A Stated Meeting of the Society was held in the Hall of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences on Wednesday, 18 December, 1895, at three o’clock in the afternoon, the President in the chair.
The Records of the Annual Meeting having been read and approved, the Corresponding Secretary reported that he had received several letters from Librarians and the officers of Historical Societies in different parts of the country, expressing the wish to subscribe for our Publications.
Mr. Andrew McFarland Davis communicated for the consideration of the Society a copy of an indictment of two negroes, in 1742, for attempting to fight a duel on Boston Common with rapiers. One of the combatants is described as “labourer, servant;” the other as “labourer & servant or slave.” The challenge is set forth in the indictment, and the encounter of the combatants; but the event fades out in the assertion that they “did then and there attempt to fight a duel.” Mr. Davis stated that while the circumstances connected with this transaction could not be regarded as of much consequence, yet all information which led to an understanding of the life of those days would undoubtedly be welcomed by students of the times.
The Document75 is as follows: —
Suffolk ss. Att his Majesty’s Superiour Court of Judicature Court of Assize and General Goal Delivery begun & held at Boston in & for ye County of Suffolke on ye third tuesday of August in ye sixteenth year of ye Reign of our Sovereigne Lord George ye Second of Great Brittain etc King Defr of ye Faith etc Anno qe Domini seventeen hundred and forty two
The Jurors for our sd Sovereigne Lord ye King upon oath present that Caesar a Negroe of Boston in ye County of Suffolke aforesd labourer servant to Saml Miller of said Boston Gunsmith on or about the sixteenth day of March last past att Boston in ye County of Suffolke aforesd of his private malice and revenge did then and there challenge and provoke one Tom Negroe of Boston aforesd labourer & servant or slave of Daniel Bell of sd Boston Mason to fight a Duel with him at small sword who then & there accepted ye aforesd challenge and ye sd Tom negroe and Cesar negroe in consequence thereof in ye Comon at Boston aforesd in ye County of Suffolke aforesd Did then and there at ye time last mentioned armed each of them with a Rapier or small sword of their private malice fury & revenge meet each other with force & arms did voluntarily engage in Rencountier with small sword to ye manifest hazard of each of their lives, and did then & there with small sword voluntarily wickedly & maliciously attempt to fight a duel each with ye other and armd as aforesd And so ye said Jurors upon Oath say that ye sd Tom and Cesar negroes with force as aforesd out of malice & their private revenge did challenge accept and attempt to fight a Duel with small sword each with the other to the hazard of their lives, in evil example to others & contrary to ye peace Crowne & dignity of our sd Lord ye King as alsoe to ye Law in ye case made & provided.
J. Overing Attorn
⅌ Dño Rege.
Billa vera Jos. Green Foreman
Mr Casno & Mr
Mr Barkers Sam
Lives @ Captn Watts.
The two negroes gave bail, and the bonds are to be found in the Suffolk Court Files.76 Samuel Miller, gunsmith, and Thomas Pemberton, shopkeeper, entered into recognizance for £200 each for Cæsar; while Daniel Bell, bricklayer, and William Young, gentleman, were each held for the same amount for Tom. Mr. Davis stated that he had found no other trace of this case, either in the Files or on the Records of the Courts.
Mr. Henry Dwight Sedgwick read the following paper on —
Under many quaint and rugged spellings the cognomen of Sedgwick can be traced in the North of England as far back as 1379. In that year, and thenceforward for centuries, the family seat was in the dale of Dent, a picturesque village in the West Riding of Yorkshire, on the border of Westmoreland. Before the end of the sixteenth century, however, some of the family removed to Wisbech in the Isle of Ely, in Cambridgeshire, where they settled. By this branch, to which Robert Sedgwick appears to have belonged, was adopted the spelling of the family name which is retained to the present time. He was the son of William Sedgwick, a Warden of St. Mary’s Church at Woburn, in Bedfordshire, and was born in 1611. As appears by the Registers of the church, he was baptized there 6 May, 1613. His father’s marriage to Elizabeth Howe, 10 April, 1604, and burial, 25 July, 1632, are recorded in the same Registers.77 After some military training and other experiences, of which no details have reached us, but which tended to make of him a sturdy Independent in religion, Sedgwick flung himself, at the age of twenty-four, into that strong Puritan tide which was then setting to the congenial rocks of the New England shore.
On his arrival, in 1636, he was admitted (3 June) an Inhabitant of Charlestown, Massachusetts, then vigorously emulating the enterprise of its important neighbor Boston, and there he established himself as a merchant. Of the surname and previous history of his wife Johanna there is no known record. On the ninth of March, 1636–37, he was made a Freeman of the Colony, and chosen Captain for Charlestown. In the same year, and also in the years 1638–1644, 1648 and 1649, he was chosen a Deputy to the General Court. In 1643 he was one of the Selectmen of Charlestown, and throughout his residence in the town was influential in its affairs, and active in promoting the public weal. His house was in the Market Place on or near the present site of the Bunker Hill National Bank building.78
“The first Sergeant-Major chosen to order the regiment of Essex, was Major Robert Sedgwick, stout and active in all feats of war, nurst up in London’s Artillery Garden, and furthered with fifteen years experience in N. E. exact theory, besides the help of a very good headpiece, being a frequent instructor of the most martial troops of our Artillery men. Although,” continues Johnson, from whose quaint chronicle we quote, “Charles Town . . . do not advantage such o’ertopping batteries as Boston doth, yet hath he [Sedgwick] erected his to very good purpose, insomuch that all shipping that comes in . . . must needs face it all the time of their coming in. The cost he hath been at in helping on the discipline of his regiment hath profited much.”79
This zeal for the service procured him the gratitude and affection of the soldiers, which were manifested by the trainband’s giving him, with the unstinted liberality of those who bestow what does not belong to them, a piece of land in Charlestown, the title to which, fortunately for him, was afterwards confirmed by the town.
