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LIFE & TIMS



STEPHEN HIGGINSON



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UNIVERSITY OF CALIFORNIA
AT LOS ANGELES




CI)oma0 Wtnmaxtl) |)tffg:in6on



WORKS. Newly arranged. 7 vols. i2rao, each, $2.00.

1. Chbbrful Yesterdays.

2. contbmporaribs.

3. Army Lifb in a Black Regiment.

4. Women and the Alphabet.

5. Studies in Romance.

6. Outdoor Studies; and Poems.

7. Studies in History and Letters.
THE PROCESSION OP THE FLOWERS. {Ji.as.
THE AFTERNOON LANDSCAPE. Poems and

Translations. $1.00.
THE MONARCH OF DREAMS. i8mo, 30 cents.
MARGARET FULLER OSSOLI. In the American

Men of Letters Series. i6mo, Ijt.so.
HENRY W. LONGFELLOW. In American Men of

Letters Series. i6mo, $1.10, «?/. Postage 10 cents.
PART OF A MAN'S LIFE. Illustrated. Large 8vo,

^52. 50, net. Postage 18 cents.
LIFE AND TIMES OF STEPHEN HIGGINSON.

Illustrated. Large crown 8vo, ;?2.oo, net. Postage

extra.

ED/TED WITH MRS. E. H. BIGELOW
AMERICAN SONNETS. i8mo, ^1.25.

HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY
Boston and New York



LIFE AND TIMES

OF

STEPHEN HIGGINSON



LIFE AND TIMES

OF

STEPHEN HIGGINSON

J\demher of the Continental Congress (1783)

and

Author of the '* Laco " Letters^ relating to

"John Hancock (1789)

BY

THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON

WITH ILLUSTRATIONS




BOSTON AND NEW YORK
HOUGHTON, MIFFLIN AND COMPANY

1907



COPYRIGHT 1907 BY THOMAS WENTWORTH HIGGINSON
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

PuhlisJicd September , IQ07



A/






■i



\






\ CONTENTS

-^ I. Introduction I

^ II. The Old Salem (Mass.) Families 7

^ III. A Sea Captain before Parliament (1775) ^9

^ IV. The Quarter-Deck m Politics (1783) 35

V. The Continental Congress (1783) 47

VI. The Annapolis Convention (Sept., 1786) 65

«4 VII. Shays' Insurrection, or *• The Gentility's

War" (1786) 81

VIII. The Nine States in Convention (1787) 99

IX. Laco and his Letters (1789) 123

X. The Isle of France (1789) 139

XI. Municipal Life in Boston ( 1 790-1 804) 151

XII. Navy Agent (1798) 185

XIII . The Feasts of Shells (1802-03-04) 217

XIV. A Green Old Age ( 1 804-2 8 ) 231
XV. The Strange Career of a Son and Heir 257

XVI, Last Days in Brookline 269

XVII. Stephen Higginson as drawn by Others 287

Index 297






ILLUSTRATIONS



Stephen Higginson {photogravure) Frontispiece

From the original painting by Gilbert Stuart, in the possession
of George Higginson, Esq., Lenox, Mass.

The Whitfield-Higginson House, Guilford, Conn. lo

From a photograph.

Nathaniel Higginson, Governor of Madras (his wife,
and, entering the room, his future son-in-law,
Stephen Ayns worth) 12

From a painting in the possession of T. W. Higginson.

Facsimile of a Deed, 1671 14

From the original in the possession of T. JV. Higginson.

Facsimile of Marriage License 1 6

From the or-ginal in the possession of T. W. Higginson.

Facsimile of Bill of Sale 40

From the original in the possession of T. W. Higginson.

Facsimile of Letter from Bilboa 44

From the original in the possession of T. W. Higginson.

Elbridge Gerry 52

From an engra'ving by Longacre, after the painting by Van-
derlyn.

General Henry Knox 76

From the original portrait by Gilbert Stuart in the Museum
of Fine Arts, Boston.

James Bowdoin 88

From the original painting by Copley in the collection of Mrs.
Robert C. Winthrop, Jr.



[ vii ]



ILLUSTRATIONS

John Hancock 126

From the original painting by Copley in the Muieum of Fine
Arts, Boston.

Facsimile of Invoice Sheet 142

From the original in the possession of T. JV. Higginson.

Facsimile of a Deed, 1796 158

From the original in the possession of T. ff. Higginson.

George Cabot 194

From the original painting in the possession of Mrs. Henry
Lee, Brookline, Mass.

The Frigate Constitution 2 1 4

After the painting by Marshall Johnson, copyrighted in
1896 by A. W. Elson & Co., Boston.

Alexander Hamilton 280

From the original painting by Trumbull in the Netu York
Chamber of Commerce, by kind permission of the President,
Alexander E. Orr, Esq.

John Lowell 290

From the painting by Gilbert Stuart in the possession of
Lowtir i great-grandson , John Loivell of Boston.



