Samuel Adams Drake.

Historic fields and mansions of Middlesex online

. (page 28 of 39)
Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 28 of 39)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

wick, have been penned in the old Vassall homestead.

It is related that one day, after patiently exhibiting his grand
old mansion to a knot of visitors, to whose many questions he
replied with perfect good-hnmor, the poet was about t(3 close
the door on the party, Avhen the leader and spokesman accosted
him with the startling question, —

" Can you tell me who lives in this house noiv ? "

" Yes, sir, certainly. I live here."

" What name % "


" Anj'- relation to the Wiscasset Longfellers 1 "

This house will ever be chiefly renowned for its associations
with the Father of his Country, and when it is gone the spot
will still be cherished in loving remembrance. Yet some pil-
grims there will be who will come to pay tribute to the literary
memories that cluster around it ; soldiers who conquer with the
pen's point, and oy Avhose banners are inscribed the watchword,
" Peace hath her victories no less renowned than war."





" Damned neuters, in their middle way of steering,
Are neither tish nor flesh, nor good red herring."


THE liouse standing at the corner of Brattle and Sparks
Streets, almost concealed from view by a gi-oup of giant,
sweet-scented Lindens, has nndergone such material change as
not to be easily recognized for a relic of Colonial times. The
old, two-storied house, seen in our view, has been bodily raised

from its foundations, on the shoulders of a more youthful
progeny, as if it were anxious to keep pace with the growth of
the trees in its front, and still overlook its old landscape.

Of about the same length of years as its neighbor which we
have but now left, this house was in ante-Eevolutionary times
first the abode of Eichard Lechmere, and later of Jonathan
Sewall, — royalists both. To the former, a Boston distiller,
we have already alluded ; but the latter may well claim a
passing notice. He belonged to one of the old distinguished
families of ]\Iassachusetts, and was himself a man of very



superior abilities. He was tlie intimate friend and associate of
John Adams, and endeavored to dissuade him from embarking
in the cause of his country. To Sewall, Adams addressed the
memorable words, as they walked on the Great Hill at Port-
land, " The die is now cast ; I have now passed the Rubicon :
swim or sink, live or die, survive or perish, with my country is
my unalterable determination." " Jonathan and John " again
met in London, — ■ the former a broken-down, disappointed man ;
the latter ambassador of his country at the very court upon
whose niggardly bounty the loyalist had depended. SewaU
came to Nova Scotia, where he had been appointed Judge of
Admiralty. He married Esther, the sister of Dorothy Quincy,
wife of Governor Hancock. Sewall's house was mobbed in
September, 1774, and he was forced to flee into Eoston. Old
MacFingal asks, —

" Wlio made that wit of water gruel
A judge of Admiralty, Sewall ? "

Sewall's house was at length assigned to General Eiedesel as
his quarters. His accomplished lady has left a souvenir of her
sojourn, in her autograph, cut with a diamond on the pane of
a west window, though we ought, perhaps, to say that the sig-
nature is considered as the General's by his biographer. Un-
fortunately, in removing the glass from the sash the pane was
broken, an accident much regretted by Mr. Brewster, the
present owner of the premises.

Here the Germans enjoyed a repose after the vicissitudes
they had undergone, and in which we hardly know how suffi-
ciently to admire the fortitude and devotion of the Baroness.
The beautiful lindens were a souvenir of the dear iihineland,
— not unworthy, indeed, to adorn even the celebrated prome-
nade of Berlin. The Baroness fraidvly admits that she never
was in so delightful a place, but the feeling that they were
prisoners made her agreeable surroundings still echo the words
of old Eichard Lovelace : —

" Stone walls do not a prison make,
Nor iron bars a cage."


They had balls and parties, and duly celel^'ated the king's
birthday. AU the generals and officers, British and German,
came here often, except Burgoyne, between whom and Eiedesel
a coolness existed. When Phillips was put under arrest Gen-
eral Heath recognized Eiedesel as chief in command. Madame
Eiedesel had here an opportunity of returning tlie civilities of
General Schuyler in a measure, by attentions to his daughter,
who had married a gentleman named Church, and who, for
reasons of his own, lived in Boston under the assumed name of
Carter. Church was an Englishman, of good family, who had
been unfortunate in business in London. He came to America,
became a good whig, and, in connection with Colonel Wads-
worth of Connecticut, secured a principal share of the contract
for supplying the French troops in our service. After the peace
he returned to England.

