In writing this ponderous tome, the author’s desire has been to describe the eminent characters and remarkable events of our annals, in such a form and style, that the young might make acquaintance with them of their own accord. For this purpose, while ostensibly relating the adventures of a Chair, he has endeavored to keep a distinct and unbroken thread of authentic history. The Chair is made to pass from one to another of those personages, of whom he thought it most desirable for the young reader to have vivid and familiar ideas, and whose lives and actions would best enable him to give picturesque sketches of the times. On its sturdy oaken legs, it trudges diligently from one scene to another, and seems always to thrust itself in the way, with most benign complacency, whenever a historical personage happens to be looking round for a seat.
There is certainly no method, by which the shadowy outlines of departed men and women can he made to assume the hues of life more effectually, than by connecting their images with the substantial and homely reality of a fireside chair. It causes us to feel at once, that these characters of history had a private and familiar existence, and were not wholly contained within that cold array of outward action, which we are compelled to receive as the adequate representation of their lives. If this impression can be given, much is accomplished.
Setting aside Grandfather and his auditors, and excepting the adventures of the Chair, which form the machinery of the work, nothing in the ensuing pages can be termed fictitious. The author, it is true, has sometimes assumed the license of filling up the outline of history with details, for which he has none but imaginative authority, but which, he hopes, do not violate nor give a false coloring to the truth. He believes that, in this respect, his narrative will not be found to convey ideas and impressions, of which the reader may hereafter find it necessary to purge his mind.
The author’s great doubt is, whether he has succeeded in writing a book which will be readable by the class for whom he intends it. To make a lively and entertaining narrative for children, with such unmalleable material as is presented by the sombre, stern, and rigid characteristics of the Puritans and their descendants, is quite as difficult an attempt, as to manufacture delicate playthings out of the granite rocks on which New England is founded.
Grandfather had been sitting in his old arm-chair, all that pleasant afternoon, while the children were pursuing their various sports, far off or near at hand. Sometimes you would have said, “Grandfather is asleep;” but still, even when his eyes were closed, his thoughts were with the young people, playing among the flowers and shrubbery of the garden.
He heard the voice of Laurence, who had taken possession of a heap of decayed branches which the gardener had lopped from the fruit trees, and was building a little hut for his cousin Clara and himself. He heard Clara’s gladsome voice, too, as she weeded and watered the flower-bed which had been given her for her own. He could have counted every footstep that Charley took, as he trundled his wheelbarrow along the gravel walk. And though Grandfather was old and gray-haired, yet his heart leaped with joy whenever little Alice came fluttering, like a butterfly, into the room. She had made each of the children her playmate in turn, and now made Grandfather her playmate too, and thought him the merriest of them all.
At last the children grew weary of their sports; because a summer afternoon is like a long lifetime to the young. So they came into the room together, and clustered round Grandfather’s great chair. Little Alice, who was hardly five years old, took the privilege of the youngest, and climbed his knee. It was a pleasant thing to behold that fair and golden-haired child in the lap of the old man, and to think that, different as they were, the hearts of both could be gladdened with the same joys.
“Grandfather,” said little Alice, laying her head back upon his arm, “I am very tired now. You must tell me a story to make me go to sleep.”
“That is not what story-tellers like,” answered Grandfather, smiling. “They are better satisfied when they can keep their auditors awake.”
“But here are Laurence, and Charley, and I,” cried cousin Clara, who was twice as old as little Alice. “We will all three keep wide awake. And pray, Grandfather, tell us a story about this strange-looking old chair.”
Now, the chair in which Grandfather sat was made of oak, which had grown dark with age, but had been rubbed and polished till it shone as bright as mahogany. It was very large and heavy, and had a back that rose high above Grandfather’s white head. This back was curiously carved in open work, so as to represent flowers and foliage and other devices; which the children had often gazed at, but could never understand what they meant. On the very tiptop of the chair, over the head of Grandfather himself, was a likeness of a lion’s head, which had such a savage grin that you would almost expect to hear it growl and snarl.
The children had seen Grandfather sitting in this chair ever since they could remember any thing. Perhaps the younger of them supposed that he and the chair had come into the world together, and that both had always been as old as they were now. At this time, however, it happened to be the fashion for ladies to adorn their drawing-rooms with the oldest and oddest chairs that could be found. It seemed to cousin Clara that if these ladies could have seen Grandfather’s old chair, they would have thought it worth all the rest together. She wondered if it were not even older than Grandfather himself, and longed to know all about its history.
