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Rebecca Theresa Reed.

Six months in a convent, or, The narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, who was under the influence of the Roman Catholics about two years, and an inmate of the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charles online

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Online LibraryRebecca Theresa ReedSix months in a convent, or, The narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, who was under the influence of the Roman Catholics about two years, and an inmate of the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charles → online text (page 2 of 12)
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and in denouncing as participators in or approvers of the



INTRODUCTION. 13

riot, all who called in question the sanctity of its inmates,
and the propriety of Protestants sending their daughters
there. We have never discovered in the feelings or lan-
guage of Miss R. the slightest indication of resentment
toward that Community or its Superior, nor will it be de-
tected in any portion of her Narrative, which it seems to
us no person of an unbiased mind can peruse without feel-
ing a conviction not to be resisted, that it is the unaffected
language of truth and innocence.

The circumstances under which this relation of a six
months' residence in the Ursuline Convent at Charlestown,
was originally prepared, and which have led to its present
publication, are material in forming an estimate of the
degree of credit that may confidently be attached to it.
We wish it to be distinctly understood that the publication
is not made at the instigation, or on the responsibility of
the author. On the contrary, she has very reluctantly
yielded to the force of circumstances and the dictates of
duty, which, in the opinion of her friends and the friends
of truth, have left no other course proper to be pursued :
and has placed her manuscript at their disposal. If then
there is an error of judgment in giving this work publicity,
it belongs to the friends of Miss R., and to many of our
most sedate and respectable citizens who have advised
with them, and not to herself. The design of the publica-
tion on our part, is to vindicate her from unjust and un-
manly aspersions which some friends of the Convent have
indulged in toward her, and especially to advance the
cause of truth. We earnestly hope anil believe that this
little work, if universally diffused, will do more, by its
unaffected simplicity, in deterring Protestant parents from
educating their daughters at Catholic Nu.ineries, than
could the most labored and learned discourses on the dan-
gers of Popery. And if it has this blessed effect in guard-
ing the young women of our land against the danger of
early impressions imbibed- at Convents in favor of a form
of religion which is to be tolerated but nsver to be encou-
raged in a free country, it will do more even than the
laws can do in suppressing such outrages as the riot ai
Charlestown; for if Protestant parents will resolve to
educate their daughters at Protestant schools, and patro-
nize no more Nunneries, then no more Nunneries will be
established in this country, and there will be none for
reckless mohs to destroy.



14 INTRODUCTION.

We do not desire to interfere in any manner with the
religious privileges of Roman Catholics, or with their
education of their own daughters in any form they may
think proper, if not inconsistent with the Jaws ; but we
earnestly nope, that Protestant parents, before they place
their children under the tuition of either a College of Je-
suits or a Community of Nuns and Catholic Priests, will
first inquire how the proposed educators of their daughters
ha%-e themselves been educated: and what the nature and
effect of the absurd superstitions, the ascetic austerities,
the ridiculous penances, the secret confessionals, the un-
checked facilities for intrigue, which constitute the disci-
pline of a Convent, are and must be upon instructers and
pupils, abiding under such influences.

This little Narrative is an unaffected and plain relation
of facts, upon which a correct opinion can be formed of the
probable tendencies of such a system. It was commenced
in 1632, and completed in the winter of 1833. Not one of
t*use at whose suggestion it is now published had ever
heard of it until after the destruction of the Convent, and
we are well assured that very few persons indeed knew
that it had ever been written, until after the outrage at
Charlestown had been committed. It was placed in our
hands, as the friends of truth, after the publicity of the
personal attacks which had been made upon Miss R. with
singular unkindness and injustice, through a portion of
the public press, by the constant and relentless calumnies
of the female superintendent of the Convent, and finally
by the illiberal, and, we are compelled to add, ungenerous,
Report of the Boston Investigating Committee, in which
thirty-eight gentlemen of high character (every one of
whom would spurn the thought of deliberately injuring an
mi protected female) have been induced to give their
sanction to aspersions and insinuations against a daughter
of one of their own fellow-citizens, upon no evidence
whatever, except that derived from ancf through the of-
fended Superior of the Convent and her Community, from
whom that daughter had escaped, under circumstances
which, if true, render the testimony of her accusers wholly
unsafe as a guide to the real character of the interior of
the Nunnery.

