Theodore Parker.

Genealogy and biographical notes of John Parker of Lexington and his descendants: Showing his earlier ancestry in America from Dea. Thomas Parker of Reading, Mass., from 1635 to 1893 online

. (page 39 of 47)
Online LibraryTheodore ParkerGenealogy and biographical notes of John Parker of Lexington and his descendants: Showing his earlier ancestry in America from Dea. Thomas Parker of Reading, Mass., from 1635 to 1893 → online text (page 39 of 47)
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as it stands may contain many errors of detail, for I write it when
too ill to read and with no memoranda to aid me. I should like to
consult the deeds of the early settlers in my neighborhood to learn
the original ownership of land, the date of the houses and the names
of the places like "the great meadow." Few men, if any, will
remember the name, but I have found it in old deeds.

I began this at Rome, March i6, i860. It is not likely I shall get
far in it. I have waited more than a year for strength to begin it
and now commence at my weakest point.

The material and human surroundings about a man in his early
life have a strong and abiding influence upon all, especially on those
of a sensitive disposition, who are both easily affected by such exter-
nals and rather obstinate in retaining the impression made on them.

Of the Material Surroundings.

About 1710 my grandfather's grandfather, John Parker, then some-
what advanced in life, with a part of his grown up children removed
from Reading, where a family of Parkers had settled about 1640, to
the Cambridge Farms, since called Lexington, where he had bought
a considerable quantity of land with one small house upon it, proba-
bly of logs. The next year he built him a large and commodious
house and furnished it with the usual out-buildings necessary for a
farmer's business. The situation was pleasant, a considerable val-
ley, a mile or more in length and half a mile wide, with a fresh
meadow at the bottom, called in deeds of the time "the great


meadow," wound among hills tall and steep on the western and
northern side, while on the south and east the hills were of less
height and more gradual in their slope. Indeed, it is the general
character of the hills in that part of the country to be steep on their
southern and eastern side, and of gradual ascent on the opposite side.
A brook steals through the valley or percolated through the soft,
spongy meadow, and following a continuation of the valley it falls into
Charles river at length. The stream was then much larger than at
present, for now the hills have nearly all been stripped of their trees
and the meadows drained, and the brook is proportionally shrunk,
except when a sudden melting of snow floods the meadow and re-
stores it to more than its original size. Near the upper end of this
valley, in about the centre of his farm lot, the old settler built his
house, in which children to the fourth generation were born to him.
It stood about 80 or 100 feet above the present surface of the great
meadow on the southeast side of a high hill, which gently sloping
in front of the house rose steep and abrupt behind.

As the old man at sunrise stood at the front or south door of his
new house on some fine October morning of 171 2 he could see but a
single house, and that half or three-quarters of a mile oft', the other side
of the valley, two other columns of pale blue smoke in that direction
might tell him of other neighbors, while not far off" in the same valley
were two others, hid by wooded hills, in a different direction one
more house had been built earlier than his own, but on the north
side of the hill which sheltered him.

Agriculture was at a low stage, that part of the country was cov-
ered with thick woods, and when the farmer cut down or girdled the
trees and run the ground over with fire the land must have looked as
we see it now in parts of New Hampshire and Vermont, like "the
abomination of desolation." However, he planted many apple trees,
importing them from England, but they had not been grafted and so
many of them bore sorry specimens of fruit. Many of those which
it is said he set out were standing in my boyhood. He, or his son
Josiah, who succeeded to a part of his lands at Lexington, planted
also locust trees, whose white blossoms used to fill the air with
sweetness in June. He also brought lilac bushes, a common orna-
ment about the houses of New England in the last century, and
planted a barberry bush, which in my boyhood had grown to prodig-
ious dimensions, besides having increased and multiplied and replen-
ished that part of the earth with its descendants.

