George Putnam.

An address, delivered before the city government and citizens of Roxbury, on the life and character of the late Henry A. S. Dearborn, mayor of the city. September 3d, 1851 online

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Online LibraryGeorge PutnamAn address, delivered before the city government and citizens of Roxbury, on the life and character of the late Henry A. S. Dearborn, mayor of the city. September 3d, 1851 → online text (page 1 of 3)
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On the Life

and Char act



The Late Henry A.S.



of the City.














SEPTEMBER 3d, 1851.








In Common Council, Sept. 15, 1851.
Ordered, That the thanks of the City Council be tendered to the Rev. George
POTNAM, I"). D., for the very eloquent Address delivered before the City Council
and citizens of this city, on the afternoon of Wednesday, September 3d, on the life,
character and public services of the late General Henry Alexander Scammel
Dearborn, Mayor of this City, and that he be requested to furnish a copy of the
same for publication.

Passed, and sent up for concurrence.


In the Board of Aldermen, Sept. 15, 1851.

JOSEPH W. TUCKER, Citi/ Clerk.


Friends and Neighbors,

Magistrates and Citizens of Roxbury :

Our late Municipal Chief departed this life in the city of
Portland on the 29th day of July last. His death was oc-
casioned by a malignant disease suddenly developed, and
took place under circumstances that imperatively forbade
the observance here of those funereal rites that would be
deemed appropriate to a man of his character and of his
station. His remains passed through the streets of our city,
silently attended by his associates in the government, to
their final resting place. Debarred thus from an opportu-
nity to pay the usual tokens of respect to the deceased at
the time of his burial, the City Council, with many citizens
and friends, have desired and claimed that a separate occa-
sion should be set apart as early as practicable, for mani-
festing their appreciation of his character and public services,
their sense of the bereavement which this city and the
community have suffered, and by prayer and meditation in
the sanctuary to renew and confirm in their own hearts the
lessons of wisdom which the death of one so valued and so
eminent amongst us, could not fail to inspire.

Therefore arc we assembled here to-duy. The perishing
body is not here before us, awaiting its last rites of sepulture.

It has passed on, and sleeps beneath the beautiful shades of
Forest Hills. It rests there in that well earned repose which
shall never be disturbed by the hand of man ; but his mem-
ory is with us, — that is not buried, — it is not dead. His
mind, with all its attributes and its achievements, is still a
living presence with us, and it is with that we would hold
communion, and pay the just meed of grateful honor and
affectionate remembrance. It is not too late for that. The
pall, the hearse, the slow procession, and the open grave,
are not necessary for that.

We do well, I think, to come together as we do this day,
wisely omitting the external and secular parades that per-
tain to a funeral eulogy, and desiring only in quietness and
simplicity to commemorate the man who has thus passed
from amongst us — passed from the highest seat in our city,
to take his place with the lowliest in the grave. We
would consider what manner of man he was, and calling to
mind the good traits that distinguished him, and the good
services that he performed, do justice to them — the mind's
justice, and the heart's justice — and find an example in
them, and inspiration in them, and that moral quickening
which always acquires new force in the presence of death,
and amid the associations of sorrow. Human excellence
is very various. It is never whole and perfect in any
one man. It is distributed in diverse forms, in unequal
proportions, and in manifold and ever novel combinations,
even among good men. It exists only in fragments, in par-
cels, everywhere limited and incomplete ; yet it does exist,
and does appear all round, in men of every generation — an
imperishable monument of God's grace, and a continual
manifetation of His good spirit. And it is necessary for
us, for the purposes of our own moral training, to see it, and
seeing, to perceive it. It is a great incitement and an ejSi-
cient help to our own virtue and wisdom to be able to dis-
cern virtue and wisdom, not only in abstract principles and
formal precepts, but in the concrete, in living examples, in
lives that pass or have passed before us, in deeds that we
can see, in characters that shed their light upon our path.