The uniform of the Germans was blue, faced with yellow,
which came near causing some awkward mistakes where they
were engaged. The poet describes the enemy's battle-array at
Monmouth in this wise : —

" Britons with Germans formed apart for figlit,
The left wing roh'd in blue, in red tlie right."

The Baroness relates that she found Boston pretty, but in-
habited by violent, Avicked people. The women, slie says,
regarded her with repugnance, and were even so shameless as
to spit at her when she passed by them. She also accuses
" that miserable Carter" of having proposed to the Americans
to chop off the heads of the generals, British and German, salt
them down in barrels, and send one over to the Ministry for
every hamlet or toAvn burned by the king's forces. Madam the
baroness, it appears, Avas not less credulous than some foreign
writers that have appeared since her clay.

The Avay in which the German contingent saved their colors
after the surrender of Saratoga is Avorthy of mention. The flags
Avere not giA^en up on the day when the troops piled their arms,
as the treaty required, but Avere reported to have been burnt.
This Avas considered, and in feet Avas, a breach of military faith,


but, being supposed to have occurred through the pardonable
chagrin of veterans who chmg to the honor of their corps, was
overlooked. Only the staves, however, were burned, the flags
being concealed with such care by General Eiedesel that even
his wife did not know of it until the Convention troops were
ordered to Virginia, when the Baroness sewed the flags in a
mattress, which was passed into the enemy's lines at Xew York
among the effects of an officer.

" The next of the seven families which Madame Eiedesel men-
tions as forming the exclusive royalist coterie of Old Cambridge
was that of Judge Joseph Lee, whose house is still standing,
not far from that of Mr. Brewster's, in our progress towards the
setting sun.

This house has the reputation of being the oldest in Cam-
bridge, although another situated on Linnpean Street may, we
think, dispute the palm with it. Evidently the building now
appears much changed from its primitive aspect, both in re-
spect to size and distinctive character. Externally there is
nothing of the Puritan type of architecture, except the huge
central chimney-stack, looking as if the very earth had borne
it up with difficulty, for its outline appears curved Avhere its
bulk has settled unequally. The west end is -of rough-cast,
and the whole outward structure as unitsthetic and austere as

Judge Lee was a loyalist of a moderate stamp, who remained
in Boston during the siege. He Avas permitted to return to
Cambridge, and ended his days in his antique old mansion
in 1802.

The large square house at the corner of Fayerweather Street
is comparatively modern, belonging to the period of about 1740—
50, when we find a large proportion of the mansions of the Colo-
nial gentry sprang up, under the influence of rich harvests from
the French War, which gave our merchant princes an opportu-
nity of thrusting their hands pretty deeply into the exchequer
of Old England. Captain George Buggies owned the estate in
Shirley's time, but before the Revolution it became the resi-
dence of Thomas Fayerweather, for whom the street is named.


The house passed into the possession of William Wells, in
Avhose family it still remains.

Having brought the reader a considerable distance from our
point of departure, we at length come to a halt and consult our
guide-book of only fifty odd years ago. It tells us we have
arrived at "the cross road south of the late Governor Gerry's,
now Eev. Charles Lowell's, seat." This is Elmwood, the resi-
dence of James Eussell Lowell.

It is a pleasure to happen upon an old Colonial estate retain-
ing so much of its former condition as this. It embodies more
of the idea of the country-house of a provincial magnate than is
easily supplied to the limited horizons and scanty areas of some
of our old acquaintances. The splendid grove of pines is a
reminiscence of the primitive forest ; the noble elms have given
a name to the compact old mansion-house and its remaining
acres ; and there are still the old barn and outbuildings, with
the remnant of the ancient orchard. It is easy to see that the
poet's pride is in his trees, and one lordly elm, seen from his
library window, is worthy to be remembered with ^lilton's
Mulberry or Luther's Linden. The grounds in front of the
house are laid out in accordance with modern taste, but at the
back the owner may ramble at will in paths all guiltless of
the gardener's art, and imagine himself threading the solitudes
of some rural glade remote from the sights and sounds of the

Of old the road, like a huge serpent, enveloped the estate in
its folds as it passed by the front of the house, and again
stretched along the ancient settlement of Watertown Avhere
were its first humble cottages, its primitive church, and its
burial-place. It is almost in sight of the spot, now the vicinity
of the Arsenal, where the English landed by Captain Squeb at
Xantasket, in May, 1630, made their way up Charles River,
and bivouacked in the midst of savages. Sir Richard Salton-
stall's supposed demesne is still pointed out in the neighbor-
hood, and at every step you meet with some memorial of the
founders. According to old town boundaries, the estate of which
Ave are writing was wholly in Watertown, and extended its


fifteen acres quite to Fresh Pond, on the north ; it is now
within the limits of Cambridge.

