D. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) Hurd.

History of Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Volume 2) online

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great marshes, on either sido the same, which lunds so bounden
are given and ooulirmed to the said Edward Wiuslow, his heirs
and assigns, forever."

These two estates, including about two thousand
seven hundred acres, had at the time of Mr. Web-
ster's visit maiuly passed out of the Thomas and
Wiuslow families (except the acres held by Capt.
John Thomas, a lineal descendant from the ancestor
William Thomas), and to the farm-house standing on
these acres, on a fine summer's day, Mr. Webster
weuded his way. Capt. Thomas had never seen Mr.
Webster, but he had read his speeches and orations,
and, like every other New Englander even at that early
day, had set him up as one of his idols. After leav-
ing Duxbury Mr. Webster took the wrong road, and
instead of approaching the farm by the direct route
from the south, he made a detour, and fortunately
approached it from the north. From the various
points of view on this northerly road the farm, with
its sunny meadows and placid lake and comfortable
dwelling, nestling as if for protection under the
spreading branches of the since famous elm, showed
to the best advantage, and Mrs. Webster, with a
woman's eye for beauty, was enthusiastic in her ad-
miration of its attractive charms. As the chaise,
with its hanging trunk, followed by the pony, with
Fletcher on his back, was driven down the avenue,
Capt. Thomas, with his son, Charles Henry (now living
in Boston), was sitting on the piazza. The hospitable
farmer stepped out to greet his guest, whoever he
might be, as he alighted from his chaise, and it is
not difficult to imagine the feelings with which this
modest, hard-working, home-loving Marshfield man
received the outstretched hand of his visitor. " This
is Capt. Thomas?" said Mr. Webster. " Yes," said the



farmer. " I am Mr. Webster," coutiuued the visitor.
" I thought so," said the captain, and this was the intro-
duction to a friendship which coutinued to strengthen
until broken by death, and which was as full of devo-
tion and reverence and love as ever a friendship be-
tween man and man could boast. It is no feeble
answer to the cavils of the critic, — to the censures
of exploring biographers, who scratch and scrape the
burnished gold in search of a baser metal beneath, —
to the unjust aud unjudicial strictures on the character
of Mr. Webster, that he inspired the affection and
esteem of an honest, clear-headed, intelligent, pure-
minded man like Capt. Thomas, who for years had
measured and weighed and sounded the man, the very
fibres of whose heart he had touched, and whose inner-
most life had been spread out daily before him.

The result of the interview was an invitation to
stay over the night, and for two or three days Mr.
Webster and his wife aud son remained as welcome
guests at the farm. During those two or three days
he became acquainted with Seth Peterson and Porter
Wright, the two men who were afterwards his right
and left hand in his Marshfield life. He shot birds
on the marshes, he fished for cod in the bay, — he was
satisfied that at last he had found the right place lor
his vacation, recreation, and rest. From that time
forth until he finally bought the estate the recurrence
of dog-days found him annually a guest at the Marsh-
field farm. The interest which he felt in Capt.
Thomas and his wife extended to his sons, Charles
Henry aud Nathaniel Ray. Charles was the elder
son and his father's helpmate on the farm. Nathan-
iel Ray, or Ray, as he was always called, was the
younger, and still attending school under the care of
Rev. George Putnam, then a teacher of one of the
schools in Duxbury. The attractive deportment of
Ray, whose future course of life was as yet not
marked out, especially interested him, and it was not
long before he drew him to himself and directed his
career. When Mr. Webster was about to start for
Boston, at the close of his visit, Ray happened to be
holding by the halter a handsome horse belongiug to
his father, which attracted Mr. Webster's attention.
•' Capt. Thomas," said he, " I like that halter ; I would
like to buy it." The request was no sooner made
than acceded to, and the boy was told to take the
halter off and place it in the chaise. " Ah, but I want
the halter with the head in it I" said Mr. Webster.
And thus the horse was bought, and the purchaser
started for Boston with it tied behind the chaise, form-
ing, with Fletcher and the pony in the rear, a proces-
sion which the statesmen of to-day would hesitate to
exhibit on the highway aud in the streets of the city.



HISTORY OP PLYMOUTH COUNTY.