It has been represented that the contents of Miss R.'s
narrative were very monstrous, shocking, and incredible,



INTRODUCTION. 15

and even the charge of aberration of mind has been re-
sorted to, by those who would have great cause of thank-
fulness if they were 'blessed with the singleness of heart
and the unaffected piety which mark the character of that
young lady. Threats have even been thrown out that her
character should be made to suffer if she dared to publish
any thing against the Convent, and it is understood that
the Boston Investigating Committee upon the destruction
of the Convent were urged to retain in their Report the
harsh language toward Miss R. which had been prepared
by a sub-committee, in order to discredit by anticipation
any statements which might thereafter be made on her au-
thority, relative to the internal discipline of that establish-
ment. We fully acquit the majority of that very respecta-
ble committee of any deliberate design to wound the
feelings and injure the reputation of a lady. They acted
under the sudden and laudable impulse of manly resent-
ment toward the authors of a shameless outrage committed
upon the residence of defenceless females ; and as the
ladies of the Convent were then the most prominent suf-
ferers, and the objects of universal public sympathy, it was
natural, if not excusable, that high-minded men, in their
eagerness to redress their wrongs, should have become
unmindful of the rights of a single individual, who was
represented by the Catholics and some of their friends as
the prime mover of the excitement against the Convent,
by reason of the calumnies she was represented as having
circulated against it.

As one of the material considerations which in our opi-
nion has rendered the publication of this Narrative indis-
pensable, we subjoin several extracts from the Report of
the Boston Committee, which, it will be seen, directly
attributes to Miss R. the principal origin of the popular
excitement that led to the disgraceful catastrophe of the
11th of August.

"It appeared immediately upon commencing the investi-
gation, that the destruction of the Convent might be attri-
buted primarily to a widely-extended popular aversion,
founded in the belief that the establishment was obnoxious
to those imputations of cruelty, vice, and corruption, sc ge-
nerally credited of similar establishments in other coun-
tries, and was inconsistent with the principles of our
national institutions, and in violation of the laws of the



16 INTRODUCTION.

commonwealth ; and which aversion, in the minds of
many, had been fomented to hatred, hy representations in*
jnrious to the moral reputation of the members of that
Community attributing to thein impurity of conduct, and
excessive cruelties in their treatment of each other and of
the pupils ; and denunciatory of the institution as hostile
in its character and influence alike to the laws of God and
man: and also by reports that one of the sisterhood, Mrs.
Mary John, formerly Miss Elizabeth Harrison, after hav-
ing fled from the Convent to escape its persecutions, and
then been induced by the influence or threats of Bishop
Fenwick to return, had been put to death, or secretly im-
prisoned or removed."

" The Committee have been unable to find any report
in circulation injurious to the reputation of the members of
the Community, which may not be traced to one of the
above sources, or which has any other apparent foundation/'

In another part of their Report the Committee say : —
" In pursuing their inquiries into the truth of the injurious
representations and reports above referred to, members of
the Committee have had an interview with the young lady
upon whose authority they were supposed to rest.'' And
they then proceed to give the result of that interview as if
derived from the young lady herself.

Again they say : — " It was doubtless under the influence
of these feelings and impressions, that some of the conspi-
rators were led to design the destruction of the Convent."

It will be seen therefore that this Report directly
ascribes the origin of the outrage on the Nunnery to the
aversion and hatred fomented by injurious representations
and reports, founded upon the authority of Mi*s R., who
had left the Convent more than two years before it was
destroyed by a mob. The sub-committee who drew up the
Report, in fact, attach but very little importance to the
escape of Miss Harrison, (who was one of the ti-uslees of
the establishment,) and the exciting circumstances attend-
ing her leaving the Convent and her sudden return to it.
They cast no censure on her, and impute no indiscretion
to her, or to those who required her to labor so hard as a
teacher as to derange her faculties. They do not inquire
whither she was really deranged or not, (of which there is
no direct proof, and very much against it.) and they are
entirely willing to exempt her, and those who refused to



