John Leverett Merrill.

History of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms online

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Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 6 of 33)
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to do it, can, I think, only be explained by one fact. I come down to you
from a former century. Most of those now before me date their birth since
the year 1800, and I cannot do that. I was born before that period, and of
course belong to an earlier generation. And yet it seems to me there is a
rejuvenating influence about this gathering. Since coming here I feel young
again. The booming of your cannon at sun-rise this morning, every gun
of the one hundred fired for the one hundred years of the century, as its
^unds reverberated among these hills, seemed to have the same ring as
in my boyhood days, and brought back vividly, the scenes of the past.
Now, how is it, that I, born in the first generation of this century, should
now in the fourth generation have the same youthful feelings; for allowing,
as is usually done, thirty years to a generation, the century we celebrate to-
day has comprised three and one-third generations. Near the close of
the first thirty years I was born, and too young to know much of the
first generation of settlers by my own personal observation, yet the childhood
traditions, mingling with my early remembrances, give me such vivid re-
trospection of some events just then past, as to enable me to speak of
them with almost as much confidence as if they had occurred under my own

I remember well several of the first settlers, shadows though they might
have been of their former selves, yet even then venerable as the relics of the
men who penetrated these forests, hitherto the abode only of savage beasts —
men hardy, brave, determined, persistent, successful. Such men were Billy
Clark, William Keyes, John Rogers, Peter Ewens, Robert Davidson, Daniel
Grout, Joseph Chatterton, Dean Carleton, Henry Silsby, James McClure,
and the two John Wilson's (known as Big John and Little John). Others
equally or more prominent, and like these from seventy to eighty years old,
my memory does not now recall. But their sons and others, of similar hardy,
robust, resolute and fearless traits, who moved into town near the last of the
fii'st thirty years, and the beginning of the second generation, I recollect
with great vividness Among those in my own immediate portion of the
town, called the West-side, were Hugh and Samuel Finlay, Col. John Dun-


can, the Dickey brothers, (Capt. James, Adam and Benjamin,) and their
cousin Lieut. James Dickey, James Wallace, Capt. Joseph Gregg, John and
Jacob Hayward, the Lancaster brothers (Moses, Joshua and Ebenezer), the
Grout brothers, Mr. Stebbins, Hugh Henry, the Silsby brothers, the Slader
brothers, the McClure brothers, the Bailey's, Lemuel Lincoln, Daniel Nurse,
James Warner, Elisha Parks and Larned Thayer. A large number of
others who settled on the East side, of whom I, at this early period, had less
knowledge, also distinguished themselves at a later period of the town's his-
tory, and their memory equally claims our honorable regard today. But I
must confine my remarks to those early pioneers of these forests and their
immediate posterity and associates.

The points included in the resolution, you will perceive, are their courage,
jirmness and perseverance. If they approached these rugged hills, as it is
supposed they did, from the plains and meadows on the banks of the Con-
necticut River in Charlestown, it will be easily seen that these traits must
have been fully developed in their attempts to make farms among these
mountains. Think of the amount of hard labor required to turn these
heavily timbered acres into fruitful fields, to level the forest, to clear the
ground, to sow the grain, to erect houses and barns, to grade the roads,
to build the bridges and the mills, to fence the farms, to furnish the school
and meeting-houses, and at the same time feed and clothe their families.
Yet all this was done within the first generation of thirty years from the set-
tlement of the town, and it required firmness, courage and perseverance, for
many were- the dangers encountered, the obstacles met and surmounted, the
discouragements experienced and overcome ; but these men were equal to
any emergency. Let me refer to a few incidents in illustration of this re-
mark. It used to be related that when there was but one man in town and
when he in his lonely toil was accustomed for a whole week at a time to hear
no human voice, as he, one Saturday night, was just stooping down at his
favorite spring for a draught of cool water before commencing his evening's
walk to Charlestown to pass the Sabbath, where he attended church with his
friends, suddenly there broke forth a voice from the tree above him, like
to the human voice, uttering, "Who! Who! Who! Who!" He sprang
to his feet and instinctively replied, " Bill Keyes. Don't you know me?
Come down here and let us get better acquainted." This last remark was
accompanied by the discharge of his gun, and the speedy descent of the owl
at his feet. Here was courage and decision.

