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A New ship, a New colony, and a New church.

A Study in genealogy and also one in history.

SEVERAL years ago there came under our observation a collection of letters received by a relative and long carefully preserved by him, which led to a protracted genealogical research. They numbered a hundred and fifty or more, and all but one were intact. That one was written, evidently, on two sheets of note paper, the text of its numbered pages, 5, 6, and 7 proving the fact.

We quote from its page 5:—

He sailed Jan. 1826, with Mr Sessions, agent of Colonization Soc., Mr. Force a printer, and a large number of colonists in the ship Vine, arriving at Liberia in thirty-four days. He died July 23, 1826, of climatic fever.

At once this query arose, ‘To whom did the pronoun he refer?’ And the lack of the preceding but missing pages with the date and place of writing became more and more evident. It was written in a clear and excellent hand, and before closing ‘with assurance of regard,’ the writer said:—

It is a source of regret, that the descendants, by the male line, of my grandfather Nathan now number no more than six. I presume those of William and Lemuel [his brothers] are many times that number.

As the writer, Charles C. Holton, mentioned his grandfather Nathan, we began our search along the genealogical line, which took us backward to one William Holton, who came over from England in the ship Francis to Charlestown in 1634, and was among the company that migrated from New-towne (i.e., Cambridge) and settled another [p. 50] New-towne on the Connecticut river, later and now called Hartford. That he did so, going over the Indian trail, later known as the Bay path, shows his pioneering spirit, and furthermore that he was of the earliest settlers of Northampton and one of the ‘honored committee’ to begin at Northfield gives additional interest. In the fifth generation of Holtons we find that ‘grandfather Nathan’ Holton was born in Northfield in 1753. He was the youngest of his father's family of six daughters and three sons, whose home was on the slope of ‘Grass hill,’ where is now the Mount Hermon school. There, also, King Philip made his last stand against the settlers, a century before.

The genealogy in History of Northfield mentions Nathan, but tells of his removal in 1800 to Vermont. How much we wished for the missing pages of that letter! But we took up another clue, that of the ‘colonists’ it mentioned. After a long search we found, in the Massachusetts State Library, reports of the American Colonization Society.

That society was organized in 1816 for the purpose of transporting free and manumitted negroes to Africa, and in 1819 Congress appropriated $100,000 in aid of its work. Henry Clay was a long while its president and Francis Scott Key its vice-president, and its first colonists were sent in 1820. The colony was recognized as an independent republic in 1847, and in 1848 by England and other nations.

From its reports we learn of auxiliary societies in the various states, both north and south, and from these we quote an extract reproduced from the Norfolk (Va.) Beacon of February 26, 1826:—

Ship Indian Chief, Capt. Cochran, sailed from this port, Wednesday last 5th, for the Society's settlement at Cape Mesuarado.

with this significant editorial comment:—
Our community is indeed too small to favor that sort of benevolent excitement which was displayed in Boston, on the sailing of the [p. 51] Vine, nor would it be altogether wise to make any public parade of our feelings in our southern cities.

On page 32 of report of 1826 we found the following:—

The brig Vine with 34 emigrants, a missionary and a printer accompanied by Rev. Horace Sessions, an agent of the Society, who proposed to return in the same vessel, and also the Indian Chief from Norfolk with a much larger company. . . . The first sailed from Boston on the fourth of January and arrived at Liberia on the second of February, the other left Norfolk February 15, arrived March 22. Eighteen of the emigrants in the Vine were just before their departure at their own request organized into a church and the impressive exercises of the occasion were attended with heartfelt interest.

On reading the above we noticed a similarity of circumstances (though two centuries separated) of two ships crossing the stormy Atlantic——the Mayflower, bringing its Pilgrim church from England to the Indian wilds of Massachusetts, and the Vine, carrying an organized church ‘of free people of colour’ back to the soil of Africa, whence years before its forbears were taken and sold into bondage. Next, our curiosity was aroused as to the vessel called Vine, and if she was a Medford ship. The courteous customs officers furnished us her registration as of