At a subsequent visit, on hia return, he said to Ray,
'' Get into the chaise with use and go to Boston." The
father was willing, and the son went with a glad heart,
goiug to Mr. Webster's house on Summer Street, aud
remaining there during his stay in Boston. Ou the
uext day he was told to take Mr. Webster's law-
satehel and accompany him to the Supreme Court,
where he was to argue an important flowage case, in
which parties in Lowell were the plaintiffs and defend-
ants. For the first time in a great city, this country
lad was launched at once from the quiet shades of a
country farm, not to the novel sights and sounds of
the streets of Boston, as many a country boy has been
before and since, but into the great arena of life in
which the foremost men of the day, Mason and Web-
ster, were the contestants. Through the live-long
day this boy of sixteen, with brown hands and tanned
face, sat within the bar, listening and wondering if
this was the world outside of which he had been
born, and for the duties of which the schools whose
irksome requirements he had been compelled to meet
were the means of preparation. From ihis time Ray
Thomas was practically the ward of Mr. Webster,
and Mr. Webster was his guardian. He was placed
at first in the store of Trott & Bumstead, wholesale
grocers on South Market Street, and, after the Stephen
White murder trial in Salem, in which Mr. Webster
acted as assistant counsel for the State, in the count-
ing-room of Stephen White, the nephew of the mur-
dered man, aud the father of the lady who afterwards
became the wife of Mr. Fletcher Webster. But he
remained in neither of these places long. Mr. Web-
ster wanted him nearer to himself, and in the end he
became his confidential secretary, the mauager of his
Western lands, aud his other self in everything out-
side of his professional duties aud his business trans-
actions at Marshfield, which were mainly conducted
under the faithful and assiduous care of Mr. Charles
Henry Thomas, the older son.

The early death of Ray Thomas was a sad afflic-
tion to Mr. Webster, and one from which he did not
easily rally. Though his business manager left be-
hind him a trunk filled with important papers, an
early examination of which was esseutial to the suc-
cessful issue of enterprises in which Mr. Webster
was engaged, it was six mouths before he could so
fur discipline himself to a forgotfuhjess of his friend,
among associations which could not fail to recall his
sorrow as to examine the contents of the trunk. This
was one of the illustrations of that carelessuess in
money affairs of which the thrifty critic complains.
But it illustrated something more, something as much
higher than book-keeping aud thrift as a tender, gen-



erous heart is nobler than one whose grief by the
bedside of a dying parent can be assuaged by the
thought of a coming legacy.

After the annual visits of Mr. Webster to Marsh-
field for several years, Capt. Thomas became some-
what embarrassed pecuniarily, and a proposition was
made to him to buy the farm. He objected at first
on the ground of poverty, but at last consented to
buy with the express understanding, suggested and
demanded by himself, that Capt. Thomas aud his wife
should live in the house and occupy the farm, and as
long as they lived treat both as their own. That higher
regard for money, which would have commended him
to the meaner natures of his modern critics, or in
other words a sordid spirit and a harder heart, would
have driven a closer bargain thau this. He never
believed, however, that man, more especially such a
man as he knew himself to be, with transcendent and
ever outreaching powers, was made to count gold aud
cut coupons and accumulate money. Judged by such
a standard the Indian with his wigwam filled with
wampum was deserving of as much respect and honor
as the millionaire with his trunks packed with what
we only in a higher state of barbarism are pleased to
call wealth. Money to him was the means not the
end of life The goal to be reached was the highest
development of man's powers, the richest and rankest
growth of the affections, the supremacy of man over
the accidental and incidental circumstances which
attach themselves to his worldly and bodily existence
and comfort. This was the spirit which animated
Mr. Webster in the arrangement made with Capt.
Thomas, aud during five or six years the captain and
his wife remained occupants of their old homestead,
aud after that the widow divided her time between
the Marshfield farm and the residence of her son
Charles, in Duxbury. At this residence also Mr.
Webster would occasionally stay during short visits
to the Old Colony, while his own house was undergoing
repairs. The site of the house of Mr. Thomas was
fixed by Mr. Webster himself at the request of its
owner. It is situated on a commanding eminence in
the northerly part of the town, overlooking Plymouth
Bay, the Gurnet Light, Barnstable Buy, aud the
north shore as far as Miuot's Ledge. The view from
the chamber which he frequently occupied, lie said,
was the most beautiful he had ever seen, aud there
at half-past three ou a summer's morning he might
have been seen sitting in an arm-chair by the window
waiting for what he considered the most impressive
spectacle in life, the break of day. He wondered
that so many persons in the world should neglect the
opportunity of witnessing the daily but sublime event.



THE COURTS AND BAR.