“Do, Grandfather, talk to us about this chair,” she repeated.
“Well, child,” said Grandfather, patting Clara’s cheek, “I can tell you a great many stories of my chair. Perhaps your cousin Laurence would like to hear them too. They would teach him something about the history and distinguished people of his country, which he has never read in any of his school-books.”
Cousin Laurence was a boy of twelve, a bright scholar, in whom an early thoughtfulness and sensibility began to show themselves. His young fancy kindled at the idea of knowing all the adventures of this venerable chair. He looked eagerly in Grandfather’s face; and even Charley, a bold, brisk, restless little fellow of nine, sat himself down on the carpet, and resolved to be quiet for at least ten minutes, should the story last so long.
Meantime, little Alice was already asleep; so Grandfather, being much pleased with such an attentive audience, began to talk about matters that had happened long ago.
But, before relating the adventures of the chair, Grandfather found it necessary to speak of the circumstances that caused the first settlement of New England. For it will soon be perceived that the story of this remarkable chair cannot be told without telling a great deal of the history of the country.
So, Grandfather talked about the Puritans, as those persons were called who thought it sinful to practise the religious forms and ceremonies which the Church of England had borrowed from the Roman Catholics. These Puritans suffered so much persecution in England that, in 1607, many of them went over to Holland, and lived ten or twelve years at Amsterdam and Leyden. But they feared that, if they continued there much longer, they should cease to be English, and should adopt all the manners and ideas and feelings of the Dutch. For this and other reasons, in the year 1620, they embarked on board of the ship Mayflower, and crossed the ocean to the shores of Cape Cod. There they made a settlement, and called it Plymouth; which, though now a part of Massachusetts, was for a long time a colony by itself. And thus was formed the earliest settlement of the Puritans in America.
Meantime, those of the Puritans who remained in England continued to suffer grievous persecution on account of their religious opinions. They began to look around them for some spot where they might worship God, not as the king and bishops thought fit, but according to the dictates of their own consciences. When their brethren had gone from Holland to America, they bethought themselves that they likewise might find refuge from persecution there. Several gentlemen among them purchased a tract of country on the coast of Massachusetts Bay, and obtained a charter from King Charles, which authorized them to make laws for the settlers. In the year 1628, they sent over a few people, with John Endicott at their head, to commence a plantation at Salem. Peter Palfrey, Roger Conant, and one or two more, had built houses there in 1626, and may be considered as the first settlers of that ancient town. Many other Puritans prepared to follow Endicott.
“And now we come to the chair, my dear children,” said Grandfather. “This chair is supposed to have been made of an oak tree which grew in the park of the English earl of Lincoln, between two and three centuries ago. In its younger days it used, probably, to stand in the hall of the earl’s castle. Do not you see the coat of arms of the family of Lincoln, carved in the open work of the back? But when his daughter, the Lady Arbella, was married to a certain Mr. Johnson, the earl gave her this valuable chair.”
“Who was Mr. Johnson?” inquired Clara.
“He was a gentleman of great wealth, who agreed with the Puritans in their religious opinions,” answered Grandfather. “And as his belief was the same as theirs, he resolved that he would live and die with them. Accordingly, in the month of April, 1630, he left his pleasant abode and all his comforts in England, and embarked with the Lady Arbella, on board of a ship bound for America.”
As Grandfather was frequently impeded by the questions and observations of his young auditors, we deem it advisable to omit all such prattle as is not essential to the story. We have taken some pains to find out exactly what Grandfather said, and here offer to our readers, as nearly as possible in his own words, the story of
The ship in which Mr. Johnson and his lady embarked, taking Grandfather’s chair along with them, was called the Arbella, in honor of the lady herself. A fleet of ten or twelve vessels, with many hundred passengers, left England about the same time; for a multitude of people, who were discontented with the king’s government and oppressed by the bishops, were flocking over to the new world. One of the vessels in the fleet was that same Mayflower which had carried the Puritan pilgrims to Plymouth. And now, my children, I would have you fancy yourselves in the cabin of the good ship Arbella; because if you could behold the passengers aboard that vessel, you would feel what a blessing and honor it was for New England to have such settlers. They were the best men and women of their day.
