Nathaniel Hawthorne.

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

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Young Sir Henry Vane, Governor of Massachusetts Bay, and
Leader of the Long Parliament. What the great Puritan poet,
John Milton, thought of Yane may be read in his famous son-
net, beginning, " Vane, young in years, but in sage counsel old."
The sonnet will be found in Riverside Literature Series, No. 72.
One of Whittier's poems, John Underhill, is of a friend of Vane-



in 1620, has already been mentioned. In 1635 Mr.
Hooker and Mr. Stone, two ministers, went on foot
from Massachusetts to Connecticut, through the path-
less woods, taking their whole congregation along
with them. They founded the town of Hartford. In
1638 Mr. Davenport, a very celebrated minister, went,
with other people, and began a plantation at New
Haven. In the same year, some persons who had
been persecuted in Massachusetts went to the Isle of
Rhodes, since called Rhode Island, and settled there.
About this time, also, many settlers had gone to
Maine, and were living without any regular govern-
ment. There were likewise settlers near Piscataqua
River, in the region which is now called New Hamp-

Thus, at various points along the coast of New Eng^
land, there were communities of Englishmen. Though
these communities were independent of one another^
yet they had a common dependence upon England;
and, at so vast a distance from their native home, the
inhabitants must all have felt like brethren. They
were fitted to become one united people at a future
period. Perhaps their feelings of brotherhood were
the stronger because different nations had formed set-
tlements to the north and to the south. In Canada
and Nova Scotia were colonies of French. On the
banks of the Hudson River was a colony of Dutch,
who had taken possession of that region many years
before, and called it New Netherlands.

^ Portsmouth is the chief town of the region ; and readers who
know Mr. Aldrich's Story of a Bad Boy have some acquaint-
ance with the place under the slight veil of Rivermouth. Mr.
Aldrich has written a pleasant book of historic sketches oi
Portsmouth, called ^n Old Town by the Sea.


Here are buried Governor Winthrop and other distinguished men of the early timft
The first burial was in 1630

^,5^1^^^^3^^^^^,^'^^%^'i^^^cyfe^ Qm/mcC.

From the oldest known print of Harvard College, engraved in 1726, and representing
the college as it appeared when ninety years old. The building on the righi,
Massachusetts Hall, is still in use.


Grandfather, for aught I know, might have gone on
to speak of Maryland and Virginia ; for the good old
gentleman really seemed to suppose that the whole sur-
face of the United States was not too broad a founda-
tion to place the four legs of his chair upon. But,
happening to glance at Charley, he perceived that this
naughty boy was growing impatient and meditating
another ride upon a stick. So here, for the present.
Grandfather suspended the history of his chair.



The children had now learned to look upon the
chair with an interest which was almost the same as
if it were a conscious being, and could remember the
many famous people whom it had held within its arms.

Even Charley, lawless as he was, seemed to feel that
this venerable chair must not be clambered upon nor
overturned, although he had no scruple in taking such
liberties with every other chair in the house. Clara
treated it with still greater reverence, often taking oc-
casion to smooth its cushion, and to brush the dust
from the carved flowers and grotesque figures of its
oaken back and arms. Laurence would sometimes sit
a whole hour, especially at twilight, gazing at the chair,
and, by the spell of his imaginations, summoning up
its ancient occupants to appear in it again.

Little Alice evidently employed herself in a similar
way ; for once when Grandfather had gone abroad, the
child was heard talking with the gentle Lady Arbella,
as if she were still sitting in the chair.- So sweet a
child as little Alice may fitly talk with angels, such as
the Lady Arbella had long since become.

Grandfather was soon importuned for more stories
about the chair. He had no difficulty in relating them ;
for it really seemed as if every person noted in our
early history had, on some occasion or other, found
repose within its comfortable arms. If Grandfather


took pride in anything, it was in being the possessor
of such an honorable and historic elbow-chair.

" I know not precisely who next got possession of
the chair after Governor Vane went back to England,"
said Grandfather. "But there is reason to believe
that President Dunster sat in it, when he held the first
Commencement at Harvard College. You have often
heard, children, how careful our forefathers were to
give their young people a good education. They had
scarcely cut down trees enough to make room for their
own dwellings before they began to think of establish-
ing a college. Their principal object was, to rear up
pious and learned ministers ; and hence old writers
call Harvard College a school of the prophets."