We need to cultivate that genial and appreciating spirit that
has an eye for what is beautiful and what is noble in hu-
man character, wherever it appears, in whatever forms, in
whatever connections. No man is an example in every
thing , but every portion of moral exellence is exemplified
by somebody, and that, too, where we may see it, and de-
rive light and strength from it, if we will. There are no
good men, in the absolute sense of the term ; but there are
good traits and good deeds all around ; and the heart that
does not learn to revere and to love them, to separate them
from the ever accompanying faults and imperfections, and
to warm towards them, to enshrine them in its holy places,
and to derive an incitement, a glow and an elevation from
them, that heart will grow hard and cold — will lose its af-
finities with virtue, its aspirations for excellence, and find
its bonds of loving brotherhood with the race become lax
and weak. One reason for the gentle charity, the mild and
lenient judgment which the gospel requires us to exercise,
is, that we may not be deterred by a rigid, harsh, censo-
rious spirit, from discerning with a loving and whole hearted
appreciation the virtues of our fellow men. The Apostle
carries this sentiment so far as to charge us to " honor all
men." Upon the most lax interpretation of the precept, we
must regard it as a Christian duty, as it is certainly a means
of moral improvement, to honor all that is good in man, to
look for it, to delight in finding it, to make the most of it,
and make the contemplation of it a means to expand the
heart, and exalt our conceptions, and stinuilatc our virtuous

It is because, and only because I see much to admire, to
love, and to revere in the character of our late fellow citizen
and chief magistrate, much that ought to have the in^ipir-
ing influence of a good example, that I am willing to appear
here to day, and speak of him in this public manner. I
beheve there are things in his life and character, the con-
templation of which may be xis profitable to our own hearts,
as it is just to his memory. 1 am glad that his walk and
station in society were so conspicuous as, in your judg-

ment, to authorize this pubHc and unusual notice of the
quaUtics and deeds of an individual man.

The informal nature of this occasion releases me from the
duty of giving any complete biographical account of the
deceased. A few dates and incidents may, however, be

Henry Alexander Scammel Dearborn was born March
3d, 1783, in Exeter, New Hampshire. He passed his boy-
hood on a farm, on the banks of the Kennebec, in Maine.
He spent two years at Williams' College, in this State, but
was graduated at William and Mary's College, in Yirginia.
He studied law three years in a southern State, and one
year in the office of the late Judge Story, at Salem. At
this time, his father being Secretary of War, and Mr. Jeffer-
son President of the United States, he applied for a foreign
diplomatic station, Mr. Jefferson said he should have one,
and a good one ; but advised him not to take it, saying that
"no man ought to go to reside for any time abroad under
the age of forty, for he would lose his American tastes and
ideas, become Avedded to foreign manners and institutions,
and grow incapable of becoming a loyal, useful and con-
tented citizen at home." The young applicant took the
advice, and gave up the appointment. He then commenced
the practice of the law in Salem, and afterwards continued
it a little while in Portland, but he disliked the profession,
and resolved to give it up as soon as possible. He said it
obliged him to take money often from persons who stood in
the greatest need of it themselves, and to whom he felt im-
pelled to give something, rather than exact anything from
them ; he could not bear to get his living so. This reason
for a change will strike every one who knew him as strong-
ly characteristic of him. At this period he was appointed
to superintend the erection of the forts in Portland harbor.
He next became an officer in the Boston Custom house,
where his father was Collector ; and on the father's appoint-
ment to the command of the northern army, in the war
with Great Britain, tlie son was made Collector of the Port
in his stead. In 1812, he had the command of the troops

in Boston harbor. He was removed from the office of Col-
lector in 1829. The same year he was chosen Representa-
tive from Roxbury, in the Legislature of Massachusetts, and
was immediately transferred to the Executive Council. The
next year he was Senator from Norfolk, and at the next
election was chosen member of Congress from this district.
Having served one term in Congress, he was soon after
appointed Adjutant General of Massachusetts, in which
office he continued till 1843. In 1 847, he became Mayor
of Roxbury, which place he held until his death.

