REVOLUTIONARY HEROES, AND OTHER HISTORICAL PAPERS
HISTORICAL CLASSIC READINGS - No 10.
"LIFE OF HORACE GREELEY," "LIFE OF ANDREW JACKSON," "LIFE AND
TIMES OF BENJAMIN FRANKLIN," ETC.
GEN. JOSEPH WARREN SIGNING THE DECLARATION OF
CAPT. NATHAN HALE INDEPENDENCE.
GEN. WASHINGTON'S SPIES. ROBERT MORRIS.
VALLEY FORGE. JOHN JAY.
JOHN ADAMS. FISHER AMES.
James Parton was born in Canterbury, England, February 9, 1822. When
five years old he was brought to America and given an education in the
schools of New York City, and at White Plains, N. Y. Subsequently he
engaged in teaching in Philadelphia and New York City, and for three
years was a contributor to the _Home Journal_. Since that time, he
has devoted his life to literary labors, contributing many articles to
periodicals and publishing books on biographical subjects. While
employed on the _Home Journal_ it occurred to him that an
interesting story could be made out of the life of Horace Greeley, and
he mentioned the idea to a New York publisher. Receiving the needed
encouragement, Mr. Parton set about collecting material from Greeley's
former neighbors in Vermont and New Hampshire, and in 1855 produced the
"Life of Horace Greeley," which he afterwards extended and completed in
1885. This venture was so profitable that he was encouraged to devote
himself to authorship. In 1856 he brought out a collection of Humorous
Poetry of the English Language from Chaucer to Saxe. Following this
appeared in 1857 the "Life of Aaron Burr," prepared from original
sources and intended to redeem Burr's reputation from the charges that
attached to his memory. In writing the "Life of Andrew Jackson" he also
had access to original and unpublished documents. This work was
published in three volumes in 1859-60. Other works of later publication
are: "General Butler in New Orleans" (1863 and 1882); "Life and Times of
Benjamin Franklin" (1864); "How New York is Governed" (1866); "Famous
Americans of Recent Times," containing Sketches of Henry Clay, Daniel
Webster, John C. Calhoun, John Randolph, and others (1867); "The
People's Book of Biography," containing eighty short lives (1868);
"Smoking and Drinking," an essay on the evils of those practices,
reprinted from the _Atlantic Monthly_ (1869); a pamphlet entitled
"The Danish Islands: Are We Bound to Pay for Them?" (1869); "Topics of
the Time," a collection of magazine articles, most of them treating of
administrative abuses at Washington (1871); "Triumphs of Enterprise,
Ingenuity, and Public Spirit" (1871); "The Words of Washington" (1872);
"Fanny Fern," a memorial volume (1873); "Life of Thomas Jefferson, Third
President of the United States" (1874); "Taxation of Church Property"
(1874); "La Parnasse Francais: a Book of French Poetry from A.D. 1850 to
the Present Time" (1877); "Caricature and other Comic Art in All Times
and Many Lands" (1877); "A Life of Voltaire," which was the fruit of
several years' labor (1881); "Noted Women of Europe and America" (1883);
and "Captains of Industry, or Men of Business who did something besides
Making Money: a Book for Young Americans." In addition to his writing
Mr. Parton has proved a very successful lecturer on literary and
In January, 1856, Mr. Parton married Sara Payson Willis, a sister of the
poet N. P. Willis, and herself famous as "Fanny Fern," the name of her
pen. He made New York City his home until 1875, three years after the
death of his wife, when he went to Newburyport, where he now lives.
_The London Athenaeum_ well characterizes Mr. Parton as "a
painstaking, honest, and courageous historian, ardent with patriotism,
but unprejudiced; a writer, in short, of whom the people of the United
States have reason to be proud."
The contents of this book have been selected from among the great number
contributed from time to time by Mr. Parton, and are considered as
particularly valuable and interesting reading.
GENERAL JOSEPH WARREN.
A fiery, vehement, daring spirit was this Joseph Warren, who was a doctor
thirteen years, a major-general three days, and a soldier three hours.
