George Whitney.

A commemorative discourse pronouced at Quincy online

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QUINCY, MASS., 25 MAY, 1840,










QUINCY, MASS., 25 MAY, 1840,








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We meet this day, in obedience to the dictates of the
highest sentiments in man. We have gathered togeth-
er, scattered as we are in our various pursuits, in the
spirit of a fihal and dutiful reverence, to commemorate
the times that have passed, and our Fathers, who made
them what they were. We come to testify our admiration
of all that was elevating and ennobling in those who
first stepped upon these shores, and who in later peri-
ods contributed their part towards the good institutions
and manifold privileges with which we are surrounded.
We come, amidst comforts and ever newly opening
blessings, — such as tlieir fondest hopes never dared to
dream of, — to be grateful for their patience and sacri-
fices, and trust in God in times of peril and darkness
and deprivations, such as we may try to describe, but
can never adequately conceive. We come, after two
centuries and six generations of men have passed
away, to stand around their graves, yet among the
works, where they most emphatically live, that we may
attempt to do some feeble justice to their principles
and example, and to our own feelings also, in the trib-
ute we thus pay to their memories.

With this day, two hundred years have elapsed, and

a new century commences, since an act was passed by
the General Court incorporating a town in this place.
Previously to this period, as is almost too well known
to be repeated, a settlement here of civihzed men had
already been begun, following rapidly in the w ake of the
Pilgrims at Plymouth. In 1625, fifteen years before
the time alluded to, Captain Wollaston, with about
thirty in his company, as is supposed, — the number
being nowhere, so far as I am acquainted, definitely
designated, — landed somewhere on the shore near the
mount, which afterwards received his name, and in the
language of the old historians " sat down," either upon
the mount, or in the region round about. In other
words, they came and fixed their abode and planted a
colony here. From subsequent events we are left to
infer that there were no very exalted aims, hke those
which actuated many of the early pilgrims, either in
the heart of Wollaston or his comrades. And yet with
regard both to himself and some who accompanied him,
it may possibly have been otherwise. We are sure,
there was little to commend in Thomas Morton, or in
those who were ready to sympathize with him. At
any rate, we learn that after " spending much labor,
cost, and time in planting the place," * things did not
answer Wollaston's expectation, and he departed to
Virginia. This can be considered, to be sure, no posi-
tive proof that Wollaston's aims were not so elevated
as the noblest of that long line of self-exiled men, who
came out to these distant shores, but the great mass
of them Avere not in the habit of calculating
profit and loss in any such way, nor did they think

* Hubbard's History of New England, p. 103.

their hardships and disappointments, where once they
had planted themselves, of sufficient moment to urge
them to try new locations. Wollaston's enterprise
bore strong marks, to say the least, of being merely a
pecuniary speculation.

The fifteen years, which elapsed from the landing of
Wollaston to the incorporation of the town, were
somewhat eventful ones, and appear to have been of
considerable moment in the annals of those times.
Thomas Morton, already alluded to, and one who
accompanied Wollaston, proved a disorganizer, and
a ringleader of such as were disposed to sympathize
with him. It would be difficult, with an eye the most
indulgent, and making liberal allowances, in the ex-
treme, for the sanctimonious views and rigid discipline
of the Puritans, to apologize for his own private irreg-
ularities, his conduct to the Indians, whether friendly or
inimical, and specially for the contempt with which he
treated all order and authority. He became indeed the
source of great trouble to the early settlers here and
elsewhere, a constant annoyance to those in authority,
and withal, in his disposition and conduct, about as
incorrigible a subject as they could well desire for their
management. Among his notorious acts of dissipation
and riot, he set up a May Pole to be danced and sung
round, than which, it would not have been easy to
have devised anything more odious to the scrupulous
Puritans, short of the actual introduction among them
of the Evil One himself. Subsequently, also, in various
ways, his conduct was exceedingly reprehensible. Af-
ter repeated measures had been enforced against him,
some of them military and violent, all equally indica-
tive of the displeasure of the Government and their de-


cided purposes in regard to him ; after he had once been
sent to England in 1628, and had returned to Mount
Wollaston, or, as Governor Bradford somewhere says,
to " his old nest at Merry Mount," the name he had
himself given it, we find a record left in these words,
" September 7, 1630, Second Court of Assistants held
at Charlestown. Present, Governor Winthrop, Deputy
Governor Dudley, Sir Richard Saltonstall and others.
Ordered, ' That Thomas Morton of Mount Wollaston
shall presently be set in the bilbowes, [long bars or
bolts of iron used to confine the feet of prisoners and
offenders on board ships,] and after sent to England by
the ship called the Gift, now returning thither : that all
his goods shall be seized to defray the charge of his
transportation, payment of his debts, and to give satis-
faction to the Indians for a canoe he took unjustly from
them, and that his house be burnt down to the ground
in sight of the Indians, for their satisfaction for many
wrongs he has done them.' " *

