘The Portrait.’ It is a contrast of Washington, Hamilton, Jay, Adams, and other heroes of our early history, with what he esteemed the mock military heroes of the war with England. It is a pessimistic poem, so deeply marked with the bias of the time in which it was written, that in the edition of his poems published in 1840, he says, in a foot-note: ‘Both the text and the notes of this poem occasionally show the warmth of political feeling, and the strength of party prejudice of the time when it was written. Both text and notes are [p. 80] allowed to remain as memorials of fires that raged once, but have long since gone out.’

In 1816 he published at Baltimore his longest poem, ‘The Airs of Palestine.’ ‘It is a meditation upon the influence of music as applied to Jewish history, and, to a limited extent, to noted occurrences of all times.’ It is the opinion of competent critics that the poem shows the domination of Pope upon the literature of this period which is manifest throughout the finished versification of the whole poem. The critics may have their way, but the poem in its beauty of conception, its melody and force of description found a warm response, passed through several editions, and is worthy of its fame. It paints pictures with a few touches that seem like a happy inspiration, but which had cost hours of meditation and effort before the ability to make them had been won. Much of this poem was written in Baltimore while struggling against the fate of commercial disaster which finally overwhelmed him. Two fine lines descriptive of the apostles in the garden of Gethsemene with their Master run:—

Their reverend beards that swept their bosoms wet
With the chill dews of shady Olivet.

Mr. Neal, who was a member of his household, says: ‘We were at breakfast—it was rather late. “ Where on earth is your good husband?” said I to Mrs. Pierpont. “In bed making poetry,” said she. “Indeed!” “Yes, flat on his back with his eyes rolled up in his head.” Soon after he appeared looking somewhat worse for his labor. “Here,” said he, “tell me what you think of these two lines,” handing me a paper on which they were written with the beauty and clearness of copper plate. “Charming,” said I. “And what then? What are you driving at?” “Well, I was thinking of Olivet, and then I wanted a rhyme for Olivet, and these express the picture of the apostles before me, their reverend beards all dripping with the dews of night.” ’ [p. 81]

Take this touch of Moses on Sinai:

There blasts of unseen trumpets long and loud,
Swelled by the breath of whirlwinds rent the cloud.

Or this of Moses receiving the Law:—

His sunny mantle and his hoary locks
Shone like the robe of winter on the rocks.
Where is that mantle? Melted into air.
Where is the prophet? God can tell thee where.

Many of his shorter poems, for their force of devout sentiment or moral feeling have entered into our literature and held their place for two generations with no signs of losing it.

Among the best known poems are the following: ‘The Exile at St. Helena,’ ‘The Address of Warren to the American Soldiers,’ ‘The Pilgrim Fathers.’ The highest flight of his fancy and his best contribution to our literature is ‘Passing Away.’ He was also the author of many fine hymns, besides a great number of temperance and anti-slavery poems.