INTRODUCTION. 17

explain promptly the cause of her escape, from all possible
blame as the real or innocent authors of the mob ; while they
seriously set about affixing upon a humble Protestant girl,
who had been deluded into the Catholic Church and
escaped from her spiritual thraldom, all the " injurious
reports" that led to the riot. Neither did the Committee
inquire whether the threats of the Superior to the select-
men of Charlestown, that the Bishop could order out
twenty thousand Irishmen to destroy their property ; and
the insults which I he pupils cast upon the public authori-
ties of the town when they visited that establishment,
were not sufficient causes to account for the public excite-
ment, without going back nearly three years, to trace the
origin of a formidable conspiracy to a mere girl !

Alter thus preparing the public to regard with aversion
a " young woman" who could have spent nearly three years
in fomenting hatred against the Convent, by means of in-
jurious reports, until sne had produced an excitement that
led to the commission of burglary and arson by a mob, the
Report of the Committee proceeds to give a summary of
the whole of her testimony as they profess to have re-
ceived it irom her own mouth.

And how did they arrive at their version of all that Miss
P authorized or did not authorize, relative to reports af-
fecting the character of the Nunnery 1 Two members of
the Committee, it seems, had one interview with the
young lady, to whom they were entire strangers, and out
of that interview they derive materials for disposing of the
whole matter, in a very summary manner. It should be
borne in mind that just before the Report comes to this
conclusion, it deliberately asserts that the Committee
were " unable to lind any report in circulation, injurious to
the members of the Convent," which was not traced either
to Miss R. or to the reports which grew out of the elope-
ment of Miss Harrison. There is then introduced a lor-
mal disclaimer ibr Miss R., followed by a classification of
her supposed testimony, from which the Report arrives at
the happy conclusion that Miss R. had in fact said nothing
against the Convent amounting to any thing, and that
all she did say was entirely discredited : and yet she is
indirectly held up to the public odium in that Report as the
author of the mob, and her testimony discredited by con-
trast with that of the ladies of the Convent, when by the



18 INTRODUCTION.

showing of the Report itself she had said nothing really
injurious to the Convent ! Why then was she injured in
this public manner, on the pretence that other people had
circulated false reports in her name, which reports she
never heard of and the Committee do not specify?

The two gentlemen of the Committee who had the inter-
view with Miss R. say for her, that " she entirely dis-
claimed most of the reports passing under the sanction of
her name, and particularly all affecting the moral purity
of the members of the institution, or the ill treatment of
the pupils under their care:" and this disclaimer is pub-
lished in Italics, as if it were the precise language of Miss
R. But it is not her language, nor did she ever authorize
any such public disclaimer to be made for her. " Dis-
claimed most of the reports passing under the sanction of
her name," say the Committee ! If the reports had the
sanction of her name, then she must have authorized
them. But what were the reports passing under her
name ? Miss R. never heard of any reports passing under
her name, except those found in her INarrative. Did the
two gentlemen whom Miss R. (mistaking for friends, and
not suspecting they came to get materials to injure het
veracity) consented to see, though reluctantly, the third
time they called for that purpose — did these gentlemen in-
scribe to her a single specific report as passing under het
name, and ask her if it was true '. If she disclaimed most
of the reports passing under her name, what were those
" most," and what were the remainder of the reports she
did not disclaim ? Could specific reports be disclaimed
by her, when Miss R. was not apprized what the reports
were that the Committee say were passing under the
sanction of her name ?

Then as to the formal disclaimer of all reports affecting
the moral purity of the members, &c. Miss R., as the gen-
tlemen subsequently admitted, used no such language as
this. " Moral purity" is a wide phrase, and as here used
it implies that Miss R. had never witnessed any thing at
the Convent which was morally wrong. Had the Com-
mittee confined this disclaimer to any imputations on fe-
male virtue, they would have been correct, and would not
have fallen into the error of doing great injustice to one
lady, in their zeal to vindicate others. The gentlemen
who called on Miss R. cannot have forgotten that she



INTRODUCTION. 19

declined saying any thing on this subject, and that the
language introduced into the Report is their own inference.
In relation to the ill treatment of the papils, there was no
disclaimer at all. One of the gentlemen who called on
Miss R. has frankly admitted this, and he would have
corrected that portion of the Repo % had it not been be-
yond his control when the error was pointed out to him.
On his part a highly honorable disposition was evinced to
correct the unjust advantage which had been taken of a
private conversation with a lady, who had no suspicion
she was undergoing a public examination, in an inter-
view which she understood was iriendly and confiden-
tial.