The so-called “Blue Laws” of Connecticut at this period have an invidious but scarcely deserved pre-eminence in evil fame over those of her New England sister colonies. Indeed, as we are told by Mr. Charles Deane in his chapter on New England, in Winsor’s Narrative and Critical History of America, the twelve capital laws of the Connecticut colony, established in 1642, were taken almost literally from the one hundred laws called “The Body of Liberties,” established by the General Court of Massachusetts in 1641. The legislation against graver offences, and the rough paternalism of the law-makers of those days, characteristically unlike that of the modern “American System,” among other moral therapeutics of the heroic sort, subjected children over sixteen to the possible punishment of death for “cursing or smiting” their parents,80 or even for being “stubborn or rebellious”81 to them. Though in truth not outdone by the maligned Code of Draco, this might be paralleled in the old statute books of the mother country. We need not stop to shudder at a theoretical severity of discipline seldom or never enforced, and which certainly did not affect the domestic life of Robert Sedgwick’s family; but so much of the legislation of the day as related to extravagance or unsuitableness of attire came nearer home. Greek, Roman, and English civilizations have all had, from time to time, virtuous spasms resulting in the adoption of this kind of laws; but the sumptuary enactments of our Puritan fathers, perversely following the total abandonment of the same species of legislation by the mother country, though keeping a reasonable eye to the main chance, and indicating a lingering liking for the discarded privileges of aristocracy, were very characteristic of our canny ancestors, and certainly tended to restrict the profits of Sedgwick’s business.
“Although,” declares the General Court, “we acknowledg it to be a matter of much difficulty . . . to set down exact rules to confine all sorts of persons, yet we cannot but account it our duty . . . to declare our utter detestation . . . that men or women of mean condition should take upon them the garb of Gentlemen, . . . or points at their knees, or to walk in great boots, or women of the same ranke to wear silk or tyffany hoods or scarfes, which though allowable to persons of greater estates, or more liberal education, yet we cannot but judg it intollerable in persons of such like condition.”
The Court therefore orders —
“That no person within this jurisdiction, nor any of their relations depending upon them, whose visible estates real and personal shall not exceed the true and indifferent value of two hundred pounds, shall weare any gold or silver lace or gold and silver buttons, or any bone lace above two shillings per yard, or silk hoods or scarfs, upon the penalty of ten shillings for every such offence. . . . And forasmuch as distinct and particular rules in this case suitable to the estate or quality of each person cannot easily be given,” the Court orders “the Selectmen of every town, or the major part of them, . . . from time to time to . . . take notice of [the] apparel of any of the inhabitants of their several Townes respectively, and whosoever they shall judg to exceed their rankes and abilities in the costlines or fashion of their apparel in any respect, especially in the wearing of Ribbons or great boots (leather being so scarce a commoditie in this country), lace, points, &c, silk hoods or scarfes, the Selectmen aforesaid shall have power to assess such persons so offending in any of the particulars above mentioned, in the country rates, at two hundred pounds’ estates, according to that proportion that such men use to pay to whom such apparel is suitable and allowed.”
“not extend to the restraint of any Magistrate or public officer of this jurisdiction, their wives and children, who are left to their discretion in wearing of apparel, or any settled Millitary officer or souldier in the time of millitary service or any other whose education and employment have been above the ordinary degree, or whose estate [shall] have been considerable though now decayed.”82
The amount of profit on the sale of cloth was rigorously restricted. In 1639 Mr. Sedgwick in his capacity of a merchant was admonished for selling goods too high. Indeed, he can hardly have avoided some embarrassment in harmonizing his gains as a thrifty tradesman with his duties as a Selectman in detecting and repressing extravagance. While it is not mentioned that he concurred as a magistrate in the warning which he received as a draper, it does not appear that his offence was repeated.
Soon after his arrival Sedgwick aided in forming the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company. In 1641 he was chosen its Captain, an office which he also held in 1645 and 1648. It is worth noting that when he and Francis Norton became inhabitants of Charlestown and undertook the training of its trainband, the town was relieved from the payment of the “twenty shillings a time” that it had previously paid “to the renowned Captains, Patrick and Underhill,” for this service.83 In the first of these years Captain Sedgwick was assigned to the command of the fortress which seven years before had been built on an island in Boston Harbor, and was known as the Castle. On its site is now Fort Independence. In 1645 he was commissioned to take charge of the fortifications of the town, and to keep it and the harbor “from all hostile and mutinous attempts or insurrections.” In May, 1652, he was chosen Major-General of the Colony.
Nor in the arts of peace was Sedgwick less successful. He was enterprising in trade, useful in the town and popular with the citizens. In association with others and also alone, he built ships, warehouses, and wharves. He was engaged with “Deacon Stitson”84 as owner and builder of the Tide Mill at Middlesex landing in Charlestown, and with John Winthrop, Jr., in the first furnace and iron works at Lynn. With Mr. Increase Nowell and others, he took an active part in having a new meeting-house built. In 1638 he owned a goodly number of lots in, and a tract of land adjoining, Charlestown, including “eight score acres” at the northeast point of the town bordering the Boston line and embracing a part of Lynn. If this domain had come down to his descendants tax-paid, it would have made them perfectly comfortable even at the present rates of living.
In 1642 Sedgwick aided in setting off Charlestown Village, under the name of Woburn,85 from the parent town, as is attested in the Woburn records by some beautiful verses, of which the poets of this Society must be content with the following specimen: —
“In peniles age I Woburne Towne began
Charles Towne first moued the Court my lins to span
To vewe my land place, compild body Reare
Nowell, Sims, Sedgwick, thes my paterons were.”86
In 1648 the customs on wines at the port of Boston were let to Sedgwick and others for £120, and evidently yielded the associates a fair income. From his trade, his mill, his iron foundry and farming of the revenue he derived a comfortable income, which enabled him to live well and practise charity. His contributions to the town school were liberal, and in 1642 he gave £40 to the infant college at Cambridge, — which, trifling as it seems to-day, was by far the largest pecuniary donation then or for years after received by it since its foundation by John Harvard’s noble bequest. Four years later, he conveyed to it “two shops standing by the ordinary called the Ship’s Tavern [Boston], under lease for fifteen years at ten shillings sterling,” which term was afterwards extended five years more by President Dunster.87
Stern in his religion, as then befitted a Puritan nonconformist, Mr. Sedgwick yet scorned the atrocious bigotry of the legislation of the day. So early as 1643 he united in a petition to the General Court to repeal the cruel laws against the Anabaptists. The Court curtly answered that these laws “should not be altered or explained at all,” and three years later granted a counter petition for their more effectual enforcement.