This was enforced, and in pursuance of the order
he was again sent to England. But his annoyances
did not end here. He urged complaints to the king,
which were likewise sources of difficulty : he returned
again to Mount Wollaston, and afterwards in repeated
forms disturbed and harassed the colony, so that at
last, as Hutchinson says, " Nothing but his age saved
him from the whipping-post." f He died at Agamen-
ticus — the town of York, in the state of Maine, about
1643 — if not in obscurity, as he resolved not to die,
at least in disgrace, and to the promotion of the public

* Prince's Chronology, Vol. I. p. 248.

t Hutchinson's History, Vol. I. p. 32, London Edition, Note.

A source of still more ardent and general excitement,
if possible, to the people of those early times, was the
supposed heretical preaching of Mr. John Wheelwright,
a connexion in kindred, and a zealous friend in opinion
of the memorable and gifted Mrs. Anne Hutchinson.
To some, this latter circumstance was of far deeper
interest than the preceding one, as, in their view, no
radicalism in politics, no disorderly conduct could com-
pare with heresy on that absorbing topic, to which
their eyes and hearts were so steadily directed. This
gentleman came out and ministered to the people of
the Mount, by the permission, if not at the instigation
of the First Church in Boston, as early as 1636 — the
residents here, on account of their distance from Bos-
ton, having previously petitioned to have the benefit of
a preacher. The chief excitement, which with all
innocence, and sincerity of purpose, too, he seems to
have been the cause of brewing u[), was that apparently
simple thing, the preaching of a Fast sermon. Already
the clergy, as a body, and some of the laity had begun
to look upon him with fearful and suspicious eyes.
But the larger portion of the laity, we have reason to
think, went not a little beyond an ordinary sympathy
with him. It was in consonance with what, in my
opinion, was the prevalent spirit of the times, as, with
your patience, in the sequel we may hope to see illus-
trated. He was apparently an innovator and reformer :
he took one step aside from the trodden way ; and the
conservatives sounded the trumpet of alarm. His
seemingly humble instrument, the Fast sermon, set the
whole community into a blaze. From such small be-
ginnings do great things grow. Thus does God choose
the weak things of the world to confound the things

that are mighty. He was pursued and arraigned, dis-
franchised and banished. Fortunate in his time, that
he came off even thus hghtly, and escaped the block.
A little earlier period would have counted him less
venial. A slighter matter, persisted in with the firmness
he manifested, might but shortly before his day have
crowned him with the honors of martyrdom.

It comes within my present plan only to take this
passing notice of Mr. Wheelwright, and the excitement
which followed him, as one of the remarkable events,
which had taken place previously to the incorporation
of the town. This event alone would afford an almost
interminable field for remark and discussion, were it
to be pursued, and more than absorb all the time I
ought to claim on the present occasion. Inviting as
it is, I leave it with the less regret, as it has recently
been so ably and satisfactorily presented to the public
in the discourses * consequent upon the return of the
second century since the gathering of the first church,
to which its further consideration might in every view
appear more pertinent.

Other incidents likewise are to be noticed of inferior
but still not very slight consequence, considering the
circumstances of the times. Intimately connected with
much that has already been stated, and in part the
cause of it, were first the highly probable fact, that
after the departure of Wollaston, some of his company
had become stationary at the Mount, thus affording us,
at least, the venerable distinction of being the oldest
permanent t settlement in Massachusetts; and secondly,
the indisputable fact, that men both of eminence and

* See Lunt's Second Century Discourses,
t See Winthrop's Journal, Vol. I. p. 43.

industry came out here from the metropolis and had
allotments of land made to them, already cleared and in-
viting their labors, and thus giving us the less question-
able distinction of having had some of the earliest, if
not the very earliest, cultivated farms in the colony,
possibly in New England. These all rendered the
Mount conspicuous — lifting it up before the eyes of
the sparse community far above its humble physical
elevation. It had early a name, notoriety, and charac-
ter. It was a cherished spot both to the Bostonians,
to whom in fact it belonged, being by order of court
early annexed to it, and to the magistrates and the
early settlers generally.

Accordingly, the way was naturally and easily and
early prepared for an application, on the part of the
residents here, and for a ready acquiescence on the
part of the magistrates, that the inhabitants at Mount
Wollaston should be incorporated into a town. The
benefits of such a measure must be too obvious to be
enlarged upon. It it natural that we should turn with
some curiosity and interest to the early document — to
wit, the petition which was presented to this effect.
No very musty antiquarian fondness would seem to be
essential in order to reap gratification from its perusal.
But that privilege is denied us. It has shared the fate
of many more valuable things. It is not extant.