It does not become me to speak of his official conduct in
any of these public stations. I am neither competent to
estimate, nor disposed to discuss the wisdom of the political
opinions which he held, nor of the measures he advocated.
I Avill only say that none ever doubted, so far as I know,
his patriotism, dihgence, and fidelity in every office of trust.
None will believe or say that he ever sacrificed his con-
victions of right, his views of public interest, or any whit
of his personal integrity to the desire of gain, or of political
advancement. A thoroughly honest and high minded man
he unquestionably was in every public function, as also in
every private relation. The contrary, I presume, was never
charged or suspected, even in any heat of party strife.

But there is another class of public services in which he
bore a conspicuous part, that seems to me of a more inter-
esting nature, and to have affi^rded a more appropriate and
felicitous sphere for his peculiar endowments and tastes.

This occasion would have lacked its peculiar interest for
me, and I doubt not for others also, if the subject of our
commemoration had never been anything but a public
functionary. He was more and higher than that. He in-
terested himself, zealously and efficiently, apart from poli-
tics, in various enterprises for the public good. He was
one of the early and enthusiastic promoters of those lines of
internal communication which have since become so im-
portant. He was upon the State survey for a canal from
Boston to the Hudson, and was pressing forward that en-
terprise when the railroad was projected in its stead.


But it was still more to the praise of General Dearborn —
if I may venture to say it in this so practical age — that he
was one of those few who could sometimes foresee the high-
est benefit to a community from enterprises, the utility of
which was not immediate, not obvious to matter of fact
men, not to be realized at once, if ever, in money, or in the
means of making money ; but only, or chiefly in gratifying
or cultivating the more refined sentiments of a people, and
promoting patriotic recollections, enlarged sympathies, gen-
erous aspirations, and the love of the beautiful in nature
and in art. It is in this direction that we are to look, I
think, for those public services for which he was especially
distinguished, and for which we owe him most honor and
gratitude. Thus, for instance, he was one of the most
prominent and active of the originators of the Bunker Hill
Monument. But I can only notice now his exertions in a
single department, that of horticulture and its kindred arts
and labors.

In 1829, the first movement was made by some gentle-
men in this vicinity — the first in New England — for a
systematic cultivation and promotion of the arts of horti-
culture. For this end they proposed to organize a society.
At a preliminary stage of their proceedings, they invited a
very distinguished citizen of this town to become their first
president, the head and guide of their enterprise. But
"no," said Mr. Lowell, "my whole heart is with you, and
all I can do for your cause shall be done ; but I am not the
man for that station. I will tell you who is the man, and
just the right man." And confiding in his sagacity, they took
the man he designated, and General Dearborn became first
president of the Massachusetts Horticultural Society. And
he took hold in earnest. If they had known him better,
perhaps they would not have appointed him. For they did
not expect to do great things, nor spend much money, or
attract much notice, or become any very visible power in
the land. Gentle, unambitious and noiseless proceedings
were all they anticipated. But when the new president
took the helm, he put right out to sea. He meant they

should do great things. He was well acquainted with the
subject. He had always been interested in it. He knew
all that had been written and done about it abroad, and
had practised upon it with much assiduity and delight in
his own narrow but beautiful domain. He had large con-
ceptions of what should be done. He at once established an
extensive correspondence. He imported books, plates, peri-
odicals, specimens, scions, seeds, plants, everything that
was wanted, and that on a liberal scale. He talked of pro-
fessorships in the various departments of natural history, of
public grounds, scientific collections, experimental gardens,
public exhibitions and premiums. There was no little con-
sternation in the society. He was committing them to a
great deal more than they had thought of, or considered
prudent and practicable. His operations required a large
amount of money, and they had little or none in the treasu-
ry. Such splendid schemes, such dashing expenditure
would ruin their movements. Would he not pause and be
moderate? Where was the money to come from? What
should they do with such an enthusiastic leader?

But he would not pause. He knew the thing that ought to
be done, and how to do it ; and as to the money question, he
was not the man to think much of that. He thought money
a very secondary matter. He knew there was enough of it
somewhere, and that it ought to come, and he presumed it
would come as it was wanted. They must take care of
that — the ways and means ; his business was with horti-
ticulture, and the methods of advancing it. And so he went
on, and they had to find the money — and did find it —
with whatever of reluctance and misgivings, is usually
incident to such transactions.