Early in 1654, having returned to England on a visit, General Sedgwick fell under the notice of Cromwell, who with his wonted shrewdness perceiving the colonist’s civil and military capacity, appointed him and Captain John Leverett to the charge of an expedition against the Dutch on “Hudson’s River and at the Manhatoes.” These Commissioners on 17 June, 1654, met other Commissioners from the General Courts at New Haven and Connecticut for the arrangement of the campaign. Immediately after, however (20 June), news arrived of the conclusion of peace between England and the United Provinces.
The ship in which the Commissioners had come met with headwinds and had a slow passage, so that the vessel which brought the announcement of the peace arrived almost as soon. Sedgwick, always devout, and a firm believer in the conduct of human affairs by the direct agency of Heaven, writes to Cromwell, 1 July, 1654:
“When I considered the vareious and strainge turnes in God’s workings and dealeings with us in our voyage, it makes me now beleive, and apprehend, that hee stood in our way . . . causeing our voyage to be longer then is usuall at that season of the yeare, and bringing in that shipp, that brought newes of peace, with a short and prosperous voyage.”88
He was a Cromwellian after the Protector’s own heart, pious in thought, Scriptural in language and resolute in action, although he had a tender nature, and preferred the sword of the Lord to that of Gideon. His report, like all his official correspondence, betrays a trust in God which was absolute, and, under Him, in the Lord Protector, which was less unwavering though doubtless as sincere.
The close of hostilities with Holland caused the release of a Dutch prize General Sedgwick had captured off the coast of England, and Cromwell’s vigorous preparations to attack the Dutch were turned against the French. “The restoration of Acadie to France, in 1632, had not been agreeable,” says Murdoch,89 “to the republicans in old or new England.” Disregarding the trilling circumstance that it was a time of profound peace between England and France, Oliver gave secret orders that when the Dutch colony should have been reduced, Nova Scotia should be conquered. On hearing of the Dutch treaty, therefore, it was determined, in June, 1654, by the Commissioners in Boston, to annex Acadia. It may be said in excuse that the title to this fair province was in a rather loose and fluctuating condition, as was apt to be the case with North American territorial titles at that day. The Sieur d’Aunay de Charnisay had claimed all Acadia on the ground, apparently, of prior occupation. Emmanuel le Borgne, having recovered against him a judgment for 260,000 livres (or francs), proceeded to try to enforce it by the seizure of the whole province.90
At this juncture, July, 1654, Sedgwick, with strong Oliver at his back, appeared on the scene and superseded both titles by the application of —
“The good old rule, the simple plan,
That he should take who has the power,
And he should keep who can.”
Sedgwick, as a subordinate faithfully executing orders, ought not to be held responsible for the iniquity, if such there were, of this invasion. It is the glory of the soldier’s fidelity that it is unquestioning. “Theirs not to reason why” applies to officers under orders as to privates in the ranks. Even if “thrice is he armed that hath his quarrel just,” the soldier’s gallantry is not tarnished by the injustice or arrogance of his governors. If it were so, how often would the red coats of the long line of English heroes be stained a darker dye! So far, indeed, as Sedgwick was entitled to question the rightfulness of the campaign, he may well have accepted the theory, which was especially prevalent in those cold but quarrelsome latitudes, that every Englishman was in a state of normal hostility to every Frenchman. This theory took much of its local vigor from the circumstance that in 1605, two years after Henry IV. of France had generously granted to a gentleman of his household all of North America between 40° and 46° north latitude, James I. of England, with rival generosity, granted to some of his English subjects all the territory of the same continent between 34° and 45° north latitude, — embracing five parallels of the French grant.
Leverett, writing to Cromwell from Boston 5 September, 1654, announces that “the Lord has vindicated the blasphemy of those who had given it out among the Indians that the English were so and so valiant and victorious against the Dutch at Sea, but that one Frenchman could beate ten Englishmen ashore.” These Gallic illusions, if they existed, were dissipated by the successive capture by General Sedgwick of the Forts of St. John and Port Royal in July, 1654, — the first with a force not exceeding that of the besieged, and the second with but half the number of the garrison. In St. John, “seventy fighting men, eighteen pieces of ordnance, and several busses,” and in Port Royal, “a hundred and fifty men with eighteen pieces of ordnance, besides small stock fowlers and busses, also ammunition a good quantity,” were captured. Thence, with a fleet of four ships, General Sedgwick sailed to Penobscot. This place had been taken from the Plymouth men about eighteen years before by the French, who had strongly fortified it. On the second of September following, it surrendered with eight pieces of ordnance, three smaller pieces, and a good supply of ammunition. This success completed the reduction of Acadia, which, although destined to revert temporarily to the French before its final incorporation with the British empire, was thenceforward to be known by the name Nova Scotia, by which the English had a few years before baptized it. The General Court of Massachusetts, though entertaining a doubt whether Sedgwick had not exceeded his commission, “appointed a publick and solemn thanksgiving to the Lord for his gracious working” for the Commonwealth.
Cromwell, far from finding fault with Sedgwick’s vigorous proceedings, after issuing a proclamation91 by which civil government was established and all duties and imposts were remitted for a period of seven years in the lately captured island of Jamaica, despatched him with a fleet to reinforce the troops stationed there under Generals Penn and Venables.
On Sedgwick’s arrival at Barbadoes after a prosperous voyage, he found that General Venables had been repulsed from Hispaniola with a loss of from four hundred to five hundred men. Pursuant to an order from General Penn awaiting him at Barbadoes, after taking provisions at that island, Sedgwick united his forces with those of Venables, and proceeded to Jamaica, touching by the way at St. Christopher’s, and passing near enough to San Domingo to observe people in arms engaged in building earthworks.
