Samuel Adams Drake.

Historic fields and mansions of Middlesex online

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transpired that Captain Codman had been poisoned by his
negro servants, Mark, Phillis, and Phoebe, who were favorite
domestics, and that the arson was committed to destroy the
8



170 HISTOEIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

evidence of the crime. The man had procured arsenic and the
women administered it. Mark "was hanged, and Phillis was
burnt at the usual place of execution in Cambridge. Phoebe,
who was said to have been the most culpable, became evidence
against tlie others. She was transported to the "West Indies.
The body of INIark was suspended in irons on the northerly side
of Cambridge road, now Washington Street, a little west of and
very near the stone quarry how there. The gibbet remained
until a short time before the Revolution, and is mentioned by
Paul Revere as the place Avhere he was intercepted by a patrol
of British officers on the night he carried the news of the march
of the regulars to Lexington. A specimen of one of these bar-
barous engines of cruelty may be
seen in the Boston Museum. It
was brought from Quebec, and
looks as though it might have been
put to horrid purpose.

This was, in all j^robability, the
latest occurrence of burning and
'nix^iate. gibbeting in Massachusetts. Earlier

it was not uncommon to condemn
malefactors of the worst sort to be hung in chains. As long
ago as 1726 the bodies of the jiu-ates, William Ply, Samuel
Cole, and Henry Greenville, were taken after execution to Nix's
Mate, in Boston harbor, where the remains of Fly were sus-
pended in chains ; the others were buried on the island, which
then contained several acres. Hence the superstitious awe
with which the place is even now regarded by mariners, and
which the disappearance of the island has served so firmly to
establish.

We must confess that while our humanity revolts at these
barbarous usages of our ancestors, we cannot but admit that
punishment followed crime in their day with a certainty by no
means paralleled in our own. The severity of the code, the
infliction of death for petty crimes, we must abhor and con-
demn ; but we may stdl contrast that state of things, in which
the criminal's life was held so cheaply, with the present time,




OLD CHAELESTOWN ROAD. 171

in wliich condemned malefactors repose on luxuriant couches,
while the law jealously guards them from the penalty of crime,
and justice, uncertain of itself, repeals its sentence and sets the
guilty free. To something we must attribute the startling
increase of crime. Can it be the laxity of the law 1

Thomas Morton, the Merry Andrew of Mount Wollaston,
relates, in his Xew English Canaan, an occurrence which, he
says, happened to Weston's colony, in what is now Weymouth ;
and upon this slight foundation Hudibras built his humorous
account of the hanging of a weaver for the crime of which a
cobbler had been adjudged guilty : —

" Our brethren of New England use
Choice mal-factors to excuse,
And hang the guiltless in their stead,
Of whom the chiirches have less need ;
As lately happened."

Morton's story goes that, one of Weston's men having stolen
corn from an Indian, a parliament of all the people was called
to decide what punishment should be inflicted. It was agreed
that the crime was a felony under the laws of England, and that
the culprit must suffer death. Upon this a person arose and
harangued the assembly. He proposed that as the accused was
young and strong, fit for resistance against an enemy, they
should take the young man's clothes and put them upon some
old, bedridden person, near to the grave, and hang him in the
stead of the other. Although Morton says the idea was well
liked by the multitude, he admits that the substitution was not
made, and that the course of justice was allowed to take eflect
upon the real ofiender.

Branding was not an unusual punishment in former times.
A marine belonging to one of his Majesty's ships lying in Bos-
ton harbor, in 1770, being convicted of manslaughter, was
immediately branded in the hand and dismissed. Mont-
gomery and Killroy, convicted of the same crime for participa-
tion in the 5th of ]\Iarch massacre, were also branded in the
same manner.

Directly in front of Mount Prospect, of which it is a lesser



172 HISTOEIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.



satellite, is the Lill on which is situated the Asylum for the
Insane, named for noble John McLean. During the siege this
elevation was indifferently called Miller's and Cobble Hill, and
subsec][uently BarreU's Hill, from Joseph Barrell of Boston,
whose superb old mansion is still standing there.