In that part of Boston which is called Roxbury, there is a modern house
of stone, on the front of which a passer-by may read the following
"On this spot stood the house erected in 1720 by Joseph Warren, of
Boston, remarkable for being the birthplace of General Joseph Warren,
his grandson, who was killed at the battle of Bunker Hill, June 17,
There is another inscription on the house which reads thus:
"John Warren, a distinguished Physician and Anatomist, was also born
here. The original mansion being in ruins, this house was built by John
C. Warren, M.D., in 1846, son of the last-named, as a permanent memorial
of the spot."
I am afraid the builder of this new house _poetized_ a little when
he styled the original edifice a mansion. It was a plain, roomy,
substantial farm-house, about the centre of the little village of
Roxbury, and the father of Warren who occupied it was an industrious,
enterprising, intelligent farmer, who raised superior fruits and
vegetables for the Boston market. Warren's father was a beginner in that
delightful industry, and one of the apples which he introduced into the
neighborhood retains to this day the name which it bore in his lifetime,
the Warren Russet.
A tragic event occurred at this farm-house in 1775, when Warren was a
boy of fourteen. It was on an October day, in the midst of the apple-
gathering season, about the time when the Warren Russet had attained all
the maturity it can upon its native tree. Farmer Warren was out in his
orchard. His wife, a woman worthy of being the mother of such a son as
she had, was indoors getting dinner ready for her husband, her four
boys, and the two laborers upon the farm. About noon she sent her
youngest son, John, mentioned in the above inscription, to call his
father to dinner. On the way to the orchard the lad met the two laborers
carrying towards the house his father's dead body. While standing upon a
ladder gathering apples from a high tree, Mr. Warren had fallen to the
ground and broken his neck. He died almost instantly.
The _Boston Newsletter_ of the following week bestowed a few lines
upon the occurrence; speaking of him as a man of good understanding,
industrious, honest and faithful; "a useful member of society, who was
generally respected among us, and whose death is universally lamented."
Fortunate is the family which in such circumstances has a mother wise
and strong. She carried on the farm with the assistance of one of her
sons so successfully that she was able to continue the education of her
children, all of whom except the farmer obtained respectable rank in one
of the liberal professions. This excellent mother lived in widowhood
nearly fifty years, saw Thomas Jefferson President of the United States,
and died 1803, aged ninety-three years, in the old house at home. Until
she was past eighty she made with her own hands the pies for
Thanksgiving-day, when all her children and grandchildren used to
assemble at the spacious old Roxbury house.
It was in the very year of his father's death, 1755, that Joseph Warren
entered Harvard College, a vigorous, handsome lad of fourteen, noted
even then for his spirit, courage and resolution. Several of his class
one day, in the course of a frolic, in order to exclude him from the
fun, barred the door so that he could not force it. Determined to join
them, he went to the roof of the house, slid down by the spout, and
sprang through the open window into the room. At that moment the spout
fell to the ground.
"It has served my purpose," said the youth coolly.
The records of the college show that he held respectable rank as a
student; and as soon as he had graduated, he received an appointment
which proves that he was held in high estimation in his native village.
We find him at nineteen master of the Roxbury Grammar School, at a
salary of forty-four pounds and sixteen shillings per annum, payable to
his mother. A receipt for part of this amount, signed by his mother and
in her handwriting, is now among the archives of that ancient and famous
institution. He taught one year, at the end of which he entered the
office of a Boston physician, under whom he pursued the usual medical
studies and was admitted to practice.
The young doctor, tall, handsome, alert, graceful, full of energy and
fire, was formed to succeed in such a community as that of Boston. His
friends, when he was twenty-three years of age, had the pleasure of
reading in the Boston newspaper the following notice:
"Last Thursday evening was married Dr. Joseph Warren, one of the
physicians of this town, to Miss Elizabeth Hooton, only daughter of the
late Mr. Richard Hooton, merchant, deceased, an accomplished young lady
with a handsome fortune."