"Is the college a school of the prophets now?*
asked Charley.

" It is a long while since I took my degree, Charley .
You must ask some of the recent graduates," answereu
Grandfather. " As I was telling you. President Dun-
ster sat in Grandfather's chair in 1642, when he con-
ferred the degree of bachelor of arts on nine young
men.^ They were the first in America who had re-
ceived that honor. And now, my dear auditors, I must
confess that there are contradictory statements and
some uncertainty about the adventures of the chair for
a period of almost ten years. Some say that it was
occupied by your own ancestor, William Hawthorne,
first speaker of the House of Representatives. I have
nearly satisfied myself, however, that, during most of
this questionable period, it was literally the chair of

^ There really is a quaint old chair used by the President of
Harvard University at Commencement, and if Hawthorne was
not thinking of it, Dr. Holmes was, when he wrote his amusing
poem Parson Turell 's Legacy.



state. It gives me mucli pleasure to imagine that sev-
eral successive governors of Massachusetts sat in it at
the council board."

" But, Grandfather," interposed Charley, who was
a matter-of-fact little person, " what reason have you
to imagine so ? "

" Pray do imagine it, Grandfather," said Laurence.

" With Charley's permission, I will," replied Grand-
father, smiling. " Let us consider it settled, therefore,
that Winthrop, Bellingham, Dudley, and Endicott,
each of them, when chosen governor, took his seat in
our great chair on election day. In this chair, like-
wise, did those excellent governors preside while hold-
ing consultations with the chief councillors of the
province, who were styled assistants. The governor
sat in this chair, too, whenever messages were brought
to him from the chamber of representatives."

And here Grandfather took occasion to talk rather
tediously about the nature and forms of government
that established themselves, almost spontaneously, in
Massachusetts and the other New England colonies.
Democracies were the natural growth of the New
World. As to Massachusetts, it was at first intended
that the colony should be governed by a council in
London. But in a little while the people had the
whole power in their own hands, and chose annually
the governor, the councillors, and the representatives.
The people of Old England had never enjoyed any-
thing like the liberties and privileges which the set-
tlers of New England now possessed. And they did
not adopt these modes of government after long study,
but in simplicity, as if there were no other way for
people to be ruled.

" But, Laurence," continued Grandfather, " when


you want instruction on these points, you must seek it
in Mr. Bancroft's History. I am merely telling tlie
history of a chair. To proceed. The period during
which the governors sat in our chair was not very full
of striking incidents. The province was now estab=
lished on a secure foundation ; but it did not increase
so rapidly as at first, because the Puritans were no
longer driven from England by persecution. How-
ever, there was still a quiet and natural growth. The
Legislature incorporated towns, and made new pur-
chases of lands from the Indians. A very memorable
event took place in 1643. The colonies of Massachu-
setts, Plymouth, Connecticut, and New Haven formed
a union, for the purpose of assisting each other in dif-
ficulties, for mutual defence against their enemies.
They called themselves the United Colonies of Nev9

" Were they under a government like that of the
United States ? ' inquired Laurence.

" No," replied Grandfather ; " the different colonies
did not compose one nation together; it was merely
a confederacy among the governments. It somewhat
resembled the league of the Amphictyons, which you
remember in Grecian history. But to return to our
chair. In 1644 it was highly honored ; for Governor
Endicott sat in it when he gave audience to an ambas-
sador from the Erench governor of Acadia, or Nova
Scotia. A treaty of peace between Massachusetts and
the French colony was then signed."

*' Did England allow Massachusetts to make war
and peace with foreign countries? " asked Laurence.

" Massachusetts and the whole of New Eng^land was
then almost independent of the mother country," said
Grandfather. " There was now a civil war in Eng-


land i and the king, as you may well suppose, had his
hands full at home, and could pay but little attention
to these remote colonies. When the Parliament got
the power into their hands, they likewise had enough
to do in keeping down the Cavaliers. Thus New Eng-
land, like a young and hardy lad whose father and
mother neglect it, was left to take care of itself. In
1649 King Charles was beheaded. Oliver Cromwell
then became Protector of England ; and as he was a
Puritan himself, and had risen by the valor of the
English Puritans, he showed himself a loving and in-
dulgent father to the Puritan colonies in America."