The work on Cobble Hill was laid out by General Putnam
and Colonel Knox. It was begun on the night of November

22, 1775, and
was considered,
when completed,
the best speci-
men of military
engineering the
Ajnericans could
yet boast of, —
receiving the
name of Put-
nam's impregna-
ble fortress. To
Washington's
great surprise, he
was allowed to
finish the work without the least interruption from the enemy.
Cobble Hill Avas within point-blank range of the enemy's
lines on Bunker Hill, and the post was designed to command
the ferry between Boston and Charlestown, as well as to pre-
vent the enemy's vessels of war from moving up the river at
pleasure, — a result fuUy accomplished by arming the fort with
18 and 24 pounders.

As Colonel Knox had a principal share in laying out the fort
on Cobble Hill, the only one of the works around Boston he is
certainly known to have designed, the eminence should retain
some association with the name of this distinguished soldier of
the Eevolution.

At the time he quitted Boston to repair to the • American
camp, Knox rented of Benjamin Harrod a store in old Cornhill
(now the site of the " Globe " newspaper), who readily con-




OLD CHARLESTOWN ROAD. 173

sented that Knox's goods might remain tliere, in the behef that
liis toiy connections — he had lately married the daughter of
Secretary Flacker — would be a safeguard for both. The store,
however, Avas rifled by the British, and the landlord put in a
claim against Knox for the time it was shut up, Avhicli Knox
indignantly refused to allow. After the evacuation, William
Knox, brother of the general, continued the business of a book-
seller at the same stand.

When the Ee volution began, Knox was a lieutenant of the
Boston Grenadiers, commanded by Thomas Dawes, with the
rank of major. Dawes was an officer of activity and address,
and had exerted himself to bring the militia to a high standard
of excellence. The presence of some of the best regiments in
the British service offered both a model and incentive for these
efforts. The company was composed of mechanics and profes-
sional men, selected with regard to their height and martial
bearing, no member being under five feet ten inches, and many
six feet in height. Joseph Peirce was a lieutenant Avith Knox,
and Lemuel Trescott (afterwards a distinguished officer in the
Massachusetts line) Avas orderly-sergeant. The company made a
splendid appearance on parade, and Knox Avas considered a re-
markably fine-looking officer. So at least thought one .young
lady, Avho, it is said, became captivated with her tall grenadier
through those broad avenues to the female heart, admiration
and pity, and by the folio Aving circumstance : —

Harry Knox had been out gunning some time previous, when
the piece he carried, bursting in his hands, occasioned the loss
of several of his fingers. "He made his appearance in the
company," says Captain Henry Burbeck, " with the Avound
handsomely bandaged with a scarf, which, of course, excited
the sympathy of all the ladies. I recoUect the circumstance as
Avell as though it had only happened yesterday. I stood at the
head of Bedford Street and saw them coming up."

It is probable that Lucy Flucker Avas a frequent Aasitor to
Knox's shop, for he reckoned the creain of the old Bostonians,
as well as the debonair officers of his JNIajesty's army and fleet,
among his customers. Longman Avas his London correspondent,



174 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

and that arch-knave, Eivington, his Is'ew York ally in trade; be
it known that K'ew York relied on Boston chiefly for its advices
from England before the Eevolution. There is evidence that
the affair of Knox and Miss Flucker was a love-match not
sanctioned by her family. Lucy Flucker, with a true woman's
faith and self-devotion, espoused the cause and embraced the
fortunes of her husband. She followed him to the camp and
to the field.

Knox's great reputation as an officer of artillery had its
beginning here before Boston. He succeeded Gridley in the
command of the Massachusetts regiment of artillery, a regiment
of which Paddock's company formed the nucleus, and of which
some twenty members became commissioned officers in the
army of the Revolution. That company nobly responded when
Joseph Warren demanded of them how many could be counted
on to serve in the Army of Constitutional Liberty when it
should take the field. And David Mason, who had raised the
company, subsequently Paddock's, made no efi"ort to obtain
promotion for himself, but declared his willingness to serve
under Knox, if the latter could be appointed colonel of the
artillery.

Knox became very early a favorite with Washington, We
know not whether the general-in-chief was of Ceesar's way of
thinking, but it is certain Knox would have fulfilled the
Eoman's desire when he exclaims from his heart : —

" Let me have men about rae that are fat ;
Sleek -headed men, and such as sleep o' nights."

