Nathaniel Hawthorne.

The whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 online

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Online LibraryNathaniel HawthorneThe whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 → online text (page 13 of 16)
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chair, — our own venerable chair, — sat Mr. Richard
Dana, a justice of the peace. He administered an
oath to Mr. Oliver that he would never have anything
to do with distributing the stamps. A vast concourse
pf people heard the oath, and shouted when it was

" There is something grand in this," said Laurence.
" I like it, because the people seem to have acted with
thoughtf ulness and dignity ; and this proud gentleman,
one of his Majesty's high officers, was made to feel
that King George could not protect him in doing

" But it was a sad day for poor Mr. Oliver," ob-
served Grandfather. " From his youth upward it had
probably been the great principle of his life to be
faithful and oledient to the king. And now, in his
old age, it must have puzzled and distracted him to
find the sovereign people setting up a claim to his
faith and obedience."

Grandfather closed the evening's conversation by
saying that the discontent of America was so great,
that, in 1766, the British Parliament was compelled


to repeal the Stamp Act. Tlie people made great
rejoicings, but took care to keep Liberty Tree well
pruned and free from caterpillars and canker-worms.
They foresaw that there might yet be occasion for
them to assemble under its far-projecting shadow*



The next evening, Clara, who remembered that our
chair had been left standing in the rain under Liberty
Tree, earnestly besought Grandfather to tell when and
where it had next found shelter. Perhaps she was
afraid that the venerable chair, by being exposed to
the inclemency of a September gale, might get the
rheumatism in its aged joints.

" The chair," said Grandfather, " after the ceremony
of Mr. Oliver's oath, appears to have been quite for-
gotten by the multitude. Indeed, being much bruised
and rather rickety, owing to the violent treatment it
had suffered from the Hutchinson mob, most people
would have thought that its days of usefulness were
over. Nevertheless, it was conveyed away under cover
of the night and committed to the care of a skilful
joiner. He doctored our old friend so successfully,
that, in the course of a few days, it made its appear-
ance in the public room of the British Coffee House,
in King Street."

" But why did not Mr. Hutchinson get possession
of it again ? " inquired Charley.

" I know not," answered Grandfather, " unless he
considered it a dishonor and disgrace to the chair to
have stood under Liberty Tree. At all events, he suf-
fered it to remain at the British Coffee House, which
Was the principal hotel in Boston. It could not pos-


sibly have found a situation where it would be more
in the midst of business and bustle, or would witness
more important events, or be occupied by a greater
variety of persons."

Grandfather went on to tell the proceedings of the
despotic king and ministry of England after the repeal
of the Stamp Act. They could not bear to think that
their right to tax America should be disputed by the
people. In the year 1767, therefore, they caused Par-
liament to pass an act for laying a duty on tea and
some other articles that were in general use. Nobody
could now buy a pound of tea without paying a tax to
King George< This scheme was pretty craftily con-
trived ; for the women of America were very fond of
tea, and did not like to give up the use of it.

But the people were as much opposed to this new
act of Parliament as they had been to the Stamp Act.
England, however, was determined that they should
submit. In order to compel their obedience, two reg-
iments, consisting of more than seven hundred British
soldiers, were sent to Boston. They arrived in Sep-
tember, 1768, and were landed on Long Wharf
Thence they marched to the Common with loadec
muskets, fixed bayonets, and great pomp and parade.
So now, at last, the free town of Boston was guarded
and overawed by redcoats as it had been in the days
of old Sir Edmund Andros.

In the month of November more regiments arrived.
There were now four thousand troops in Boston. The
Common was whitened with their tents. Some of the
soldiers were lodged in Faneuil Hall, which the inhab-
itants looked upon as a consecrated place, because it
had been the scene of a great many meetings in favor
of liberty. Owe regiment was placed in the Town


House, which we now call the Old State House. The
lower floor of this edifice had hitherto been used by
the merchants as an exchange. In the upper stories
were the chambers of the judges, the representatives,
and the governor's council. The venerable councillors
could not assemble to consult about the welfare of the
province without being challenged by sentinels and
passing among the bayonets of the British soldiers.