In the rear of the house was a monstrous elm which endangered
the building and was removed as a nuisance, that was a full-grown
tree in the days of my grandfather's grandfather ; other huge oaks


and elms once stood close by but they had all perished before my
birth, and only a white ash with a great round top stood at the north-
west corner of the house. It was planted by my grandfather and
was the largest tree of its kind I remember ever to have seen in New
England. Huge boulders lay scattered about along the valley and
its tributaries, some were of the hard, bluish greenstone which forms
the skeleton of all the hills in that neighborhood, but others were of
whitish granite, brought many miles from their original site to the
northwest of that locality. Loose stones abounded, indeed, a more
unattractive piece of land for a farmer to work could scarcely be
found than that whole section for miles around in all directions.
There were stones enough within a foot of , the surface to fence all
the land into acre lots, each surrounded with a strong "balance wall."
The most common trees were numerous species of oak, the white
pine, the pitch pine, and a variety of it called the yellow pine, the
hemlock and spruce ; on the rocky hill sides the juniper or red
cedar, and in the swamp the cypress or white cedar ; maples, the
white or gray, black and yellow birches, the elm, white and black
ashes, poplars, buttonwood, walnuts, chestnut, beech, sassafras and
wild hop or hop-hornbeam, willows ; three species of sumach occur-
ring on the homestead, indeed, most of the trees of New England
grow within a few miles of my home.

The handsome flowering shrubs and plants of New England could
mostly be found in the immediate neighborhood, the shadbush, the
rhodora, the viscous or white azalea, the pink flowered species was
farther ofl', the numerous cornels, though only a single instance of
the large flowering cornel, the several viburnums and the andromedas
the narrow leaved kalmia, and even the broad leaved kind, grew
in a thicket in the vicinity, the choke cherries, the sporieas, both
pinkish-white flowered and the other with steeple-shaped purple
spikes, wild roses and sweet briars, the clethra, blossoming from
July to October. In the meadows spongy with soft mosses were the
arathusas and the cymbidium and the rarer painted cup, successively
disclosing their native beauties, while a little later the pitcher plant
offered its curious flower and leaf to the most careless eye. The
cranberry bore in midsummer its rich pale-red flowers and covered
whole acres, from whence the farmer hoped, often vainly, to win as
fair a harvest to season his winter food. The beautiful water lily
grew abundantly in a shallow pond, not far oft", and also in many
brooks of sluggish water, nay, it did not refuse the benediction of its
presence in ill-formed ditches whence peat had been cut for fuel or
for manure. Here the fringed gentian, not then to be seen, has
happily since taken up its abode, the soapwort gentian was uncom-


mon, the trilliums rare, but along the brooksides the cardinal flowers
hung out their brilliant colors.

On the hard land saxifrage and columbine grew on the sunny side
of all the red rocks. Blue violets and white were to be had every-
where, the yellow species were rarer and anemones nodded their
handsome heads on the south side of every wall where nature had
her own way. In the woods the lady's slipper hung out its myste-
rious beauty ; the several pyrolas opened their blossoms, they with
the ground pine, the partridge berry, the boxberiy or Mitchella,
kept a green life in the woods under the snow all winter through.
What need to mention the humbler beauties of the New England
flora, such as the meadow pride, the white cicely, the craneflower
and the buttercups. There were also red lilies and yellow, some of
them stately and queen-like plants, on a single stalk. I have seen
49 buds and blossoms, nor should the humbler name of the dogtooth-
violet be forgotten in the names of its liliaceous sisterhood. My
sisters cultivated the crimson peony, white and yellow narcissus,
daffodils, white and red roses of the most delicious fragrance.

In the thick, dark swamps corki-fungi grew on the trunks of old
maples, but more especially on the white birches, and curious puff'
balls shot up in the hot, muggy nights of summer and in two days
became mysteriously as large as a quart bowl, while the usual variety
of other fungi sprung up in their appropriate places, and the Indian
pipe of seeming make and mould, while lichens, some as large as a
modern Kossuth hat, covered the north side of rocks and trees.

My ancestors had planted the white locust not far from the house
and a beautiful grove had grown up ; some of the trees were very
large and sweetened the air for a week or two in June and the grass
all the summer through. When the autumn came —

"Every bush did put its glory on
Like a gemmed bride."

How red the maples were, how yellow the birches and the walnuts
and what richly tinted leaves did the chestnut shake down ! — last of
New England trees to blossom and bearing the richest, sweetest fruit
the savage found in the austere land. Even the ivy and the poison
dogwood were clad in more glory than the Queen of Sheba intent on
wooing the King of Israel's son ; nay, Solomon himself in all his
glory was not arrayed like one of these. From the middle of May
when the introduced trees, the plum, peach, cherry, apple and pear,
began to bloom till the middle or end of October, the eye need not
seek a landscape of humble, quiet New England beauty more attrac-
tive than this, and all winter long the white pines, which seemed so


cool and attractive in July and August, had a warm, motherly look
and told of life still sleeping in them, around them, everywhere.

