Ebenezer Smith Thomas.

Reminiscences of the last sixty-five years : commencing with the Battle of Lexington : also, sketches of his own life and times (Volume 2) online

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Online LibraryEbenezer Smith ThomasReminiscences of the last sixty-five years : commencing with the Battle of Lexington : also, sketches of his own life and times (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 20)
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Formerly Editor of the Charleston (S. C.) City Gazette, and lately
of the Cincinnati Daily Evening Post.






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According to act of Congress, in the year 1840,

in the Clerk's Office of the District Court of Connecticut.




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LIFE A N^ f JP I M E S .

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THERE is no faculty of the mind, in my opinion, so
important as a good memory ; in fact, without it, we
learn but little, and retain but a small portion of that ;
how far I am possessed of that faculty these Reminiscen-
ces must decide. Circumstances of a domestic charac-
ter I remember from the age of less than two years and
a half; the first thing of general interest is the me-/
traordinary deep snow in January, 1780, a period
long remembered for the severity of the cold, as well
as the depth of the snow, which was six feet deep upon
a level. The severity and suffering of that winter, can
never be forgotten while there survives a soldier of that
army who were exposed to its inclemency, half fed, and
worse clothed, fighting for that freedom we now enjoy,
unmindful of its cost. There is no parallel to their suf-
ferings, except in the mad expedition of Napoleon to
Russia, and that exceeded in numbers only, not in suffer-
ing. The cause of the one was holy, while that of the


other, was the mere offspring of an ambition that knew no
bounds, and regarded no consequences, to attain its end.
In May of this year, (1780) was the dark day, a phe-
nomenon that has never been satisfactorily accounted
for to my knowledge. The darkness at mid-day was
such as to require artificial light, as much so as at mid-
night ; the effect upon all animated nature was precisely
the same as at that hour.

My father was then living in a remote part of the town
of Lancaster, Massachusetts, to which place he had
removed soon after the British evacuated Boston ; and
while my uncle Isaiah Thomas was employed in collect-
ing and printing, at Worcester, in the Massachusetts Spy,
every article that was calculated to promote the great
cause of our country's Independence, my father was em-
ployed in disseminating those publications over a large
district of country, the inhabitants of which, but for this
mode of communication, would have been kept in igno-
rance of those events in which their all was at stake ; I
consequently saw little of my father, who was some-
times absent several weeks at a time, during which
little or nothing was known, by the scattered popu-
lation around us, either of the progress, or the success
of the cause in which all felt so deep an interest, so
that his coming home was waited for with all the anxiety
of the return of the Dove to the Ark.

Just before the peace took place, he removed to a
farm he had purchased at the other extremity of Lancas-
ter, adjoining Bolton, and immediately upon the great
road. I was then in my eighth year, and the disbanding


of the army, and the return of the war-worn veterans to
their homes, was a subject of congratulation among all
classes and all ages. My father set himself to work to
devise means for having the neighborhood, which was
densely populated in comparison with that which we had
left, provided with newspapers, and got fifty-two subscri-
bers, who took it, turn about, weekly, to go to Worcester,
only sixteen miles, and pay for the papers and bring them
to Lancaster ; then, for the first time, my appetite for in-
formation began to be indulged. When my father's turn
came round, I was mounted on horseback, young as I
was, and despatched to bring the papers, taking two days
for the journey, which afforded me an opportunity of
spending the night at my uncle's, who never failed to
give me a book of some kind to take home ; among
others he gave me Bunyan's Pilgrim's Progress, the read-
ing of which made a more lasting impression upon my
mind than any other I ever read before, or since.
> At this period the country was bare of every thing ;
those few, very few, who had money, could not purchase
necessaries, for they were not to be had. There were
no goods in the country, and provisions were very scarce.
I have rode ten miles back and forth, to purchase salt
pork at twenty cents per pound, which was equal to half
a dollar now. The men who composed the then late
army, were taken from the pursuit of agriculture, and
many an acre was left uncultivated accordingly; not
even bread was to be had in sufficient quantity, until it
could be raised.