Among the passengers was John Winthrop, who had sold the estate of his forefathers, and was going to prepare a new home for his wife and children in the wilderness. He had the king’s charter in his keeping, and was appointed the first Governor of Massachusetts. Imagine him a person of grave and benevolent aspect, dressed in a black velvet suit, with a broad ruff around his neck and a peaked beard upon his chin. There was likewise a minister of the Gospel, whom the English bishops had forbidden to preach, but who knew that he should have liberty both to preach and pray in the forests of America. He wore a black cloak, called a Geneva cloak, and had a black velvet cap, fitting close to his head, as was the fashion of almost all the Puritan clergymen. In their company came Sir Richard Saltonstall, who had been one of the five first projectors of the new colony. He soon returned to his native country. But his descendants still remain in New England; and the good old family name is as much respected in our days as it was in those of Sir Richard.
Not only these, but several other men of wealth and pious ministers, were in the cabin of the Arbella. One had banished himself for ever from the old hall where his ancestors had lived for hundreds of years. Another had left his quiet parsonage, in a country town of England. Others had come from the universities of Oxford or Cambridge, where they had gained great fame for their learning. And here they all were, tossing upon the uncertain and dangerous sea, and bound for a home that was more dangerous than even the sea itself. In the cabin, likewise, sat the Lady Arbella in her chair, with a gentle and sweet expression on her face, but looking too pale and feeble to endure the hardships of the wilderness.
Every morning and evening the Lady Arbella gave up her great chair to one of the ministers, who took his place in it and read passages from the Bible to his companions. And thus, with prayers and pious conversation, and frequent singing of hymns, which the breezes caught from their lips and scattered far over the desolate waves, they prosecuted their voyage, and sailed into the harbor of Salem in the month of June.
At that period there were but six or eight dwellings in the town; and these were miserable hovels, with roofs of straw and wooden chimneys. The passengers in the fleet either built huts with bark and branches of trees, or erected tents of cloth till they could provide themselves with better shelter. Many of them went to form a settlement at Charlestown. It was thought fit that the Lady Arbella should tarry in Salem for a time; she was probably received as a guest into the family of John Endicott. He was the chief person in the plantation, and had the only comfortable house which the new comers had beheld since they left England. So now, children, you must imagine Grandfather’s chair in the midst of a new scene.
Suppose it a hot summer’s day, and the lattice-windows of a chamber in Mr. Endicott’s house thrown wide open. The Lady Arbella, looking paler than she did on shipboard, is sitting in her chair, and thinking mournfully of far-off England. She rises and goes to the window. There, amid patches of garden ground and cornfield, she sees the few wretched hovels of the settlers, with the still ruder wigwams and cloth tents of the passengers who had arrived in the same fleet with herself. Far and near stretches the dismal forest of pine trees, which throw their black shadows over the whole land, and likewise over the heart of this poor lady.
All the inhabitants of the little village are busy. One is clearing a spot on the verge of the forest for his homestead; another is hewing the trunk of a fallen pine tree, in order to build himself a dwelling; a third is hoeing in his field of Indian corn. Here comes a huntsman out of the woods, dragging a bear which he has shot, and shouting to the neighbors to lend him a hand. There goes a man to the sea-shore, with a spade and a bucket, to dig a mess of clams, which were a principal article of food with the first settlers. Scattered here and there are two or three dusky figures, clad in mantles of fur, with ornaments of bone hanging from their ears, and the feathers of wild birds in their coal black hair. They have belts of shell-work slung across their shoulders, and are armed with bows and arrows and flint-headed spears. These are an Indian Sagamore and his attendants, who have come to gaze at the labors of the white men. And now rises a cry, that a pack of wolves have seized a young calf in the pasture; and every man snatches up his gun or pike, and runs in chase of the marauding beasts.
Poor Lady Arbella watches all these sights, and feels that this new world is fit only for rough and hardy people. None should be here but those who can struggle with wild beasts and wild men, and can toil in the heat or cold, and can keep their hearts firm against all difficulties and dangers. But she is not one of these. Her gentle and timid spirit sinks within her; and turning away from the window she sits down in the great chair, and wonders thereabouts in the wilderness her friends will dig her grave.
Mr. Johnson had gone, with Governor Winthrop and most of the other passengers, to Boston, where he intended to build a house for Lady Arbella and himself. Boston was then covered with wild woods, and had fewer inhabitants even than Salem. During her husband’s absence, poor Lady Arbella felt herself growing ill, and was hardly able to stir from the great chair. Whenever John Endicott noticed her despondency, he doubtless addressed her with words of comfort. “Cheer up, my good lady!” he would say. “In a little time, you will love this rude life of the wilderness as I do.” But Endicott’s heart was as bold and resolute as iron, and he could not understand why a woman’s heart should not be of iron too.