Mr. Pierpont was graduated from the Divinity School of Harvard College in 1818 in the class with Convers Francis, John G. Palfrey, Jared Sparks and Geo. Bancroft, all of them men who made a special mark upon their time. In 1819 he was called to be the minister of Hollis Street Church, Boston, succeeding the Rev. Dr. Holley, a man of eminence in his profession. The church was one of the most important in the city, and it seemed as if he were entering upon a new and happier day. He was now thirty-four years old, of superior ability and education and of wide experience of life. Added to his gifts and attainments were his pleasing social quality, a commanding presence, and his oratorical power. He was a fine natural reader of Scripture and hymns, which gave to his pulpit services unusual attractiveness and dignity. His preparation of sermons was made with most conscientious care, writing in full the two discourses for morning and afternoon, writing also and committing [p. 82] to memory the prayers as well. It was a congregation of cultured people accustomed to a high order of preaching, and they found satisfaction and delight in his ministry. I have read nearly all of his printed sermons, about twenty in all, and they are marked by a pure literary style, careful in statement, earnest in feeling and rich in literary and historical illustration. They fall into two classes, though not infrequently the two classes appear in the same discourse. One class is that of sermons of elevated sentiment touching personal conduct and character, deeply religious in their tone. The other, that of sermons strictly if not severely logical, intended to convince the understanding of those who heard them and persuade them to action. It is in these discourses that the trained lawyer is evident. Steps in the argument which the preacher would usually take for granted are made with the utmost care, as if he were appealing to a jury for a judgment, and for a judgment that will affect themselves. This method is most clearly seen in two discourses on ‘The Moral Rule of Political Action,’ the purpose of which was to apply this rule to the question of slavery and convince his hearers that the higher law of morals, which was the law of God, was the one they must obey. Still another on ‘The Covenant of Judas,’ was of the same kind, minute to the last degree in tracing through the Scriptures the whole doctrine of the force of covenants, agreements or vows, for the purpose of showing that if the Constitution of the United States had made an agreement with slavery—which he did not believe—it must be set aside by the enlightened conscience, for we ought to obey God rather than men. One other sermon, ‘The Burning of the Ephesian Letters,’ from the account in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles, is most ingenious and skilful in its preaching against the evil of the manufacture and sale of intoxicants, without any word in it concerning the traffic which he was so subtly denouncing and overwhelming with disgrace.

I cannot speak precisely as to dates, but from twelve to fifteen years of Mr. Pierpont's ministry passed not [p. 83] alone with satisfaction to his people, but with their high appreciation of him and pride in him. Then a change took place on the part of some of them, due especially to his preaching on such agitating subjects as temperance and slavery. The sermons which were the cause of this division of feeling are not to be found. Those I have spoken of are of a later date when the controversy was well under way. But at the beginning, there was much outward kindness; for after the unrest began, in 1835, his parish gave him a year's vacation when he went abroad, they paying his salary and supplying the pulpit in his absence, besides giving him a generous sum of money for his journey. One cannot tell what was in their mind, whether they supposed rest would change his conviction as to his duty, or whether a sense of obligation to them for their favor would accomplish the end they so much desired. It is clear that his course was one deliberately chosen which he could not put aside, for as early as 1838, not more than two years after his return to his pulpit, at a meeting of the proprietors of the church, it was ‘Voted; That the members of this society have viewed with deep regret the zeal of their reverend pastor in those exciting topics which divide and disturb the harmony of the community, thereby alienating his friends and diminishing his usefulness as the Christian teacher of this society; that they believe the precepts of the gospel do not warrant him, as a Christian minister, in interfering with the established laws of the land; but that the alteration of old and the adoption of new laws belong to legislators duly elected for that purpose; that they believe he was settled as the teacher of the doctrines and virtues of the Saviour of the world, who did not interfere with the civil law, but whose object it was to promote peace on earth and good will among men. Voted; That a committee of five be appointed to confer with the Rev. John Pierpont upon his duties and relations to this society, and that they be requested to report at an adjourned meeting.’

Here was the beginning of a controversy that was [p. 84] seven years in reaching its culmination. It must be briefly told in this paper, though the reading of a thick volume of six hundred pages has been necessary to the understanding of it. But a little explanation is required to set the matter fairly before us.

First, as to Hollis Street Church. It was a church owned and controlled in law, not by the body of worshippers who rented pews in it, but by the proprietors. The proprietors were the owners of pews, who were legally responsible for the expenses of the church. Those who rented pews from the proprietors had no legal voice in the conduct of the parish. If their opinion was asked on any matter, such as the choice of a minister, it had no binding force, it was only desired so that the proprietors might form a judgment as to the course it was wise to pursue. In this whole controversy, therefore, it is not the congregation that is concerned, it is the pew-owners or proprietors as the legally responsible party.