About this time a circumstance occurred which I have



often looked back upon with astonishment ; my ancestors
were among those who fled from religious persecution in
England, and I saw the descendants of those that accom-
panied them, exercising a degree of religious intolerance
infinitely greater than that which drove them from the
land of their nativity, to seek an asylum on the then
uncultivated and inhospitable shores of New England.
I saw the sheriff of Worcester county, and his deputies,
driving before them, like cattle, the shaking quakers, as
they were then called, (now shakers,) out of the county ;
but they were back nearly as soon as their drivers, and I
do not recollect that they were again persecuted in that
way. There is a large and flourishing settlement of
them now, at Shirley, on the border of the same county.
Among the natural results of the disbanding of an
unpaid army, is the increase of crime, and the then
bloody code of Massachusetts, punished with ignominy,
or death, crimes that would now go unwhipt of justice,
or be punished only by slight fine, or imprisonment.*
Worcester, being by far the largest county in the State,
had her full proportion of crime ; among the most attro-
cious, at the time I am speaking of, was the murder of
Mr. Spooner, by his wife, aided by two discharged sol-
diers, named Ross and Buchanan ; they all three met
their deserts upon a scaffold. A year or two after, two
men by the names of William Huggins and John Mans-
field, suffered upon the same scaffold, for one of them
having entered a house in the night, through a window,
and stolen a watch, while the other remained in the road.
Pillory and whipping were frequently inflicted, upon the


same culprit, for offences that would not now send him
to the penitentiary for more than a year ; but the most
singular kind of punishment was making them set on the
top of the gallows, with a rope round their necks, made
fast to the beam on which they sat, so that if they fell off
it was at the expense of their necks.

A rebellion broke out in Massachusetts, in seventeen
hundred and eighty-six, which had its origin in the diffi-
culty there was in rasing money to pay taxes and private
debts. A portion of the people, driven to madness by
the distresses of the times, and led on by a set of design-
ing knaves, at the head of whom were Daniel Shays,
Luke Day, Adam Wheeler, Ely Parsons, and William
Shattuck, proceeded to stop the courts, and commit other
acts of violence and outrage.*

Governor Hancock immediately issued his proclama-
tion, calling upon the rebels to desist, and pointing out
the consequences if they did not. I well remember
hearing it read after the sermon on a Sunday. This had

* " Could we roll back the tide of time, till its retiring wave left bare
the rocks on which the commonwealth was so nearly wrecked, it is not
improbable, we should discover, that a loftier and more dangerous ambi-
tion, and wider, deeper, and more unhallowed purposes, urged on and
sustained the men who were pushed into the front rank of rebellion, than
came from the limited capacity of their own minds. We might find that
the accredited leaders of 1786, were only humble instruments of stronger
spirits, waiting in their concealment the results of the tempest they had
roused. Fortunately, the energy of government, gave to rising revolu-
tion the harmless character of crushed insurrection, saved to after years
the inquiry for the Catalines of the young republic, and left to us the
happy privilege of receiving the coin impressed with the mark of patri-
otism at its stamped value, without testing its deficiency of weight, or
assaying the metal to determine the mixture of alloy." Lincoln's His-
tory of Worcester.


not the desired effect, and troops were raised to quell it
by force. General Shepard was in the command of
about seven hundred men, of the government forces, at
Springfield, where there was a continental arsenal, which
the rebels were anxious to possess themselves of. To
effect which, on the 25th of January, 1787, Shays march-
ed to the attack, with a force of from twelve to fifteen
hundred men.

When within striking distance, General Shepard sent
one of his aids to him, to caution him against proceeding
any further ; but Shays replied, " he wanted barracks
and stores, and would have them." The rebels were
then marched to within two hundred and fifty yards of
the arsenal, where they came to a halt. General Shepard
then sent them word, not to approach any nearer, at
their peril. Shays immediately renewed his march at a
quick step, and came within one hundred and fifty yards,
when General Shepard gave orders to his artillery to fire,
which was promptly obeyed, but the two first shots were
purposely elevated, so as to pass over them ; this not
having the desired effect, of deterring them in their pro-
gress, the third and fourth were fired at the column, and
threw the whole into confusion, three men being killed,
and one mortally, and another badly wounded. The
rebels did not return a single shot ; they had no artillery,
and not a musket was fired on either side.