After these disclaimers, the Report classifies what it
terms Miss R. ? s " accusations" under the heads of" severe
penance," "restraints upon members of the Community,"
and penances inflicted upon a Nun in her last illness,
by which her life was shortened. And in order to leave
no mistake in the inference that all these disclaimers and
assertions are derived from Miss R. herself, as the whole
sum and substance of her experience at the Convent, the
Report sums up with this conclusion : —

" From her statement, therefore, it is evident that there
could be, except in the subject of the last accusation, no
cause of public complaint, inasmuch as the other evils
alleged, if existing, were confined to those who were
voluntarily members of the institution, affecting neither
the property nor the happiness of other individuals, nor
tending in any wise to the injury of the public morals, or a
violation of law."

In other words, shortening the life of a Nun by severe
penances, inflicted in her " last illness," would be a cause
of public complaint against a Convent ; but severe pena-nces
and restraints, however destructive of health, which Nuns
and Novitiates might be compelled to suffer, before their
"last illness," would furnish no ground for any complaint
at all, provided they survived the cruelty inflicted by su-
perstition ! Upon the same reasoning, the slow tortures
of the Inquisition might have been introduced into the
Monastery at Mount Benedict, and so long as they ware
confined to the " voluntary members," and did not result
in the actual death of their victims, there would be " no
cause of public complaint," because while the infernal pro-



20 INTRODUCTION.

cess of cruelty was kept secret within the walls of a dun-
geon, it could not in any wise injure the public morals !
The Bramins of the East argued in the same way against
ihe interference of the British with the privilege of widows
being voluntarily burned on the funeral pile of their hus-
bands. They insisted that it " affected neither the pro-
perty nor the happiness of other individuals," that it was
an ancient custom, and. in fact promoted the "public
morals," by insuring the wife's solicitude for her husband
while living, and her fidelity after his death.

Is it not also remarkable, that the Report of the Boston
Committee could have come to the conclusion, that although
fifty Protestant girls were placed under the entire control
and instruction of a community of eight Nuns, one of whom
had been obliged to labor so hard as a teacher as to driv6
her to madness, yet it was " no cause of public complaint,"
even admitting that the persons thus intrusted with giving
the first impressions to young ladies were in the daily
practice of superstitiously inflicting upon each other, and
upon themselves, severe penances, rigorous restraints, and
all the absurd cruelties imposed by monastic religious dis-
cipline ?

We have no wish to say one word disrespectful to the
gentlemen who signed the Report of the Boston Investigat-
ing Committee. Their motives were highly honorable.
But there were some few acting in the Committee without
any legitimate authority, (for the original committee had no
power to increase their number,) whose zeal to vindicate
the Convent and its Protestant patrons made them forget
what was due to the daughter of an American citizen.
Tins is painfully obvious in the manner in which Miss R.
has been introduced into that Report, without her know-
ledge or consent. She was not calied as a witness before
the Committee, so that each might have judged of her in-
telligence for himself. They did not see her narrative of
her residence at the Nunnery, nor did she make a single
" accusation" to them against the Convent. Neither had
she or her friends any notice of the written and spoken
" accusations" which were made to the Committee by
Mrs. Moffatt, Superior of the Convent, against Miss R. ;
and no opportunity was given, though it was asked for, to
enable the friends of Miss R. to protect her against that
portion of the Report designed to affect her character inju-



INTRODUCTION. 21

riously. The whole process was sending two gentlemen
to converse an hour with her alone, under an assurance of
friendly confidence, without apprizing her that any public
use whatever was to be made of the conversation, or inti-
mating to her that the entire truth of her relations had
been or would he called in question. Though disposed to
respect the motives of the gentlemen who called on Miss
R., and obtained a portion of her confidence for a purpose
which was certainly concealed from her at the time ; they
must permit us to say that they did their own high sense
of honor, as well as Miss R., great injustice, when they
allowed a public use to be made of a private conversa-
tion with a lady, wiio did not consent to see them until they
called the third time, who then referred them to another
person for information, and who would not have seen them
at all, could she have conjectured that the object was to
obtain the means of discrediting her veracitv, and introduc-
ing her before the public in the unjust and unkind man-
ner she is treated in that Report.