It is further necessary to the understanding of Mr. Pierpont's legal rights as minister to remember that he was settled under the old Congregational regime as a life-settlement. The proprietors could not dismiss him at will, they could only dismiss him by his consent unless for cause the Supreme Court should remove him, or an ecclesiastical council of churches, regularly and legally called, should vote to dissolve the connection between him and his parish, then the Supreme Court could give their decision legal force and bring his ministry to an end. This is the legal aspect or status of this controversy which will appear in what follows.

An end of the matter could have been made at once by the resignation of the pastor. But there were good and sufficient reasons why he could not take this course. First of all, a vital principle was involved, that of the freedom of the pulpit. If a minister was to be put down because of his preaching upon questions of pressing moral interest, and this by a minority whose business was affected by such preaching, then the minister had [p. 85] ceased to be a teacher of truth and righteousness and had become a hireling to do the bidding of his supporters. The church would have the contempt of all right-minded men if such a view of the ministry could be held. It was a question of deep significance not only to this special church, but to the cause of religion as well, and in taking his stand against such proscription, Mr. Pierpont was doing more than to defend his personal rights; he was defending the integrity of the pulpit; he was defending the cause of pure religion to a rightful place as a moral force in the world.

But, further, the controversy of the proprietors of the church with him had reached such a state of feeling that charges were made against him at a meeting of the proprietors which impeached his integrity and honor in certain business affairs which he conducted. These charges, I may say, briefly concerned his violation of an agreement as to the copyright of his ‘American First Class Book’; his contract to furnish letters during his trip abroad to the Boston Gazette, and his sale of the right to manufacture a razor-hone, which was not his invention, but had been loaned to him by a parishioner for the purpose of making one for his own use. Such charges could not go unanswered. To withdraw from his pulpit after they were made was to admit their truth and to have his reputation as a minister and a man hopelessly ruined. In order that the case might be heard and decided by a competent tribunal, an appeal was taken to a council of churches called by both parties to the controversy. This failed for the reason that the proprietors had changed the issue agreed upon, and he would not consent to be a party to the council on their terms. Then the proprietors took the next and only course left to them to bring about his dismission from their pulpit; they called an ex-parte council of churches preferring grounds of complaint against him and asking that he be regularly dismissed by the council because of them. The council was summoned as an ex-parte council [p. 86] called by the proprietors, but in the preliminary proceedings an understanding was reached between Mr. Pierpont and the proprietors, and it became a Mutual Ecclesiastical Council. Both parties were represented by able lawyers, well known to the bar in their time, and it was nearly six months after the council assembled before it dissolved. Its sessions were not continuous, but they were frequent, and a large amount of evidence was presented.

The unanimous opinion of the council, composed of the ministers and delegates of twelve churches, was, ‘That, although on such of the charges preferred against the Rev. John Pierpont, as most directly affect his moral character, the proof has been altogether insufficient, yet on other charges such an amount of proof has been brought forward as requires this council to express their disapprobation of Mr. Pierpont's conduct on some occasions, and in some respects, but not sufficient, in their opinion, to furnish ground for advising a dissolution of the connection between him and his parish.’

That the decision of the council was a just one there is every reason to believe. But it was none too generous to him. For it was but a small number of his brethren in the ministry who supported him in his controversy, some thinking his course extreme, others thinking, as the council said, ‘that it had been marked by a degree of harshness, personality, ridicule and sarcasm at variance with Christian meekness.’ They seem not to have understood him, and therefore were unable to put themselves in his place. A man of so strong characteristics must have the defects of his virtues. Standing first for truth and righteousness as the supreme things, and then for his integrity and honor, does not induce the gentleness of the dove, and that his speech should have been now severe and now mixed with scorn for meanness, would be what we have a right to expect. Dr. Channing seems not to have thought him deserving of censure since he wrote to him, ‘Should it be the issue of your [p. 87] present controversy that some ten or twelve of those who now oppose you should withdraw from your society, and their places be filled by others who sympathize with you and will sustain you in your course, the pulpit of Hollis Street Church will stand higher than any other in the city.’