Sentinels likewise were posted at the lodgings of
the officers in many parts of the town. When the
inhabitants approached they were greeted by the sharp
question, " Who goes there ? " while the rattle of the
soldier's musket was heard as he presented it against
their breasts. There was no quiet even on the sab-
bath day. The quiet descendants of the Puritans
were shocked by the uproar of military music ; the
drum, fife, and bugle drowning the holy organ peal
and the voices of the singers. It would appear as if
the British took every method to insult the f eelin^js of
the people.

" Grandfather," cried Charley, impatiently, " the
people did not go to fighting half soon enough ! These
British redcoats ought to have been driven back to
their vessels the very moment they lauded on Long

" Many a hot-headed young man said the same as
you do, Charley," answered Grandfather. " But the
elder and wiser people saw that the time was not yet
come. Meanwhile, let us take another peep at our old

" Ah, it drooped its head, I know," said Charley,
*' when it saw how the province was disgraced. Its
old Puritan friends never would have borne such do«


"The chair," proceeded Grandfather, "was now
continually occupied by some of the high tories, as
the king's friends were called, who frequented the
British Coffee House. Officers of the Custom House,
too, which stood on the opposite side of King Street,
often sat in the chair wagging their tongues against
John Hancock."

" Why against him ? " asked Charley.

" Because he was a great merchant and contended
against paying duties to the king," said Grandfather.

'' Well, frequently, no doubt, the officers of the
British regiments, when not on duty, used to fling
themselves into the arms of our venerable chair.
Fancy one of them, a red-nosed captain in his scarlet
uniform, playing with the hilt of his sword, and mak-
ing a circle of his brother officers merry with ridicu-
lous jokes at the expense of the poor Yankees. And
perhaps he would call for a bottle of wine, or a steam-
ing bowl of punch, and drink confusion to all rebels."

" Our grave old chair must have been scandalized
at such scenes," observed Laurence ; " the chair thai
had been the Lady Arbella's, and which the holy
apostle Eliot had consecrated."

" It certainly was little less than sacrilege," replied
Grandfather ; " but the time was coming when even
the churches, where hallowed pastors had long preached
the word of God, were to be torn down or desecrated
by the British troops. Some years passed, however,
before such things were done."

Grandfather now told his auditors that, in 1769, Sii
Francis Bernard went to England after having been
governor of Massachusetts ten years. He was a gentle-
man of many good qualities, an excellent scholar, and
a friend to learning. But he was naturally of an ar-


bitrary disposition ; and he had been bred at the Uni-
versity of Oxford, where young men were taught that
the divine right of kings was the only thing to be re-
garded in matters of government. Such ideas were ill
adapted to please the people of Massachusetts. They
rejoiced to get rid of Sir Francis Bernard, but liked
his successor, Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson, no
better than himself.

About this period the people were much incensed at
an act committed by a person who held an office in
the Custom House. Some lads, or young men, were
snowballing his windows. He fired a musket at them,
and killed a poor German boy, only eleven years old.
This event made a great noise in town and country,
and much increased the resentment that was already
felt against the servants of the crown.

"Now, children," said Grandfather, "I wish to
make you comprehend the position of the British
troops in King Street. This is the same which we
now call State Street. On the south side of the Town
House, or Old State House, was what military men
call a court of guard, defended by two brass cannons,
which pointed directly at one of the doors of the above
edifice. A large party of soldiers were always sta-
tioned in the court of guard. The Custom House
stood at a little distance down King Street, nearly
where the Suffolk Bank now stands, and a sentinel
was continually pacing before its front."

" I shall remember this to-morrow," said Charley ;
" and I will go to State Street, so as to see exactly
where the British troops were stationed."

" And before long," observed Grandfather, " I shall
have to relate an event which made King Street sadly
famous on both sides of the Atlantic. The history of


our chair will soon bring us to this melancholy busi-

Here Grandfather described the state of things
which arose from the ill will that existed between the
inhabitants and the redcoats. The old and sober part
of the townspeople were very angry at the government
for sending soldiers to overawe them. But those gray-
headed men were cautious, and kept their thoughts
and feelings in their own breasts, without putting
themselves in the way of the British bayonets.