In the first volume of the Massachusetts Colony Rec-
ords, under date of 13 May, 1640, is the following
account of the action that was had in reply to the ap-
plication from the Mount.

" The Petition * of the Inhabitants of Mount Wool-

* Massachusetts Colony Records, Vol. 1. p. 277.


laston was voted and granted them to be a Town ac-
cording to the agreement with Boston ; provided, that
if they fulfil not the covenant made with Boston and
hearto affixed, it shall be in the power of Boston to
recover their due by action against the said inhabitants
or any of them, — and the town is to be called Brain-

Pretty rigid principle this, on which to base their
conditions, whatever the amount or extent of those
conditions might have been ! It was, in fact, the very
principle, involving the question, which, in our own
time, has been mooted, with so much earnestness and
cogent reasoning on both sides, whether individuals
shall be holden for the liabilities of the corporation, of
which they are a component part.

It is not necessary to quote these conditions, extend-
ing to considerable length, and being rather minute.
They are principally the payment of certain yearly
assessments on special parcels of land. One item it is
curious at this distant day to observe. Boston resigns*
to Braintree, probably as hardly worth the keeping, the
rocky hill extending west from where we are assembled,
far into the granite quarries, " together with another
parcel of rocky ground near to the Knight's Neck."

* The language of the record runs thus, — " All that rocky ground lying
between the Fresh brook and Mr. Coddington's brook, adjoining to Mr.
Hough's farm, and from the west corner of that farm to the southmost cor-
ner of Mr. Hutchinson's farm, to be reserved and used in common forever."
Mr. Coddington's farm, we know, was the present Mount Wollaston farm.
Where Mr. Hutchinson's farm was we have no means of determining. But
guided by the two brooks mentioned, in all probability the two principal
ones which pass through the town at the present day, I have supposed the
parcel alluded to would be likely to lie in the direction stated. If I am
right in this conjecture it included Mount Ararat, (so called,) with the hilly
portion stretching south of it as far as the brook.


It was reserved for a period, long after their very
names had passed from among men, amidst the growing
improvements of advancing time, to affix to the worth-
less rocks a value surpassing all that could have entered
their imagination.

The origin of the name of our ancient town, as thus
incorporated, is traced in this way. In 1632, accord-
ing to Winthrop,* a company from Braintrcy in Eng-
land, near Chelmsford, where Mr. Hooker was the
preacher, begun to settle at Mount Wollaston. They
removed afterwards to Newton, but, as has been con-
jectured, it appears to me with good reason.f a part of
the company must have returned again, perhaps about
1634, and settled permanently. Unquestionably at
their request or suggestion, the name of their former
residence was given to the new place of their adop-

It is far from common, I suppose, that in the division of
towns, the movement for separation occurs with the old
settlement. Such, however, was the fact here ; and in
the issue, whether from necessity or not, the ancient
name was resigned and the present one was taken, in
honor of Colonel John Quincy, who had occupied the
Mount Wollaston farm. As we have come up, howev-
er, to commemorate the original incorporation, there
seems a special propriety in doing it where the first
settlement and incorporation were actually made, rather
than follow the name to a spot where only a feeble
settlement, if any, had been begun, and no church
gathered till more than half a century afterwards.

* See Winthrop's New England, p. 87, note by Savage,
t See Lunt's Second Century Discourses, Appendix, p. 66.



I now take leave of the history, which, commencing
with the period to which I have arrived, has been stead-
ily accumulating for two hundred years, and pass to
other considerations, of a more practical bearing, and in
which we shall be far more likely to find some end.
It would be as preposterous as it would be fearfully
tedious, to pursue the history through all the details of
two centuries, down to the present hour. This is more
properly the work of the annalist. Let us turn, there-
fore, to matters of a more comprehensive character.

And here we may well remark how little history in gen-
eral has done to elevate our conceptions of man. Some-
thing it could hardly fail to accomplish of good, as from
age to age it affords us records of what advancement has
been made upon the past. But it tells us little of hu-
man capacity. It is, for the most part, the dismal cat-
alogue of man's animal conflicts, and the exhibition of
his worst passions. War, conquest, ambitious tri-
umphs, purchased at the cost of wholesale suftering ;
selfish accumulation at the expense of monstrous and
revolting miseries, awful and unjust impositions ; these,
and the things like them, are what stand out glaringly
on its pages. It does no justice to the better part of
man. It is no index in itself alone of what he is des-
tined to accomplish. He who looks to history in the
light of so many facts only, as so many items alone in
the amount of mortal action, and takes them for his
guide, will be about certain to err. He must of neces-
sity be narrow in his expectations of human advance-
ment. The true philosopher will go behind history
and analyze the picture it presents, find its real ele-
ments, and place them in their rightful order. He will
sift out the chaff, and set down to the lower propensi-

ties what belongs exclusively to them. After wading
through a century of disheartening events, he will not,
therefore, grow hopeless of man ; for he can perceive
that scarcely one of the higher powers of his nature
has been called into action. Man has not himself
been before him, but the deformity of man, which we
may justly complain history has been so lavish in por-