A word of explanation should also be said concerning the reasons why Mr. Pierpont was engaged in some matters of secular business which appear in this controversy. At the time of the failure of the business with which he was connected in Baltimore, he refused to avail himself of the legal exemption from his debts, and held himself morally bound to pay them. This laid upon him a considerable burden, and his engagements in business during his ministry were for the purpose of discharging that obligation, an obligation which he faithfully kept. He was one who preached righteousness and practiced it. Let it be remembered to his honor.

It has been painful to go into the question at issue between Mr. Pierpont and his parish to the extent I have felt obliged to do, but it is a matter of history, and the fair fame of a man we have much reason to regard is at stake, a man of fine gifts, a self-sacrificing lover of his kind, and it is best we should see him as he was. The council dissolved in 1841. He continued his ministry for a time with much dissent and bitterness on the part of the strong minority opposed to him. His salary was kept back to the amount of more than three thousand dollars, and he had to bring suit to obtain it. Finally, against the advice of his friends in the church, in May, 1845,he voluntarily resigned his pastorate, and the long struggle was at an end.

After a period of rest he became minister of a church in Troy, N. Y., which, together with lecturing on various subjects, but chiefly on temperance and slavery, filled his time till, in August, 1849, he became minister of the First Parish in Medford, where he remained until 1856. Singularly enough he came here to a church which had [p. 88] suffered from the same causes he had been familiar with. But for such as could bear his strong meat, who did not object to a religion mixed with morals, his ministry was a pure delight. His social charm, his remarkable gift as a reader of Scripture and hymns, the force and eloquence of his preaching were long remembered, and his influence was powerful for good. Early in the war of the Rebellion, when he was seventy-six years old, at his own request he received an appointment as Chaplain in the Twenty-second Regiment of Massachusetts Volunteers, requesting of Gov. Andrew ‘that the regiment should not go around Baltimore.’ But firm as was his patriotic heart he was not equal to the hardships of camp life, and Secretary Chase of the U. S. Treasury gave him a position to collate and condense the decisions of the Treasury Department in regard to customs since the establishment of the government. This clerical task received high praise for the clear intelligence with which it was done, and it was while engaged in it that he returned to Medford for a brief visit. On Sunday morning he had attended church where it had been his happiness to be the minister, and the next day, August 27, 1866, his spirit had quietly passed to its rest.

The monument commemorating him at Mt. Auburn describes him as ‘Poet, Patriot, Preacher, Philosopher, Philanthropist.’ He was all these. Most of all was he a lover of truth, so earnest that no frowns of the cultured and polite could keep him from espousing a cause which had won the conviction of his mind. He accepted the then science of phrenology, though it brought opprobrium upon him. He was a believer in spiritualism, convinced that its phenomena justified its claims, and he did not cherish the belief in private, but advocated it on the platform, in gatherings set apart to teach and commend it. He was so good a patriot and so true a lover of humanity that for these he willingly sacrificed the enviable position he had held in the pulpit. We cannot avoid the wish that truth and righteousness were so welcome in our world that a man of his worth could use his powers [p. 89] to set the world farther forward rather than have to contend inch by inch for the good he loved and nobly served. But that he had the will so to contend and win the right for which he stood, deserves high regard. He was not a prophet to say the smooth things which would make his lot easy, but to say the true things if sometimes the hard ones, which have won him the honor of man, as from the beginning of his heroic life he must have had the praise of God.

Rev. John Pierpont was descended from

1James Pierpont of London, England;

2John Pierpont and Thankful Stowe of Roxbury, Mass.;

3Rev. James Pierpont of New Haven, Conn., and Mary Hooker;

4James Pierpont of Boston and New Haven and Anne Sherman;

5James Pierpont of Litchfield, Conn., and Elizabeth Collins.