It has often been stated that this house was built by Colo-
nel Thomas Oliver (of whom anon) about 1760 ; but as the
estate was only leased by him until the year 1770, when he
acquired the title by purchase of the heirs of John Stratton, of
Watertown, we do not give full credence to the assertion. The
house is older in appearance, both without and within, than its
usually assumed date of construction would warrant. More-
over, in_ the conveyance to Oliver the messuage itself is named.

The house is of wood, of three stories, and is, in itself,
without any distinctive marks except as a type of a now obso-
lete style of architecture. A suit of yellow and white paint
has freshened the exterior, as the jiowder of the colonial pro-
prietor might have once rejuvenated his wrinkled countenance.
The tall trees bend their heads in continual obeisance to the
mansion, like so many aged servitors ranged around their mas-
ter. Inwardly the woodwork is plain, and destitute of the
elaborate enrichment seen in Mr. Longfellow's. As you enter
the hall, which goes straight through the house, you see the
walls are covered with ancestral portraits and with quaint old
engravings, rare enough to have dated from the birthday of
copperplate. An antique bust occupies a niche on the stair-
case ; the old clock is there, and. in every apartment are col-
lected objects of art or specimens of ancient furniture, which
seem always to have belonged to the house, so perfectly do they
accord with wainscot, panel, and cornice. The reception-room
is on the south side of the house, and behind it is the library.
The poet's study, in which nearly all his poems have been
written, is on the third floor.

In the absence of the owner our visit was brief, nor do we
feel at liberty longer to invade his domestic concerns, or revel
amid his household gods. Not to fright away the muse from
the old halls, another well-known poet, T. B. Aldrich, takes his
seat in the arm-chair and rests his feet on the fender. Taken
altogether, Elmwood is an earthly paradise to which few would
be unwilling to attain, and were we sure its atmosphere were


contagious, we could haunt the spot, inhaling deep draughts in
its cool and grassy retreats.

Thomas Oliver, the last of the lieutenant-governors under the
crovv^n, dwelt here before the Revolution. He belonged to the
Dorchester family, and claimed no relationship with Andrew
Oliver, the stamp-master and successor of Hutchinson as lieu-
tenant-governor. The Olivers were of Huguenot descent, re-
nowned in ancient French chivalry, where the family patro-
nymic, now shortened by a letter, was deemed worthy to be
coupled with that of a Roland, a Rohan, or a Coligny. Thomas
inherited a plentifid. estate from his grandfather, James Brown,
and his great-uncle, Robert Oliver, so that his father did not
deem it necessary to provide further for him in his will than to
bequeath somfe testimonials of affection.

This dapper little man, as the crown-deputy was called,
pleasant of speech and of courtly manners, was in no public
office previous to his appointment under Hutchinson, — a
choice so unexpected that it was currently believed that the
name of Thomas had been inserted by accident in the commis-
sion instead of that of Peter, the chief justice. But our ]\Iaclua-
velli, who had planned the affair, knew better.

One fine afternoon in September, 1774, the men of Middle-
sex appeared in the lieutenant-governor's grounds and wrung
from him a resignation, after Avhich he consulted his safety by
a flight into Boston. How bitter to him was this enforced
surrender of his office, may be gathered from the language in
which it is couched : —

" My house at Cambridge being surrounded by four thousand
people, in compliance with their commands I sign my name, Thomas

The house was utilized as a hospital after Bunker Hill, the
opposite field being used as the burying-ground for such as died
here. In opening new streets, some of the remains have been
exhumed, — as many as eight or ten skeletons coming to light
witliin a limited area.

