Samuel Adams Drake.

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perspicacity with regard to the destiny of the great "West. This
led him, at a time when there was neither public nor private
credit, to purchase, in connection with Oliver Phelps, an im-
mense tract of land then belonging to Massachusetts, lying on
the Genesee, in New York. The area of the purchase com-
prises ten or twelve counties and includes hundreds of flourish-
ing towns.

Jedediah Morse, the father of American geography, and
minister of the first church in Charlestown from 1789 to 1820,
describes Charlestown in his Gazetteer of 1797 as containing
two hundred and fifty houses and twenty-five hundred in-
habitants, with no other public buildings of note than the
Congregational meeting-house and almshouse. A traveller
Avho visited the place in 1750 says it then had two hundred
houses, and was a pleasant little town " where the Bostoneers
build many vessels." The destruction of the town and disper-
sion of the inhabitants caused the exemption of that part lying
within the Neck, that is to say the peninsula, from furnishing
troops for the Continental army in 1776. In 1784 Nathaniel
Gorham was sent to England on a singular mission by the suf-
ferers from the burning of the town in 1775, — - it being for no
other purpose than to solicit aid for the consequences of an act
of war. The mission resulted in failure, as it deserved, and
was condemned by the thinking portion of the community, who
did not believe we could afford to ask alms of those whom we
had just forced to acknowledge our independence.

Dr. Morse's first work on geography for the use of schools
was prepared at New Haven in 1784. This was soon followed
by larger works, on the same subject and by gazetteers, com-
piled from the historical and descriptive Avorks of the time, and
aided by travel and correspondence. We cannot withhold our
astonishment when we look into one of these early volumes ;
for it is only by this means we realize the immense strides our
country has been taking since the Revolution, or that a vast
extent of territory, then a wilderness, has now become the seat
of political power for these states and the granary from Avhence



THE GATEWAY OF OLD MIDDLESEX. 17

half Europe is feci. What was then laid down as a desert is now
seamed by railways and covered with cities and villages. The
early volumes of the Massachusetts Historical Society contained
many valualole topographical and descriptive papers contributed
by Drs. Belknap, Holmes, Bentley, and others, and of which
Dr. Morse, an influential member of the society, in all proba-
bility availed himself in his later works.

Geography was an original passion with Dr. Morse, which it
is said rendered him so absent-minded that once, being asked
by his teacher at a Greek recitation where a certain verb was
found, he replied, " On the coast of Africa." While he was a
tutor at Yale, the want of geographies there induced him to
prepare notes for his pupils, to serve as text books, which he
eventually printed. Such was the origin of his labors in this
field of learning.

The clergy have always been our historians, and N'ew Eng-
land annals would be indeed meagre, but for the efforts of
Hubbard, Prince, the Mathers, Belknap, Gordon, Morse,
Holmes, and others. As Hutchinson drew on Hubbard, so
all the writers on the Eevolution derive much of their material
from Gordon, whose work, if it did not satisfy the intense
American feeling of his day, seems at this time remarkable for
fairness and truth. The meridian of London, where Dr. Gor-
don's work first appeared, was freely said to. have impaired his
narrative and to have caused the revision of his manuscript to
the suppression of whatever might wound the susceptibilities
of his English patrons.

Dr. Morse engaged much in controversy, Unitarianism hav-
ing begun publicly to assert itself in his time, and in some in-
stances to obtain control of the old Orthodox houses of wor-
ship. The struggle of Dr. Holmes to maintain himself against
the wave of new ideas forms a curious chapter in religious con-
troversial history. The energy with which Jedediah Morse
engaged in the conflict seriously affected his health, but he
kept his church true to its original, time-honored doctrines.
Dr. Morse, who was the townsman and classmate of Dr. Holmes,
is understood to have introduced the latter at Cambridge.



18 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

On some occasion, Dr. Gardiner of Trinity Church, Boston,
who, by the way, was a pupil of tlie celebrated Dr. Parr, went to
preach in the church at Cambridge, and, as a matter of course,
many of the professors went to hear him. Unitarianism had ap-
peared in the Episcopal, as well as the Congregational Church.

Dr. Gardiner began his discourse somewhat in this Avise :
" My brethren, there is a new science discovered ; it is called
Biblical criticism. Do you want to know what Biblical criti-
cism is 1 I will tell you.

' Ojf with his head ! So much for Buckingham.' Cooke.
' Off with his liead ! So much for Buckingliam. ' Kemble.