Rev. John Pierpont was married September 23, 1810, to Mary Sheldon Lord, daughter of Lynde and Mary (Lyman) Lord, who died at Medford, Mass., August 23, 1855. His children were:—

1William Alston, born July 1, 1811,at Litchfield, Conn., married Mary C. Ridgway of Syracuse, N. Y.

2Mary E., born September 18, 1812, at Newburyport, Mass.

3Juliette, born July 30, 1816, at Baltimore, Md., married James S. Morgan of Hartford, Conn.

4John, born November 24, 1819, at Boston, Mass.

5James, born April 25, 1822, at Boston, married Millicent Cowen of Troy, N. Y.

6Caroline Augusta, born August 21, 1823, at Boston, married J. M. Boardman of Macon, Ga.

Mr. Pierpont married for his second wife Mrs. Harriet Louisa Fowler, widow of Dr. George W. Fowler, by whom there were no children.

[p. 90]

Strangers in Medford, (continued from vol. 6, no. 3).

Names.From.Date.Warned out.Remarks.
Fillebrown, SarahCambridge,Jan. 4, 1768At house of Ezekiel Hall.
Fisk, Joseph
  Mary (wife)
Reading,May 31, 1757Jan. 4, 1758In house of Wm. McClinton.
Fisk, MaryJan. 30, 1791
Fisk, WilliamWood EndMay 31, 1757Jan. 4, 1758In house of Wm. McClinton.
Sarah (wife)Reading,
Rachel (daughter)
Fitch, John B.Aug. 31, 1797
Flora (negro)Charlestown,Dec. 12, 1765Sept. 1, 1766In family of Henry Putnam.
Floyd, BenjaminBoston,Mar. 23, 1767Boarder in house of Noah Floyd.
Floyd, HepsibahJan. 30, 1791
Floyd, HughMaiden,Mar. 15, 1759In house of Benj. Parker, Jr. Tenant of Col. Royall before 1772.
Abigail (wife)
William Children
Susanna Children
Fowle, JohnAug. 31, 1797
Fowle, MehitabelJan. 30, 1791
Fox, CatherineJan. 30, 1791
Freeman, Primas1 wife and familyApr. 16, 1784
Jan. 30, 1791
Freeman, RichardJan. 20, 1740Negro in house of John Hammon.

[p. 91]

Freeman, RichardChelsea, October, 1761Aug. 30, 1762
French family, ACharlestown, May, 1751Tenants in house of John Willis.
Frost, RufusAug. 31, 1797
Frost, MaryCambridge, May 16, 1772Daughter of Abraham Frost. In family of Moses Tufts.
Fuller, BenjaminLynn, May 7, 1764In house of Wm. Hall.
Fury, SimonMarblehead, October, 1770In family of Ebenezer Hall, Jr.
Gallop, SusannaBoston, Jan. 27, 1766Nov. 8, 1766In family of Thos. Patten.
Gardner, JohnBoston, Jan. 13, 1763In family of Samuel Stocker.
Gardner, Jonathan wife and childMaiden, Oct. 24, 1768Oct. 8, 1770Boarder in house of Timothy Newhall.
Gary, SusannahStoneham, July 25, 1769In house of Jos. Thompson.
Gates, Edmund TrowbridgeJan. 30, 1791
Gill, ElizabethMaiden, Oct. 18, 1769Oct. 8, 1770Young woman in family of Aaron Hall.
Gill, PrudenceMaiden, Aug. 21, 1773In service to Stephen Hall.
Gleason, JacobJan. 30, 1791
Gleason, WilliamAug. 31, 1797
Goddin, JonathanJan. 30, 1791
Goddin, ThomasLexington, Dec. 19, 1763Journeyman employed by Samuel Tilton.
Goldsmith, Zaccheus
  Mehitabel (wife)
Ipswich, April 24, 1764Dec. 3, 1764Tenant of Col. Royall.