The royalist's habitation became the seat of his antipodes, —


a democratic governor, later vice-president, who resided here
while holding these offices. Elbridge Gerry's signature is
affixed to the Declaration of Independence, and he was one of
the three commissioners sent by Mr. Adams to France in 1797.
He was chosen by tlie Provincial Congress, of Avhich he was a
member, to attend the Gascon Lee, in his proposed interview
with Burgoyne, who was to the fidl as bombastic, and who
doubtless thought of his former companion in arms,

" Nay an' thou 'It moiith,
1 '11 rant us well as thou."

As one of the delegates to frame the Federal Constitution at
Philadelphia, in 1787, Mr. Gerry refused to sign that instrument,
and o})posed its adoption by the Convention of Massachusetts.
The result was for a time doubtful, but when the scale seemed
to incline in favor of the federalists, Gerry kept close at Cam-
bridge, and his adherents made no motion for his recall. Han-
cock, by the offer of a tempting prize, — supposed to be no less
than the promise of the support of the IMassachusetts leaders
for the presidency in case Virginia failed to come in, -. — was in-
duced to appear and commit himself in fav'or of ratification.
Adams came over, and with the aid of Eufus King, Parsons,
Otis, and the rest, the measure was carried. This scrap of
secret history has but recently come to light.

But Mr. Gerry will doubtless be recollected as well for the
curious political manipulation of the map of Old Massachusetts,
which gave a handle to his name by no means flattering to the
sensibilities of its owner, and notoriety to one of the most effec-
tive party caricatures of his time. Briefly, he was the means
of introducing the word " Gerrymander " into our political vo-
cabulary. The origin of the name and of the caricature have
been subjects of quite recent discussion.

The democratic or republican party having succeeded in re-
electing Mr. Gerry in 1811, with both branches of the Legisla-
ture in their hands, proceeded to divide the State into new
Senatorial districts, so as to insure a democratic majority in the
Senate. Hon. Samuel Dana, then President of the Senate, is


considered the author of the scheme, which has also been at-
tributed to Joseph Story, who was Speaker of the House until
January 12, 1812, when he resigned. The bill passed both
branches early in February, 1812, and received the approval of
the governor. Under this new and then audacious arrange-
ment, the counties of Essex and Worcester were carved up in
such a manner as to disregard even the semblance of fairness.
County lines were disregarded and public convenience set at
naught, in order to overcome the federal majorities in those

The singular appearance of the new Essex district, where a
single tier of towns was taken from the outside of the county,
and Chelsea, in Suffolk, attached, caused a general outcry from
the federalists. The remainder of the county was completely
enveloped by this political deformity, which, with its extremi-
ties in the sea at Salisbury, and Chelsea, walled out the remain-
ing towns from the rest of the State. The map of Essex, which
gave rise to the caricature, was drawn by Nathan Hale, Avho,
with Henry Sedgwick, edited the " Boston "Weekly Messenger,"
in which the geographic-political monstrosity first appeared,
March 6, 1812.

At a dinner-party at Colonel Israel Thorndike's house in
Summer Street, Boston, — the site of which, previous to the
great fire of 1872, was occupied by Gray's Block, — this map
was exhibited and discussed, and its grotesque appearance gave
rise to the suggestion that it only wanted wings to resemble
some fabled monster of antiquity. Upon this Tisdale, the
artist and miniature-painter, who was present, took his pencil
and sketched the wings. The name of Salamander being pro-
posed, Mr. Alsop, it is said, suggested that of Gerrymander,
which at once Avon the approval of the company ; but it is not
so clear who has the honor of inventing this name, — an honor
claimed also for Ben Russell and Mr. Ogilvie. With this
designation the (^lerrymander appeared in the " Boston Gazette"
of March 26, 1812. The artist succeeded in forming a very
tolerable caricature of Governor Gerry out of the towns of
Andover, Middleton, and Lynnfield. Salisbury formed the
14* u


head and beak of the griffin, Salem and Marblehead the claws.
The design of this famous political caricature has been errone-
ously attributed both to Stuart and to Edward Horsman.
The word " Gerrymander," though fully incorporated into our
language, has but lately found a place in the dictionaries.