Of the Human Surroundings.

At the age of 45 my grandfather, Capt. John Parker, died on the
17th of September, 1775. He was sick on the day of the Battle of
Lexington but did his duty from 2 A. M. till 12 at night. On the
17th of June he was too ill to be allowed to enter the turmoil of the
Battle of Bunker Hill, so he discontentedly commanded troops who
did no fighting tliat day. He was never well afterwards and an epi-
demic dysentery in September found him an easy prey ; he died at
an early age for his long lived family and left three sons and four
daughters, with a widow who died at the respectable age of 92, pass-
ing a portion of the last 47 years of her life in a second marriage
which both she and her children had bitter cause to repent. The
respectable property of Capt. John Parker was wasted, the relict
obliged to take her new husband and his children home to be sup-
ported on "the widow's thirds." When my father married Hannah
Stearns, the daughter of a neighboring farmer, he went back to the
original homestead to take care of his mother while he should sup-
port his handsome young wife and such family as might happen. It
was the day of small things — he wore home-made blue yarn stockings
at his wedding, and brought his wife home over the rough winding
roads, riding in the saddle of his tall gray horse, with her upon a
pillion. The outfit of furniture did not bespeak more sumjDtuous
carriage — the common plates were of wood ; the pitcher, mugs, tea-
cups and saucers were of coarse earthenware, while the great carving
dishes were of thick well kept pewter. The holiday service "for
company" was of the same material. Yet a few costly wine glasses
were not wanting and two long-necked decanters, a few china tea-
cups and saucers of the minutest pattern, and the pride of the buffet
a large china bowl. Besides the young bride could show patchwork
bedquilts and counterpanes, and a pretty stoi^e of linen towels, and a
tablecloth of the same, white as the snow, and spun, woven and
bleached by her own laborious hands ; and her father raised the flax
which her brother pulled, and rotted, and broke, and swingled, and
hackled and combed. Hannah made their work into linen.

In the course of many years ten children had been born to John
and Hannah (one had slipped out of life an infant) when their fourth
son and eleventh child came into the world on the 24th of August,
1810, lagging a little more than five years after his youngest, and
afterwards his favorite, sister. I think I was the last child born in
the old house, which then numbered just 100 years.


1. In my earliest childhood the family at home consisted (to
begin in the order of age) of my father's mother, more than 80 at my
birth. A tall, stately, proud-looking woman : she occupied an upper
chamber, but came down stairs to dinner — other meals she took in
her own room — and sat at the head of the table on the woman side
thereof, opposite my father, who kept up the ancient Puritan respect
for age — always granting it precedence. She busied herself chiefly
in knitting and puttering about the room, but passed the Sundays in
reading the large Oxford quarto Bible of her husband, bought for the
price of more than one load of hay, delivered up at Boston. She
had also the original edition of the " Puritan Hyme Book" printed at
Cambridge, which was much in her hands. She read the news-
papers, the Columbian Centinel^ which then appeared twice a
month ; but common mundane literature she seldom touched. It
was a part of my childish business to carry the drink to my venerable
grandmother, twice a day, at 11 A. M. and 4 P. M., this was flip in
cool weather, and in spring or summer was toddy or punchy the
latter was, however, more commonly reserved for festive occasions.