[p. 92]

Main street, 1835-1850.

(Reminiscences continued from Vol. VI., Page 20.)

THE Medford house has the same general appearance today as years ago. It formerly had a fine hall which was used for dancing parties and public entertainments. A town meeting was held there in 1839.

The large elm tree, with the pump under it, that stood in front of the stable, and the ten-pin alley have disappeared.

The space between the house and the street was paved with cobblestones, and when the Lowell, Woburn, Stoneham, or Medford coach reined up to the door, the neighborhood was aware of it.

It was a busy place in a busy town, and well patronized by the citizens and travelling public.

The best-known and most popular landlords were James Bride and Augustus Baker.

Directly opposite the hotel, on the site of the present police station, was the home of Nathan Wait, blacksmith. His buildings extended on Short street (Swan) to Union street, and his premises, on Union and Main street to the Sparrell estate. The three dwelling houses next south of the police station, and others in the rear, are on land which was Mr. Wait's orchard. Mr. Wait's shop was near Cradock bridge; he carried on business there for fifty years. Brooks' history accords him the honor of being the first to rescue a fugitive slave in the United States. He died in Medford, January 5, 1840. Jonathan Perkins, who married Nathan Wait's daughter, built, lived and died in the third house from the police station. It was the first dwelling built in Mr. Wait's orchard. John Sparrell, ship builder, surveyor of land, wood and lumber, and general business man, owned the next lot. His house is still in the possession of his family, and is known as No. 104 Main street. Captain Sparrell died March 29, 1876.

Next south stands the house which in 1835 was the [p. 93] home of Benjamin Pratt, mason. These three estates, with gardens and orchards extending to Union street, were very pretty homes seventy years ago.

Opposite Mr. Perkins' house and just south of the hotel is a large three-story double house, which was occupied by Captain Samuel Blanchard and James O. Curtis. The former was proprietor of coach and livery stable, constable, auctioneer and lieutenant colonel of militia. He lived in the side nearest the square. His stable was in the rear. He was well known in Middlesex and Suffolk counties. He was a large man, of fine physique, and was a loud, rapid talker. Later he moved to the Governor Brooks' estate on High street. He spent his last days in Sutton, New Hampshire. Mr. James O. Curtis was a leading ship builder. His yard was between Swan street extension and the river, near the site of the city stables (1903). He was a prominent man in town affairs. Later he removed to No. 196 Main street, which was built by Rufus Wade, shoe manufacturer, and is now occupied by Mr. James Golden. Mr. Curtis died in the house which he built at the corner of Main and Royall streets.

Later tenants of the old house next the hotel were George Hervey, Joseph N. Gibbs and others.

Mrs. Luther Stearns owned a large house and stable with large lot of land near Emerson street.

Her husband formerly kept a private school for boys. Her sons, George L. and Henry, had a large linseed oil factory on Union street, which was burned in 1849. Major George L. Stearns is famous as a friend of the freedmen, and organized many colored regiments during the civil war. Next to Mrs. Stearns lived Jacob Butters. He kept a grocery store on High street where the Opera House stands. His only son shipped as boy with Captain St. Croix Redman of Medford, and on his first voyage was killed at New Orleans by falling from the rigging. Mr. Butters rented a portion of his premises, and we recall William Thomas, stone mason, William [p. 94] Hadley, gardener, and Amos M. Hooper, hatter, who lived there.

In the early thirties Mr. Butters moved a portion of the Blanchard Hotel from near the bridge to land below his house, and fitted it for two families. The first tenants were Rev. A. R. Baker of the Orthodox Church and Dr. Samuel Gregg. Later Mr. Butters moved into this house, and it is now occupied by his descendants.