Thus launched in life and gifted as he was, it is not surprising that he
should soon have attained a considerable practice. But for one
circumstance he would have advanced in his profession even more rapidly
than he did. When he had been but a few months married, the Stamp Act
was passed, which began the long series of agitating events that ended
in severing the colonies from the mother country. The wealthy society of
Boston, from the earliest period down to the present hour, has always
been on what is called the conservative side in politics; and it was
eminently so during the troubles preceding the revolutionary war. The
whole story is told in a remark made by a Boston Tory doctor in those
"If Warren were not a Whig," said he, "he might soon be independent and
ride in his chariot."
There were, however, in Boston Whig families enough to give him plenty
of business, and he was for many years their favorite physician. He
attended the family of John Adams, and saved John Quincy, his son, from
losing one of his fore-fingers when it was very badly fractured. Samuel
Adams, who was the prime mover of the Opposition, old enough to be his
father, inspired and consulted him. Gradually, as the quarrel grew
warmer, Dr. Warren was drawn into the councils of the leading Whigs, and
became at last almost wholly a public man. Without being rash or
imprudent, he was one of the first to be ready to meet force with force,
and he was always in favor of the measures which were boldest and most
decisive. At his house Colonel Putnam was a guest on an interesting
occasion, when he was only known for his exploits in the French war.
"The old hero, Putnam," says a Boston letter of 1774, "arrived in town
on Monday, bringing with him one hundred and thirty sheep from the
little parish of Brooklyn."
It was at Dr. Warren's house that the "old hero" staid, and thither
flocked crowds of people to see him, and talk over the thrilling events
of the time. The sheep which he brought with him were to feed the people
of Boston, whose business was suspended by the closing of the port.
The presence of the British troops in Boston roused all Warren's
indignation. Overhearing one day some British officers saying that the
Americans would not fight, he said to a friend:
"These fellows say we will not fight. By heavens, I hope I shall die up
to my knees in their blood!"
Soon after, as he was passing the public gallows on the Neck, he
overheard one of a group of officers say in an insulting tone:
"Go on, Warren; you will soon come to the gallows."
The young doctor turned, walked up to the officers, and said to them
"Which of you uttered those words."
They passed on without giving any reply. He had not long to wait for a
proof that his countrymen would fight. April nineteenth, 1775, word was
brought to him by a special messenger of the events which had occurred
on the village green at Lexington. He called to his assistant, told him
to take care of his patients, mounted his horse, and rode toward the
scene of action.
"Keep up a brave heart!" he cried to a friend in passing. "They have
begun it. _That_ either party can do. And we will end it.
_That_ only one can do."
Riding fast, he was soon in the thick of the melee, and kept so close to
the point of contact that a British musket ball struck a pin out of his
hair close to one of his ears. Wherever the danger was greatest there
was Warren, now a soldier joining in the fight, now a surgeon binding up
wounds, now a citizen cheering on his fellows. From this day he made up
his mind to perform his part in the coming contest as a soldier, not as
a physician, nor in any civil capacity; and accordingly on the
fourteenth of June, 1775, the Massachusetts legislature elected him
"second Major General of the Massachusetts army." Before he had received
his commission occurred the battle of Bunker Hill, June seventeenth. He
passed the night previous in public service, for he was President of the
Provincial Congress, but, on the seventeenth, when the congress met at
Watertown, the president did not appear. Members knew where he was, for
he had told his friends that he meant to take part in the impending
It was a burning hot summer's day. After his night of labor, Warren
threw himself on his bed, sick from a nervous headache. The booming of
the guns summoned him forth, and shortly before the first assault he was
on the field ready to serve.
"I am here," he said to General Putnam, "only as a volunteer. Tell me
where I can be most useful."
And to Colonel Prescott he said:
"I shall take no command here. I come as a volunteer, with my musket to
serve under you."
And there he fought during the three onsets, cheering the men by his
coolness and confidence. He was one of the the very last to leave the
redoubt. When he had retreated about sixty yards he was recognized by a
British officer, who snatched a musket from a soldier and shot him. The
bullet entered the back of his head. Warren placed his hands, as if
mechanically, to the wound, and fell dead upon the hot and dusty field.