The president had his way. He was a difllcult man to
restrain. His enthusiasm was more than a match for other
men's prudence. He was naturally rather overbearing, I
think, and it was a fortunate thing that that tendency of his
mind took a generous and high direction. He had his way,
and his visionary extravagance, as it may have been deemed
by many, so far from ruining the society, was the making


of it. His policy — if that can be called a policy which Avas
in him simply an ardent spontaneous pursuit of a good end
without much counting of the cost — gave a name and cha-
racter to the society, awakened an interest far and wide in
its objects, drew in members, brought in contributions, do-
nations and liberal bequests, and soon exercised a large in-
fluence over garden cultivation. And now, after twenty
years and more, when the society has become large and
flourishing, perhaps beyond even his sanguine expectations,
with an ample income, and splendid exhibitions, and a large
parental influence over numerous younger institutions which
have sprung up from its example all over the country, I am
assured that there is not an original or early member of it
but will acknowledge that it owes its prosperity and success
in an eminent degree to the faith and courage, the know-
ledge and ability of its first president. He had zealous co-
adjutors, and he has had able and accomplished successors;
but they would be the foremost to testify that the society
probably would never have become what it is, but for his
brave piloting at the outset, and that he ivas the right man,
as Mr. Lowell had prophetically assured them.

The influence of General Dearborn has thus obtained a
permanent expression of itself in the greatly improved hor-
ticulture of New England. There is an enduring record of
his labors written all over the green and flowery land. His
thought stands expressed in the beauty and abundance,
and tastefulness of innumerable fields and groves and gar-
dens. There are traces of his spirit in the private nooks,
and along the public roadsides of the country. And there
are thousands who may never speak his name, who yet un-
consciously follow his teachings, and copy his ideas in the
flowers, and the trees, that engage their leisure, and adorn
their homes and delight their eyes. There is a trace of his
influence in every bunch of fresh and fragrant flowers that
the hand of domestic love or neighborly kindness places and
tends by the bedside of the sick, or the chair of the invalid,
or on the bosom of the shrouded dead, or at the head of their
green graves. There is something of his influence spark-


ling in the bridal wreath that graces and gladdens the brow
of beauty. There is something of it in the luscious fra-
grance of every basket of summer fruit that enriches the
festive board, in every vine that wreathes a garden bower,
in every green plant that adorns a cottage window. He as
much as any man, — perhaps more than any one man, —
has put in train those agencies which have introduced to
the knowledge and love of all classes of our people, this
greatly extended variety both of the useful and the orna-
mental products of the ground ; as much to promote a taste
for them, and to teach the methods of their culture. Herein
he has been a public benefactor. It may be truly said
of him that he has contributed, and that, on the whole,
more largely and more efficiently than any other man of
his generation in this country, to diffuse abroad the love
of the beautiful in nature, and all the refined sentiments,
the purifying influences, the pleasant resources, and the
gentle gladness that spring from and accompany that
wholesome and hallowing afiection. He who has done this,
has done well in his day and generation. The praise is
justly his due — it need not be sounded with a trumpet, nor
inscribed on his monument, but let it be gratefully associa-
ted with his memory, — that he loved the beautiful, and
taught his countrymen to love it. He introduced new forms
of it, and contributed to the permanent adorning of the fair
face of nature.

One of the early measures contemplated by the Horticul-
tural Society, was the establishment of a rural cemetery,
such as had been hitherto unknown in this country. This
subject had for several years claimed the attention of seve-
ral persons in this vicinity. The project was discussed in
the Society for several months ; but no definite measures
were adopted, no forward movement was made, until the
proprietor of what is now Mount Auburn, offered to sell
that tract of land for the purpose of such a cemetery, to
be combined, as was then intended, with an experimental
garden. The president, Dearborn, visited the spot, and re-