The younger people, however, could hardly be kept
within such prudent limits. They reddened with wrath
at the very sight of a soldier, and would have been
willing to come to blows with them at any moment.
For it was their opinion that every tap of a British
drum within the peninsula of Boston was an insult to
the brave old town.

" It was sometimes the case," continued Grand
father, " that affrays happened between such wild
young men as these and small parties of the soldiers.
No weapons had hitherto been used except fists or
cudgels. But when men have loaded muskets in their
hands, it is easy to foretell that they will soon be
turned against the bosoms of those who provoke their

" Grandfather," said little Alice, looking fearfully
into his face, " your voice sounds as though you were
going to tell us something awful ! "



Little Alice, by her last remark, proved herself a
good judge of what was expressed by the tones of
Grandfather's voice. He had given the above descrip-
tion of the enmity between the townspeople and the
soldiers in order to prepare the minds of his auditors
for a very terrible event. It was one that did more
to heighten the quarrel between England and Amer-
ica than anything that had yet occurred.

Without further preface, Grandfather began the
story of the Boston Massacre.

It was now the 3d of March, 1770. The sunset
music of the British regiments was heard as usual
throughout the town. The shrill fife and rattling drum
awoke the echoes in King Street, while the last ray of
sunshine was lingering on the cupola of the Town
House. And now all the sentinels were posted. One
of them marched up and down before the Custom
House, treading a short path through the snow, and
longing for the time when he would be dismissed to
the warm fireside of the guard room. Meanwhile
Captain Preston was, perhaps, sitting in our great
chair before the hearth of the British Coffee House.
In the course of the evening there were two or three
slight commotions, which seemed to indicate that
trouble was at hand. Small parties of young men
stood at the corners of the streets or walked along the


narrow pavements. Squads of soldiers who were dis-
missed from duty passed by them, shoulder to shoul-
der, with the regular step which they had learned at
tne drill. Whenever these encounters took place, it
appeared to be the object of the young men to treat
the soldiers with as much incivility as possible.

" Turn out, you lobsterbacks ! " one would say.
" Crowd them off the sidewalks ! " another would cry*
" A redcoat has no right in Boston streets ! "

" O, you rebel rascals ! " perhaps the soldiers would
reply, glaring fiercely at the young men. " Some day
or other we'll make our way through Boston streets at
the point of the bayonet ! "

Once or twice such disputes as these brought on a
scuffle ; which passed off, however, without attracting
much notice. About eight o'clock, for some unknown
cause, an alarm-bell rang loudly and hurriedly.

At the sound many people ran out of their houses,
supposing it to be an alarm of fire. But there were
no flames to be seen, nor was there any smell of smoke
in the clear, frosty air ; so that most of the townsmen
went back to their own firesides and sat talking with
their wives and children about the calamities of the
times. Others who were younger and less prudent re-
mained in the streets ; for there seems to have been a
presentiment that some strange event was on the eve
of taking place.

Later in the evening, not far from nine o'clock, sev-
eral young men passed by the Town House and walked
down King Street. The sentinel was still on his post
in front of the Custom House, pacing to and fro;
while, as he turned, a gleam of light from some neigh-
boring window glittered on the barrel of his musket.
At no great distance were the barracks and the guard


house, where his comrades were probably telling stories
of battle and bloodshed.

Down towards the Custom House, as I told you,
came a party of wild young men. When they drew
near the sentinel he halted on his post, and took his
musket from his shoulder, ready to present the bayonet
at their breasts.

" Who goes there ? " he cried, in the gruff, peremp=
tory tones of a soldier's challenge.

The young men, being Boston boys, felt as if they
had a right to walk their own streets without being ac-
countable to a British redcoat, even though he chal-
lenged them in King George's name. They made
some rude answer to the sentinel. There was a dis-
pute, or perhaps a scuffle. Other soldiers heard the
noise, and ran hastily from the barracks to assist their
comrades. At the same time many of the townspeople
rushed into King Street by various avenues, and gath-
ered in a crowd round about the Custom House. It
seemed wonderful how such a multitude had started
up all of a sudden. .

