Bound Together, A Sheaf of Papers/Norwich, 1659-1859

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Bound Together, A Sheaf of Papers by Donald Grant Mitchell
NORWICH, I659-I859
No copyright protection on this text. Confirmed by Internet Archive[1]


IV.

BEGINNINGS OF AN OLD TOWN.

Norwich, 1659-1859.

IN the year 1859, two hundred years after the first -*- settlement of the town of Norwich (Conn.), there came about a celebration of the event. Daniel C. Oilman, Esq., since better known for his saga cious and wise Presidency over the Johns Hopkins University was appointed to deliver the historical address usual on such occasions; Bishop Lee, of Delaware, another native of the town much hon ored then and more honored in these latter years was also invited to give an hour to commemorative discourse ; and the Hon. John A. Rockwell who not many years before had with high approval repre sented the people of that region, in Washington, was commissioned to speak about the heroism of a great captain who had illustrated the early annals


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of the town, by his zeal and courage ; in addition to all these, the present writer was asked in virtue of his Norwich nativity to gather up what shreds of topic he could after such distinguished foragers in the Centennial field, and to take upon himself a share of the speech-makings which go to swell the usual impedimenta of those festive occasions.

The opening for discourse, under the circum stances, did not seem large or promising ; but the autumn weather was fine ; long streams of jubilant people filled all the greens and high-ways of the little town ; the brisk breezes of the mornings, lapsed into that sunny noon-tide stillness which put all the world into easy receptive humor ; and under the huge tent all besprent with streaming pen nants was gathered a great festive crowd, who by their cheeriness, and kindly listening repeated the outside sunniness of the air. And as I read over the periods of the Centennial speech to-day, they seem, somehow, to be so brightened and lighted up with the aureole of that time of jubilee, as to ex cuse this entertainment of the memories of that old town again, and this record of what I found occa sion to say.


Centennial Address.

T SHALL not detain you long : indeed, after the -- absorption of all the salient topics of the day by the gentlemen who have already so ably addressed you, I should be at a loss to fill up even the half hour which is allotted me, did I not feel that the Occasion itself is the real speaker, and we only the interpret ers ; every successive oration or poem, being only the passing of a new set of fingers over the keys of the great Centennial organ whose music is swelling and surging on our ears to-day.

And what is the occasion that has drawn together such a vast crowd of young and old, of citizens and strangers, as Norwich never welcomed before ? Only a birth-day ; or rather let me say, a great golden wedding. Two hundred years ago this month, and the masculine energy and vigor of the Puritan was married, under God, to that little mountain bride, which from the beginning lay waiting here, between the rivers and the plains. Yet what is there in the


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beginning of a town that should warrant such fes tivities? Do not all towns have their beginnings, either near by, or remote ? Is it wonderful that a company of sturdy settlers, having bargained for lands hereabouts, some two centuries since, should have defended their own, and dug, and planted, and built, and worshipped, and left a posterity to dig, and plant, and build, and worship after them ? Is not the story now repeating itself all over the world? Long before the days of Mason, or of Fitch, the Mohegans or the Pequots delved, and planted, and worshipped in their way, and after them other Pe quots, or other Mohegans : to-day one shape of shadow which the drifting clouds of centuries cast upon the hills, and to-morrow another shape of shadow.

The mere fact of settlement is nothing ; there is no distinction in being born ; the question is, what growth, what development, what fulfilment of promise ? And all anniversaries have their force and their joy in this that they are the registers of growth, and not the registers of decay. The seed you throw into the ground must germinate by a law of nature, and must stretch up a little bundle of leaves to the light and air ; no thanks to you for this. But if you feed and nourish and protect, so that it comes to a great wealth of leaf and stem,


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and finally from a fully compacted maturity throws down showers of golden fruitage, then your pride and your joy have cause. So to-day we rejoice in the beginning of white homes on these plains and river banks, because energy and toil, and faith and courage, have assured constant and teeming growth ; and the tree whose rootlets are in the dim and shadowy past lo, on all your hills the golden fruitage !

