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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lusion to Miss R. ; and but for the earnestness with which
the sacrifice of that young lady was urged by a few, this
desirable object would have been accomplished, and the
publication of Miss R.'s narrative been rendered unnecessa-
ry for her vindication. The same facts and arguments to
rebut the supposed allegations against, the Convent might
have been introduced into the Report, without any personal
reference to Miss R. But it seems to have been the design
of a portion of that Report, (in which, however, we are satis-
fied but a small number of the Committee participated,) to
attribute all the stories injurious to the Convent to Miss R.,
to represent her as the author of monstrous, undefined
calumnies, and then make use of a conversation held with
her, in the absence of all her friends, to discredit her tes-
timony generally, and in all matters resting upon her
statement on one side, and the contradiction of the female
superintendent of the Convent on the other, to give a de-
cided preponderance in public opinion to the latter.

Nevertheless, though the injustice of this proceeding
was apparent to those best acquainted with the real facts
in the case, it was equally apparent that while the excite-
ment consequent on the infamous outrage upon the proper-
ty of the owners and occupants of the Convent was at its
height, it would be in vain to appeal to the public for a
candid estimate of the real merits of the case at issue. It
was also considered, that it might be regarded as an at-
tempt to influence the public in relation to the important
trials then pending, should such an appeal be made through
the public press. The injustice, therefore, was submitted
to in silence, until the public mind should be quieted, and
a legal examination, under oath, take place of the ex parte
and exaggerated investigation which had been held be-
fore the Boston Committee, who had embodied the vague
stories of voluntary witnesses, related not under oath, but
in secret, under an assurance that the names of the wit-
nesses were to bs concealed, so that whether they testified
truly or falsely they were certain of being shielded from
all responsibility. In short, it was the determination of
the friends of Miss R., in conformity with her wishes, not
to give publicity to her narrative, unless it became indis-
pensable to the cause of truth, nor then, until such dispo-


sition had been made of the pending prosecutions of the
rioters, as to render such a course free from all just im-
putation of an attempt to interfere with the public justice.

Scarcely, however, had those trials before the Supreme
Court sitting at Cambridge terminated, when a still more
unjust attempt was made to injure the character of Miss
R., and hold her up to public indignation as the prime
mover of the conspiracy which led to the destruction of
the Ursuline Convent. This wholly unprovoked attack
came from a person of high standing in the community,
holding the office of judge of probate of the county of
Middlesex, who had been for six years a patron of the
Convent, and one of the most zealous defenders of the
faith that Catholic Nunneries were the best schools for
the education of the daughters of republican Protestants.
The peculiar relation in which that individual stood to the
Convent will best appear by quoting the language of the
respectable counsel lor the delendant in the trial of John
R. Buzzell.

Mr. Mann, one of the counsel, said to the jury — " I do
not think Judge Fay is sensible his feelings are excited,
b Jt it seems to me that he comes here highly excited. Is
it not strange that he can recollect the voice [of the prison-
er] and not a word that he said ? He thinks that the
prisoner is guilty, and that blood should be shed, and I
submit, that every thing he sees and hears operates to the
prejudice of the prisoner."

Mr. Farley said — ' ; I would next call your attention to
Judge Fay's testimony ; and in the outset I tell you, with-
out any unfavorable feeling toward Judge Fav, whom I
highly esteem, that he does not know himself, he does
not know his own feelings, or he would not have told you
that he could have tried a person for this crime immediate-
ly after, with impartiality. Both Mr. Thaxter and Judge
Fay are insensibly under the influence of feeling in this
matter, arising from their having friends at the Convent,
and being themselves the supporters and patrons of the
institution, and having entire confidence in its excellency
and purity. Believing so, and having placed their chil-
dren there, it was natural they should wish to prove the
institution a good one. These circumstances justify the
belief, that Judge Fay, as high as his character stands,
cannot possibly be an impartial witness in this causa "


It was under these impressions, and an apparent ex-
treme irritation at the acquittal of Buzzell, that Judge Fay
published a communication in the Boston Courier of
January 5, 1835, in which he recklessly charged the editor
of that paper, as the editor himself says, ^with a direct
agency in producing the destruction of the Convent."