The Puritans, notwithstanding the thoroughness of their discipline when concentrated under an iron leader like Cromwell, were Independents in their military as in their religious notions, and Sedgwick found at Jamaica a medley of officers in a divided and loose command. The fleet was under Admiral William Goodsonn, and the army under Major-General Fortescue, General Penn, General Venables, Commissioner Butler, and others. The authority of Sedgwick’s Commission, however, was promptly recognized by these officers; and the only obstacle to a harmonious conduct of affairs was in the scruples of Sedgwick himself, who entertained a doubt as to the supremacy of his command, arising perhaps in part from disinclination to assume so grave a responsibility. A provision in the constitution of the Commission as originally appointed by the Protector allowed “no act but what was acted on by three or in some cases by two.” Commissioner Butler relinquished his position, and but for a belief that it was his duty not to allow the objects of the expedition to be defeated by technical conflicts of authority, Sedgwick would willingly have yielded his supremacy. All the officers were indeed unselfish, and an instrument92 was mutually executed by them establishing a government by a Supreme Executive Council, with Sedgwick at the head. This Constitution Sedgwick transmitted to Cromwell for his approval. In his reports to the Protector, he gives a graphic picture of the state of things discovered by him. The fleet was in good health and condition. Admiral Goodsonn had landed at St. Martin’s, taken and demolished two forts, and plundered and burnt the town. It was a gallant action, says Sedgwick, “although,” he adds, — betraying the courageous kindliness of his nature, of which frequent instances are found even in the scanty details of his life which have come down to us, — “in my judgment it is not so honourable that your highness’s fleet should follow this old trade of West-India cruisers and privateers to ruin and plunder poor towns, and so leave them.”93
Sedgwick’s report of the army is deplorable enough. Of the soldiers large numbers were dead,—
“the carcasses lying unburied in the highways and among bushes. Many of them,” he writes, “that were alive walked like ghosts of dead men, who as I went through the town lay groaning and crying out ‘Bread for the Lord’s sake!’ Unless God in his mercy stay his hand, will all perish, and be as water spilled upon the grass, that cannot be gathered up again. Greatest part sick — those set down as well, pitifully well. Of Col. Humphrey’s regiment landed 831 lusty men, 50 are dead. Officers all sick and weak. Young men in appearance well, in three or four days in the grave. Soldiers die, I believe, a hundred and fifty a week. The truth is, God is angry and the plague is begun, and we have none to stand in the gap. . . . My heart and soul grieveth when I think of Hispaniola business, one or two negroes to make five hundred Englishmen fling down their arms and run away. Oh tell it not in Gath, nor publish it in Askelon, lest the uncircumcised rejoice. The truth is you cannot conceive us so sad as we are, broken and scattered, a senseless hearted people, not affected with his dealing with us.”94
No sooner had the expedition settled itself than Major-General Fortescue died. Sedgwick thereupon made Colonel D’Oyley commander of the forces for three months, or till the Protector’s order.
As to the country, it is the old story. All save the spirit of man was divine.
The island, writes Sedgwick, seems desirable, productive, full of cattle. The English have killed twenty thousand, and they are now so wild it is not easy to kill them. Our soldiers have destroyed all sorts of fruits, provision, and cattle. Nothing but ruin attending them wherever they go.
There is a considerable number of Mulattoes and blacks, and some Spaniards — some say a thousand, and some two. What God will do with them or with us by them I know not, but I have thought sometimes they may do us a mischief. He warns the Protector that there is nothing left for carrying on the work but two field-pieces and a few great guns. The garrison, he writes, is dwindling. The enemy is threatening. If there were planters it might be well. Soldiers should be employed or sent home. They will rather starve than work. Unless more provision be supplied, they will perish for want of food. I humbly beg that your highness would cast an eye this way, that these poor people be not made a sacrifice to an enraged enemy.95
In the same letter Sedgwick avows his belief in the piety and justice of Cromwell’s plans, in terms which, though evidently heartfelt, seem to suggest that he was aware of the doubt which the Protector’s enemies then entertained, as some of his critics have since done, as to his sincerity.
“I left my native land and my dear relations in some singleness of heart and eyeing God and his glory in this venture, hoping he might have some design in hand to the accomplishment of that, which hath so long time been the prayer, and desire of his people; and also thinking God might have carried your spirit to that purpose, to attend this work. I was satisfied [with] the work itself, taken much with the honesty of your highness’s expressions, and that religious discourse came from you out of a heart, as I believe, unfeigned, which made me believe God would own the design, and prosper it.”96
Again he says: —
“I am fully satisfied of your highne’s [sic] pious and religious intentions in this design; yet God may disappoint expectations in many particulars, but in the issue magnifying his special love and grace.”97
A striking passage reminds us of Lincoln’s immortal words in the reference to slavery in his second inaugural address: —
“The righteousness of God’s dealings and proceedings with us may early, I think, be discerned, and be justified in his actions towards us. He is a pure and holy God, and delights in pure and clean actings of the people professing his name. I must still say, O, how just art Thou, O God! in all thy works, and righteous to the sons of man.”98
Sedgwick’s heart was oppressed by the suffering and unthrift everywhere on the islands, and he was appalled at the inadequacy of the means for the serious undertaking confided to him; notwithstanding his honest faith in Oliver, he evidently questioned whether the great immediate destruction of human life was not out of all proportion to the ultimate gain to Great Britain and mankind. Coming events cast their shadows before, and he felt a premonition that his life would sink under the burden the Protector bad laid upon him. “I am sometimes,” he writes, “sick, and think I may fall away among the rest of my countrymen, and durst do no other than plainly to let your highness know our condition.”
“One is, if God spare me life, that your highness would be pleased to admit me to come to England. But I am not very solicitous as to that; sometimes thinking that another place will be my portion before I hear again from your highness.