Still, however, he spoke kindly to the lady, and then hastened forth to till his corn-field and set out fruit trees, or to bargain with the Indians for furs, or perchance to oversee the building of a fort. Also being a magistrate, he had often to punish some idler or evil-doer, by ordering him to be set in the stocks or scourged at the whipping-post. Often, too, as was the custom of the times, he and Mr. Higginson, the minister of Salem, held long religious talks together. Thus John Endicott was a man of multifarious business, and had no time to look back regretfully to his native land. He felt himself fit for the new world, and for the work that he had to do, and set himself resolutely to accomplish it.
What a contrast, my dear children, between this bold, rough, active man, and the gentle Lady Arbella, who was fading away, like a pale English flower, in the shadow of the forest! And now the great chair was often empty, because Lady Arbella grew too weak to arise from bed.
Meantime, her husband had pitched upon a spot for their new home. He returned from Boston to Salem, travelling through the woods on foot, and leaning on his pilgrim’s staff. His heart yearned within him; for he was eager to tell his wife of the new home which he had chosen. But when he beheld her pale and hollow cheek, and found how her strength was wasted, he must have known that her appointed home was in a better land. Happy for him then, — happy both for him and her, — if they remembered that there was a path to heaven, as well from this heathen wilderness as from the Christian land whence they had come. And so, in one short month from her arrival, the gentle Lady Arbella faded away and died. They dug a grave for her in the new soil, where the roots of the pine trees impeded their spades; and when her bones had rested there nearly two hundred years, and a city had sprung up around them, a church of stone was built upon the spot.
Charley, almost at the commencement of the foregoing narrative, had galloped away with a prodigious clatter, upon Grandfather’s stick, and was not yet returned. So large a boy should have been ashamed to ride upon a stick. But Laurence and Clara had listened attentively, and were affected by this true story of the gentle lady, who had come so far to die so soon. Grandfather had supposed that little Alice was asleep, but, towards the close of the story, happening to look down upon her, he saw that her blue eyes were wide open, and fixed earnestly upon his face. The tears had gathered in them, like dew upon a delicate flower; but when Grandfather ceased to speak, the sunshine of her smile broke forth again.
“O, the lady must have been so glad to get to heaven!” exclaimed little Alice.
“Grandfather, what became of Mr. Johnson?” asked Clara.
“His heart appears to have been quite broken,” answered Grandfather; “for he died at Boston within a month after the death of his wife. He was buried in the very same tract of ground, where he had intended to build a dwelling for Lady Arbella and himself. Where their house would have stood there was his grave.
“I never heard any thing so melancholy!” said Clara.
“The people loved and respected Mr. Johnson so much,” continued Grandfather, “that it was the last request of many of them, when they died, that they might be buried as near as possible to this good man’s grave. And so the field became the first burial-ground in Boston. When you pass through Tremont street, along by King’s Chapel, you see a burial-ground, containing many old grave-stones and monuments. That was Mr. Johnson’s field.”
“How sad is the thought,” observed Clara, “that one of the first things which the settlers had to do, when they came to the new world, was to set apart a burial-ground!”
“Perhaps,” said Laurence, “if they had found no need of burial-grounds here, they would have been glad, after a few years, to go back to England.”
Grandfather looked at Laurence, to discover whether he knew how profound and true a thing he had said.
Not long after Grandfather had told the story of his great chair, there chanced to be a rainy day. Our friend Charley, after disturbing the household with beat of drum and riotous shouts, races up and down the staircase, overturning of chairs, and much other uproar, began to feel the quiet and confinement within doors intolerable. But as the rain came down in a flood, the little fellow was hopelessly a prisoner, and now stood with sullen aspect at a window, wondering whether the sun itself were not extinguished by so much moisture in the sky.
Charley had already exhausted the less eager activity of the other children; and they had betaken themselves to occupations that did not admit of his companionship. Laurence sat in a recess near the book-case, reading, not for the first time, the Midsummer Night’s Dream. Clara was making a rosary of beads for a little figure of a Sister of Charity, who was to attend the Bunker Hill Fair, and lend her aid in erecting the Monument. Little Alice sat on Grandfather’s foot-stool, with a picture-book in her hand; and, for every picture, the child was telling Grandfather a story. She did not read from the book, (for little Alice had not much skill in reading,) but told the story out of her own heart and mind.