Two days after the dispersion of the rebels, General
Lincoln, of the revolutionary army, who had been
appointed Commander-in-chief, arrived with six regiments


of infantry, four companies of artillery, and two troops of
horse; and having learnt that Shays had fallen back
about six miles, on the east side of Connecticut river,
where he had collected all under his immediate com-
mand, and Day had taken post on the west side ; General
Lincoln, with four regiments of infantry, and four pieces
of artillery, immediately crossed the river upon the ice,
while General Shepard, with the force under his com-
mand, moved up the river to prevent a junction of Shays,
with Day. No sooner did General Lincoln's force arrive
in view of the rebels, than the latter fled in every direction.
Not a gun was fired. Small parties of them were occa-
sionally heard of at different places. After a few days,
General Lincoln learnt that Shays had collected all his
available forces on the heights of Pelham, his native place,
and pursued him, by forced marches, through a deep
snow, and in the most severe weather ; he came upon
him so unexpectedly, after a night's march of thirty miles
that Shays fled, with all his forces, who left their cooking
utensils and a hot breakfast behind them, which was most
acceptable to the troops, hundreds of whom were worn
down with fatigue, and many severely frost bitten. I
had a brother, about eighteen, who was out^the whole
campaign, and gave our family a wretched account of
the sufferings of the army on that night ; the snow was
so dry it did not path, and the rear of the column had but
little better road than the front. Thus, by the great
exertions of the veteran General, and the hardy yeomanry
under his command, this ill advised, and worse conduct-
ed, rebellion, was put down, in a few months after the


State authorities commenced the necessary proceedings
for that purpose.

Hancock, for the first, and only time, lost his election,
in 1786, and Bowdoin was elected in his stead. He was
a man of eminent talent, and great energy of character.
It was to this trait in his character, that the Legislature
attributed, in a great degree, the promptitude and suc-
cess of the measures which were so wisely taken, and so
faithfully carried into 'effect, in suppressing the rebellion.
Hancock came into power again in May, 1787, and by
his mild and conciliatory course towards the deluded men,
with whom many of the prisons were crowded, as well as
to all others, was greatly instrumental in bringing the
people back to their allegiance, and healing the still
bleeding wounds of the State. Had a different course
been pursued, they would, in all probability have broken
out afresh.

George Richards Minot, of Boston, an eminent lawyer,
and profound jurist, wrote a history of this rebellion, in
language so pure and classical, as to obtain for him the
enviable cognomen of the " American Sallust." I never
saw it but once, and that was soon after its publication.

The next event, and by far the most important, after
the obtainment of our independence, was the formation
of the Constitution ; in fact, we were not independent,
until the Constitution was made, and adopted ; and al-
though it is not what it ought to be, in my estimation,
still, the wonder is, among so many contending interests,
not that it is no better, but that it is no worse. What
kind of a Constitution would a convention produce now ?


After the Constitution was formed, and submitted to the
States, for their adoption, or rejection, the plundering of
the poor soldiers was effected. The knowing ones had
little or no doubt of the Constitution being adopted by a
sufficient number of States, (nine,) and that, being adopt-
ed, Congress would fund the public debt. Then com-
menced a scene of legal robbery, such as the history of
civilized nations can scarcely produce a parallel to. Even
mechanics quit their business, to speculate in soldiers'
notes, which were bought up, in great quantities, for two
and sixpence, and three shillings, in the pound. Among
others, I recollect a large, lazy, journeyman carpenter,
by the name of Patch, who threw off his leather apron,
and appeared a gentleman at large, and dressed in the
most fashionable style. Another was a Lynn shoema-
ker. Fortunes were made, from a few hundred dollars,
in a few weeks ; and from this arose the aristocracy of
wealth in the United States. Words can scarcely con-
vey an idea of the excitement that was kept up, for sev-
eral years, in Boston, New York, and Philadelphia.
There were mail stages in those days, but their snail-like
pace did not answer the views of the speculators ; they
kept expresses continually on the road.