Mr. Cooper says neither are right, but that it should be ren-
dered, ' Off with his head ! so much for Buckingham ! ' ]\Iy
friends that is Biblical criticism." We leave the reader to
imagine the effect upon the grave and reverend professors of
the College.

Dr. Morse was sole editor of the Panoplist from 1806 to
1811, and was prominent in establishing the Andover Theo-
logical Seminary. He engaged at times in missionary work,
the records of marriages performed by him at the Isles of
Shoals being still in existence there. One of his last labors
was a visit to the Indian tribes of the Northwest, under the
direction of the government, a report of which he published in
1832.

At the time of the excitement in Xew England against
secret societies, when the most direful apprehensions existed
that religion itself Avas to be overthrown by Free-]\Iasonry, the
Illuminati, or bugbears of a similar character, Dr. Morse was
one of the overseers of Harvard College and a distinguislied
alarmist. As such, he opposed with all his might the proposal
of the Phi Beta Kappa Society to publish " The Literary Mis-
cellany," which afterwards appeared under their auspices. It
was conjectured that this literary association, with its then
unrevealed Greek initials, was an off-shoot of some order of
Masonry, and hence the Doctor's vigilance to prevent the en-
trance of any corrupting influences within the walls of the
seminary.



THE GATEWAY OF OLD MIDDLESEX. 19

The old parsonage which was the residence of Dr. Morse
was situated in what is now Harvard Street, between the City
Hall and Church, the house standing quite near the latter,
while the garden extended down the hill on the ground now
occupied by Harvard Eow, quite to tlie City Hall. It was a
two-story wooden house, removed many years since from its
historic site on the ancient Town Hill.

Dr. Morse's more distinguished son, Samuel Finley Breese,
known to all the world for making electricity the instantaneous
messenger of his will, has now, as we write, been dead scarcely
more than a twelvemonth. His eulogy, thanks to his own in-
vention, was pronounced simultaneously from St. Petersburg to
California ; his memory received the homage of crowned heads,
as well as of our own republican court, such as has rarely, if
ever, been accorded to any explorer in the pathways of science.
As the savans of the Old "World have in times past bowed be-
fore a Franklin, a Rumford, and a Bowditch, they have once
more been called upon to inscribe in their high places of honor
the name of an American. •

Samuel F. B. Morse was not born at the parsonage, but in
the house of Thomas Edes, on Main Street, to which Dr.
Morse had removed while his own roof was undergoing some
repairs. The house, which is also noted as the first erected in
Charlestown after its destruction in 1775, stands at the corner
of Main Street Court at a little distance from the Unitarian
Church.

Young Morse seconded his father's passion for geography by
one as strongly marked for drawing, and the blank margin of
his Virgil occupied far more of his thoughts than the text.
His penchant for art, exhibited in much the same manner as
Allston's, his future master, did not meet with the same en-
couragement. A caricature, founded upon some fracas among
the students at Yale, and in which the faculty were burlesqued,
was seized, handed to President Dwight, and the author, who
was no other than our friend Morse, called up. The delinquent
received a severe lecture upon his waste of time, violation of
college laws, and filial disobedience, without exhibiting any



20 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

signs of contrition ; but when at length Dr. Dwight said to
him, " Morse you are no painter ; this is a rude attempt, a com-
plete failure," he was touched to the quick, and could not keep
back the tears. On being questioned by his fellow-students as
to what Dr. Dwight had said or done, " He says I am no
painter ! " roared Morse, cut to the heart through his darling
passion.

A canvas, executed by Morse at the age of nineteen, of the
Landing of the Pilgrim's may be seen at the Charlestown City
Hall. He accompanied Allston to Europe, where he became a
pupil of West, and, it is said, also, of Copley, though the latter
died two years after Morse reached England. He exhibited
his "Dying Hercules" at the Eoyal Academy in 1813, re-
ceiving subsequently from the London Adelphi a prize gold
medal for a model of the same in plaster. In 1815 he returned
to America and pursued portrait painting, his price being lifteen
dollars for a picture. Morse became a resident of 'New York
about 1822, and painted Lafayette when the latter visited this
country.