INTRODUCTION



INTRODUCTION

DR. Franklin used to lament, so
far as he could be said to lament
anything, the absence of habitual
cheerfulness among the Federalists with
whom his later life was cast. It is hard
for us to tell how much of this charge was
just and how much was based on the dig-
nity assumed unconsciously by the Revo-
lutionary leaders while creating a new
nation, the destinies of which were really
more momentous than they knew. The
life of George Washington had been
written four times — by the elder Bancroft,
by Marshall, by Sparks, and by the viva-
cious Weems — before any biographer
had acknowledged in print that this hero
ever smiled ; and it was reserved for the
cheery and benignant Irving to point
out, though only in the small types of a
[ 3 ]



INTRODUCTION

footnote, that Washington once laughed
heartil3\ Again, among the minor leaders
of that period, one of the first to have his
life written was Gouverneur Morris, when
Jared Sparks became his biographer, but
it was not until Morris's own diaries and
letters appeared in full, without Sparks's
supervision, that they turned out to be
almost as amusing as those of Horace
Walpole. All this comes home to me
when I undertake the memoir of my
grandfather, Stephen Higginson.

It is a significant fact that while all his
official writings, even in satire, have the
predominant gravity which marks the rest
of the Federalists, yet I learned from the
only real specimen of the Federalist leaders
with whom I remember to have conversed,
— James Richardson of Rhode Island, —
of my grandfather's uttering the only
jocose word that I ever heard attributed
to any Federalist in defeat. When the last
large gathering of this body of men was
[ 4 ]



INTRODUCTION

held at George Cabot's house in Brook-
line and a discussion arose as to how they
should treat their conquerors, and when
all others had advocated the sternest
and most crushing contempt, the only one
who took the matter philosophically was
Stephen Higginson. "After all, gentle-
men," he said, " if a man has to live in the
house with a cat, he cannot always address
her as * cat ' I Sometimes he must call her
' Pussy.' "

To have been one of the first American
shipmasters called on to testify before Par-
liament as to American colonial matters;
to have been a member of the Continental
Congress in its closing days; to have been
second in command during the first effect-
ive resistance to Shays' Rebellion; the
first to argue from that peril the need of
a stronger government; the first to suggest
that the voices of nine out of the thirteen
States could make the Confederacy into a
Nation; the first to organize and equip the
[ 5 ]



INTRODUCTION

American Navy under Jefferson's admin-
istration; — these afford sufficient ground
to justify the writing of any man's memoir.
These suffice to place Stephen Higginson
where he belongs, among the recognized
leaders of his time, that being the period
of the very formation of the American Re-
public. The fact that he sharply criticised
John Hancock, in the once famous "Laco"
letters, shows him to have been, like most
of the leaders of that period, a frank critic
of his compeers, if somewhat more spicy
than the rest ; but the internal disputes
among reformers are sometimes quite as
interesting as the reforms themselves, and
we need to know the limitations of our
leaders by their judgments of one another.



II

THE OLD SALEM FAMILIES

"Those that love their owne chimney corner and dare not
go farre beyond their own townes end shall never have the
honour to see these wonderfull workes of Almighty God." —
Francis Higginson, on his voyage to America in ibsg.



THE OLD SALEM FAMILIES

ONE of the most important steps in
human progress thus far taken by
the American nation lies clearly
in its establishment of a new standard of
ancestry. For instance, the earliest dis-
tinctly known ancestress of the Higginson
family, whether of the English or New
English branch, was the widow Joane
Higginson. It is nearly three and a half
centuries since this English widow be-
queathed, by her last will and testament,
seven pounds a year to the poor of Berkes-
well. County Warwick. A source more
honorable for a family stock could hardly
be demanded; the very smallness of the
sum, tried by the standards of to-day,
making her act simpler and more digni-
fied. It is from her that is also descended
the English line of the family, of which
[ 9 ]



STEPHEN HIGGINSON

Major-General Sir George Wentworth
Higginson, K. C. B., of the Grenadier
Guards, is the representative.

I wish to write a memoir of the widow
Joane's descendant in the seventh genera-
tion, Stephen Higginson, my grandfather,
a member of the Continental Congress,
that body which preceded and at length
established the American Union. The
widow Joane was mother of the Rev.
John Higginson, who was Vicar of Clay-
brooke, Leicester, England, for fifty-three
years. She was grandmother of the Rev.
Francis, the immigrant, who graduated,
like his father, at Jesus College, Cam-
bridge, England, and, like his father,
preached at Claybrooke, but came to
Salem in 1629, and was the first English
clergyman ordained on American soil.

The Rev. Francis Higginson wrote in

a journal of his voyage in 1629: "Those

that love their owne chimney corner and

dare not go farre beyond their own townes

[ 10 ]



i



THE OLD SALEM FAMILIES

end shall never have the honour to see
these wonderfuU workes of Almighty
God." ' The voyage from whose narrative
this is quoted began on April 25, 1629,
and lasted six weeks. Francis Higginson
died within a year after arrival and was
followed in the ministry at Salem by his
eldest son, the Rev. John Higginson, who
had been bred to the ministry, but became
a teacher in the grammar school at Hart-
ford, and then chaplain at the fort at Say-
brook, Connecticut, where he was assist-
ant pastor to the Rev. Henry Whitfield,
whose daughter he married, the wedding
taking place in an old stone mansion still
standing and now the oldest house within
the original limits of the United States.
His mother having lately died, he was
about removing to London, in 1659, to
settle her estate, when the vessel which

' Life of Francis Higginson, p. 47. A full narrative of this
preacher's career may be found in ray life of him in Makers
of America. New York, Dodd, Mead & Co.