At a somewhat later period, when the settlers could count their neighbors,
but wild beasts had not yet all retreated before the march of civilization,
a man, being in the south-west part of the town, returning home alone at a
later hour in the evening than was safe, was confronted by a bear in his path
who, rising upon his hind legs, embraced the man with his fore paws, and
was just opening his mouth to devour his prey, when he suddenly recoiled
from the fatal plunge of the jack-knife, which entered his heart and drew his


life's blood, laying him dead at the feet of his antagonist, who hastened to
his home in the county without further molestation.

Another event : — On the very day I was born occurred the last great wolf
hunt in these regions, in which my father participated. The wolf had mo-
lested the sheep-folds on both sides of the river, and found the best mutton-
chops back on the hills ; consequently the western part of Acworth was
sadly annoyed. The wolf had become old in crime, and was too wary to be
caged or entrapped. A hunt was resolved upon by the people on both sides
of the river, which was at the time bridged over by ice. The day was
agreed upon — the signals were given — the horns were sounded — the ring
was formed — the march commenced. Her wolfship was this time encircled.
Not liking the administration of affairs in Vermont, where she was at the
time residing, she retired in disgust to New Hampshire ; but she soon found
that that too, was becoming an uncomfortable place of sojourn. She re-
turned again to her Green Mountain retreats, but found them now infested
'by dogs, guns and men. She again recrossed the river in hopes to find a den
of safety among the granite rocks of New Hampshire, but again she was sent
back by the thickening ranks which were now concentrating on the mead-
ows in Charlestown. Here the fierce, infuriated animal ran backward and
forwards, attempting to break the ring, but was repulsed at every point. At
length Col. Hunt, a Revolutionary officer, being mounted, rode forth and by
a well aimed fire brought the animal to the ground, to the great joy of every
weary hunter. The men of Acworth having dined to their satisfaction on
wolf steak returned to their homes in the midst of one of the severest snow
storms of the season. Here was a display oi firmness, courage, aiid persist-
ency, undisputed and successful.

These are traditionary incidents, yet I have myself known some pretty
tall things of some individuals of these early generations. I have seen them
ploughing above the clouds, as Gen. Joseph Hooker fought the rebels on
Lookout mountain. In a bright autumnal morning I have seen the teams
turning the furrow upon the hill side at an elevation much above the dense
fogs that lay upon the Connecticut River. I have seen them breaking the
roads through a snow drift that was twenty-two feet deep on the 2nd day of
April. I have heard in my boyhood days one of this generation boast that
he could eat his way through pumpkin pies from his house to Col. Duncan's,
a mile and a half. Another that he could raise a barrel of cider to his mouth
and drink from the bung. All these marvels would indicate a strong, hardy
race of men. But their strength and courage were not limited to muscidar
and digestive feats. Next to their labors and toils in getting their farms,
and erecting their houses, came the necessity of getting a wife. And this —
as every one knows who has tried it — requires courage on his part to begin
the negotiation, and firmness and perseverance to complete the contract, and
on lier part the same courage is required to yield assent to the proposals, and
firmness and perseverance to abide by her own decisions. And yet they did


it in every case where it was attempted and persisted in, and I never heard of
divorce in these generations. They stood fast to their integrity. They ad-
hered to the marriage union, and their houses were filled with the blessed
fruits thereof.

Having commenced their career on correct principles, they persevered in
sustaining them. The name selected by the proprietors of Acworth being a
contraction of the compound word Add-worth, became the motto of the set-
tlers. A worthy race originally, they went on adding to their worth in every
department — to their wealth, — to their estates if not to their harih deposits, —
to their intelligence, and the education of their children, who in the com-
mon schools, made very good scholars. If the letters, written by the youth
of these early days, could be collected and examined to-day, I think very
few words would be found misspelled, and few sentences of false grammar.
They would compare well with the compositions of the present day.