ported that he was fully satisfied that a better selection
could not be made. He was then requested to present a
plan for accomplishing the objects in view, which was done
in December, 1830. His views were approved, and he was
placed at the head of a large committee, to define, in more
exact detail, the object desired and the course to be pursued.
He submitted an elaborate report on the following June.
That report foreshadowed definitely the future Mount Au-
burn. It was accepted, the land was purchased, and the
duty of laying out the grounds and preparing them for their
purposes, was assigned to a small committee, of which
General Dearborn was the head and the working member.
He applied himself to his task, month after month, with all
his native energy and enthusiasm. He traced the walks
and avenues. With an eye so keen to detect the beautiful,
and a heart so warmly loving it, he knew how to make the
most of every nook and dell, the tangled bog, the sandy
level, the abrupt declivity, every tree and shrub and rock.
In a word, he, after God, created Mount Auburn. His zeal
and vigor, his taste and labor, were the most prominent and
efiicacious elements in the inception and the accomplishment
of the work. And there lies Mount Auburn with its sacred
beauty, its holy fitness for its object, with its quiet enclo-
sures, its solemn and tender associations, its thousand
gleaming monuments, itself in its entireness a magnificent
and beautiful monument to him — to his industry and taste,
his afilectionate reverence for the claims of the dead and the
sorrows of the living.*

* If I had been writing a history of Mount Auburn, instead of a mere notice of
General Dearborn's connection, official and personal, with the origin of that Ceme-
tery, I should not have failed to mention those gentlemen who preceded him in the
conception of such an establishment, and were associated with him in maturing and
executing the plan. Prominent in such a history would be the names of Joseph
Story, Jacob Bigelow, G. W. Brimmer, Edward Everett, J.C.Gray. G.Bond,
Abbot Lawrence, B. A. Gould, Joseph P. Bradlee and Charles P. Curtis. Probably
for early and continued interest in the subject. Dr. Bigelow should be named first
among all these. I still think, however, that Gen. Dearborn is entitled to all the
credit in relation to Mount Auburn that is assigned to him in the Address. The
first conception of a Forest Cemetery in America, is not claimed for him. It had


The success of the undertaking at Mount Auburn led to
similar designs elsewhere, throughout the land, in the
neighborhood of the large cities, and even in the humblest
country villages. Every year has added largely to the
number, as to the beauty, of rural cemeteries. Mount Au-
burn was the first, the type of them all. The designing
thought and hand of Dearborn first realized the idea of a
fitting burial-place for the dead in this country, and fur-
nished the pattern which, varied of course by the capabilities

been entertained by others, and for years, as is said in the Address. But " the in-
ception and accomplishment of the work," was more emphatically his than any other
one man's. Scores of men through scores of years had doubtless thought and
talked of the subject; but it was when he as President of the Horticultural So-
ciety took up the project, and not before, that any thing was done. It was his re-
port and advice, so far as appears, that led the society to accept Mr. Brimmer's
generous offer of the land at a low price. He was at the head of the working com-
mittees, particulaily that for laying out the grounds. For this latter purpose he had
as associates men distinguished for ability and taste in Dr. Bigelow and Mr. Brim-
mer; but he was the head and the hand of the commission. His official position
assigned to him the leading part. And whoever knew him, may judge whether he
was the man to take a secondary and subordinate part in a matter in which official
right and duly gave him a leading one, — a matter, too, in which he felt perfectly at
home, which was congenial to his life-long tastes and pursuits, and for which he
had at the time entire leisure. He was President of the Society that owned the
grounds, and Chairman of the Committee for planning the Cemetery. He directed
the work, always on the spot, day after day, through three successive sunmiers.
With these facts, taken in connection with the character of the man, it is not
difficult to understand how far it was his work.

That there would have been a Rural Cemetery somewhere in America, at some
time and on some scale, if Gen. Dearborn had never lived, need not be questioned.
When or where or in what fashion, none can tell. Whether it would have been a

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Online LibraryGeorge PutnamAn address, delivered before the city government and citizens of Roxbury, on the life and character of the late Henry A. S. Dearborn, mayor of the city. September 3d, 1851 → online text (page 1 of 3)