It. will also be seen, by the following extract, that in the
beginning of his letter he attributes the mob to a para-
graph in the newspapers, while in the close he represents
the destruction of the Convent as the object and result of
the " pious labors" of Miss R. for the last two or three

Extract from Judge Fay's Letter.

"I verily believe there would have been no mob on
Monday night, but for the paragraph first published in the
Mercantile Journal of Saturday, and copied into the Courier
of Monday, headed "mysterious." And here let me say,
that the editors of those papers have never, as I believe,
made any apology for the publication of that paragraph,
which may have been the immediate cause of the outrages
of that night. The editor of the Journal has even under-
taken to justify it, and to complain of being injured by the
very gentle rebuke for it, contained in the Report of the
Boston Inves' ; gating Committee. I would now only ask,
whether any respectable editor in Boston would dare to
publish such a paragraph implicating the character or con-
duct of the humblest citizen, upon no better authority than
mere street rumor '?"

Immediately after uttering this indignant rebuke against
editors for implicating the character and conduct ef even
the humblest citizen, upon no better authority than street
rumor, the judge illustrates the influence of his own moral
maxim upon himself, by proceeding forthwith to indite a
gross and unprovoked libel upon a respectable young lady,
without having even so much as the authority of " street
rumor" for the calumnies he has published.

Conclusion of Judge Fay's Letter to the Editor of the
Courier of Jan. 5, 1835.
" The causes which led to the destruction of the Con-
vent—the circumstances attending the transaction— the
difficulty of bringing the actors to justice, are fit subjects


for the investigation of the philosophic historian. The
extraordinary fact, that while John R. Buzzell, the New
Hampshire brickinaker, recently accused, tried, and ac-
quitted, as one of the incendiaries, had his pockets filled
with money, and received such other marks of popular
sympathy and acknowledgment for his services and suffer-
ings in the cause of true religion, as to demand of him a
public card of thanks, no minister or member of a Protes-
tant society in the country, as far as I have heard, has
ever proposed a contribution for the unfortunate Ursulines
who lost their all by this flagrant violation of their rights ;
this is matter for 'our special wonder.' The time will
come, I trust, when all these matters will be rightly under-
stood. As to the state of popular feeling which produced
this catastrophe, if that be a mystery, a careful review of
some of the religious journals of the day may in part ex-
plain it. On that point, I will tako the liberty to refer
you to a certain Miss Rebecca Theresa Reed, alias Re-
becca Mary Agnes Theresa Reed, (as Goldsmith says, I
love to give the whole name,) a Catholic Protestant, as
she termed herself in court the other day, who has been
about Boston and the vicinity for ihc last two or three
years, announcing herself as ' the humble instrument in the
hands of Providence to destroy the institution at Mount
Benedict.' As the great object of her pious labors has
been accomplished, I doubt not she will be proud to in-
form you how she did it. It is possible that a book which
it is rumored she is about to publish relative to the Nun-
nery, may afford the desired information ; but as there is
reason to apprehend* that the manuscript, Avhich has been
extensively read, may undergo considerable pruning and
purgation to suit the views of the publisher, it is quite
doubtful if you will be able to get the whole truth, or in-
deed any unvarnished truth, by reading it. I should there-
fore advise to apply directly to herself. If she be as
obliging and communicative since, as she was before the
achievement of the great work, I doubt not that you may
be Yery much enlightened in all the remaining unex-

{)lained mysteries connected with a transaction, which has
eft an indelible stain on the character of this part of the
country; exciting the grief of our friends and the pity of
our enemies.

I have travelled a step or two beyond the limited object


of this communication, but I trust my motive, which is

truth, and the correction of error, will be thought a suffi-
cient justification.