Acworth was early distinguished for raising up good school-teachers, and
the first generation sent a fair proportion of their sons to college, among
whom were Theophilus Wilson, Samuel Woodbury, and Jonathan Silsby,
brilliant lights while they shone, but alas ! destined too soon to be extin-
guished, being cut off in the very morning of their career.

By union of sentiment, they added to their strength. They tolerated no
loafers, and of course had no paupers, and no meddlers. They were a body
politic in themselves. They had no leaders. The people led. There was
no ring — none to form a clique and say, as did the seven tailors of London,
in their petition to Parliament, " We, the people of England.'''' There were
no three, five, or ten men, who without being authorized, dared to say, " We,
the people of Acworth.'''' It was one of the virtues of the fathers of the
town, that they put down all who aspired to lead. They would not even
allow a lawyer to put up his shingle here, and the first one who did so, was
ordered to leave town before the next Saturday night. This policy gave them
a strength and energy which could not be resisted. In every common enter-
prise all took hold of the work, and it was a common remark that whatever
Acworth undertook had to go. In all lawsuits in which the town was con-
cerned, they were successful. Other towns attempted to throw their paupers
on Acworth, but never succeeded. And this spirit of co-operation, I think,
continues among their descendants. I see it at this celebration — in the ad-
mirable arrangements for this festal day. The people combined, and there-
fore it has been a success, and surely no better policy can be pursued. They
added to their healthfulness and beauty. I know of no prevailing sickness
in town, till the spotted fever appeared in 1812-13. Free from dissipation,
regular, sober, and temperate in their habits, they ate well, and slept well,
retired early, and rose early, and seldom had to call in a physician. The doc.
torcould scarcely get a living among them. Their good health gave spright-
liness and beauty to their descendants. The pioneer females were a fine race
of women, who plied the distaff" and wrouglit at the loom, producing the


home-spun cloth with which they were chad, and the daughters they raised
up at the same occupation were celebrated for their beauty. The clear atmos-
phere of these hills, and the bracing climate, even in the hottest season of
the year, gave them a foir complexion and rosy cheeks, and tints of beauty
far surpassing what modern cosmetics can produce. Every woman you met
you pronounced the handsomest woman in town, and every family contained
daughters handsomer than their mothers. You will not wonder I thought so
when I tell you what a handsome thing they did for me while in college,
when their " Sewing-Circle " sent me fifty years ago, by their good pastor,
a handsome purse, well filled, to pay my college bills. As I look around
here to-day I see (dim as my vision is), that this same quality of beauty still
lingers in the grand-daughters that grace this assembly. May the same arti-
cle never be wanting here.

They added to their population. Their households increased, not always
by twins, — but not very far between. The schools were full. In every dis-
trict you would find an average of four or five to each family, an example
worthy of imitation in every generation.

They added to their religion. Always a sober. Sabbath-keeping, church-
going people, I remember the old meetinghouse, then the only place of
public worship in town, had seldom a vacant seat. And such a choir of
sino-ers, forty stalwart men on the bass, and other parts in proportion. The
old fugue tunes of that day made the arches of the old house ring again.
All were present at an early hour. The common was black with the gathering
throng. The minister. Rev. John Kimball, issuing from his boarding-house,
for he was a single man — would march up through the ranks, raising his
hat, and bowing on either side. When he entered the house it was the signal
for all to follow. In cold weather there being no means of warming the
house, the lesson was soon said ; the prayer, always the same, and so often
repeated that every boy knew it by heart, contained one peculiar phrase,
which in these recent times might not have seemed perfectly loyal, "Say to
the North give up and to the South keep not back.'' 1 could not then un-
derstand, and I am not confident that I do now understand, what that meant,
but I suppose it was not political preaching. The change of heart referred
to in the Gospel, I never heard preached by him. But under his successor
many added to their religion, and a large proportion of the adult population
were members of the church.

It was in these later days that the young men were inspired to form an
association called the " Moral Society," meeting once a month, for addresses
and discussions on moral and religious topics, and every Sabbath noon, to
hear religious reading by some one previously appointed. These meetings
exerted a most salutary influence upon the youth, and was the pioneer to an
extensive revival, bringing several of the young men into the church, and
some of them into the Christian ministry.

Thus T have, as I trust, established the points contained in the resolution.