Grandfather might have continued to talk in this
dull manner nobody knows how long ; but suspecting
that Charley would find the subject rather dry, he
looked sidewise at that vivacious little fellow, and saw
him give an involuntary yawn. Whereupon Grand-
father proceeded with the history of the chair, and re-
lated a very entertaining incident, which will be found
in the next chapter



^ A(X)0RDING to the most authentic records, my deai
dhildren," said Grandfather, " the chair, about this
time, had the misfortune to break its leg. It was
probably on account of this accident that it ceased to
be the seat of the governors of Massachusetts ; for,
assuredly, it would have been ominous of evil to the
commonwealth if the chair of state had tottered upon
three legs. Being therefore sold at auction, — alas !
what a vicissitude for a chair that had figured in such
high company ! — our venerable friend was knocked
down to a certain Captain John Hull. This old gen-
tleman, on carefully examining the maimed chair, dis-
covered that its broken leg might be clamped with
iron and made as serviceable as ever."

" Here is the very leg that was broken ! " exclaimed
Charley, throwing himself down on the floor to look
at it. " And here are the iron clamps. How well it
was mended ! "

When they had all sufficiently examined the broken
leg. Grandfather told them a story about Captain
John Hull and the Pine-tree Shillings.

The Captain John Hull aforesaid was the mint-mas-
ter of Massachusetts, and coined all the money that
was made there. This was a new line of business ?
for, in the earlier days of the colony, the current coin-
age consisted of gold and silver money of England,


Portugal, and Spain. These coins being scarce, the
people were often forced to barter their commodities
instead of selling them.

For instance, if a man wanted to buy a coat, he per-
haps exchanged a bear-skin for it. If he wished for
a barrel of molasses, he might purchase it with a pile
of pine boards. Musket-bullets were used instead of
Earthings. The Indians had a sort of money, called
wampugi, which was made of clam-shells ; and this
strange sort of specie was likewise taken in payment
of debts by the English settlers. Bank-bills had never
been heard of. There was not money enough of any
kind, in many parts of the country, to pay the salaries
of the ministers ; so that they sometimes had to take
quintals of fish, bushels of corn, or cords of wood, in-
stead of silver or gold.

As the people grew more numerous, and their trade
one with another increased, the want of current
money was still more sensibly felt. To supply the de-
mand, the General Court passed a law for establishing
a coinage of shillings, sixpences, and threepences. Cap-
tain John Hull was appointed to manufacture this
money, and was to have about one shilling out of every
twenty to pay him for the trouble of making them.

Hereupon all the old silver in the colony was handed
over to Captain John Hull. The battered silver cans
and tankards, I suppose, and silver buckles, and bro-
ken spoons, and silver buttons of worn-out coats, and
silver hilts of swords that had figured at court, — all
such curious old articles were doubtless thrown into
the melting-pot together. But by far the greater part
of the silver consisted of bullion from the mines of
South America, which the English buccaneers — who
were little better than pirates — had taken from the
Spaniards, and brought to Massachusetts.


All this old and new silver being melted down and
joined, the result was an immense amount of splendid
^hilKngs, sixpences, and threepences. Each had the
date, 1652, on the one side, and the figure of a pine-
tree on the other. Hence they were called pine-tree
shillings. And for every twenty shillings that he
coined, you will remember. Captain John Hull was
entitled to put one shilling into his own pocket.

The magistrates soon began to suspect that the mint
master would have the best of the bargain. They of
fered him a large sum of money if he would but give
up that twentieth shilling which he was continually
dropping into his own pocket. But Captain Hull de-
Glared himself perfectly satisfied with the shilling.
And well he might be ; for so diligently did he labor,
that, in a few years, his pockets, his money-bags, and
his strong box were overflowing with pine-tree shil-
lings. This was probably the case when he came into
possession of Grandfather's chair ; and, as he had
worked so hard at the mint, it was certainly proper
that he should have a comfortable chair to rest him
self in.