Boston and Charlestown, June 24, 1825.
Tobias Lord of Boston in State of Massachusetts having taken or subscribed the oath required and having sworn that he is the only owner of the ship or vessel called the Vine of Boston, whereof Barnabas Mann is at present Master, and a citizen of the United States as he hath sworn, and that the said ship or vessel was built at Kennebunk in the State of Maine in the year eighteen hundred and twenty-five as appears by Register No. 1, issued at Kennebunk June 18, 1825, now cancelled, property the same. And Benjamin Stone, appointed for the purpose, having certified that the said ship or vessel has one deck and two masts and that her length is 85 ft. 2 in. her breadth 23 ft. 8 1/2 in. her depth 9 feet. 71 in., and that she measures one hundred and seventy and 32/95 tons, that she is a Brig, has a square stern, no galleries, and a billet head. And the said Tobias Lord, having agreed to this description and ad-measurement above specified and sufficient security having been given, the said Brig has been duly registered at the Port of Boston and Charlestown.

[p. 52]

The above bore the ‘Permanent No. 1 26, one hundred & twenty-six,’ and marginal endorsement ‘Transferred by enrolt, 255, 4 Nov. 1825.’

We find in the Columbian Centinel that the Vine, Grozier, master, cleared for Pernambuco and Africa. Her new owners were Ropes, Read & Co. In the foregoing we have more definite information than of the Mayflower.

Now about the migrating church's institution. We find in the Recorder and Telegraph (Congregational paper, Boston) of December 23, 1825 (notice this is near Forefathers' day), the following:—

Emigrant church organized.

Last Wednesday evening, in Park street meetinghouse, a church consisting of persons of colour about to sail for Liberia, was publicly received into the fellowship of other churches. An Ecclesiastical Council having been held at a previous hour consisting of Rev. Dr. Jenks [moderator], Rev. Sereno E. Dwight and Bro. Samuel Train,1 Park Street, Rev. Ebenezer Rogers and Dea. Samuel Fales, First Church, Dedham, Rev. Justin Edwards and Dea. Mark Brown, South Church, Andover, Rev. Benjamin B. Wisner and Dea. William Phillips, Old South Church, Rev. Samuel Green and Bro. John Tappan, Union Church, who after hearing and approving the articles of faith and covenant which had been adopted by the persons desirous of being embodied in the church, proceeded to organize such of them as were presented with certificates of dismission and recommendation, into a distinct body. Their names are as follows:

John Selmar Nubia

Newport Gardner

Robert Wainwood

Eusebia Wainwood

Phillis Fitch

Harriet Moett

Diana Harris

Mary Anna

Five others though not provided with letters furnished satisfactory evidence to the Council that they were members in good standing in the Church of Christ and were cordially received into communion by the new church. Their names were John Chavers, Mary Chavers, William Thomas, Andrew Harris, Corta DeWolfe. Rev. Mr. Wisner, Scribe, read the proceedings of the Council. Prayer was by Dr. Jenks, and sermon by Rev. S. E. Dwight, from Psalms 68:31. [p. 53] Ethiopia shall soon stretch out her hands unto God. It having been reported to the Council that the infant church had made unanimous choice of Newport Gardner and John Selmar Nubia as deacons, the fellowship of the church was expressed to them by Rev. Mr. Edwards and the closing prayer by Rev. Mr. Green. An anthem arranged by Deacon Gardner was then sung.

The Christian Watchman of December 30 (Baptist weekly) gives the same account, with this addition,—

A Congregational Church and all the exercises were appropriate and highly interesting to a crowded audience. Collection, $188.27.

The thirteen individuals above mentioned, with about thirty other colored people, also Rev. Calvin Holton, a Baptist missionary, and Dr. Ebenezer Hunt are expected to sail from this port on Monday next in the brig Vine, belonging to Ropes, Read & Co., to join the colony in Liberia. Rev. Mr. Sessions, the agent, will accompany the expedition and return in the same vessel.

In the Watchman of the same date appears a card of thanks of these colonists for the courteous and generous treatment by the Boston people. This was signed by Dea. Newport Gardner. What this treatment was will be seen in the society's report of 1826:—

At the ‘monthly concert’ the subject was broached of their need of a printing plant, and a generous friend supplied a press and a font of type, and nearly $600 was raised to provide other supplies, and committee appointed to at once procure them. Three extra fonts of type, ink, paper and office fixtures to start a newspaper.

Two sets of patent scales, two of blacksmith's tools, nails, two globes and a bell for the academy, besides Bibles and Testaments from the American Bible Society, books and clothing are enumerated. . . . The Vine sailed on Monday afternoon with a fine breeze.