33



Wheu he went to Duxbury at the request of Mr.
Thomas to fix upon the precise location of the house,
he alighted from his chaise and with stake in hand
slowly backing up the hill, he at last drove the stake
and said, " Let it be planted here." It was planted
there, and if any reader of this reminiscence feels an
interest in recalling the incident, and filling his eye
with the scene of which Mr. Webster was an enthusi-
astic admirer, the present hospitable owner and occu-
pant of the house, Hon. Stephen N. Gifford, the re-
spected clerk of the Massachusetts Senate, will doubt-
less be glad of affording him an opportunity.

The earliest recorded deed of Marsh field land to
Mr. Webster was from Peleg Thomas Ford, of thirty-
seven acres, for a consideration of $825, and dated
Sept. 7, 1831, though the agreement for the purchase
of the John Thomas farm was made before that date.
The deed of the latter was for one hundred and sixty
and one-half acres, for a consideration of $3650, and
dated April 23, 1832. This deed included the house
and outbuildings, and tillage, pasturing, mowing, and
woodlaod, and fresh and salt meadows on both sides
of the main road. This deed was followed by others
from Charles Henry Thomas of two and three-quarters
acres and five rods, for $130, July 6, 1832 ; from
Charles Henry Thomas, of one hundred and sixteen
and one-quarter acres and thirty rods, for $2200,
April 16, 1833 ; from Benjamin Lewis, of four and
three-quarters acres and twenty rods, for $60 40, Dec.
30, 1S33; from Ebeuezer Taylor, for one acre and
nine rods, for $42.25, March 3, 1834; from Charles
P. Wright, of two acres and thirty-four rods, for
$1 10.62, of the same date ; from Asa Hewitt, of seven
acres and twenty-one rods, for $300, May 17, 1834;
from Henry Soule, of eighty-five and one-half acres,
for $500, Oct. 20, 1834 ; from Charles H. Thomas, of
three hundred and seventy-three acres bought of Seth
Sprague, for $10,000, Aug. 16, 1836; from Eliza-
beth Whitman, of eleven acres, for $319, of same
date ; from Charles P. Wright, two deeds of twelve
and a quarter acres, for $652.31, Aug. 20 and 22,
1836; from Asa Hewitt, of eighty six rods, for
$80.62, Aug. 22, 1836 ; from Charles Henry Thomas,
of eight and three-quarters acres, for $300, Dec. 26,
1838 ; from Eleazer Harlow, of seventy acres, for
$1800, Nov. 1, 1838; from Charles Henry Thomas,
of eighty-seven acres, for $4000, March 19, 1840 ;
from Eleazer Harlow, of seventy-two acres, for $2600,
April 1, 1840; from Charles Baker, of seventeen
acres and seventy-six rods, for $350, July 8, 1844;
from Ebenezer Taylor, of twenty-seven and three-
quarters acres and thirty-two rods, for $1084, of same
date; from Elizabeth Whitman, of one acre, for $40,
3



Sept. 2, 1845; from Gershom B. Weston, of sixty-
four acres and fifty-three rods, for $1600, April 9,
1851 ; from the Duxbury Manufacturing Company,
of factory, privilege, dam, and land on South River,
Marshfield, for $3000, April 12, 1851 ; from Joseph
P. Cushman, of fifty-two and a quarter acres, for
$1000, Sept. 30, 1852.

All these purchases covered about twelve hundred
acres, costing the sum of $34,644.20 as the origiual
outlay. The receipts from the farm were considerable,
and, besides the ordinary cultivated crops, the tonnage
of hay had been, under skillful management, brought
up from forty to three hundred. It is estimated by
those who had the best opportunity of knowing that
above the receipts the annual expenditure of money
for at least fifteen years was thirty-five hundred dol-
lars, making the farm represent a cost, without inter-
est, including the purchase money, of $87,144.20.
It had been the ambition of Mr. Webster to gather
into his hands the entire tract of twenty-seven hundred
acres granted by the Colony Court to Edward Wins-
low and William Thomas. It will be seen that he
continued his purchases up to the year of his death,
and it is probable that if he had lived a few years
longer he would have approximately accomplished his
object. The tracts actually bought included both
Thomas and Winslow lands, a much smaller propor-
tion of the latter, though the name of Carswell, adopted
by him for his estate, was never iu colonial times
applied to anything more than a portion of the Wins-
low lands, which were entirely distinct and separate
from the Thomas lands on which his dwelling was
situated.