We have seen that Washington told Greene he meant to
keep Knox near him. On the other hand, Knox loved and
revered his commander as a son. At that memorable leave-
taking at Francis's tavern in Xew York, which no American
can read without emotion, the General, after his few, touching
words of farewell, invites his comrades to take him by the
hand. " Knox, being nearest, turned to him. Incapable of
utterance, Washington, in tears, grasped his hand, embraced,
and kissed him. In the same affectionate manner he took



OLD CHARLESTOWX ROAD. 175

leave of eacli succeeding officer." History does not record such
another scene as tliis.

Wilkinson says Knox faciHtated the passage of the Delaware
before Trenton by his stentorian kings and extraordinary exer-
tions. He was in the front at Monmouth, placing his pieces at
a critical moment where they stemmed the British onset and
restored the battle. But Harry Knox " won his spurs " by his
successful exertions in removing the artillery from Crown Point
to the camp at Cambridge. At one time failure stared him in
the face. The advanced season and contrary winds Avere near
preventing the transportation of his ponderous treasures across
the lake. The bateaux were rotten, and some, after being
loaded with infinite difficulty, either sunk or let the cannon
through their leaky bottoms. With joy at last Knox saw
his efforts crowned with success. He writes to Washington,
" Three days ago it was very uncertain whether we could
have gotten them until next spring, but now, please God, they
must go."

The cannon and mortars were loaded on forty-two strong
sleds, and were dragged slowly along by eighty yoke of oxen,
the route being from Fort George to Kinderhook, and from
thence, via Great Barrington, to Springfield, where fresh cattle
were provided. The roads were bad, and suitable carriages
could not be had, so that the train could not proceed Avithout
snow. Fortunately the roads became passable, and the sin-
gular procession Av^ound its tedious Avay through the moun-
tains of Western Massachusetts and down to the sea. " We
shall cut no small figure in going through the country Avith
our cannon, mortars, &c., draAvn by eighty yoke of oxen,"
says Knox.

General Knox, notAvithstanding his later pecuniary diffi-
culties, in which some of his best friends AA^ere unfortunately
involved, was the soul of honor. When the Avar broke out he
Avas in debt to Longman and other London creditors to a con-
siderable amount, but at the peace he paid the greater part of
these debts in full. Well might Mrs. Knox, after her bereave-
ment, speak of " his enlarged soul, his generous heart, his



176 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

gentleness of demeanor, and his expansive benevolence." He
deserved it all.

When the General became a resident of Boston again, ten
years after he had quitted it for the service, he was a tenant of
Copley's house on Beacon Hill. He vt'as then very fat, and
wore in summer a high-crowned Leghorn hat, a very full shirt-
frill, and usually carried a green umbrella under his arm. His
injured hand was always wrapped in a silk handkerchief, which
he was in the habit of unwinding when he stopped to speak
with any one. Knox County and KnoxviUe in East Tennessee
were named for the General Avhile Secretary of War.

Mrs. Knox was a fine horsewoman. She was affable and
gracious to her equals, but was unbending and unsocial with
her inferiors, so that when her husband went to live in his
elegant home at Thomaston, Maine, she found the society but
little congenial. Her winters were chiefly passed in Boston,
among her former friends, where she was often to be seen at
the evening parties. When at home the General and lady re-
ceived many notable guests, and many are the absurd stories
stiU related of the General's prodigality. Mrs. Knox is said to
have had a i-)enclmnt for play, which, it must be remembered,
was the rule and not the exception of fashionable society in her
day. To show to what extent this practice prevailed in the
good old town of Boston in 1782, we give the testimony of
the high-bred Marquis Chastellux, to whom such scenes were
familiar : —

" They made me play at whist, for ■ the first time since my
arrival in America. The cards were English, that is, much hand-
somer and dearer than ours, and we marked our points with Louis
d'ors. When the party was finished the loss was not difficult to
settle ; for the company was still faithful to that voluntary law estab-
lished in society from the commencement of the troubles, which pro-
hibited playing for money during the war. This law, howeA'er, was
not scrupulously observed in the clubs and parties made by the men
themselves. The inhabitants of Boston are fond of high play, and
it is fortunate, perhaps, that the war happened when it did to
moderate this passion, which began to be attended with dangerous
. consequences."



OLD CHAELESTOWN ROAD. • 177

When General Knox was with the army under Washington,
in the neighborhood of New York, his wife remained at a cer-
tain town in Connecticut, awaiting an opportunity of rejoining
her husband after the event of the campaign should be decided.
Mrs. Knox had for a companion the wife of another Massa-
chusetts officer. The person who let his house for a short time
to the ladies asserted that, after their departure, twenty-tive gal-
lons of choice old rum which he had in his cellar, and of Avhich
Mrs. Knox had the key, were missing.