The enemy buried him where he fell. Nine months after, when the British
finally retreated from New England, his body, recognized by two false
teeth, was disinterred and honorably buried. He left four children, of
whom the eldest was a girl six years of age. Congress adopted the eldest
son. Among those who contributed most liberally toward the education and
support of the other children was Benedict Arnold, who gave five hundred
dollars. A little psalm book found by a British soldier in Warren's
pocket on the field is still in possession of one of his descendants.
CAPTAIN NATHAN HALE, THE MARTYR-SPY.
General Washington wanted a man. It was in September, 1776, at the City
of New York, a few days after the battle of Long Island. The swift and
deep East River flowed between the two hostile armies, and General
Washington had as yet no system established for getting information of
the enemy's movements and intentions. He never needed such information
so much as at that crisis.
What would General Howe do next? If he crossed at Hell Gate, the
American army, too small in numbers, and defeated the week before, might
be caught on Manhattan Island as in a trap, and the issue of the contest
might be made to depend upon a single battle; for in such circumstances
defeat would involve the capture of the whole army. And yet General
Washington was compelled to confess:
"We cannot learn, nor have we been able to procure the least information
Therefore he wanted a man. He wanted an intelligent man, cool-headed,
skillful, brave, to cross the East River to Long Island, enter the
enemy's camp, and get information as to his strength and intentions. He
went to Colonel Knowlton, commanding a remarkably efficient regiment
from Connecticut, and requested him to ascertain if this man, so sorely
needed, could be found in his command. Colonel Knowlton called his
officers together, stated the wishes of General Washington, and, without
urging the enterprise upon any individual, left the matter to their
Captain Nathan Hale, a brilliant youth of twenty-one, recently graduated
from Yale College, was one of those who reflected upon the subject. He
soon reached a conclusion. He was of the very flower of the young men of
New England, and one of the best of the younger soldiers of the patriot
army. He had been educated for the ministry, and his motive in adopting
for a time the profession of arms was purely patriotic. This we know
from the familiar records of his life at the time when the call to arms
was first heard.
In addition to his other gifts and graces, he was handsome, vigorous,
and athletic, all in an extraordinary degree. If he had lived in our day
he might have pulled the stroke-oar at New London, or pitched for the
The officers were conversing in a group. No one had as yet spoken the
decisive word. Colonel Knowlton appealed to a French sergeant, an old
soldier of former wars, and asked him to volunteer.
"No, no," said he. "I am ready to fight the British at any place and
time, but I do not feel willing to go among them to be hung up like a
Captain Hale joined the group of officers. He said to Colonel Knowlton:
"I will undertake it."
Some of his best friends remonstrated. One of them, afterwards the
famous general William Hull, then a captain in Washington's army, has
recorded Hale's reply to his own attempt to dissuade him.
"I think," said Hale, "I owe to my country the accomplishment of an
object so important. I am fully sensible of the consequences of
discovery and capture in such a situation. But for a year I have been
attached to the army, and have not rendered any material service, while
receiving a compensation for which I make no return. I wish to be
useful, and every kind of service necessary for the public good becomes
honorable by being necessary."
He spoke, as General Hull remembered, with earnestness and decision, as
one who had considered the matter well, and had made up his mind.
Having received his instructions, he traveled fifty miles along the
Sound as far as Norwalk in Connecticut. One who saw him there made a
very wise remark upon him, to the effect that he was "too good-looking"
to go as a spy. He could not deceive. "Some scrubby fellow ought to have
gone." At Norwalk he assumed the disguise of a Dutch schoolmaster,
putting on a suit of plain brown clothes, and a round, broad-brimmed
hat. He had no difficulty in crossing the Sound, since he bore an order
from General Washington which placed at his disposal all the vessels
belonging to Congress. For several days everything appears to have gone
well with him, and there is reason to believe that he passed through the
entire British army without detection or even exciting suspicion.