Of the life of Mr. Webster as a public man it is
not the intention of this narrative to speak. Of his
life in Marshfield with his family, among his friends
and neighbors, away from the shallowness and decep-
tions and insincerities of politicians and society mem-
bers, the world knows little. Whatever he may have
been thought to be elsewhere, there he was a true,
simple, transparent, affectionate, tender-hearted man.
No man ever lived in Marshfield who could say that
Mr. Webster ever deceived him by word or deed,
ever withheld the wisest and always gratuitous coun-
sel, ever tried to get the advantage in a trade, ever in-
dulged in or countenanced evil reports, ever assumed or
recognized any superiority in himself or inferiority iu
others, ever indulged in condescension in the treat-
ment of the most humble, ever failed to treat every
man in every station of life as his equal. In this
latter respect, perhaps, no man of mark was ever more
distinguished. There have been great men who were
called many-sided, who had a point of contact for all,



34



HISTORY OF PLYMOUTH COUNTY.



of child's talk for the child, of philosophical reflections
for the learned, of forced simplicity for the illiterate,
of strained effort for the scholar, something for every
man, but all distinct and separate, having no relation
to each other, and nothing stamping the character of
the man. Mr. Webster was the same to all, to Lord
Ashburton and Seth Peterson, to Henry Clay and
John Taylor, to Tom Benton and Uncle Branch Pierce;
dignified but simple, profouud but clear, friendly but
not familiar, easy but not vulgar, and in the same room
with all those men together he wuuhl have been the
diplomatist to one, the statesman to another, the fish-
erman to a third, and a farmer or a hunter to the
fourth and fifth. His speeches illustrate his charac-
ter in this respect. No child needs a dictionary in
reading them. He never descends to a low level of
language and thought that he may be better under-
stood. He knows that if the subject is clear to his
own mind, he can present it in the same language to
all, as the artist in his noblest aud most iuspired
efforts needs no special culture to be understood and
admired. It was the common remark of his neigh-
bors that he treated them precisely as he would have
treated a brother seuator or the President, and the
senator and President could have said as truly that he
treated them as if they had been his neighbors.

His humorous nature and generous treatment of
neighbors are illustrated by the following iucideut.
On one occasion, after a return from Washington, a
man presented a bill for payment. " Why, Mr. N.,"
said Mr. Webster, " it seems to me I have paid that
bill." Mr. N. protested that it had not been paid,
and Mr. Webster told him that he had then no money,
but it' he would call in ten days he would settle with
him. After he had gone Mr. Webster asked Fletcher
to look over a mass of loose bills and receipts and
see if he could find a receipted bill. To the surprise
of both not only one but two receipts were found, and
the bill had already been paid twice. " We will put
these bills there," said Mr. Webster, placing them
in a pigeon-hole in his desk, "and when Mr. N. calls
again we will have some fun with him." In due
time Mr. N. called, just at the dinner hour, and Mr.
Webster said, " Come, Mr. N., let us go in and have
some dinner first, and then we will talk business."
To dinner they went, and a good one it was, and Mr.
N. relished it keenly. After dinner they went out
under the old elm, aud Fletcher with them, and Mr.
Webster soon began. " Mr. N.," said he, " do you
keep books?" " No," said Mr. N. " I thought so,"
said Mr. Webster. " Now, I advise you to keep
books. If you had kept books you would have
known that I had this receipted bill" (showing him



one). Mr. N. was much surprised and considerably
mortified to have been caught in such a mistake.
" It is always a good plan to keep books," said Mr.
Webster, showing him the second receipt. " Now,
Mr. N., I will pay this bill just once more, but I
promise you that I shall not pay it a fourth time."
Knowing him to be an honest man, Mr. Webster,
not wishing to annoy him, intimating that perhaps
receipted bills had been presented but left really un-
paid, made him take his money and a glass of wine,
and pleasantly bade him good-afternoon.