The wrongs and insults which the people had been
suffering for many months now kindled them into a
rage. They threw snowballs and lumps of ice at the
soldiers. As the tumult grew louder it reached the
ears of Captain Preston, the officer of the day. He
immediately ordered eight soldiers of the main guard
to take their muskets and follow him. They marched
across the street, forcing their way roughly through
the crowd, and pricking the townspeople with their

A gentleman (it was Henry Knox, afterwards gen-
eral of the American artillery) caught Captain Pres-
ton's arm.


" For Heaven's sake, sir," exclaimed lie, " take heed
what you do, or there will be bloodshed."

" Stand aside ! " answered Captain Preston, haugh-
tily. " Do not interfere, sir. Leave me to manage the

Arriving at the sentinel's post. Captain Preston
drew up his men in a semicircle, with their faces to
the crowd and their rear to the Custom House. When
the people saw the officer and beheld the threatening
attitude with which the soldiers fronted them, their
rage becp,me almost uncontrollable.

" Fire, you lobsterbacks ! " bellowed some.

" You dare not fire, you cowardly redcoats ! " cried

" Push upon them ! " shouted many voices. " Drive
the rascals to their barracks ! Down with them !
Down with them ! Let them fire if they dare ! "

Amid the uproar, the soldiers stood glaring at the
people with the fierceness of men whose trade was to
ihed blood.

Oh, what a crisis had now arrived ! Up to this
very moment, the angry feelings between England and
America might have been pacified. England had but
to stretch out the hand of reconciliation, and acknowl-
edge that she had hitherto mistaken her rights, but
would do so no more. Then the ancient bonds of
brotherhood would again have been knit together as
firmly as in old times. The habit of loyalty, which
had grown as strong as instinct, was not utterly over-
come. The perils shared, the victories won, in the old
French War, when the soldiers of the colonies fought
side by side with their comrades from beyond the sea,
were unforgotten yet. England was still that beloved
country which the colonists called their home. King

lis cxkandfathews chair.

Greorge, though he had frowned upon America, was
itill reverenced as a father.

But should the king's soldiers shed one drop of

American blood, then it was a quarrel to the death.

Never, never would America rest satisfied until she

had torn down the royal authority and trampled it in

the dust.

"Fire, if you dare, villains ! " hoarsely shouted the
people, while the muzzles of the muskets were turned
upon them. " You dare not fire ! "

They appeared ready to rush upon the levelled bay-
onets. Captain Preston waved his sword, and uttered
a command which could not be distinctly heard amid
the uproar of shouts that issued from a hundred throats.
But his soldiers deemed that he had spoken the fatal
mandate, " Fire ! " The flash of their muskets lighted
up the streets, and the report rang loudly between the
edifices. It was said, too, that the figure of a man,
with a cloth hanging down over his face, was seen to
step into the balcony of the Custom House and dis-
charge a musket at the crowd.

A gush of smoke had overspread the scene. It rose
heavily, as if it were loath to reveal the dreadful spec-
tacle beneath it. Eleven of the sons of New England
lay stretched upon the street. Some, sorely wounded,
were struggling to rise again. Others stirred not nor
groaned ; for they were past all pain. Blood was
streaming upon the snow; and that purple stain in
the midst of King Street, though it melted away in the
next day's sun, was never forgotten nor forgiven by
the people.

Grandfather was interrupted by the violent sobs of
little Alice. In his earnestness he had neglected to


goften down the narrative so that it might not terrify
the heart of this unworldl}^ infant. Since Grandfather
began the history of our chair, little Alice had listened
to many tales of war. But probably the idea had
never really impressed itself upon her mind that men
have shed the blood of their fellow-creatures. And
now that this idea was forcibly presented to her, it
affected the sweet child with bewilderment and horror.