It is not a little curious that while the splendid seat erected
by Knox after the Avar, at Thomaston, which he named Mont-
pelier, has been demolished, the old wooden house in Boston in
which the General was born is still standing on Federal Street
(old Sea Street) opposite Drake's Wharf, — that part of Boston
being formerly known as Wheeler's Point. General Heath
says in his memoirs that, being well acquainted Avith Knox
before the Avar,, he urged him to join the American army, but
that Knox's removal out of Boston and the state of his do-
mestic concerns required some arrangement, which he effected
as soon as possible, and then joined his countrymen.

Cobble Hill Avas, in December, 1777, the quarters of a por-
tion of Burgoyne's troops, avIio were suspected of setting fire to
the guard-house there at the same time a plot was discovered
on board one of the guard-ships in the harbor for the release
of the Bennington prisoners.

Joseph Barrell Avas an eminent Boston mercliant, Avho, Avhile
a resident of that toAvn, had inhabited one of the most elegant
old places to be found there. The evidences of his taste are
still to be seen in the house Avliich he built after the Revolu-
tionary War, and in the gTounds Avhich he laid out. Barrell's
palace, as it Avas called, is reached by passing through a noble
avenue, shaded by elms planted by the old merchant. It was
erected in 1792, and was furnished Avith glass of American
manufacture from the first Avorks erected in Boston. The house,
Avhich is of brick, does not demand a particular description
here, but is in all respects a noble old mansion, Avorthy a mag-
nate of the Exchancce. The interior arrangement of the ground-



178 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

floor is unique and striking. Entering a vestibule opening
into a spacious hall, across Avhich springs the staircase, sup-
ported by wooden columns, you pass under this bridge into an
oval reception-room in the rear of the building, an apartment
of elegance even for our day, and commanding a view of the
gardens and fish-pond so much aff"ected by the old proprietor, —
a souvenir of the estate in Summer Street. In this room is
hanging a portrait of McLean, the beneficent founder of the
asylum, by Alexander, and another of Samuel Eliot, by Stuart.
Mr. Barrell spared no expense in the interior decoration of his
house, as the rich woodwork abundantly testifies. He it was
who first introduced the tautog into Boston Bay, a fish of such
excellence that all true disciples of Isaak Walton should hold
his name in grateful remembrance.

Poplar Grove, as Mr. Barrell's place was called, was pur-
chased in 1816, by the corporation of the Massachusetts General
Hospital, — of which the asylum is an appendage, — of Ben-
jamin Joy, and the Barrell mansion became, and has ever since
remained, the residence of the physician and superintendent.
Rufus Wyman, M. D., was, from the first opening in 1818
until 1835, the physician here.

There is nothing very imposing or inviting in the appearance
of the old red brick buildings, dome-capped though they are ;
but the site itself is sufficiently beautiful to compensate for any
want of architectural attractiveness. Some of the trees planted
by Mr. BarreU were cut down to make room for the old wards,
which were planned without any particular regard to future
wants or to the capabilities of the situation. It was remarked
that the buildings were first erected to accommodate the trees,
and the trees then cut down to accommodate the buildings.

Here the poor patients whose wits are out may ramble in the
pleasant paths and "babble o' green fields." Here we may see
a Lear,' there an Ophelia, — old and young, rich and poor, but
with an equality of Avretchedness that levels all worldly con-
dition. Though dead in law as to the world, we know not that
the lives of the inmates are a blank, or that some mysterious
affinity may not exist among them. From the incurable maniac



lechmere's point. 179

do\\T.i to the victim of a single hallucination, who is only mad
when the wind is north-northwest, the principles of an enlarged
philanthropy have been found to be productive of the most
happy results. Their former lives are studied, ajid, as far as
practicable, grafted upon the new. Your madhouse, perhaps
the most repulsive of all earthly objects, becomes, under wise
and kindly influences, the medium by wliich the insane are in
very many instances returned into the world. Such have been
for hfty years the fruits of McLean's exalted charity.