Finding the British had crossed to New York, he followed them. He made
his way back to Long Island, and nearly reached the point opposite
Norwalk where he had originally landed. Rendered perhaps too bold by
success, he went into a well-known and popular tavern, entered into
conversation with the guests, and made himself very agreeable. The
tradition is that he made himself too agreeable. A man present
suspecting or knowing that he was not the character he had assumed,
quietly left the room, communicated his suspicions to the captain of a
British ship anchored near, who dispatched a boat's crew to capture and
bring on board the agreeable stranger. His true character was
immediately revealed. Drawings of some of the British works, with notes
in Latin, were found hidden in the soles of his shoes. Nor did he
attempt to deceive his captors, and the English captain, lamenting, as
he said, that "so fine a fellow had fallen into his power," sent him to
New York in one of his boats, and with him the fatal proofs that he was
September twenty-first was the day on which he reached New York - the day
of the great fire which laid one-third of the little city in ashes. From
the time of his departure from General Washington's camp to that of his
return to New York was about fourteen days. He was taken to General
Howe's headquarters at the Beekman mansion, on the East River, near the
corner of the present Fifty-first Street and First Avenue. It is a
strange coincidence that this house to which he was brought to be tried
as a spy was the very one from which Major Andre departed when he went
to West Point. Tradition says that Captain Hale was examined in a
greenhouse which then stood in the garden of the Beekman mansion.
Short was his trial, for he avowed at once his true character. The
British general signed an order to his provost-marshal directing him to
receive into his custody the prisoner convicted as a spy, and to see him
hanged by the neck "to-morrow morning at daybreak."
Terrible things are reported of the manner in which this noble prisoner,
this admirable gentleman and hero, was treated by his jailer and
executioner. There are savages in every large army, and it is possible
that this provost-marshal was one of them. It is said that he refused
him writing-materials, and afterwards, when Captain Hale had been
furnished them by others, destroyed before his face his last letters to
his mother and to the young lady to whom he was engaged to be married.
As those letters were never received this statement may be true. The
other alleged horrors of the execution it is safe to disregard, because
we know that it was conducted in the usual form and in the presence of
many spectators and a considerable body of troops. One fact shines out
from the distracting confusion of that morning, which will be cherished
to the latest posterity as a precious ingot of the moral treasure of the
American people. When asked if he had anything to say, Captain Hale
"I only regret that I have but one life to lose for my country."
The scene of his execution was probably an old graveyard in Chambers
Street, which was then called Barrack Street. General Howe formally
notified General Washington of his execution. In recent years, through
the industry of investigators, the pathos and sublimity of these events
have been in part revealed.
In 1887 a bronze statue of the young hero was unveiled in the State
House at Hartford. Mr. Charles Dudley Warner delivered a beautiful
address suitable to the occasion, and Governor Lounsberry worthily
accepted the statue on behalf of the State. It is greatly to be
regretted that our knowledge of this noble martyr is so slight; but we
know enough to be sure that he merits the veneration of his countrymen.
GENERAL WASHINGTON'S OTHER SPIES.
The reader would scarcely expect at this late day to get new light upon
the military character of General Washington. But, in truth, scarcely a
month passes in which some of our busy historical students do not add to
our knowledge of him. Recently Mr. H.P. Johnston published in the
_Magazine of American History_ some curious documents, hitherto
unknown, exhibiting Washington's methods of procuring intelligence of
the movements of the British army.
Like a true general, he knew from the first all the importance of
correct and prompt information. How necessary this is, is known to every
one who remembers vividly the late war, particularly the first few
months of it, before there was any good system of employing spies. Some
terrible disasters could have been avoided if our generals had obtained
better information of the opposing army's position, temper, and
An attentive study of the dispatches of Napoleon Bonaparte will show the
importance which he attached to intelligence of this kind. He kept near
him at headquarters an officer of rank who had nothing to do but to
procure, record, and arrange all the military news which could be
gleaned from newspapers, correspondents, and spies. The name of every
regiment, detachment, and corps in the enemy's service was written upon
a card. For the reception of these cards he had a case made with
compartments and pigeon-holes. Every time a movement was reported the
cards were shifted to correspond, so that he could know at a glance,
when the cards were spread out upon a table, just how the troops of the
enemy were distributed or massed. Every few days, the officer in charge
had to send the emperor a list of the changes which had taken place.