“The other petition is, I left behind me a dear and religious wife, who through grace hath much of the fear and knowledge of God in her. I have also five children, to me dear and precious. I would only beg this, that whatever hazard or hardship I may go through, my relations may not be forgotten. I only expect what your highness was pleased to promise me, that they may not be troubled in obtaining it in such seasons, as may tend to her comfort.”99
He pledges himself to “continue the business under the instrument drawn up, hoping very speedily to receive further orders. You shall find me,” he adds, “willing according to those talents which God giveth me, to give myself to the utmost I can to be serviceable in the present employment which God hath cast me in.”100
On 24 January, 1655–56, he writes to Secretary Thurloe, —
“I must profess I am not able to discover or make out to myself what God intends in this business; only this I am willing to believe and hope, God may lay us low in the dust, and humble our souls before him, and if thereby he may be pleased to prepare our spirits for some more glorious carrying on to the end his work, it will in the issue be a mercy. But hitherto God hath torn us, and scattered us, yet seems not to bind us up, or heal us. Did you but see the faces of the poor, small army with us, how like skeletons they look, it would move pity; and when I consider the thousands laid in the dust in such a way as God hath visited, my heart mourns. I know this work could not be expected to be carried on without the loss of many men’s lives; yet if God should sweep us away, as if he would take no delight in us, what may we think? It is true,” he continues, “we may with our fleet and a few soldiers waste and burn towns and places of inferior rank, but that can procure little profit unless God cast in some considerable ships in our hands. . . . Some have been apt to think that if the money spent in this design had been laid out in lying upon the coast of Spain, it might have brought the Indies to have bowed to easy terms; but that I waive. . . .
“It is possible you may count me despondent, . . . yet . . . never man heard me discourage the work, but do and shall to the uttermost encourage and strengthen the hearts and hands of any employed in this affair. I have been thought too bitter in reproving the despondency of men’s spirits in this business.”101
With melancholy frankness Sedgwick asserts his unfitness for the work before him, which, he says, he should not have undertaken if he had not expected to find associates of greater abilities than he has, and begs that men be sent “of approved goodness, and of sound and solid judgment, and able pens, which are extremely wanting amongst us.”
On the same date a detailed report by Sedgwick, jointly with Vice-Admiral Goodsonn, to the Protector, describes the continued decline and wretched condition of the army, which is still losing not less than fifty men a week, and is reduced to less than three thousand. A depredation of the kind that Sedgwick in a former communication had deprecated, had been inflicted on the north side of the island, where a few firearms and one mulatto had been captured; but the invader’s means had been inadequate to renew the attempt at the taking of St. Jago de Cuba, in which Venables had failed, or for any other serious enterprise. This report, like all the others of Sedgwick and his associates, was full of the pious Puritanism which has so long, in fact as well as in expression, disappeared from such papers both in the new and old worlds. “Let the Lord,” say these devout captains, “send by whom he pleases, we believe you have an interest in Heaven, and hope we are the subject of your prayers; we stand in as much need thereof as ever poor people did; an anchor cast within the vale will hold; if Christ own us, we continue and conquer.” On the twelfth of March following, the same officers, in another long report to the Protector, announce that the army, though reduced to twenty-five hundred men, is in better condition. “But if his highness resolve to proceed in this great design, he must in a manner begin the work again.”102 More soldiers and settlers and more provisions were needed. D’Oyley, in writing to Thurloe, complains bitterly of the want of liquor, — “the waters of the country breeding dropsies and other distempers, and nothing to be bought of the seamen but at treble rates.”
On the same date Sedgwick, in a separate communication, reports to Thurloe a “better outlook.” “Though some still die, and many are weak, yet generally they recruit strength — a marvelous great mercy.” He has had, he writes, “not a few revolutions and turnings of heart about our business, and . . . sometimes been willing to go to Heaven, to the God of Counsel, what advice and which way to act.” But he still struggles with perplexities and anxieties.
“Fleet,” he writes, “not over-manned. . . . Seamen on shore in land service are so extremely uncommanded and undisciplined in that service that it may be ruinous to them. If we fall on small towns, it is true we may burn and destroy the estate of our enemies; but by attempting such a course it will be prejudicial, as I conceive, to the great ends proposed. We are not able to possess any place we may attack, and so cannot dispense any knowledge of the true God in Jesus Christ to the inhabitants, but rather render ourselves to the Indians and blacks a. cruel, bloody, ruinating people when they can see nothing from us but fire and sword . . . and cause them to think worse of us than of the Spaniards. . . .
“The inhabitants run away, carrying their treasure. The plunder does not pay for the powder and shot spent. The seamen are brave, but the army is worse than would have been thought possible for Puritan and English soldiers. . . . Our army in general,” he writes, “I believe they are not to be parallelled in the world, a people so basely unworthy, lazy, and idle, as it cannot enter the heart of any Englishman that such blood did run in the veins of any born in England.” Those in command are nearly as bad as the men. “Officers say soldiers won’t, when it is most certain they are not willing they should, but still stand gaping to go off the island as after a gaol-delivery.”103
Sedgwick had received from the Protector two main injunctions for effecting the subjugation of the island, — namely, fortification and plantation; but under the sad conditions prevailing, little could be done towards fulfilling them. By great exertions, however, some progress was made. “A fort,” he writes, “is almost finished — as good as the materials will permit, and may prove useful.” Other works are started, including a magazine and “small palisado for powder and ammunition,” but all proceeds languidly. He exclaims: “Such kind of spirit breathing in Englishmen, I till now never yet beheld;” and he adds: “I see a vast expense and no return, no, none at all, and methinks I see little will be, yet sometimes think God may return in mercy and yet own our people; but on the other hand, sometimes am thinking he will not own his generation, but that they will die in the wilderness.”
The indolence and imbecility of the land forces are the more intolerable because the means of living are within their grasp. “The island if planted by industrious people would be exceedingly profitable.”
In closing be says: “I blush to think that the so-long progress of so gallant a design should produce no other return but letters filled with such kind of matter as tins.”104
The wretched condition of affairs described in the foregoing report continued with slight fluctuations to the end of Sedgwick’s life. His sensitive nature soon gave way under the strain to which be was subjected. By the weird legerdemain of fate, the same fiat of the Lord Protector which raised him to the head of the expedition buried him in the grave.