Xone but the antiquary, who is ready to discard every sense
but that of sight, need explore the margin of Miller's Eiver. If
he expects to find a placid, inviting stream, with green banks
and clumps of willows, — a stream for poetry or meditation, —
let him beware. If he looks for a current in which to cast a
line, or where he may float in his skiff and dream the day away,
building liis aerial chdteaux, let him discard all such ideas and
pass by oir the other side. Miller's Eiver ! faugh ! it smells to
heav'en ; not even the Ehine at Cologne could surpass it. Such
draughts of air as are wafted to your nostrils from slaughter-
houses, Avhere whole hecatombs of squealing victims are daily
sacrificed, are not of the chameleon's dish.

Lechmere's Point, now East Cambridge, was so called from
its ownership by the Lechmere family. Hon. Thomas Lech-
mere, who died in 1765, was for many years Surveyor-General
for the I^orthern District of America, and brother of the then
Lord Lechmere. Eichard Lechmere, a royalist refugee of 1776,
married a daughter of Liei:tenant-Governor Spencer Phips, and
by her inherited that part of the Phips estate of Avhich Ave are
now writing. This will account to the reader for the name of
" Phips's Farm," which was sometimes applied to the Point in
Eevolutionary times. About 1806 Andrew Craigie purchased
the Point. The site of the old farm-house, which was the only
one existing there prior to the Eevolution, Avas near Avhere the
Court House now stands.

This locality is celebrated as the landing-place of the British
grenadiers and light infantry, under Lieutenant-Colonel Smith,
on the night of April 18, 1775. It would not be unworthy



180 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

the j)ublic spirit of the citizens of East Cainbridge to erect some
memorial by which this fact jnay be perpetuated. At high tide
the Point was an island, connected only with the mainland by
a causeway or dike. Willis's Creek or Miller's Eiver, was on
the north, and received the waters of a little rivulet which
flowed through the marsh on the west.

The access to the Point before the Revolution was by a
bridge across Willis's Creek, and a causeway now corresponding
nearly with Gore Street. This causeway was probably little
more than a footway slightly raised above the level of the
marsh, and submerged at high water. The troops lying on and
around Prospect Hill were therefore nearest the Point. Wash-
ington, in December, 1775, built the causeway now coinciding
with Cambridge Street Avhen he had resolved to fortify Lech-
mere's Point. Ey this means he was enabled to reinforce the
garrison there from Cambridge as well as Charlestown side, and
by a route less circuitous than that leading from the camps
above and at Inman's, which, diverging at Inman's, passed
through his lane about as far as the present line of Cambridge
Street, when it curved to the eastward, crossed the creek, and
united with Charlestown road at the foot of Prospect Hill.

The possession of a siege-train at last enabled Washington to
plant batteries where they would seriously annoy the enemy in
Boston. Among the most important of these were the forts
on Cobble Hill and Lechmere's Point.

Lechmere's Point was first fortified by the erection of a
bomb-battery on the night of jS'ovember 29, 1775. The for-
tunate capture by Captain Manly of a British ordnance brig in
Boston Bay gave, among other valuable stores, a 13-inch brass
mortar to the besieging army. Colonel Stephen Moylan relates
that the arrival of this trophy in camp was the occasion of great
rejoicing. The mortar Avas placed in its bed in front of the
laboratory on Cambridge Common for the occasion, and Old
Put, mounted astride with a bottle of rum in his hand, stood
parson, while Godfather Mifflin gave it the name of "Congress."

The mortar was eventually placed in battery at the Point,
where Washington had so far modified his original plan of a



lechmeee's point. 181

bomb-battery only as to cause the construction of two redoubts.
The approach to the causeway and bridge leading to the Point
from Charlestown side had previously been secured by a small
work on the main shore. After constructing a covered way and
improving the causeway, — a task Avhich a heavy fall of snow
much retarded, — • Washington directed Putnam to throw up
the redoubts. The enemy did not at first offer the least impedi-
ment to the work, and the General could oidy account for this
silence by the supposition tliat Howe Avas meditating some
grand stroke ; but as soon as the Americans had carried their
covered way up to the brow of the hill and broke ground there,
the British opened a heavy fire, which continued for several
days, without, however, interrupting the work. Owing to the
frozen condition of the ground, which made the labor one of
infinite difficulty, it Avas not until the last clays of February
that the redoubts Avere completed.

With proper ordnance the Americans Avere noAV able to
render the Avest part of Boston, Avhich Avas only half a mile dis-



Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 16 of 39)