" I ought to have remembered our dear little Alice,"
said Grandfather reproachfully to himself. " Oh, what
a pity ! Her heavenly nature has now received its first
impression of earthly sin and violence. Well, Clara,
take her to bed and comfort her. Heaven grant that
she may dream away the recollection of the Boston
massacre ! "

" Grandfather," said Charley, when Clara and little
Alice had retired, " did not the people rush upon the
soldiers and take revenge ? "

"The town drums beat to arms," replied Grand-
father, " the alarm-bells rang, and an immense multi-
tude rushed into King Street. Many of them had
weapons in their hands. The British prepared to de-
fend themselves. A whole regiment was drawn up
in the street, expecting an attack; for the townsmen
appeared ready to throw themselves upon the bayo-

"And how did it end?"

" Governor Hutchinson hurried to the spot," said
Grandfather, "and besought the people to have pa-
tience, promising that strict justice should be done.
A day or two afterward the British troops were with-
drawn from town and stationed at Castle William.
Captain Preston and the eight soldiers were tried for
murder. But none of them were found guiltyo The


judges told the jury that the insults and violence which
had been offered to the soldiers justified them in firing
at the mob."

" The Revolution," observed Laurence, who had said
but little during the evening, " was not such a calm,
majestic movement as I supposed. I do not love to
hear of mobs and broils in the street. These things
were unworthy of the people when they had such a
great object to accomplish."

" Nevertheless, the world has seen no grander move-
ment than that of our Revolution from first to last,"
said Grandfather. " The people, to a man, were full
of a great and noble sentiment. True, there may be
much fault to find with their mode of expressing this
sentiment ; but they knew no better ; the necessity was
upon them to act out their feelings in the best manner
they could. We must forgive what was wrong in their
actions, and look into their hearts and minds for the
honorable motives that impelled them."

" And I suppose," said Laurence, " there were men
who knew how to act worthily of what they felt."

"There were many such," replied Grandfather;
" and we will speak of some of them hereafter."

Grandfather here made a pause. That night Charley
had a dream about the Boston massacre, and thought
that he himself was in the crowd and struck down
Captain Preston with a great club. Laurence dreamed
that he was sitting in our great chair, at the window
of the British Coffee House, and beheld the whole
scene which Grandfather had described. It seemed
to him, in his dream, that, if the townspeople and th(
soldiers would but have heard him speak a single
word, all the slaughter might have been averted. But
there was such an uproar that it drowned his voice.


The next morning the two boys went together to
State Street and stood on the very spot where the
first blood of the Revolution had been shed. The Old
State House was still there, presenting almost the
same aspect that it had worn on that memorable
evening, one-and-seventy years ago. It is the sole re
inaining witness of the Boston massacre.



The next evening the astral lamp was lighted earliei
jhan usual, because Laurence was very much engaged
in looking over the collection of portraits which had
been his New- Year's gift from Grandfather.

Among them he found the features of more than
one famous personage who had been connected with
the adventures of our old chair. Grandfather bade
him draw the table nearer to the fireside ; and they
looked over the portraits together, while Clara and
Charley likewise lent their attention. As for little
Alice, she sat in Grandfather's lap, and seemed to see
the very men alive whose faces were there represented.

Turning over the volume, Laurence came to the
portrait of a stern, grim-looking man, in plain attire,
of much more modern fashion than that of the old
Puritans. But the face might well have befitted one
of those iron-hearted men. Beneath the portrait was
the name of Samuel Adams.

" He was a man of great note in all the doings that
brought about the Revolution," said Grandfather.
" His character was such, that it seemed as if one of
the ancient Puritans had been sent back to earth to
animate the people's hearts with the same abhorrence
of tyranny that had distinguished the earliest settlers.
He was as religious as thejj^, as stern and inflexible,
and as deeply imbued with democratic principles. He,


better than any one else, may be taken as a represen«
tative of the people of New England, and of the spirit
with which they engaged in the Revolutionary struggle.
He was a poor man, and earned his bread by a humble
occupation ; but with his tongue and pen he made the
King of England tremble on his throne. Kemember
him, my children, as one of the strong men of our

" Here is one whose looks show a very different
character," observed Laurence, turning to the portrait
of John Hancock. " I should think, by his splendid
dress and courtly aspect, that he was one of the king's

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Online LibraryNathaniel HawthorneThe whole history of grandfather's chair ; or, True stories from New England history, 1620-1803 → online text (page 13 of 16)