When the State of New York adopted the Constitu-
tion, it was an event calculated to have a very great
effect upon the stock market, and Captain Levi Pease, of
Boston, was kept in waiting for the result, with a relay
of horses every ten miles, from there to Boston, by the
then road, two hundred and fifty miles, which he accom-
plished in forty-eight hours, a performance, then, alto-


gether unprecedented. An express once arrived in Bos-
ton on a Sunday, when the streets were all alive with
people going to church. Instantly the church was lost
sight of by hundreds of men, who left their families to
find the way without them, while they went upon 'change,
and bought and sold to the amount of hundreds of thou-

There was but one bank in Boston, in those days, the
old Massachusetts in fact, there were but two in the
United States, the one already mentioned, and one in
Philadelphia and as a sample of the mode of conduct-
ing banking business then, the son of the president of the
bank in Boston, and two other gentlemen, were permit-
ted to draw on the funds of the institution to such an ex-
tent as to compel it to stop discounting for six or eight
weeks, while the three gentlemen alluded tg, went to
New York, and there set speculation on foot to an
immense extent, by selling and buying soldiers' notes,
and other public securities, at auction, as was then the

The celebrated Colonel Duer, was then a great opera-
tor upon the stock exchange in New York, with a good
supply of ready money, and high credit, which he used to
its full extent, borrowing from oystermen, and draymen,
their little hoardings, and totally unsuspicious of the trick
the three Yankees were playing him, they having got the
stocks up to a price considerably above par, by sham
buying and selling. Then it was that the Bostonians
threw into market the immense amount they had taken
with them, and Duer became the purchaser. The stocks


fell twenty or thirty per cent, the next day, and he was
compelled to take refuge from his exasperated, and in
many instances, ruined creditors, within the walls of the
jail, from whence he was never liberated. During the
first excitement against him, it became necessary to pro-
tect him, (by calling out the military,) from the exaspe-
rated people, who had surrounded the prison, with intent
to get at him by pulling it down. Col. Duer, by remain-
ing in prison, enabled his family to retain a sufficiency of
property, to live genteelly, his lady visiting him almost
daily in her carriage.

In the following year, 1788, I went to live with my
uncle, Isaiah Thomas, at Worcester, at his solicitation,
to learn the art of Printing. I was then thirteen years
old. There were nine or ten apprentices of us, and our
fare was very ordinary, and labor very severe. I, being
the youngest apprentice, had all the drudgery to perform
for more than two years ; rising in winter between five
and six o'clock and after the office was closed, in the
evening, more than half the time, compelled to read proof
until twelve or one at night, particularly during the
printing of the folio and royal quarto editions of the
Bible, which was more than a year and a half, they were
the third and fourth editions of the sacred volume printed
in America, and the first of those sizes.

Mr. Thomas was a constant attendant upon the preach-
ing of the late Rev, Dr. Bancroft, and compelled all his
apprentices to be so too, except one, who would not be
compelled by him. His name was Worcester, and he
became a member of the church of the Rev. Mr. Austin

VOL. II. 2


before he was of age. Mr. Austin was of the Hopkinto-
nian school, and preached of original sin, and there being
infants in hell not a span long. I heard him once, and
did not grudge him his faith.

Worcester was then the largest inland town in the
United States, Lancaster, Pennsylvania, only excepted,
and in point of good society was unsurpassed by any.
There were the Paines, the Chandlers, the Waldos, the
Lincolns, the Aliens, Thomas, Salisbury, Stanton,
Flagg, Nazro, and a number of others; forming "an ag-
gregate of as refined, polished, and intellectual society,
as America could produce ; living in a style of elegance
surpassed but by very few in Boston, or elsewhere. In
those days, instead of the jams, routs, and soirees of later
date, ten or a dozen ladies had an understanding together
upon the subject, and sent word to Mrs. Such-a-one, that
they would take tea with her that afternoon if she was
not otherways engaged. The gentlemen followed before
sundown, and all returned home before candle-light.
The gentlemen, a dozen or more of them, formed a " fish
club," and dined together on Saturdays, alternately at
each other's houses ; at those dinners there were literally
" the feast of reason and the flow of soul," as I had an
opportunity of witnessing, some years after, on accom-
panying my kinsman to one of them, to which every
member had a right to bring a guest.