In the house next to Benjamin Pratt, on what was then the east side of Main street, but which is now called No. 2 Mystic avenue, some of the older tenants were Gilbert Blanchard, grocer, William Thomas, who at one time lived in Mr. Butters' house, Mrs. Rebecca Stearns, daughter of Caleb Brooks of West Medford, Ebenezer Chamberlain, hatter, Bartholomew Richardson, hatter, Mrs. Henry Withington and others. In the next house lived Mr. Amory Hartshorn and John T. White. Both were employed at Mr. Peck's hat factory. The latter colored hats; when his services were needed his presence was required night and day. He was constable, deputy sheriff and tax collector for many years. About 1850 he moved into his house on Ashland street, where he died.

Jesse Crosby's wheelwright shop occupied the triangle made by the Turnpike (Mystic avenue), Union street and Mr. Hartshorn's premises. He removed to Nashua, New Hampshire, and was succeeded by Elbridge Teel. Later Thomas O. Hill, one of Mr. Teel's apprentices, was in partnership with him for many years. The youngest son and two grandsons of Mr. Teel now conduct a large business there under the old firm name of E. Teel & Co.

The double house on the other side of Mystic avenue, facing the square, has had many tenants. We remember Mrs. Porter, who kept a private school, and Charles Pullen, who was the foreman at Stearns' oil mill.

The Middlesex Canal passed under a bridge near Summer street. The depression which shows the old course of the canal can still be seen on the east side of [p. 95] Main street at this point. Summer street was at first called Middlesex street, and was built practically on the tow path of the canal. There was a large artificial basin between there and Royall street where canal boats tied up to unload.

On the south bank of the canal was the Columbian Hotel, which in its day had been a fine dwelling house. This hostelry, as well as the Medford House, was kept by James Bride and Augustus Baker.

In the Royall House lived Mrs. Ruth Tidd, a sister of William Dawes, who on April 18, 1775, rode out by way of Roxbury to warn the Middlesex farmers of danger. She was about the only person in Medford who indulged in a coach and pair of horses. They were often seen on the road, and always on Sundays on the way to church. The carriage road to the stable was over a portion of the present Royall street; the stable stood facing Main street, near the corner of Royall and Florence streets.

It seems strange to think of the Stearns mansion, which stands well back from College avenue, as being on Main street, but in 1835 the only entrance was a long driveway from Main street, part of which is now known as Stearns avenue. Captain John King lived in the house at that time. Three of his four sons were sea captains, and two of them were lost at sea.

The brick house now occupied by Mr. Horace E. Willis was built by Captain Nathan Adams about 812. Charles Wait, brickmaker, Peter Adams, farmer, Judge Capen and others have been tenants.

Captain Nathan Adams owned a large milk farm on both sides of Main street, and had a milk route in Boston. He had very extensive orchards. His home was on the site of the Mystic House; it was afterward moved to the brick yard, and was almost wholly destroyed by fire. What remains has no resemblance to the original. Deacon Nathan Adams, Jr., had a milk farm further south, and his buildings stood about half way up Winter Hill. This dwelling was the last house in Medford until about 1840.

[p. 96]

A Package of old letters.

Extracts from letters written by Simon Tufts2 to Benjamin Hall, Jr.3

Omeidpore in BENGAL4 8th December 1789.
dear brother.
As three years have nearly expir'd since I receiv'd any account of You or family, perhaps it may be agreable to you to hear of what part of the E. Indies I have made my residence in. ... My station is about 18 miles from Calcutta, at a Village, about 5 or 6 miles of which I have at present the sole Charge. 'Tis only the Rum and Indigo that I have to see manag'd. . . . I am allowed as many servants as I chuse. One I must have night and day about me according to the Custom of the East, and some days, ten in and about the house. I do not like it but to preserve respect it must be done. For nine months the heat and musquitoes are very bad—Besides Tygers, Leopards, Jackalls without number—and other beasts are around the place but do not attack grown people often....