Your obedient servant,

Cambridge, Jan. 2, 183o.
Up to this period, Miss II. had never published a line
relating to the Convent, nor authorized any publication
that had been made. Her situation unavoidably subjected
her to many painful inquiries, (among others to those of
the lady uf Judge Fay himself,) but it is believed that she
uniformly conducted with a discretion and prudence in re-
lation to any statement she has made, which it would be
difficult for any young lady in her situation to excel. All
the excitement attendant upon her escape from the Con-
vent, if there ever were any, had subsided long before Miss
Harrison eloped Irom that place, and returned under cir-
cumstances furnishing abundant materials for popular ex-

The escape of Miss R., in 1832, was never mentioned
in a single newspaper, nor made known to any but her
friends, and no public allusion was ever made to it, until
after the burning of the Convent. On the other hand, the
elopement of. Miss Harrison, in 1834, was immediately
made the subject of newspaper mystery and speculation";
and yet Miss R. is censured as the enemy of the Convent,
and Miss Harrison applauded as its friend! Miss R.
rerlainly has much the highest claim to the praise of dis-
cretion. . Her elopement never got into the newspapers, as
f reedy as news catchers would have been to have seized it.
!ut other real or pretended elopements Irom the Convent,
previous to that of Bliss R., were made matter of comment
in the newspapers, so as to call for a public denial on the
part of the friends of the institution, as will be seen by the
following, from the organ of the Catholics in Boston.
[From the Jesuit of July 23. 1831.]

"A lying report has been for some time going the
rounds of the Calvinistic presses, relative to the elopement
of a pious girl from the Mount Benedict Institution at
Charlestown. False! false!! false!!! Messrs. Parsons,
you know it to be so."

The inference, therefore, is obvious, that Miss R. avoided


any publicity that would lead to an excitement against the
Convent. For nearly three years before the destruction
of the Convent, she had been living in the bosom of her
own family, an exemplary member of the Episcopal
Church, industriously applying herself, as far as her shat-
tered health would admit, to acquiring and giving instruc-
tion to young ladies in music and ornamental work. To
suppose for a moment that a mere girl, not twenty years
of age, and so situated, could possess the power, or the
means, or the disposition to do what the Boston Commit-
tee and Judge Fay so unjustly attribute to her agency, viz.
" fomenting to hatred the popular aversion" against the
Convent, " by representations injurious to the moral repu-
tation of the members of that Community," and forming a
conspiracy " to destroy the institution at Mount Benedict,"
" as the great object of her pious labors," requires a cre-
dulity not surpassed by that which enables a devout Ca-
tholic actually to believe in the identical transubstantiation
of a wafer into the flesh of the Savior ! It would disparage
the common sense of Judge Fay, much more of the Boston
Committee, to suppose they believe any such thing. And
yet, in grave documents emanating from both these sources,
we find a young girl, moving in the humble walks of life,
whose character is without reproach, charged with de-
signing for three years, and carrying forward to its comple-
tion, in the midst of her simple avocation as the affection-
ate teacher of female children in music, a monstrous
conspiracy to get up a mob to destroy the Ursuline Con-
vent by violence ! If these intelligent gentlemen have
really brought their minds to compass such an absurdity as
this, they might be brought to invert one of the miracles of
sacred writ, and believe that Jonah swallowed the whale,
and not that the whale swallowed Jonah !

It was not until this publication of Judge Fay appeared,
that Miss R. fully consented that her friends should j>ubL ; sh
her narrative, as the only means of placing before the
public all she had said and written in relation to the Con-
vent, from which it might be seen how injuriously she had
been misrepresented. The Report of the Boston Commit-
tee, though extremely unkind in other respects, was so far
decorous as to omit using her name. Judge Fay was des-
titute of this ordinary courtesy due to every reputable fe-
male who does not bring herself voluntarily before the


public. To repel his harsh imputations at once, seemed
indispensable, and they were replied to by the following
communication in the Boston Courier of January 7, 1835,
which will explain many things connected with the nar-


Bostoii, January 5, 1835.