Hence the difference among men in their visions of
the future. One takes history for his exclusive guide,
its bare, dark chapters. Another takes his stand upon
principles — the elements and capacities of human na-
ture, what man was evidently designed by his Creator to
be. Can we doubt how meagre, unsatisfactory, and delu-
sive in comparison history thus becomes ? An Egyptian
colony, we are told, planted Athens ; a band of robbers
and outcasts laid the foundations of Rome, — her sons
in time left Carthage a heap of ashes, and transferred
her glory to the beautiful Italian shores. William the
Conqueror invaded and overran Britain ; the Turks,
during more than double the centuries we have had a
name on the earth, planted their feet with a gigantic
power on the neck of Grecian valor, refinement, and
unsurpassed literary fame ; meanwhile the mighty sway,
and the feeble are ground in the dust. Where do we
get the intimation that the feeble band of the Puritans,
at very sight of whom the imposing court of Charles
curl their lips in scorn, shall one day push off to these
ends of the earth, and here kindle up on new principles
the dawn of a better hope for man ? The convents of
the middle ages, the castle-crowned cliffs of Lords and
Barons ministered, in part, to the physical wants of
the human race. It was their pride and glory that the


beggar knocked never at their gates in vain. But
nothing was done, nothing even attempted to lift the
unfortunate or the indigent above the necessity of beg-
gary. Let him, who counts history thus all-sufficient,
lay his finger upon those hopeful premises, whence we
may safely make the glad deduction that, far in the
distant future, a better almsgiving shall call forth the
sympathies of humanity, — that all their bounties and
charity shall look poor and shallow, the merest surface
work by the side of a truer benevolence, which, strik-
ing deeper than physical want, aims at individual self-
respect and social elevation.

Nevertheless, history in its place is not to be dis-
paraged. It has its lessons, and it is fruitful of instruc-
tion. Only let not man grow faithless under it. They
who left the smiling scenes of England, and built up in
this wilderness, first the humble towns, and, through
their growing strength, our present wide domain, till
" the little one has become a thousand, and the small
one a strong nation," came forth here and conquered
and took the victory, as had been done times without
number before. History records for us their doings,
fortunately also some of the elevated objects at which
they were aiming. What was there in their coming
forth here, and in the prosperity that has followed them,
differing from those of all other conquests or coloniza-
tions ? Let us briefly look into this, and trace, as I
think we may, to the same cause the success of their
enterprise at the beginning, and the surpassing pros-
perity that has risen up to honor their memories since.

If we step for a moment behind history and look at
it as it passes before us, we shall perceive that there have
been two preeminently distinct and prominent classes of


principles, which have prevailed among men, and by
which communities and the world in general have been
swayed. These are the binding and the dissevering
principles, founded the one upon the moral sentiments,
the other upon the animal propensities in man.
Neither of these has as yet ever existed, without
any alliance with the other. The latter has pre-
vailed in by far the largest measure. The binding
principles, founded as they are upon the moral sen-
timents, have reference to the everlasting laws of
rectitude, and to a conformity with the will and de-
signs of the Creator. The dissevering principles,,
on the contrary, founded upon what is low, are shallow,
superficial, extraneous, — they are attendant upon ar-
bitrary will or artificial circumstances or temporary
necessity, or what is worse, error, folly, ignorance, or
crime. Thus, for example, all the principles which go
to the support of a despotism are dissocial, dissevering,
and shattering in their very nature. They tend natur-
ally and inevitably to nurture passions and promote
objects, which must as certainly divide men, as a decree
of fate. They set one against another, and bring on
opposing interests and factions, weakness and downfall.
On one side, the side of the despot, there are pride,
arrogance, indolence, oppression, inordinate selfishness,
the idea of inherited or inahenable right over the prop-
erty, persons, freedom, and happiness of others ; and
on the other, the side of the overpowered, envy and
hatred, the desire of hberty, the chafing feeling of rights
trampled on and human nature abused. In these there
is no permanent germ, no bond of union. They can
no more coexist eternally, they can no more draw
naturally and willingly in any harmonious fellowship,


than the hungry tiger can gambol with the lamb.
Those principles, on the contrary, which are at the
foundation of a true republic, are naturally binding ;
never as yet, indeed, have we seen them anything like
generally prevailing, or freely and fully acted out.
Whenever we do see them, we shall find them exercis-
ing this influence ; as far as we witness them at all,
we perceive this to be their character ; — and reason-

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Online LibraryGeorge WhitneyA commemorative discourse pronouced at Quincy → online text (page 1 of 6)