After the death of General Fortescue, who had been in charge of affairs in Jamaica, Cromwell sent a commission to Sedgwick giving him supreme command. Discontent had broken out among the soldiery, and three mutinous leaders had been executed. The laurel bestowed on him was mixed with cypress, and boded ill to his anxious spirit. He concealed the news from those around him, especially from Colonel D’Oyley, who at the time, in the absence of Admiral Goodsonn on a cruise, was in temporary command, and was eager for the preferment from which Sedgwick shrank. D’Oyley writes to the Protector, 20 June, 1656: “He sent immediately upon the receipt of his commission to me, but told me nothing of the commission, but by his looks showed unusual dumpishness and confusion.” After reporting Sedgwick’s death, he adds: “I had the greatest loss in him, being now in the publique charge without your highness’ commission.” The closing scene is so striking as to justify the following extracts from a letter written, 25 June, 1656, by Sedgwick’s secretary, Aylesbury, to Thurloe: —
“I came hither . . . with Major-General Sedgwicke, whose favor, which I enjoyed in a large degree, was as great an honor to me as his death was an unhappiness. I may truly say, never man had a more real friend or a greater losse. Yet I do not so much bewaile myself as the publiqtie, to which he was exceedingly useful, very generally beloved and esteemed by all sorts of people. He dyed upon the 24th of May, not of any visible great distemper, only a little feaverish; and the morning it pleased God to take him from us, I as little apprehended his death as at any time since our departure from England. But his disease was inward; he never enjoyed himselfe since the last letter, but as was apparent to all . . . from that time lost much of his freedome and cheerfulness. When he had perused his letters, having been private about two hours, he called me to him; and when I came into the roome, perceiving a great alteration in his countenance, I asked him what was the matter. He replyed, ‘Ah! Mr. Aylesbury, I have not, since we were together, concealed anything from you that most conceme me. . . . I am utterly undone. I have had the greatest conflict in my spirit that ever man hail, and find I am not able to bear what is laid upon me.’ ‘Sir,’ sayd I again, ‘what is the matter?’ ‘Peruse these letters,’ he replyed, ‘and you will see.’ I read one from his highnes, another from yourselfe, . . . after the perusal whereof sayd I, ‘there is nothing contained in these that ought to afflict you. His highness hath made choice of you to command his army; and both he and Mr. Secretary have expressed so great an esteem of you, that on the contrary you have good cause to rejoice your endeavors have been so well accepted, and be thankful to God for it.’ ‘Ah! Mr. Aylesbury,’ said he again, ‘it is that which undoes me. There is too much expected of me, and I, conscious of my own disabilities, having besides so untoward a people to deale with, am able to perform so little, that I shall never overcome it; it will breake my heart,’ and so, notwithstanding all the arguments I could use, I verily believe it did. He was a truly religious man, and of the most innocent conversation I ever accompanyed.”105
In a letter written by Cromwell in June, 1656, to the commanders in America, he announces the despatch of more regiments and provisions, reminds them of the vast charge of maintaining the fleet, gratefully “sees that the Lord has been pleased to smile on them in some measure in respect to the health of the soldiers,” deplores the unworthy conduct of some officers in provoking the soldiers’ discontent, and directs that “something be published by the commander-in-chief that no license of leaving the army on any terms be granted.” To Sedgwick, as commander-in-chief, he wrote separately to the same effect. But these orders, worthy as they were of the great ruler whose foreign policy had made England more respected abroad than ever before, reached Jamaica only when Sedgwick was in his grave. Indeed, it was not till after the Protector’s own death, which followed in a little more than two years, that the permanence of his conquest of Jamaica became finally assured. Still later was it that the insular government he established became a pillar, though never a very solid one, in the huge colonial fabric which he did so much to rear and consolidate.
Sedgwick’s premature death was deplored, as his piety and virtue had been recognized, by all his associates. Admiral Goodsonn, writing to Thurloe, 25 June, 1656, says: —
“We arrived here the 23d [of May]; where we found major-general Sedgwicke, who the next day after God was pleased to take to himself; a person, I have cause to believe truly feared God, and one whose losse we have reason to lament, being of singular use in this worke, and generally beloved of the souldiery.”106
Carlyle, after touching on “the deadly inextricable jungle of tropical confusions” and the sad sacrifices of the leaders, describes Sedgwick as “a very brave, zealous, and pious man, whose letters in Thurloe are of all others the best worth reading on this subject.”107
Like many other delicately strung natures on which heavy responsibility has been suddenly flung, Sedgwick broke down under a load which a robuster nervous organization might have borne without wincing. Like the Prince of Denmark, he might have exclaimed, —
“The time is out of joint! O cursed spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!”
The close of his life and his character are thus epitomized by the historian of Jamaica: —
“The fortification at Caguay, or Port Royal Point, was now almost compleated, when the major-general, who was sick of his charge, wearied out with the refractory temper of the army and unprosperous condition of the colony, . . . received the Protector’s order to take upon him the sole and supreme command. So undesirable a preferment was not more welcome to him than a death warrant. In short, when he reflected on the impossibility of his fulfilling the Protector’s intentions with such miserable instruments, of whose unfitness for such a work he was fully sensible, . . . and perceived how much the Protector relied upon his single ability, he could not conquer his diffidence; the chagrin so deeply preyed upon his spirits as to overwhelm him with melancholy; and he died . . . within a very few days after receiving the orders. The general regret, which appeared in the fleet and army in consequence of this event, was a clear indication of his worth. The honesty of his heart, the mildness of his disposition, gentleness of manners and competence of understanding, qualified him to have been a most amiable governor over any well-settled and established colony. But he wanted that severity, firmness, and fire which were requisite to subdue and awe the stubborn, restive, and insolent spirits, that had long distracted the army in Jamaica.”108
In the hecatomb of lives sacrificed during the sad and inglorious struggle for the retention of Jamaica, none was gentler or braver than that of Robert Sedgwick. Cromwell’s major-general united with fine and noble qualities that self-depreciation which, due or undue, has marked some of his descendants, — especially Major-General John Sedgwick, who died the idol of the Sixth Corps of the Army of the Potomac after thrice declining the supreme command of that army.