At the period I am speaking of, Worcester town and
county, both abounded in distinguished men : among
them Artemas Ward, who was a rival to Washington
for commander in chief of the army of the Revolution,


and was appointed second in command, (see Reminis-
cences of Washington.) At this time he was Chief Judge
of the Court of Common Pleas. The bar could boast a
good portion of talent ; among the most distinguished
were Levi Lincoln, afterwards attorney general of the
United States, and father of Governor Lincoln ; Dwight
Foster, Solomon Strong, Edward Bangs, and Pliny Mer-
rick. The clergy, with the exception of the late Rev. Dr.
Bancroft, and the eccentric Boylston Adams, were more
remarkable for their piety, and devout and holy lives, than
for shining talents.

Lancaster, Brookfield, and a number of other towns,
in the same county, could also boast numbers of educated,
genteel and wealthy families ; in fact, I doubt if, at the
present day, there is a district of country in the United
States, of the population of Worcester county at that
period, that contains as much wealth, refinement and
talent, as that county then contained ; if there is, it has
not been my good fortune to find it, in my travels through
all the principal States of the Union, from north to south
and from east to west.

My kinsman, ISAIAH THOMAS, was thirty-nine years
of age, when I went to live with him in 1788. He made
his escape from Boston, where he was very obnoxious to
the British, during the siege, with his printing materials,
and immediately set about publishing a newspaper at
Worcester, which is still continued; it was the only
paper, I believe, then published in the State, except those
published in Boston and Salem, and possibly, one in
Newburyport. The British had, at an early day, set a


price upon the heads of John Hancock and Samuel
Adams for the bold and decided stand they had uniformly
taken against their government, from the massacre of the
fifth of March, seventeen hundred seventy ; they then
added ten more to the number of those who were to be
summarily executed, when taken. Among them was
Isaiah Thomas. Not one of this patriotic band of twelve
ever fell into their hands, and Mr. Thomas pursued the
even tenor of his way regardless of the means made use
of to ensnare him. He was a pungent writer, possessing
a strong and clear style, with the most biting sarcasm,
add to which, he was constantly aided by the powerful
pens of General Ward, Dwight Foster, Edward Bangs,
and others ; so that his paper, which was a small weekly
sheet, was always well filled with matter calculated to
confirm the patriotic in their course, and prevent the wa-
vering from going over to the enemy, who having evacu-
ated Boston, had no rallying point for their friends, or
those disposed to become such ; consequently, toryism
was soon on the decline in Massachusetts.

Soon after the close of the Revolution, Mr. Thomas
found himself able to build an extensive printing office,
and stock it with every kind of type then in use. In one
end of the building was a book bindery, and in the other
a book store, well furnished with the works of the most
eminent writers in the English language. He then built
himself a large and handsome dwelling. In 1786, or 7,
he commenced printing on a large scale, so that, besides a
great number of small works, he had printed, from 1787
to 1792, a period of only four years, Benjamin Bell's


Surgery ; Cullen's Practice of Physic ; Blackstone's
Commentaries; Millott's Elements of Ancient and
Modern History ; and Harvey's Works, besides the first
folio and royal quarto editions of the Bible printed in

Few gentlemen passed through Worcester without
calling to see the proprietor and his establishment, who
never failed to treat them with the most marked polite-

In his person, Mr. Thomas was tall and elegantly form-
ed ; in his dress, fashionable to a fault ; in his manners, ele-
gant ; with a mind stored by the most extensive acquaint-
ance with the best authors, whether in literature or science.
He was familiarly known to the periodical press in Eng-
land, as the " American Baskerville." The celebrated, and
ill-fated, Brissot de Warville, in his travels in the United
States, makes honorable mention of him as the Didot of
America. In the latter part of his life, literary honors
flowed in upon him, in degrees from several colleges and
universities, and finally the degree of Doctor of Laws.
The last twenty years of his life were almost exclusively

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Online LibraryEbenezer Smith ThomasReminiscences of the last sixty-five years : commencing with the Battle of Lexington : also, sketches of his own life and times (Volume 2) → online text (page 1 of 20)