Sir,— I have been much surprised by seeing, in a letter signed
"Samuel P. F. Fay," published in your paper of this morning, a
violent attack upon myself, making statements icholly false, and
adding inferences, which, I take it upon myself to say, no honest
and unprejudiced man would be guilty of, even in his own
thoughts, and much less in a letter sent to a public journal for
publication. Much as I am averse to allowing my name to come
before the public, in any manner, I cannot, in justice to myself,
remain silent when such a gross calumny has been put forth ;
and done, too, by one whose office gives him a claim to respect in
this community. In answering the calumnies contained in the
communication of Judge Fay, it will be necessary to enter a little
into particulars. In the first place, the judge " takes the liberty"
to refer to me, as one who is able to give some information upon the
causes of the "popular feeling 1 ' which produced the destruction
of the Convent. In answer to this reference, I can only say, that
it is impossible for me to account for the popular feeling in any
other manner than that in which the learned judge himself ac-
counted for it, when on the stand and under oath, viz. to the cir-
cumstances attending the escape of Mrs. Mary John. He then
stated (under oath) that he knew of no other cause for the excite-
ment which had caused the catastrophe. I can say with equal
sincerity, that I also know of no other cause ; and that to have it
ascribed to me, as having in the least degree contributed to the
excitement, is as base a calumny as was ever fabricated.

My conversation with regard to that institution, since I left it,
has been confined to very few persons. No conversation of impor-
tance, with regard to it, had ever been held by me (up to the time
of its destruction) with but two persons. One of them is the reve-
rend gentleman of whose church I am now a member, and the
other is a resident in the country. I have sometimes been pressed
with questions concerning it, but have always avoided them as
much as possible ; and though I have answered some questions, I
have not (up to the time above mentioned) given any information
with regard to the institution, (to any other than the gentlemen
before named.) further than general statements ; such as, that I
did not approve of the institution, and should not advise any of
the young ladies among my friends to go there ; that I disapproved
•if the discipline of the institution, thinking much of it to be too


So careful have I been not to be in any measure the cause of an
excitement against that institution, that I did not permit even my
own sisters to read the manuscript which I had written concerning
it. And now, that it should be publicly saii of me, by one who
holds a seat upon the judge's bench, that I have been the cause
of the " popular feeling" of which he speaks, is an invasion of
defenceless female innocence, if possible, more barbarous than
that invasion of private rights, which has called forth so much
public discussion.

The learned judge says I "termed" myself, when in court, a
"Catholic Protestant"— for the purpose, no doubt, of holding me
up to ridicule. In answer to this small wit, it is only necessary
to say, that such an expression is a contradiction in terms which
I did not make use of. I stated, that I was a Catholic Episcopa-
lian ; and I say so still.

But the most important misrepresentation which the judge has
done me the honor to make, is in a paragraph to which he puts
quotation marks, as if the words were actually mine. In answer
to this, in the first place I would state, that all which is exception-
able in the paragraph is false. With regard to the origin from
which this paragraph has been made, it will be necessary to
mention a few details. About a year ago, Mrs. Fay was (appa-
rently) quite desirous to have some conversation with me upon
that institution : to this end, she sent me two notes requesting me
to call on her for that purpose. I had (as above stated) always
endeavored to avoid particular conversation upon the subject ; but
in this instance, knowing that Mrs. Fay haa a daughter in the
institution, I thought it my duty to give her all the information I
could with propriety. I therefore answered her first note, inform-
ing her that if she would call on me, I would give her all the in-
formation in my power. To this she sent another note, again
requesting me to call on her : of which last I took no notice, being
thankful that she wanted the information so little, as to give me
an excuse for not giving it. A short time after, however, I went
there to obtain a piano-forte, which I had been informed could be
had upon application : I was in hopes that I should not see
Mrs. Fay, but was disappointed. She immediately commenced
asking me a variety of questions about the Convent, and I could
not avoid having some conversation with her upon the subject.
I answered her questions in general terms, as I had previously
answered similar questions to other persons, without entering into
any particulars, and ending the conversation as soon as politeness
would permit. Previous to leaving, however, some general re-
mark* were made on both sides ; and upon her part some remarks
directed to me, of a more kindly nature than any which she had
previously made. In this connection I said, that "I hoped to be
a humble instrument in the hands of Providence of showing my
friends the truth." This is what was said, and nothing different
was said. The remark applied to me by Judge Fay I never made,
nor any thing nearer to it than the one above quoted. Thus it


will be seen, that yourself is not the only one to whom the learned
judge has done great injustice.