[ " ]



STEPHEN HIGGINSON

bore himself and family was driven by
stress of weather into Salem harbor.
There he was persuaded to remain and
take charge of the church founded by his
father, thirty years before. He was or-
dained in August, 1660, and remained in
continuous service until December 9,
1708, winning for himself the title of
"the Nestor of the New England clergy."
The eldest son of this saintly man was
also named John (2), and was born at Guil-
ford, Connecticut, in 1646; was educated
a merchant, was lieutenant-colonel of the
regiment in Salem, led expeditions against
the Indians, and was a member of the
Governor's Council. Another son, Nathan-
iel, also born in Guilford, graduated at
Harvard in 1670, and went to England,
and afterwards to the East Indies, where
he was governor of the royal factory at
Madras. Some fine old family pictures
painted for him are now in my possession.
A third John (3) was a registrar of probate
[ 12 ]




o 7



U CO



THE OLD SALEM FAMILIES

in Salem. His son Stephen ('^^ was one
of the leading merchants of Salem, took
an active part in the establishment of
the town, and was thus commemorated,
after his death, by the " Boston News
Letter : " —

Salem, October 15th, 1761.
On Monday the 12th Instant died at
Newbury, and this Day was decently in-
terred here, Stephen Higginson, Esq; of
this Town. He was in Commission for the
Peace, and a Justice of the Court of Pleas
for this County, and a Member of the Hon-
orable House of Representatives. A Gen-
tleman of a truly amiable Character, both
in public and private Life; as he was a
tender and instructive Father, a kind and
loving Husband, a sincere and steady
Friend, an accurate Merchant ; and re-
tained an unblemished Character, thro' the
whole of his Trade and Business, which
was extensive. A Person of strict Virtue
and Religion, but free from shew and os-

[ n ]



STEPHEN HIGGINSON

tentation, which he always abhorred. As
few Persons exceeded him in useful Know-
ledge and Capacity to serve the Public, so
he was second to no Man in the Upright-
ness of his Intentions, the Sincerity of his
Declarations and Integrity of his Actions.
These Virtues being very conspicuous in
him, rendered him a Gentleman of a rising
Character, and his Death may be justl}^
esteemed, not only a private but a public
Loss.'

Stephen Higginson, Second (5)^ the sub-
ject of this work, had thus for his lineal
ancestors on the father's side a line con-
sisting of three clergymen, a member of the
Governor's Council, a notary public, and
a justice of the Court of Common Pleas.
His mother was Elizabeth, daughter of John
and Anna (Orne) Cabot, he being thus by
maternal inheritance connected with one
or two Salem families also prominent and

* Boston News Letter, October 22, 1761.
[ H ]



THE OLD SALEM FAMILIES

prolific who were repeatedly intermarried
with the Higginsons ; as were also the
Lees, Jacksons, and others. He was born
on November 28, 1743, went to the Salem
schools, and was then brought up as a
merchant in the counting-room of Deacon
Smith of Boston. It seems quite probable
that he may, like his cousin, George Cabot,
have made a voyage or two as cabin-boy,
in accordance with a custom then prevail-
ing in the mercantile households of Salem.
This seems probable in view of the fact that
on his marrying, at twenty-one (in 1764),
Susan, daughter of Aaron and Susanna
(Porter) Cleveland, a second cousin of
his, residing in Connecticut, he at once
became a supercargo and then a navigator,
voyaging to England, Spain, and else-
where, as part owner. It is known that
his family disapproved of this marriage,
either on the ground of relationship or of
his youth, and this may be the reason why
the rash young couple went to Portsmouth,
[ '5 ]



STEPHEN HIGGINSON

New Hampshire, to be wedded, where
they received from Governor Wentworth
a marriage certificate peculiar enough to
be quoted entire, as follows : —

By His Excellency Benning Wentworth
Esq, Captain General Governor & Com-
mander in Cheif in & over His Majes-
ty's Province of New Hampshire
To Either of the Ordain'd Ministers of
the Gospel of said Province Except one
Drowne

You are hereby Authorized and Im-
power'd to join together in Holy Matri-
mony

STEPHEN HIGGINSON &
SUSANNA CLEVELANDE

Unless some Lawfull Impediment ap-
pears to you to the Contrary

Given at Portsmouth the 20th day of
Octobere 1764

B Wentworth

Rece'd 13/6 Sterling for the above Liscence

S Atkinson Jun Secy
[ 16 ]



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Online LibraryUnknownLife and times of Stephen Higginson, member of the Continental congress (1783) and author of the Laco letters, relating to John Hancock (1789) → online text (page 1 of 11)