7 n


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of courage, firmness and persistency in the character of the early settlers
and that these traits have descended in each generation to the present. In
these respects Acworth is Acworth still. Some have said here to-day, old-
Acworth, I say young Acworth for she is good for another century, and still
another, as long as her hills shall endure. Instead of the fathers shall be
the children, improved, refined, perfected, consummated in every noble trait
and virtue.

And as her sons shall revisit her in coming centuries, walk about her
walls, and survey her bulwarks, and tell her towers, they may look up and
say, as I am constrained to say, to-day, "Peace be within thy borders, and
plenty within thy dwellings," and the grace of that God, who watched over
the fathers, and was the Guardian of their children, rest also in each o-enera-
tion in the hearts of their children's children, even unto the remotest periods
of time.

The second sentiment was responded to by Rev. John Orcutt,
D. D., of New York City, as follows :

" Our Ancestral Mothers — The spinning-wheel was their piano-forte, the cradle their
melodeon, their sons and their daughters the best musical production extant."

Mr. President: — I am aware it is expected of men in my profession, when
called to address public assemblies, that they will stick to their text. Of
this I have no disposition to complain. As a general rule it is rio-ht and
proper. But inasmuch as the text announced for me on this rare and inter-
esting occasion is not one of my own choosing, nor the place one of my own
making, I feel that I must be allowed a little latitude in what I have to say.
The memories, so full of mingled joy and sadness, which are called up, as I
stand among my friends and fellow-townsmen, and which made me Ion* to
look once more upon the spot that gave me birth, are too numerous and press-
ing to be entirely ignored or suppressed.

On my way here I was led to reflect on the singular power there some-
times is in a ncmie. What but a name has caused this large gathering of
fathers and mothers, brothers and sisters, the old and the young, many of
whom have come from remote parts of the country? What, I ask, has
brought us together, but the name of Acworth ? And yet it is not merely
the name for there is an Acworth in Georgia, and Acworth is a family name
in England, but it has no attractions for us in either of these directions.
The magic power that influenced us, is the creature of circumstances. It
was Acworth, New Hampshire — the place of our nativity, the home of our
childhood that brought us thither. We are together by a common tie, and
a common interest, and ready, I trust, to rejoice in each other's prosperity,
and to do what we can to promote each other's welfare. And as I stand
again on these familiar hights, and the eye of the mind with the rapidity
of thought passes over the different localities of the town, noting '.' Coffin
Hill," and "Keyes Hollow," "Grout HiU," and "Clark's Hollow,"


"Gates' Hill," and "Park's Hollow," " Derry Hill," and the " Finlay
District," the scriptural inquiry is forced upon me, " Our fathers, where
are they?" Where are the active men of the town some of us knew so
well, forty or fifty years ago? I cannot refrain from naming a few of
those whose forms and features are as distinct in mind as if I had seen
them but yesterday. Next to my own beloved father, I would name the
Rev. Phinehas Cooke, for whom I ever felt the deepest reverence ; Dr.
Carleton, Dr. Parker, Nathaniel Grout, Daniel Robinson, Gawia Gilmore,
Ithiel Silsby, Edward Woodbury, Jacob Hayward, David Montgomery,
Capt. James Dickey, Col. Duncan, Hugh Finlay, Robert McClure, Samuel
McClure, Dea. Henry Silsby, Supply Reed, Dea. Edward Slader, William
Grout, Col. Grout, Nathaniel Merrill, Joseph Hemphill, Robert Clark,
George Clark, Isaac Campbell, John Currier, Capt. William Orcutt, Icha-
bod Orcutt, Samuel Clark, James Young, John Woodbury, Thomas Davis,
and many others that might be mentioned, equally worthy and no less es-
teemed. Where are they? All gone to their graves. "They rest from
their labors and their works do follow them." We love to think of their
character and worth, while we mourn their loss. Whatever may be said of
their imperfections, or faults, no town was ever settled by a more intelligent,
industrious, energetic, patriotic, virtuous class of men than they. Ours was
a paternal ancestry, of which we have no reason to be ashamed — rather one
of which we may well boast. But this is a digression.