2. Next were my father and mother: grave, thoughtful, serious
and industrious people. From an ancestry of five generations of his
own name, who had died in New England, my father had inherited
a strong and vigorous body ; in his youth there was but one man in
town who could surpass him in physical strength and few who were
his equal. He could endure cold and heat and abstinence from food
and rest to a degree that would be thought impossible by men brought
up in the effeminate ways, which so often are thought to be the
curses of civilization. He was a skilful farmer, though as he lived
not on his own land, but on the widow's thirds, he was debarred from
making costly improvements in the way of buildings, fences and apple
trees, which are long in returning profit to him that plants. But he
yet contrived to have, perhaps, the best peach orchard in the County
of Middlesex, to graft valuable kinds of fruit upon the old trees and
to adopt nearly all the improvements in farming as they were tested
and found valuable. He was also an ingenious mechanic ; his father
and grandfather were mechanics as well as farmers and did all kinds
of woi"k in wood, from building saw-mills, cider-mills, pumps, to
making flax spinning-wheels and turning wooden bread bowls of
maple stumps. He had religiously kept the tools of his father and
grandfather, and like them continued to do all kinds of ordinary jobs ;
indeed, both he and they were such mechanics as men must be in a
new country, and should not be in one where industry is more elab-
orate and able minded men are ready to turn their hands to anything.
Mechanical talent was hereditary in the family for several genera-


tions, and appeared in my remote relations, and even among women,
on whose shoulders this mantle seldom falls. My father was a
thoughtful man, turning his large and active brain and his industri-
ous hand to the mechanical and agricultural work before him ; he
was an originator of new and short ways of doing many things and
made his head save his hands. In this respect his father and grand-
father resembled him.

His education — his schooling ended when the Revolution begun —
was of course much neglected, but he was an uncommonly good
arithmetician, often puzzling the schoolmasters with his original prob-
lems. Works on political economy and the philosophy of legislation
were favorites with him. He had learned algebra and geomehy, and
was familiar with the use of logarithms. He read much on Sundays,
in the long winter evenings, sometimes in the winter mornings before
it was light and in the other intervals of toil. His favorite works
were history — that of New England he was quite familiar with —
biography and travels, but he delighted most of all in works of phil-
osophy which give the rationale of the material of the human world ;
of course he read much of the theology of his times, and the litera-
ture of progressive minds found its way to the farmer's kitchen. He
had no fondness for poetry. In his latter years his reading was
chiefly of novels, not to instruct, but to amuse the old man, whose
mortal life was all behind him. His fathers before him had been
bookish men.

My mother, a woman of slight form, flaxen hair, blue eyes and a
singularly fresh and delicate complexion, more nervous than muscu-
lar, had less education than my father. Her reading was confined
mainly to the Bible, the hymn-book, stories of New England captives
among the Indians, of which there were many in the neighborhood,
some in manuscript and perhaps never printed. Ballads and other
forms of poetry gave her a great delight. Of course the newspapers
passed through her busy hands. My father often read aloud to her
and the rest of the family in the long winter evenings, while her
fingers were occupied with sewing or knitting, making or mending.
She was industrious, as indeed were all the women of the neighbor-
hood, but like them found opportunities, though too rare, for social
enjoyment with them. Dinner was always at noon, and after that
was over and its paraphernalia put in order, the household work
was done, and a more comely dress took the place of the blue check
of the morning.

She was eminently a religious woman. I have known few in
whom the religious instincts were so active and so profound, and who
seemed to me to enjoy so completely the life of God in the soul of


man. To her the Deity was an Omnipresent Father, filling every
point of space with His beautiful and loving presence. She saw
Him in the rainbow and in the drops of rain which helped compose
it as they fell into the muddy ground to come up grass and trees,
corn and flowers. She took a deep and still delight in silent prayer
— of course it was chiefly the more spiritual part of the Old Testa-
ment and New Testament that formed her favorite reading, the dark
theology of the times seems not to have blackened her soul at all.
She took great pains with the moral culture of her children — at least
with mine.

3. Come the brothers and sisters, nine in number, and one in
infancy laid away in the grave. Some of these were much older
than I and had gone to seek their fortunes in the various trades and
callings of the time. There was still a houseful at home ; all of
them but three had a decided fondness for literature ; they read all
the good books they could lay their hands on, and copied the better
parts. At school they were always among the best scholars.

4. The uncles and aunts come next. On my father's side there
were two uncles and twice as many aunts ; one of the former, a
farmer not far off", a tall, grave man ; the other, a more restless char-
acter, had served many years in the Revolutionary war ; he was in
the battles of Saratoga and Yorktown, had failed in business, gone
to South Carolina, and married a woman of some property in
Charleston, where he then lived, the father of one son. Of the
aunts, one was a maiden, an uncommonly intellectual woman ;
another was a widow living in an adjoining town, while two were
the wives of farmers, one living in Nova Scotia, the other in Water-
town not far oft'. On the maternal side, there was one aunt, a
strange, eccentric woman, and ten uncles, rejoicing in the names of
Asahel, Jepthah, Noah, Ammi, Ishmael, Habakkuk and the like,
which if not euphonious, are at least scriptural. They were farmers
and laborers, some rich and some poor.