Mr. Charles Sedgwick Rackemann said: —
In view of the fact that Robert Sedgwick was prevented, by his untimely death in Jamaica, from returning to Charlestown, where, prior to his departure, he had so many personal and property interests, it is worth while to note that, two and a half centuries later, the title to some of the same lands of which he was a part owner was questioned, and became the subject of litigation which was carried to the Supreme Judicial Court,109 and that three of the lineal descendants of General Sedgwick were employed by the Railroad Company which asserted title to these lands and successfully maintained its claim. These three men are all members of the Suffolk Bar, — namely, the present William Minot, who was junior counsel in the conduct of the case; his younger brother, Robert Sedgwick Minot; and myself. The “Report” of the case, so called, by which it was reserved for the consideration of the full bench, contains an interesting summary of the state of the early title. This Report is not printed in the volume just referred to (135 Massachusetts Reports), which contains the opinion of the court upon the law questions involved; but it is on file, with the briefs of counsel and other papere, in the Social Law Library.
The lease made by General Sedgwick of the Charlestown Tide Mills, being the estate in question, is dated 1645.110 The lessee there named was John Fownell. From this lease, and subsequent papers relating to the title, it appears that the original proprietors of these lands were Robert Sedgwick, owning one eighth; William Stitson,111 one eighth; Thomas Coytemore, five eighths; and John Coggan, one eighth.
At the time when the case was in court, no will of Robert Sedgwick had been found. He probably left none, as administration on his estate was granted in England, 30 September, 1650,112 to his widow, Johanna Sedgwick, who, in the following year, was living at Stepney, near London. Mr. Waters, however, has found the will of John Sedgwick, brother of Robert. I suppose that our own General John Sedgwick, already referred to to-day, may have been named for General John Sedgwick of the Revolutionary Army, brother of Judge Theodore Sedgwick, and he, in turn, for this brother of the emigrant.
Mr. Henry H. Edes communicated the following letter of the Rev. Samuel Cary, afterwards Assistant Minister of King’s Chapel, Boston, prefacing it with these remarks: —
Mrs. Sarah Atkins, of Newbury, to whom the following letter is addressed, was a woman of marked ability. She was the daughter of Col. Richard Kent and Hannah Gookin, whose first husband, by whom she had four children, was Vincent Carter, of Charlestown.113 Through her mother, Mrs. Atkins had a distinguished lineage, and also a social rank which was in no way affected by the sharp vicissitudes of fortune that she experienced in her young widowhood. The Rev. Thomas Cary, long the minister of the Third Parish in Newbury, married Esther, a daughter of Nathaniel Carter (son of Vincent Carter), a half-brother of Mrs. Atkins; and the Rev. Samuel Cary, the writer of the letter I hold in my hand, was the son of this marriage. The warmest affection existed between the Carter and Kent kindred of the half blood; and although not lineally descended from Mrs. Atkins, Samuel Cary always called her “grandmother.” Both, however, had the blood of Hannah Gookin, of whom I have just spoken.
Mrs. Atkins’s descendants are no less distinguished than was her ancestry,114 and bear the honored names of Dexter, Dwight, Eliot, Higginson, Norton, Parkman, and Ticknor, not to mention others of our early Massachusetts families.
A Memoir115 of the Hon. Dudley Atkins Tyng (the fifth child of Dudley and Sarah (Kent) Atkins), by the Hon. John Lowell, contains the following tribute to this remarkable woman: —
“Mr. Tyng’s father having died at the early age of 37, under circumstances of great embarrassment as a merchant, in no degree affecting his character as a man, the care of his whole family devolved, without other means than the resources of her own strong and vigorous mind, upon his widow, the late Mrs. Sarah Atkins. Those who, with us, had the happiness of knowing the energy, perseverance, and high intellectual character of this lady, will not be surprised at her surmounting difficulties which would have discouraged minds of less force, and that she not only provided for the physical wants of her children, but imparted to them, by her example and precepts, what was of inestimable and unappreciable value to them, — intellectual and moral power; . . . Mrs. Atkins’s efforts and usefulness were not, however, confined to her own family; they shed a benign and most powerful influence upon all who enjoyed the delights of her society. A more radiant mind, one which exerted an higher influence on all around her, cannot easily be cited, — certainly fifty years’ experience do not enable the writer to recall one whose moral efficacy was greater. We should not have dwelt upon this subject were it not that in our opinion much of Mr. Tyng’s firmness of character, of his sterling integrity, and soundness of opinions, may be fairly traced to the influence of a mother whom no stranger ever visited without a conscious improvement.”
The Rev. Samuel Cary, who graduated at Harvard College in 1804, was a divinity student at Cambridge when he wrote the letter which I am about to communicate. He had already attracted the attention of scholars and theologians, as will be seen by the following extract from the Diary of the Rev. Dr. John Pierce, which records an observation of Dr. James Freeman upon Mr. Cary’s Commencement performance: —
“I never knew a better speaker. I have heard my classmate Rufus King, and all the eminent speakers since his time. But this young man in my estimation exceeds them all. I should rejoice to have him for my colleague.”
This wish of Dr. Freeman was gratified on the first of January, 1809.116 In a memorial sermon which he preached after Mr. Cary’s death, Dr. Freeman said: —
“At Commencement there was assigned to him a honorable part, by which he excited attention and acquired reputation. In a subsequent performance, at the inauguration of President Webber, he rose still higher. His oration on that occasion has rarely been equalled, perhaps never excelled. The pronunciation of certain words was in such thrilling tones of eloquence that it charmed every classical ear” (p. 45).
The selection of Mr. Cary as the orator at President Webber’s Inauguration is interesting from the fact that Dr. Webber (who, when called to the Presidency of the College, was the Hollis Professor of Mathematics and Natural Philosophy, a position he had held since 1789) was born in Byfield, which was in part a parish of Newbury.