Of our " Ancestral Mothers" I was to speak. Would that I had time
and ability to do justice to them. As much as may be said in praise of our
paternal ancestors, less should not be said in favor of our maternal ancestry,
for it must be admitted that without our fore-mothers, our fore-fathers would
not have been of much use to us !

Some one said to the first Napoleon, "what France needs is mothers."
There was much force in the remark. As in a finished painting, it is the
back-ground which gives character and effect to the picture, so in social life —
in the family kingdom, though the fathers are most conspicuous, being seen
in the fore-ground of the picture, as the bolder strokes of the pencil, the
forming, dissecting, controlling power, which gives character to the individ-
ual, and to the state, is behind the throne, in the quiet sanctuary of home.
It is in the mother.

Our ancestral mothers are before us on this occasion, as musicians. "The
spinning-wheel was their piano-forte." The spinning wheel is among the
bbjeets of my earliest recollections. I remember well what was called the
great-wheel, and the little-wheel, and the music they produced. I can boast
of a mother who was a most skillful performer on that instrument — espe-
cially the little-wheel. She could play to the tune of ten knots an hour of
the finest linen thread, for which she repeatedly obtained a premium. My
sisters, too, were good players on the spinning-wheel. So were mothers and
sisters, generally, for it was a useful and necessary employment. It de-


volved on them to manufacture clothing for the family, and they did their
work well. There was little of the " shoddy " in their productions. It was
useful in a two fold sense. It not only furnished the requisite raiment, but
it tended to health. In those days modern gymnastics were entirely un-
necessary. Every house was a gymnasium, in which the spinning-wheel, the
loom, the hatchel, the kneading-trough, and the wash-tub, afforded abundant
facilities for all needful gymnastic exercises. Practising on these instruments
made women of nerve and vigor, and great physical endurance.

But another instrument of music in those days is to be noticed. "The
cradle was their melodeon." Whatever may be said of the quality of the
music from this source, it cannot be doubted the melodies produced were va-
rious and plentiful. As evidence of this I will cite a few cases.

Mrs. James Miller, who with her husband settled in the south part of the
town, was the mother of sixteen children, thirteen of whom grew to be men
and women, and she lived to the age of ninety-two years.

Mrs. Samuel King, who resided in the same school district, was the mother
of fourteen children, all of whom lived to an adult age.
. Mrs. Col. Duncan who was a model step-mother to eight children of her
husband by a former wife, had eleven children of her own, and is still with us
in good health at the advanced age of ninety-four years, being the oldest
person in town. From these cases, it appears that the melodies of the cradle
were not few or far between.

But I will not omit to state one other case of interest. Mrs. Lieut. John
Rodgers, one of the first settlers of Acworth, and maternal ancestor of many
present, was called to dress a deceased neighbor in the habiliments of the
grave. This kind office was hardly completed when she was summoned
by another neighbor to assume the duties of a midwife. This office she also
performed, thus clothing one of her neighbors for the grave, and another for
life, on the same night. The infant born that night is Capt. James Wallace
who is still among us, hale and hearty, at the age of eighty-two years.

Such were the characters of our ancient mothers ; and the fact should not
be overlooked, or forgotten, that with all their other good qualities, they were
scrupulously religious. They respected the Sabbath, " not forsaking the as-
sembling of themselves together" on that holy day for sincere and devout
worship. Though sometimes obliged to either walk a long distance or ride
on horseback behind their husbands with one, two or more children in their
arms, they made it a matter of duty to go to meeting, and this may be re-
garded as the crowning excellence of their character and worth.

It is no small pleasure and honor to look upon the vast concourse of peo-
ple assembled on this occasion, and feel that you are one of them, as the de-
scendants of such an ancestry, and who will hesitate to pronounce it " the best
musical production extant."

Let us not forget, my fellow-townsmen, how much we owe to our maternal
training. Let us ever be thankful that we were raised on those delightful


hills, in this pure air, and under the tuition and watchful care of Christian

Online LibraryJohn Leverett MerrillHistory of Acworth, with the proceedings of the centennial anniversary, genealogical records, and register of farms → online text (page 6 of 33)