Various accounts have been given of the manner in which
Morse first imbibed the idea of making electricity the means
of conveying intelligence, the one usually accepted being that,
while returning from Europe in 1832, on board the packet
ship Sully, a fellow-passenger related some experiments he had
witnessed in Paris with the electro-magnet, which made such
an impression upon one of his auditors that he walked the
deck the whole night. Professor jNIorse's own account was that
he gained his knowledge of the working of the electro-magnet
while attending the lectures of Dr. J. Freeman Dana, then
professor of chemistry in the University of New York, delivered
before the Xew York Athenceum. " I witnessed," says INIorse,
" the effects of the conjunctive wires in the different forms
described by him in his lectures, and exhibited to his audience.
The electro-magnet was put in action by an intensity battery ;
it was made to sustain the weight of its armature, when the
conjunctive wire was connected with the poles of the battery,
or the circuit was closed ; and it was made ' to drop its load '
upon opening the circuit."



THE GATEWAY OF OLD MIDDLESEX. 21

Morse's application to the Twenty-Seventli Congress for aid
to put his invention to the test of practical illustration was
only carried by a vote of eighty-nine to eighty-seven. The in-
ventor went to Washington with exhausted means and heartsick
with despondency. Two votes saved, perliaps, this wonderful
discovery from present obscurity. With the thirty thousand
dollars he obtained, Morse stretched his first wires from Wash-
ington to Baltimore, — we say wires, because the principle of the
ground circuit was not then known, and only discovered, we
believe, by accident, so that a wire to go and another to return
between the cities was deemed necessary by Morse to complete
his first circuit. The first wire was of copper.

The first message, now in the custody of the Connecticut
Historical Society, was dictated by Miss Annie G. Ellsworth.
With trembling hand Morse must have spelled out the words, —

"What Hath God Wrought !"
With an intensity of feeling he must have waited for the " aye,
aye " of his distant correspondent. It was done ; and the iron
thread, freighted with joy or woe to men or nations, now throbs
responsive to the delicate touch of a child. It now springs up
from the desert in advance of civilization ; its spark o'erleaps
the ocean and well-nigh spans the globe itself. K"o man can
say that its destiny is accomplished ; but we have lived to grasp
the lightning and play with the thunderbolt.

The telegraph was at first regarded with a superstitious dread
in some sections of the country. WiU it be credited that in a
Southern State a drouth was attributed to its occult influences,
and the people, infatuated with the idea, levelled the wires with
the ground 1 The savages of the plains have been known to
lie in ambush watching the mysterious agent of the white man,
and listening to the humming of the wires, which they vaguely
associated with evil augury to themselves. So common was it
for the Indians to knock off the insulators with their rifles, in
order to gratify their curiosity in regard to the " singing cord,"
that it was, at first, extremely difficult to keep the lines in re-
pair along the Pacific railway.

As you go towards Charlestown Neck, when about half-way



22 HISTOEIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

from the point where Main and Warren Streets unite, you see
at your right hand the old-fashioned two-story wooden house
in which Charlotte Cushman passed some of her early life.

She was horn in Boston, in that part of the town ycleped
the Xorth End, and in an old house that stood within the
present enclosure of the Hancock School yard. It should not
be forgotten that that sterling actor, John Gilbert, was born in
the next house. Here young John spoke his first piece and
here the great curtain was rung up for little Charlotte. When
the lights shall be at last turned off, and darkness envelop the
stage, there will be two wreaths of immortelles to be added to
the tributes which that famed old quarter already claims for its
long roll of celebrated names.

It is related that, when a child, Charlotte was one day in-
cautiously playing on Long Wharf, where her father kept a
store, and there fell into the water. She was rescued and
taken home dripping wet, but instead of an ecstatic burst of joy
at the safety of her darling, her mother gave her a sound whip-
ping. Perhaps this was only one of those sudden revulsions
which Tom Hood exemplifies in his " Lost Heir."

After her removal to Charlestown Charlotte went to Miss
Austin's school. This lady was a relative of AVilliam Austin,
the author of " Peter Pugg." Charlotte was a good scholar,
and almost always had the badge of excellence suspended from
her neck. She was very strong physically, as some of her
schoolmates bear witness to this day. Although she displayed
considerable aptitude as a reader, her predilection was, at this
time, altogether in favor of a musical career, and she cultivated
her voice assiduoTisly to that end.