When the mint-master had grown very rich, a young
man, Samuel Sewall by name, came a-courting to his
only daughter. His daughter — whose name I do not
know, but we will call her Betsey — was a fine, hearty
damsel, by no means so slender as some young ladies
of our own days. On the contrary, having always fed
heartily on pumpkin-pies, doughnuts, Indian puddings,
and other Puritan dainties, she was as round and
plump as a pudding herself. With this round, rosy
Miss Betsey did Samuel Sewall fall in love. As he
was a young man of good character, industrious in his
business, and a member of the church, the mint-master
very readily ^ave his consent.


" Yes, you may take her," said he, in his rough way^
" and you '11 find her a heavy burden enough ! "

On the wedding day, we may suppose that honest
John Hull dressed himself in a plum-colored coat, aU
the buttons of which were made of pine-tree shillings.
The buttons of his waistcoat were sixpences ; and the
knees of his small-clothes were buttoned with silver
threepences. Thus attired, he saj; with great dignity
in Grandfather's chair ; and, being a portly old gen-
tleman, he completely filled it from elbow to elbow.
On the opposite side of the room, between her bride-
maids, sat Miss Betsey. She was blushing with all
her might, and looked like a full-blown peony, or a
great red apple.

There, too, was the bridegroom, dressed in a fine
purple coat and gold-lace waistcoat, with as much other
finery as the Puritan laws and customs would allow
him to put on. His hair was cropped close to his
head, because Governor Endicott had forbidden any
man to wear it below the ears. But he was a very
personable young man ; and so thought the bridemaids
and Miss Betsey herself.

The mint-master also was pleased with his new son-
in-law ; especially as he had courted Miss Betsey out
of pure love, and had said nothing at all about her
portion. So, when the marriage ceremony was over,
Captain Hull whispered a word to two of his men-ser
vants, who immediately went out, and soon returned,
lugging in a large pair of scales. They were such a
pair as wholesale merchants use for weighing bulky
commodities ; and quite a bulky commodity was now
to be weighed in them.

" Daughter Betsey," said the mint-master, " get into
one side of these scales."


Miss Betsey — or Mrs. Sewall, as we must now call
her — did as she was bid, like a dutiful child, without
any question of the why and wherefore. But what her
father could mean, unless to make her husband pay for
her by the pound (in which case she would have been
a dear bargain), she had not the least idea.

" And now," said honest John Hull to the servants,
" bring that box hither."

The box to which the mint-master pointed was a
huge, square, iron-bound, oaken chest ; it was big
enough, my children, for all four of you to play at
hide-and-seek in. The servants tugged with might
and main, but could not lift this enormous receptacle,
and were finally obliged to drag it across the floor.
Captain Hull then took a key from his girdle, un-
locked the chest, and lifted its ponderous lid. Be-
hold ! it was full to the brim of bright pine-tree shiL
lings, fresh from the mint ; and Samuel Sewall began
to think that his father-in-law had got possession of
all the money in the Massachusetts treasury. But it
was only the mint-master's honest share of the coin-

Then the servants, at Captain Hull's command,
heaped double handfuls of shillings into one side of
the scales, while Betsey remained in the other. Jingle,
jingle, went the shillings, as handful after handful was
thrown in, till, plump and ponderous as she was, they
fairly weighed the young lady from the floor.

" There, son Sewall ! " cried the honest mint-master,
resuming his seat in Grandfather's chair, " take these
shillings for my daughter's portion. Use her kindly,
and thank Heaven for her. It is not every wife that 's
worth her weight in silver ! "

The children laughed heartily at this legend, and


would hardly be convinced but that Grandfather had
made it out of his own head. He assured them faith-
fully, however, that he had found it in the pages of a
grave historian, and had merely tried to tell it in a
somewhat funnier style. As for Samuel Sewall, he
afterwards became chief justice of Massachusetts.^

" Well, Grandfather," remarked Clara, " if wedding
portions nowadays were paid as Miss Betsey's was.
young ladies would not pride themselves upon an airy
figure, as many of them do."