"With regard to the manuscript which the judge speaks of, it is
true that I have written one; but that it has been "extensively
read," is not true. Whether it will be published or not, it is unne-
cessary to answer. If however it should be published, there will
bo no "pruning or purgation," as is feared by the learned judge,
but it will, on tru contrary, be more full and explicit than was
originally intended ; for when written, it was not intended for

I am. very respectfully, your obedient servant,


We take it for granted that no person, of ordinary good
breeding, can justify the rude and unprovoked attack
which a dignified judge, who is legally the guardian of
the orphan, has made upon an orphan girl, in this commu-
nication to the editor of the Courier. What manly feeling.
or what sense of justice, could have prompted this sneer?
— " a certain Miss Rebecca Theresa Reea, alias Rebecca
Mary Agnes Theresa Reed ; as Goldsmith says, I love to
give the whole name." Why did not the judge, while in
this witty humor, exercise his ridicule upon the Lady Su-
perior, who styled herself, when in court, by the whole
name of " Mrs. President, Ma Mere, Mary Ann, Ursula,
Lady Superior, Edmond, St. George, Moffatt?" The
judge himself is not deficient in names !

Not content with this, the judge totally misrepresents
a fact, in saying that Miss R. termed herself, in court, " a
"Catholic Protestant." She did not. Chief Justice
Shaw asked her, as he did all the female witnesses, "Are
you a Catholic? Her answer was, I am a Catholic Epis-
copalian. Chief Justice. Do you believe in the Catrnlic
Church? Ans. ' 1 believe in the Holy Catholic Church,'
but not iu the Roman Catholic Church. Chief Justice.
Do you acknowledge the supremacy of the Pope ? Ans.
No, Sir, by no means ; I am a member of the Protestant
Episcopal Church." — It would seem difficult to find mate-
rials for ridicule in answers so proper and becoming as

But the most remarkable part of the judge's letter, is
the proof he grjivoly gives of Miss R.'s design to burn
down the Convent, by the assertion that some two years
before the riot, she declared that " she hoped to be a hum-
ble instrument, in the hands r>{ Providence, to destroy the


institution at Mount Benedict:" and this, infers the judge,
is conclusive evidence that a girl of nineteen was then
getting up a conspiracy to burn down the Convent !

What a terrible incendiary Martin Luther must have
been, on this principle, for when threatened with persecu-
tion from Rome, he wrote to Spalatinus — " Let them con-
demn me and burn my books, and if in return I do not.
publicly condemn and bum the whole mass of pontifical
law, it will be because I cannot find fire. The Lord will
I doubt not, finish his own work, either through me as his
instrument or through another."

In truth, the Lord did make Luther the instrument of de-
stroying jive hundred and seventy-six monastic establish-
ments in England alone, the annual revenues of which, to
the Monks and Nuns with their vows of "poverty,'" were
£132,000, more than half a million of dollars, besides
plate and jewels to the value of £100,000 more ! In fact,
as the history of those times says, "one of the first effects
of the Reformation was the destruction of the religious

Was that any reason that Luther should have held his

J»eace ? The Boston Committee think so in their Report,
or they say, " there can be no doubt that a conspiracy was
formed, extending into many of the neighboring towns, but
the Committee are of opinion that it embraced very few
of respectable character in society, though some such may
be accounted guilty of an offence no less heinous, morally
considered, in having excited the feelings which led to the

Here in one sentence we have all the authors of state-
me-its injurious to the Nunnery, whether true or false,
including Dr. Beecher for preaching against Popery, shook
up together in the same bag with the rioters who set fire
to the Convent ! Verily Martin Luther was a rioter in-
stead of a reformer, for he "excited the feelings" that led
to very many bloody wars and persecutions, in which all
Europe was involved for years.

Protestant Ameri?an citizens, Avho regard it as a heinous
moral offence to tell the truth and expose the danger and

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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 3 of 12)