And here at last we have found an answer to our query as to whom the pronoun he in the fragmentary letter we quoted from referred. It was Rev. Calvin Holton, the Baptist missionary who sailed in the Vine. The vital records of Gill, Mass., mention his birth thus: Holton.

Calvin, son of Nathan and Hannah, b. Mar. 16, 1797.

As Gill was incorporated in 1795 and Nathan Holton removed in 1900, there is no other mention of the family. [p. 54] Of his boyhood, education and young life we have as yet found nothing, until the following in the Watchman of December 2, 1825:—

At Rev. Dr. Abbott's meetinghouse in Beverly, Mr. Calvin Holton was ordained an evangelist; charge of fellowship by Rev. Mr. Nelson of Lynn. He is destined for the American settlement at Liberia.

On March 8, 1826, Captain Grozier of the Vine wrote from Pernambuco to Ropes, Read & Co.:—

I had thirty-four days passage to Liberia, where I landed all my passengers in good health. They were received as brothers and sisters by the other settlers. They were much pleased with the place. It is a delightful place.

I was detained ten days, the Governor being absent on my arrival. I left there on Feb. 18, with Mr. Sessions on board in pretty good health and spirits, but he was taken sick shortly after leaving the land and departed this life on the 4th day of March 50 miles south of the line. I arrived at this port on the 14th of March.—Recorder and Telegraph, May 5, 1826.

We read of the rigor of the pilgrims' first winter and its mortality, the taking off of half their number. This letter of the Vine's captain is the beginning of bad news from the African colony. On June 9 the Watchman said:

We are sorry to state that Mr. Force, late of Boston, after publishing a few succeeding weeks of the [Liberia] Herald, has deceased. Mr. Sessions is also dead. Dr. Peaco is sick, but Mr. Ashmun and the colonists generally are in good health.

The issue of June 16 contains a half column letter of Rev. Lott Cary, telling that ‘the expedition from Boston has suffered more loss than that from Norfolk, and expressed gratitude for the recovery of Rev. Mr. Holton, whose sickness had been alarming, but that he preached last Sunday and hoped to tomorrow,’ adding what gives a clue to his work: ‘I trust we shall be able to get along well. Bro. Holton will be in the public employ till his year is out in conducting the school in this place.’ [Monrovia.]

But in the issue of November 19 was a letter, dated Monrovia, August 9, 1826, following this editorial notice: [p. 55]

Death of Rev. Mr. Holton.

It was the prayer of this estimable man, who we had the pleasure of knowing, that he might be the instrument of directing the unenlightened Africans to the knowledge of the Lord Jesus. No doubt his short labors had some salutary effect. But alas! he had only just commenced them, when he was suddenly called to his reward.

and quotes—

We are called to mourn an afflictive bereavement in the loss of Rev. Mr. Holton, whose promise of usefulness in the colony was flattering in a high degree, whose convalescence was at a time so advanced as to place him in our estimation quite out of danger. A relapse. . . carried him off on Sunday, July 23, at 3 P. M. . . . A calmness, resignation and peace were never absent from his heart, quite to the moment of his transition.

We have, from the reading of that partial letter, traced something to add to a prospective genealogy, and have yet much to learn, of one of whom the Baptist librarian said, ‘A brief career; you will not find anything about him.’ He died a year and a century ago, but the spirit of service that led him into the work called others thither also.

It was a none too popular calling. As we think of it, remember the colonists were ‘free people of colour’, going back to African soil to establish homes, a colony, eventually a nation, on this earth. Remember how Lydia Maria Francis' ‘appeal for those Americans called Africans’ ostracized her here around Boston. Remember the scenes about the court house and down State street. Compare, if you will, the Mayflower of 1620 and its pilgrim colony, and try and picture the crew of the Vine with those white men, Sessions, Holton, and printer Force, with thirty-six dusky colonists, of whom was the regularly organized church, with the generous Boston outfit stowed beneath the ‘one deck’ of the new and seaworthy brig Vine. Think of their thirty-four-day voyage across the Atlantic, which a year and a century later was to be crossed by air line in thirty-four hours. You may find some similarities, and yet something more, in this story of a hundred years agone.

1 Samuel Train, in 1827, moved to Medford and here became a well-known citizen, living in the second house west from the First Parish or Unitarian church. See Register. Vol. II, p. 67; Vol. XVIII, p. 89.

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