1 Whittier's poem The Prophecy of Samuel Sewall gives a verj
good picture of the chief justice in his old age.




When his little audience next assembled round the
chair, Grandfather gave them a doleful history of the
Quaker persecution, which began in 1656, and raged
for about three years in Massachusetts.

He told them how, in the first place, twelve of the
converts of George Fox, the first Quaker in the world,
had come over from England. They seemed to be
impelled by an earnest love for the souls of men, and
a pure desire to make known what they considered a
revelation from Heaven. But the rulers looked upon
them as plotting the downfall of all government and
religion. They were banished from the colony. In a
little while, however, not only the first twelve had re-
turned, but a multitude of other Quakers had come to
rebuke the rulers and to preach against the priests and

Grandfather described the hatred and scorn with
which these enthusiasts were received. They were
thrown into dungeons ; they were beaten with many
stripes, women as well as men ; they were driven forth
into the wilderness, and left to the tender mercies of
wild beasts and Indians. The children were amazed
to hear that the more the Quakers were scourged,
and imprisoned, and banished, the more did the sect
increase, both by the influx of strangers and by con-
verts from among the Puritans, But Grandfather


told them that God had put something into the soul
of man, which always turned the cruelties of the per-
secutor to nought.

He went on to relate that, in 1659, two Quakers,
named William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephen-
son, were hanged at Boston. A woman had been sen-
tenced to die with them, but was reprieved on condi-
tion of her leaving the colony. Her name was Mary
Dyer. In the year 1660 she returned to Boston, al-
though she knew death awaited her there ; and, if
Grandfather had been correctly informed, an incident
had then taken place which connects her with our
story. This Mary Dyer had entered the mint-master's
dwelling, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, and seated
herself in our great chair with a sort of dignity and
state. Then she proceeded to deliver what she called
a message from Heaven, but in the midst of it they
dragged her to prison.

*' And was she executed ? " asked Laurence.

" She was," said Grandfather.

" Grandfather," cried Charley, clinching his fist,
" I would have fought for that poor Quaker woman ! "

" Ah, but if a sword had been drawn for her," said
Laurence, " it would have taken away all the beauty
of her death."

It seemed as if hardly any of the preceding stories
had thrown such an interest around Grandfather's
chair as did the fact that the poor, persecuted, wander-
ing Quaker woman had rested in it for a moment.
The children were so much excited that Grandfather
found it necessary to bring his account of the persecu-
tion to a close.

" In 1660, the same year in which Mary Dyer was
executed," said he. " Charles II. was restored to the


throne of his fathers. This king had many vices ; but
he would not permit blood to be shed, under pretence
of religion, in any part of his dominions. The Quak
ers in England told him what had been done to theii
brethren in Massachusetts; and he sent orders to
Governor Endicott to forbear all such proceedings in
future. And so ended the Quaker persecution, — one
of the most mournful passages in the history of our
forefathers." ^

Grandfather then told his auditors, that, shortly
after the above incident, the great chair had been
given by the mint-master to the Rev. Mr. John Eliot.
He was the first minister of Roxbury. But besides
attending to the pastoral duties there, he learned the
language of the red men, and often went into the
woods to preach to them. So earnestly did he labor
for their conversion that he has always been called the
apostle to the Indians. The mention of this holy man
suggested to Grandfather the propriety of giving a
brief sketch of the history of the Indians, so far as
they were connected with the English colonists.

A short period before the arrival of the first Pil-
grims at Plymouth there had been a very grievous
plague among the red men ; and the sages and minis-
ters of that day were inclined to the opinion that Prov-
idence had sent this mortality in order to make room
for the settlement of the English. But I know not
why we should suppose that an Indian's life is less

1 Hawthorne laid the scenes of one of his longer stories, TTie
Gentle Boy, in the time of the Quaker persecution, and Whit-
tier has several poems relating to the same event, such as TJit
Exiles. Cassandra Southwick, How the Women Went from Dover,
His poem The King's Missive especially tells the story of thq
close of the persecution.


precious, in the eye of Heaven, than that of a white

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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 4 of 16)