But the gentlemen who nave mistaken the point of
honor as well as justice in this transaction, have the

f)ower in their own nands, to use it as they think proper;
or, unfortunately, their interview with Miss R. took
filace without any friend on her part being present. In
act, the strong bias of that Report to justify the Convent
at the expense of all whose statements had affected it in-
juriously, must be apparent, when we find gentlemen of
the highest character and integrity, sitting as an impartial
tribunal, proceeding first to collect the asseverations of the
Superior, her Nuns, and the Catholic Priests, as to the
purity of their own conduct, and their version of the con-
duct of Miss R., who had escaped from them ; then sending
a committee, as private gentlemen, to call on that lady with
assurances of friendly confidence and religious fellowship,
and introducing into a public report the alleged results of
that interview, as " her statement," which is used in order
to show that " her statement" is not to be believed I

The only grounds on which the Committee in that Re-
port justify their unkind treatment of Miss R., is, that
" it is stated (so and so) by the ladies of the institution."
This statement, which comes solely from the party accused,
an impartial committee receive as conclusive evidence of
the purity and propriety of all the proceedings at the Con-
Tent, ana upon this evidence they discredit Miss R.



22 INTRODUCTION.

Is it not, indeed, very remarkable, that that young lady
should have been the only individual singled out in the Re-
port of the Committee, the only person whose testimony is
formally stated in order to be discredited, especially when
it is recollected that she was the only person who was
acquainted with the interior discipline of the Convent, and
whose evidence could be used to disclose any thing wrong,
if any thing wrong existed there ? The Committee had no
such design, but how natural was it for the friends of the
Superior, imbibing her strong dislike to a seceder from the
Convent, to infuse into the Report an ingredient of malice
which to the whole Committee nore the semblance of truth.
The Attorney-General, in his eloquent denunciation of the
rioters, said that the age of chivalry was gone here, for no
one stepped forward to rescue the property of the Convent
from a mob. Was there any less want of chivalry when
thirty-eight gentlemen brought all their influence to bear
against a young lady, and condemned her unheard ?

It was on the appearance of this Report, reflecting upon
the character of a young lady, (who had apparentlv com-
mitted no error, except suffering her romantic credulity to
lead her to renounce the religion in which she had been
brought up, for the supposed sanctity and seclusion of a
Nunnery,) that a number of her friends and the friends
of truth felt that something was due to a defenceless
daughter of one of our own citizens, and that she ought
not to be exposed to censure for disclosing any facts con-
nected with the Convent, if they were such as ought to
put Protestant parents on their guard against educating
their daughters at Catholic Cloisters.

They began to doubt whether something was not wrong,
when they found it a part of the plan of those most zeal-
ous in eulogizing the Convent, to destroy the reputation
of a female who had returned to the Protestant faith, and
whose only faults were that her religion had been affected
by Catnolic influence, that it led her to become a novitiate
in the Convent, that she had left it as soon as she be-
came sensible of the tendency of such a system of religious
discipline as was practised there, and had not shrunk
from telling the plain truth to her friends and her religious
teacher in explanation of her own conduct during her con-
nection with the Nunnery. It was understood that great
efforts had been made by a portion of the Investigating



INTRODUCTION. 23

Committee, aided by the amiable and pious clergyman
before alluded to, to exclude from the Report all direct al-


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Online LibraryRebecca Theresa ReedSix months in a convent, or, The narrative of Rebecca Theresa Reed, who was under the influence of the Roman Catholics about two years, and an inmate of the Ursuline Convent on Mount Benedict, Charles → online text (page 2 of 12)