Besides, the brothers and sisters of my grandmother still continued
to live, though aged people. Other relations from the Parker side of
the family dwelt in more remote towns who occasionally paid my
father a visit, in special one very old and tall man, to whom he sur-
rendered the head of the table and invited to say grace.

5. The neighbors about us were farmers: a shoemaker lived a
mile oft' on one side and a blacksmith within two miles on the other.
These were generally, perhaps universally, honest, hard-working
men : they went to meeting Sundays, morning and afternoon.
"Their talk was of bullocks and they were diligent to give the kine
fodder." In their houses, generally neat as good houswifery could


make them, you would find the children's school-books, commonly a
"singing book,'' Billings Collection, or some other, perhaps a hymn
book, and always a good quarto Bible kept in the best room, some-
times another Bible, inherited from some Puritanic ancestor, these
with an almanack hung in the corner of the kitchen chimney made
up the family library. Perhaps a weekly or semi-weekly newspaper
was also taken and diligently read. Two families not far off were
exceptions to this poverty of books. Yet now and then the life of
some great thief, like Stephen Burroughs, or some pirate or high-
way man, would show itself. In other parts of Lexington, "on the
great road" in "the middle of the town," perhaps there was a better
show of books. I only speak of my immediate neighborhood.

From Birth till the age of Eight.

On the 24th of August, 18 10, early on a hot, sweltering morning,
I came into this world of joys and sorrows. It seems one of my
sisters thought an eleventh child improbable, for she had finished
the "Family Tree" with the tenth, five years older than myself.
However, a place was soon found for the new comer, both in the
needle-work and the hearts of the household. As the youngest child
it may be supposed that I was treated with uncommon indulgence,
and probably received a good deal more than a tenth pai"t of the
affection distributed. I remember often to have heard neighbors say,
"Why, Miss Parker, you 're spilin' your boy! He never can take
care of himself when he grows up." To which she replied, "She
hoped not," and kissed my flaxen curls anew.

Among the earliest things I remember is the longing I used to feel
to have the winter gone, and to see the great snow banks sometimes,
when new-fallen, as high as the kitchen window, melt away in front
of the house. I loved though to run in the snow barefoot and with
only my night shirt on, for a few minutes at a time. When the
snow was gone the peculiar smell of the ground seemed to me
delicious. The first warm days of spring, which brought the blue
birds to their northern home and tempted the bees to try short flights,
in which they presently dropped on the straw my provident father
had strewn for them over the snow about their hives, filled me with
emotions of the deepest delight. In the winter I was limited to the
kitchen, where I could build cob houses or form little bits of wood
into fantastic shapes. Sometimes my father or one of my brothers
would take me to the shop where he pursued his toilsome work, or
to the barn, where the horse, the oxen and the cows were a perpetual
pleasure. But when the snow was gone and the ground dry I had
free range. I used to sit or lie on the ground in a dry and sheltered


spot and watch the great yellow clouds of April that rolled their huge
masses far above my head, filling my eye with their strange, fantastic,
beautiful and ever changing forms and my mind with wonder at
what they were and how they came there.

But the winter itself was not without its in-door pleasure, even for
a little fellow in brown, home-spun petticoats. The uncles and
aunts came in the sleighs full of cousins, some of whom were of my
own age, to pass a long afternoon and evening, not without abundant
good cheer and a fire in "the other room," as the humble parlor was
modestly called. They did not come without a great apple or a
little bag of shagbarks, or some other tid-bit for Mrs. Parker's baby,
for so the youngest was called after he ceased to merit the name.
Nay, father and mother often returned these visits, and sometimes

Online LibraryTheodore ParkerGenealogy and biographical notes of John Parker of Lexington and his descendants: Showing his earlier ancestry in America from Dea. Thomas Parker of Reading, Mass., from 1635 to 1893 → online text (page 39 of 47)