Upon the death of Mr. Gerry the property passed into the
possession of Eev. Charles Lowell, father of the poet, by pur-
chase from Mrs. Gerry. The new owner greatly improved and
beautified the estate, the splendid elms giving it the name of
Elmwood. Dr. Lowell is best remembered as the pastor of the
West Church in Boston, where more
than half a century's service has so
fully incorporated his name with that
historic edifice that the church is better
known to-day as Lowell's than by its
ancient designation. Dr. Lowell suc-
ceeded Eev. Simeon Howard, in whose
time the dismantled appearance of the
West Church gave occasion to a scene

LOWELL. 11 P •

not usually forming a part of the services.

As a couple of Jack Tars were passing by the meeting-house
on a Sunday, observing the remains of the steeple, which Avas
cut down by the British troops in the year 1775, " Stop, Jack,"
says one of them, " d — n my eyes, but this ship is in distress ;
she has struck her topmast. Let 's go on board and lend her a
hand." Upon which they went in, but, finding ho assistance
was required of them, they sat down until service was ended.
On their going out they Avere heard to say, *' Faith, the ship
which we thought was in distress has the ablest pilot on board
that we 've seen for many a day."

Elmwood comprises about thirteen acres, and is separated
only by the road from ]\Iount Auburn, Avhere the mould en-
closes the remains of two of the poet's children.

■ I thought of a nioiind iu sweet Auburn,

Where a little headstone stood,
How the flakes were folding it gently,
As did robins the babes in the wood."


James Eussell Lowell, after leaving college, became, in
1840, a member of the Suffolk bar, and opened an office in
Boston, In this he Avas true to the traditions of his fomily.
His grandsire filled the office of United States District Judge
by the appointment of AVashington ; his father studied law first
and divinity afterwards ; while his uncle, the " Boston liebel"
of 1812, was also bred to the bar. From another uncle, Francis
Cabot, the city of Lowell takes its name ; and those delightful
intellectual feasts, the Lowell lectures, arose from the bounty of
another member of this family. Mr. liOwell soon relinquished
the law, and his arguments are better known to the world
through the medium of his essays and verse than by the law
reports. In 1843 Lowell joined with Robert Carter in the
publication of the '' Pioneer," a magazine of brief existence.
The broad humor and keen satire of the " Biglow Papers,"
which appeared during the Mexican War, are still relished by
every class of readers, — the Yankee dialect, now so seldom
heard in its native richness, giving a piquancy to the language
and force to the poet's ideas. We have the assertion of a
popular modern humorist * that his productions made no im-
pression on the public until clothed in the Yankee vernacular,
so much is the character associated with the idea of original
mother-wit and shrewd common-sense.

" Agin' the chimbly crooknecks hiing,
An' in amongst 'era rasted
The old queen's arm thet gran'ther Young
Fetclied back from Concord busted."

The inquiry seems pertinent whether we are not on the eve
of passing into a period of mediocrity in literature as well as
of statesmanship. Prescott, Cooper, Irving, Everett, and Haw-
thorne have gone before ; Longfellow, Bryant, Lowell, Holmes,
Emerson, Bancroft, and Motley are descending into the vale of
years, and the names of those who are to take their places are
not yet written. The coming generation will perhaps look
back upon ours as the Golden Age of American Letters, con^-

* Henry W. Shaw (Josh Billings).


parable only to the Golden Age of Statesmen in the day of
Webster, Clay, Calhoun, and their contemporary intellectual

As respects our catalogue of native authors, few, if any, have
ever had their pens sharpened by necessity or dipped in the ink
of privation. Most of them have been endowed with sufficient
fortunes, gravitating naturally into literature, which they have
enriched, to the great fame of American culture at home and
abroad. Longfellow, it is said, is more read in England than
any native poet, Tennyson not excepted ; Lowell is also a
favorite there ; and the works of Irving, Cooper, and Haw-
thorne are to be found, in and out of the author's mother
tongue, in the stalls of London, on the Paris quays, and in the
shops of Leipsic and Berlin. Perhaps in the multitude of young
authors now earning their daily bread in intellectual labor,
some may yet rise on the crest of the wave worthy to receive
the golden stylus from these honored hands, for in no one re-
spect is the growth of our country more remarkable than in the
enlarged and still increasing area of the literary field by the
midtiplication of veliicles of information.

Nearly opposite the Lowell mansion once stood the white
cottage of Sweet Auburn, some time the home of Caroline

Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 28 of 39)