Mrs. Lincoln, who is so prominently mentioned in Mr. Cary’s letter, was Mary, the accomplished daughter of James Otis the patriot, and wife of Benjamin Lincoln, Jr., of Boston, eldest son of Major-General Benjamin Lincoln, of Hingbam. She had two sons, — Benjamin (H. C. 1806), a physician, also mentioned in the letter, who died of fever in Demerara, 17 August, 1813; and James-Otis (H. C. 1807), a lawyer, who died 12 August, 1818. The father of these boys was himself bred to the law and “gave promise of great distinction,” but died in Boston, 18 January, 1788, at the age of thirty-one. His widow retired with her sons to Hingham, where she long abode. After a widowhood of nearly twenty years she married the Rev. Dr. Henry Ware, at Cambridge, 9 February, 1807,117 and died on the seventeenth of the same month.118
The text of Mr. Cary’s letter is as follows: —
My dear Madam, — Your letter threw me into the precise situation in which the poets represent Tantalus, whose hunger was perpetually inflamed by the sight of luxuries which he was not allowed to taste. True I had a taste, but it served only to increase my desire for more; and when I found that I was to have but 3 words and Mrs. Lincoln a huge packet, I was almost on the point of laying violent hands upon said packet. It seemed to me to be excessively large, larger than common letters, as if it meant to laugh at mine; it was as I may say (as Sheridan has it in one of his comedies) a malicious & designing looking letter. However I had the philosophy to abstain from doing it any harm, detriment or molestation, a thing as I take it not a little praiseworthy, inasmuch as any provocation is more tolerable than a sneer at our disappointments. But for all this, I could not help thinking that the letter was hardly safe in my hands, & therefore not knowing what might be the consequences, I determined to set off with it directly. Nothing cools the mind like a walk. On the way I began to think that though Mrs. Lincoln’s letter might be longer, yet it might not be in your own hand-writing, & this thought was so perfectly to the point, that before I reached the house, I was not merely in a state of serenity, but had even acquired an air of triumph, with which I entered. When the facts were fairly explained, I had the satisfaction of hearing Miss Storrow119 express something like jealousy at my being thus eminently favored; & so the triumph of my letter over that of Mrs. Lincoln was complete.
I have therefore to return a thousand thanks for it, and if I had the same power of giving pleasure by a letter that you have I would return some part of the gratification I have received from it. As it is, however, my gratitude will be best shewn by saving you the trouble of reading a long letter, which shall be done if possible. In answer to the first part of your letter, it would be a matter of no small difficulty, if not impossible, to give you an accurate account of the late revolutions at this seat of the Muses; for the election of Mr. Webber & the resignation of Dr. Pearson have so completely taken off the check from the tongues of the good people of this town & its vicinity, and such a torrent of stories, observations, remarks, criticisms & opinions has issued forth from all quarters, that a quiet person is in danger of receiving a very serious shock. I am fully of the mind that all evils eventually produce good, & such occurrences though not in themselves desirable excite in all parties such a spirit of talking as very essentially do promote health & cheerfulness. I am not certain that you will consider this as very conclusive reasoning. I am however convinced that I should have been in great danger of sinking into dullness the last winter at Newbport [Newburyport] if Dr. Dana120 had not been civil enough to furnish the public with a topic of conversation. — Professor Pearson, notwithstanding his many & warm declarations of regard, esteem, love, affection, etc., for the College has thought proper to quit his post at the very time when, by his own account in a letter to the Overseers, it is most in danger. They who infer a man’s principles from his conduct, will not perhaps consider this step as the most striking proof he could have given of his sincerity; unless he has had the wit to perceive that the only way to save the College was by withdrawing himself from any concern in its government. Now I am so wicked as not to believe that he possesses so great a degree of discernment. These professions of friendship for the students were repeated in his reply to their address and would have done very well, if he had not, as I have been told, in his letter to the Overseers represented them in a deplorable situation, as youth of bad manners & in need of reformation, etc. Indeed this affectation of sincerity on both sides is extremely ludicrous. The students, who have for years past regarded him with the most cordial aversion & who are, as a body, delighted at his departure, had the assurance, to send him an address in which they expressed their respect for him & regret that he was about to leave them. He wrote a reply which was read in the College chapel, & to say the truth was very well done. It was full of good advice & abundance of passages from the Bible. He requested them & all his former pupils to excuse the occasional severities he had shewn in his criticisms on their compositions. They were made in haste & with the best intentions. That is to say, with a little circumlocution, My young friends, you have now got to years of discretion, & are I doubt not fully sensible that “folly is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of correction shall drive it from him;” this rod it has been my peculiar business to handle, but take my word for it, it has been used with the utmost gentleness, etc.
Mr. Webber is a very good & learned man, & will make a respectable president, but I think the Corporation would have done better if they had filled the chair with a person who has a little more knowledge of men & dignity of character. Every body is pleased that he has got a better salary, & much of the pleasure consists in the prospect that his old cloak which makes a figure on Sunday, together with other ornaments of himself & family will be committed to the flames with all possible expedition.
Proceed we now to the third topic of your letter, & though not least, to wit Mrs. Lincoln. She is very well & always speaks of you. Your pine table I do assure you wants nothing but a poet to be immortalized. It is in all conversations, in all mouths. Here’s a wonder. Your guests are not satisfied with putting the contents of the table upon their tongues, but they find room for the table itself. It certainly deserves to be transmitted to posterity.121 But a poet in this part of the world would be shewn as a curiosity. We have, however, some hopes of Ben. Lincoln. Mrs. L. notwithstanding her sagacity seems sadly puzzled to account for the overturnings at College. She thinks that variety is charming, but not so confusion.
After Mrs. Lincoln are two etc. etc.’s which as the lawyers say of Lord Coke’s, are full of meaning. I comprehend the whole force of them, & perceive at once that untill they are fully treated upon, your letter is not to be considered as answered. I would proceed willingly, but the edge of the paper draws near me, & I must take the hint.
I am, dear Madam
Your obedient & affect. grandson
Mrs. Sarah Atkins.
Rev. Mr. Andrews.122
Messrs. Lindsay Swift, of Boston, Charles Frank Mason, of Watertown, and Appleton Prentiss Clark Griffin, of Newton, were elected Resident Members.