Omeidpore 20th Augt 1792.
My last to you was dated 15th July and it is now a Year since I wrote you. . . . I have little to add except remarking that your letters by American Vessels seldom come to hand but after a long time. ... The business in sending Sugar home to Europe to foreign parts and vessels is wink'd at . . . for you must know everything in this Country is done by interest. . . . I sometimes indulge hopes of seeing either Europe or your country, for the luxury of the East, thoa great do not compensate for the want of health and society, and for months I see nothing but black and do not hear a syllable of English.

[p. 97]

27th Augt 1792.
I have received yours dated 11th Feb'y this present year (by post) from Madras. ... Repeat my love to your Children and tell Mr. Dud5 that I think he comes on very well in the writing way as I see in a Postscript of your wife's.

Make my respects to our old Friend Gen'l Brooks6 and all my friends in Medford, for I have and always shall have a Regard for the little place from which I drew my first breath. . . .

Omeidpore 10th May 1793.
Yours of 1st May is now before me, in which it appears by the description You give, You are as happy as a people as any on the Globe—long may you continue so. Your Country can have found their account in the great freight they have got from India to Europe, but this like all other new Trades is liable to be ruin'd if so many engage in it. . . .

Write me what seems to be [Dudley's7] leading inclination . . . at the same time let him not think he is always to sleep on a Bed of Roses or feathers—for 6 months in the Year his Uncle sleeps on a fine mat or Carpet—( The heat is so intolerable.)

Cape town 31st May 1797.
A Ship being bound for New York I couldn't omit the Opp'ty of acquainting You of my coming here from Bengal—as I found my health declining so fast in India I saw no other remedy but to leave it for a cooler climate. Cape town 31st Jan 1800

. . . When you see Aunt Brooks8 pray let her know that I receiv'd her kind letter and would have answered it, but the time is so short. . . . In the meantime present [p. 98] her with 50 Sp Doll'rs on the Account of it as from me and charge it to your acct against me . . . .

If an opportunity offers send me as below

1 or 2 Small Kegs of Mackerel for private use.

Weymouth or Rh Island Cheese for private use.
Bottled Cyder if the cork can be secured for private use. a few white beans in a cask for private use.

Cape Town 20th March 1801.
It certainly has been and yet is my intention to visit my native country if the Ship which I expected would touch here on her return from Manila would have room for a Passenger. . . . Your children I dare say are promising well and will I hope prove a source of pleasure to you and my sister I assure You that some time or other I hope to be witness of it.

I am

Dr Hall

Your very affectionate

Madam, It is with great regret we find ourselves in the mournful necessity of communicating to you an account of the death of your Brother, our friend Mr. Simon Tufts. He departed this life on the fifteenth of this present month.9

By the present opportunity we forward you a lock of his hair and also your Picture with an old gold ring, all of which he desired might be sent to you.

Executors and administrators of Mr. Simon Tufts's Estate,

1 Primus

2 Son of Dr. Simon Tufts, Jr., and Lucy, daughter of Gov. Joseph Dudley, born April 7, 1750. Left home about 1775 to seek his fortune in the East.

3 Son of Benjamin Hall and Hepzibah (Jones), born in Medford, Aug. 9, 1754; died Sept. 19, 1807; married Lucy, sister of Simon Tufts, 1777.

4 This letter is addressed to ‘Mr. Benjamin Hall jun'r Medford near Boston, New England. To be left at the N. Engl'd Coffee house—and forwarded.’

5 Dudley Hall, son of Benjamin Jr.; born Oct. 15, 1780, died Nov. 3, 1868.

6 Governor of Massachusetts, 1816, 1823.

7 Dudley Hall, son of Benjamin Jr.; born Oct. 15, 1780, died Nov. 3, 1868.

8 Mercy, daughter of Dr. Simon Tufts, Sr., and Abigail (Smith), born Oct. 19, 1742; married Thomas Brooks, son of Samuel and Mary (Boutwell), Dec. 29, 1762.

9 Here follows reference to will, whereby Mrs. Hall was bequeathed a large legacy.

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