Her first appearance in public was at a social concert given
at the hall No. 1 Franklin Avenue, in Boston, ]\Iarch 25th,
1830, Avhere she was assisted by Mr. Farmer, Mr. John F.
Pray, Messrs. Stedman, Morris, and others. She also sang at
one of Mrs. Wood's Concerts, and that lady, pleased with her
fine contralto voice, advised her to turn her attention to the
lyric drama. Mr. Maeder, the husband of Clara Fisher, brought
her out as the Countess, in Les Noces de Figaro, in April, 1835,
at the Tremont Theatre.



THE GATEWAY OF OLD MIDDLESEX. 23

Her voice failing, she determined to adopt the acting branch
of the profession, and studied under the direction of W. E.
Burton, the celebrated comedian. Having mastered the part
of Lady Macbeth, she appeared with complete success at the
i^ew York theatres in this and other leading characters. At
this time she brought out her youngest sister, Susan, herself
assuming male parts. She was manageress of one of the Phila-
delphia theatres until Mr. Macready, in 1844, invited her to
accompany him in a professional tour of the Northern States,
which gave her an opportunity of displaying her tragic powers
to advantage.

During her tour with Macready, sh3 played in Boston at the
Old Melodeon, with scarcely a single voice of the press raised
in her favor. Her benefit, at which the tragedian, with charac-
teristic littleness, refused to appear, was a pecuniary loss to her.
But it was during this trip that Macready said to her one day,
in his brusque, pompous way, " Girl, you would do well in
London." This remark was not lost on the quick-witted
Yankee maiden.

The next year found her in London, but she had kept her
own counsel, and even Mr. Macready did not know her inten-
tion. In vain, however, she solicited an engagement, for she
had neither fame nor beauty to recommend her. But at last,
when she had spent almost her last farthing, — except the little
sum at her banker's, laid aside to take her back home in case
all else should fail, — a ray of hope appeared. Maddocks, the
manager of the Princess's Theatre, proposed to her to appear in
company with Mr. Forrest, who was then, like herself, seeking
an opening at the London theatres. The shrewd manager
thought that perhaps two American Stars might fill his house.

Charlotte's reply was characteristic of her acuteness. " Give
me," she said to the manager, " a chance first. If I succeed, I
can well afford to play with Mr. Forrest ; if I fail, I shall be
only too glad to do so." She made her debut as Bianca in
Fazio. The first act, in which the dialogue is tame, passed off
ominously. The audience were attentive, but undemonstrative.
The actress retired to her dressing-room much depressed with



24 HISTOItlG FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF HIIDDLESEX.

the fear of failure. " This will never do, Sally," she remarked
to her negro waiting-maid, then and still her affectionate at-
tendant.

" No, indeed, it won't, miss ; but you '11 fetch um bimeby,"
said the faithful creature. The play quietly proceeded until
Bianca spoke the Hues, —

" Fazio I thou hast seen Aldabella !"

Those words, in which love, anger, and jealousy were all
struggling for the mastery, uttered with indescribable accent
and energy, startled the audience out of its well-bred, cold-
blooded propriety ; cheers tilled the house, and Miss Cushman
remained mistress of the situation.

She afterwards appeared in conjunction wdth Mr. Forrest; but
that gentleman, Avho had then for the nonce put a curb upon
his fashion of tearing a passion to tattei's, was overshadowed by
her. Forrest resented the preference of the public by extreme
rudeness to Charlotte on the stage, and by various unfriendly
acts, which caused a rupture that was never healed. Forrest
played Othello on the occasion above mentioned. Miss Cush-
man sustaining the part of Emilia. Her performance was
throughout intelligent, impressive, natural, without any strain-
ing after effect ; while her energy, at times, completely carried
the audience along with her.

By the friendship of Charles Kemble and of Mr. Phelps of
Sadler's Wells she attracted the favorable notice of royalty.
It is a fact as singular as it is true, that, on her return from
England, Boston, the city of her birth, was the only place in
which she did not at once meet a cordial reception ; but her
talents compelled their own recognition and buried the few
paltry detractors out of sight. She appeared at the Federal
Street Theatre and Avon an enthusiastic verdict of pojiular favor
within that old temple of histrionic art.

The part in which Miss Cushman has achieved her greatest
reputation in this country is that of Meg Merrilies in " Guy
Mannering," a creation peculiarly her own. The character, not-
withstanding its repulsive features, becomes in her hands weird,



THE GATEWAY OF OLD MIDDLESEX. 2§

terrible, and fascinating. Her somewhat masculine physique
and angular physiognomy have given more character to the as-
sumption of such male parts as Ion and Romeo than is usually
the case with her sex. But Miss Cushman is a real artiste,
limited to no narrow sphere of her calling. She could play
Queen Catharine and Mrs. Simpson in the same evening with
equal success, and retains in no small degree, though verging
on threescore, the energy and dramatic force of her jjalmy
days.