Of the avocations of fishing and hunting no mau
was more foud, and he was never happier than with
Mr. Isaac L. and Mr. Thomas Hedge, in the Plymouth
woods, on a deer stand, on some lonely road, or on the
shore of one of Plymouth's countless ponds. He was
not a skillful hunter or fisherman, but such an admirer
of nature that with a rod or line or gun in his hand,
he created niauy of those brilliant passages of oratory
which wreathe and lend grace to his arguments and
speeches. Too often for an accomplished and devoted
sportsman bis reveries allowed the game of the forest
to escape him unobserved, and the fish of the sea to
nibble away his bait, uutil the construction of some
trope or metaphor was complete in all its beauty and
grandeur. On a maple-tree, stauding by the shore
of Billington Sea, may be seen the initials of his
name rudely cut, the thoughtless work of one of these
reveries, in which no notice was taken of the coming
deer until it leaped from the bank aud ran knee-deep iu
the water along the pebbly beach. Ou this occasion,
however, his game was at a disadvantage, remaiuing
long enough within range for him to seize his gun,
and secure the single trophy of his hunter's life.
On one occasion, within the knowledge of the writer
of these reminiscences, on a November afternoon at
sunset, after an unsuccessful huut with the Messrs.
Hedge and George Churchill and Uncle Branch, nine
miles from Plymouth and twenty miles from home,
before mounting his wagon he struck his knife into a
tree and said, "At this tree, gentlemen, we meet at
sunrise to-morrow." After forty miles of travel and
a part of a night's sleep, he was on the spot at the
appointed hour with his companions of the day before.
The day, however, coming on chilly and wet, Mr.
Webster having something of a cold, thought it pru-
dent to give up the hunt, and await at the house of
Mr. Pierce the issue of the sport. On the return of
the party, bearing a noble buck, they found him
pacing the kitchen of Mrs. Pierce, repeating from
memory some of the grand old lyric poems of Watts,
while the old lady, with her breakfast-dishes still
unwashed, was listeniug in reverential silence.



THE COURTS AND BAR.



35



Oo another occasion, after his return to Marshfield
from an unsuccessful hunt in the Plymouth woods, he
told his son, Fletcher, to sit down and he would tell
him about his hunt. " We reached Long Pond,"
said he, " at sunrise, and Uncle Branch was ready for
us with his two hounds. He fastened them to a tree
and went in search of a track. He soon returned,
and said he had found a noble track and perfectly
fresh. ' Now, Mr. Webster,' said Uncle Branch,
' I'm going to put you on the best stand in these here
woods,' and Long Pond Hill was where he put me.
' Now,' said he, ' Mr. Webster, you jest keep your
eyes peeled and your ears skun, and don't you let no
deer run past you without a shot. Don't you mind
whether you hear the dogs or not, for the old fellow
may come even when the dogs are out of hearth.' Well,
he put the others on their stands, and then led the
hounds to the track and put them on. It was a still
morning; not a twig stirred, and I obeyed orders.
Soon eight o'clock came, and then nine, and then I
ventured to walk a few steps and back, and soon ten
o'clock came, and then eleven. I saw nothing and
heard nothing, and twelve o'clock came. I repeated
poetry and made speeches, and got hungry and ate a
cracker, and one o'clock came, and no deer and no
Uncle Branch. Two o'clock came, and three o'clock,
and just then a song-sparrow perched on a tree near
me, and I took off my hat and made a bow, aud said,
' Madam, accept my profoundest regards ; you are the
first living thing I have seen to-day.' Soon Uncle
Branch came, and said the hunt was up, ' that the
dogs went out of hearth at eight o'clock, and he
hadn't heard 'em since, by golly,' and here I am,
Fletcher, as hungry as a cooper's cow."

Mr. Webster was a man of deep religious feeling.
If there was anything with which he was more
familiar than with the Constitution of his country, it
was the Bible. Few men studied it more carefully,
or could repeat more of its passages with precision.
It taught him to believe with all his heart in the ex-
istence of God and in a future life. He had formu-
lated no creed, and he subscribed to none formulated
by others. During the larger part of his life as a
public man he attended the Unitarian Church, and
the Unitarian faith was undoubtedly more than any
other in accord with his feelings and sentiments.
For Dr. George Putnam and Dr. Samuel K. Lothrop,
the latter of whom was for many years his pastor, he
entertained the siucerest affection and highest re-
spect. His second wife was a member of the Epis-
copal Church, and though in Washington it was his
custom to accompany her to her place of worship, he
did not believe that the doctrine of the trinity could



be sustained by the Scriptures. At home in Marsh-
field he invariably attended the orthodox church once
on the Sabbath, and whoever or how many might be
his guests, his carriage was at the door each Sabbath
morning to carry himself and such as might wish to
accompany him to the neighboring place of worship.
In the early morning, too, of the Sabbath-day, his
household, including guests, were summoned to his
library, and there he spoke to them of the responsi-
bilities and duties of life. One of the many portraits
which have been engraved represents him thus sitting
in profile, with his left hand hidden under his waist-
coat, and his face wearing a more serious expression
than that of his every-day life.

On the 1st of April, 1852, while on his way to
Plymouth to join the Messrs. Hedge on a fishiug ex-



Online LibraryD. Hamilton (Duane Hamilton) HurdHistory of Plymouth County, Massachusetts : with biographical sketches of many of its pioneers and prominent men (Volume 2) → online text (page 8 of 118)