At the opening of the Cushman School in Boston, Charlotte
made an extempore address to the scholars, in which she ex-
plained to them her grand principle of action and the secret of
her success. " Whatever you have to do," she said, " do it
with all your might."



.26 HISTOKIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.



CHAPTER II.

AN HOUR IN THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD.

" There, where your argosies witli portly sail, —
Like signiors and rich burghers on the Hood,
Or, as it were, the pageants of the sea, —
Do over-peer the petty traffickers."

Merchant of Venice.

THEEE is a singular fascination in viewing objects created
expressly for our destruction. The wounded soldier wiU
make the most convulsive efforts to see the place where he has
been struck, and if the leaden bullet which has so nearly threat-
ened his life be placed in his hand, he regards it thereafter with
a strange, unaccountable affection. So, when we find ourselves
within the government dockyard we cannot pass by the rows
of cannon gleaming in the sunshine, or the pyramids of shot
and shell, AAdthout wondering how many they are destined to
destroy. AVe have not yet learned to dispense with war, and
the problem " How to kill " yet taxes the busiest brain, the
most inventive genius.

Somehow, too, there is a certain consciousness the moment
you set foot ^wdthin any little strip of territory over which
Uncle Sam exercises exclusive authority. The trig, pipe-clayed
marine paces stiffly up and down before the entrance, hugging
his shining musket as if it were a piece of himself, and looking
straight before him, though you would feel yourself more at
ease if he would look at you. The officer you see coming, in
the laced cap, and to whom you Avould fain address yourself,
never allows your eye to meet his own, but marches straiglit
on, as he would do if he were going to storm a battery. The
workmen, even, pursue tlieir labor without the cheerful cries and
chaffing which enliven the toil of their brethren outside. The




i*ii|ilii|;



' 1 1 f I



AN HOUR IN THE GOVERNMENT DOCKYARD, 27

calkers' mallets seem to click in unison, the carpenters chip
thoughtfully away on tlie live-oak frame. Everything is syste-
matic, orderly, and precise, but rather oppressive withal.

In the first years of the nation's existence the government
was obliged to make use of private yards, and that of Edmund
Hartt, in Boston, may be considered the progenitor of this.
Several vessels of the old navy, among them the famed Con-
stitution, were built there, under supervision of officers ap-
pointed by the government. Henry Jackson, formerly colonel
of the Sixteenth Continental Eegiment, was appointed naval
agent by his bosom friend, General Knox, when the latter was
Secretary of War, and Caleb Gibbs, first commander of Wash-
ington's famous body-guard, was made naval storekeeper, with an
office in Batterymarch Street, Boston. The yard at the bottom
of Milk Street was also used for naval purposes by the govern-
ment.

When Admiral Montague of the royal navy was stationed in
our waters, he caused a survey of the harbor to be made, and is
reported on good authority to have then said, " The devil got
into the government for placing the naval depot at Halifax. God
Almighty made Koddle's Island on purpose for a dockyard."

In 1799 the government despatched Mr. Joshua Humphries,
the eminent naval architect, to Boston, to examine the pro-
posed sites. The report was favorable to Charlestown, much
to the chagrin of the proprietors of K'oddle's Island, now East
Boston, Avho had reckoned on a different decision. As Mr.
John Harris, the principal owner of the tract selected, and
Dr. Putnam, the government agent, were unable to agree upon
terms, the affair was decided by a decree of the Middlesex
Court of Sessions.

The purchase made by the United States was originally
called Moulton's Point, from Eobert Moulton, the ship-carpen-
ter ; it has also been indifferently styled Moreton's and Morton's
Point, in connection with accounts of the battle of Bunker
Hill, it being the place where Howe's main body landed on
that day. The site also embraced what Avas known in pld
times as Dirty Marsh. The point was quite early selected for



28 HISTORIC FIELDS AND MANSIONS OF MIDDLESEX.

a fortilication, and a small battery, or, as it was then called, a
sconce, was thrown up, and? armed with light pieces. The guns



Online LibrarySamuel Adams DrakeHistoric fields and mansions of Middlesex → online text (page 3 of 39)