I say that we have cause for this festive rejoicing of ours, in our growth ; and yet if you do not feel to-day, looking on this sea of glad faces, or walking these streets filled with almost princely houses, that the town of Norwich has made growth enough, and set up trophies enough, and nurtured rare children enough, to make her birthday a festival, why, I shall not try to prove it to you. If you can stand in the full rays of the sun and yet deny their warmth, I am not prepared to prove that there is any warmth in them. I address myself rather to those who are hearty believers in the propriety and justice of this commemorative fete, and shall ask them to go back with me for a few moments to that old rallying date of 1659 appearing to many, I dare say, a kind of mythical epoch toward which on such commemor ative days we strain back our imaginations, and seem to see, as it were in some mental kaleidoscope, the


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swart faces of savages, steel head-pieces, black coats of Puritans, tomahawks, beads, black-letter Bibles, hard work, and faith in God. But I shall not at tempt to clear up this delicious confusion by any speciality of detail ; I hope only to fasten on your minds, by one or two broad historic marks, the actual limitations and relations of that old date of 1659.

We weigh dates by the great facts that belong to them ; and what was the rest of the world doing at the time our sturdy settlers paddled up the Mohegan river, and planted Norwich ?

In the old country, of which at that time the col onists were all loving children, the truculent Oliver Cromwell had just closed his great career ; Richard, the son, was too feeble to wear the mantle of such a father, and had given over the attempt. The shrewd general Monk commanded the British army, and the army held the fate of the country in its hands. There were plottings and counter plottings ; Alger non Sidney and John Milton working vainly for a republic are thrust aside ; the line of kings is re stored ; and perhaps at the very time that the Nor wich settlers are marking out their home fields, crowding through alder bushes and swamps, the vain, irresolute, amiable, good-for-nothing Charles II. is journeying from Dover to London, amid all


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manner of rejoicing guns and drums, and the waving of banners. In France the weak Louis XIII. , who ruled by the brain of Richelieu, has gone by, and the great Louis Quatorze has just come upon the stage ; still under the tutelage of Cardinal Mazarin, but yet he has fairly inaugurated that great reign, which is to carry France to the highest splendor, through the extremest lusts of civilization. But in justice to France it must not be forgotten that while our Puritan settlers were building their first meeting-house upon the green, men of French birth and lineage, such as Le Moyne and Mesnard, were toiling through the silent forests of the West, far as the shores of Michigan, carrying knowledge of the Christian faith, and exploring and mapping out the resources of the continent. Poor Spain, which in times past had sent over the ocean a Columbus and PizaiTO and Ponce de Leon, and which had illustrated our colonial annals the century before by that barbaric and daring march of De Soto through the everglades of Florida, far as the Missis sippi the golden crosses and the iron spear-heads clashing together in the cane-brakes which had founded the oldest town on our Atlantic border, St. Augustine was now being disabused of her golden dreams ; she was wearied by long wars with France and England, in the course of which she had lost her


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island of Jamaica, and was feeling the approaches of that insidious decay which is feeding upon her still. The little Netherlands, near to Dover and to the French coast, had grown bravely from that begin ning of independence wrought out by William the Silent, a century before, and was now almost a match for England on the sea. It was the day of the Tromps, and the Ruyters, and the De Witts ; and the Dutch flag was flying on Batavia and Java in the East, and from the heights of Good Hope, and from that little promontory of land which we now call the Battery of New York ; indeed, there were Dutch houses at this time in New Amsterdam, built by Dutch artisans and defended by Dutch valor, which would rival the best houses of the Massachusetts Colony. As for the two states, with which, as colo nists, we were to be brought more immediately in contact, (I speak of France and England,) I do not know how I can better epitomize and illustrate their respective stages of civilization at the date of 1659, than by saying that just at the time when the first psalms of thanksgiving were rising in the first Nor wich church, the great dramatist of France, Molicre, was wandering through the Provinces, playing his own comedies to crowded and delighted houses. And across the channel, the great British poet, John Milton quite another style of man was


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living in a back street of London, and sitting in his doorway, clad in a sober suit of gray the very type and image of puritan simplicity, and of puri tan faith was turning his sightless eyes to Hea ven, and revolving, in the recesses of his mind, those solemn thoughts and that splendid imagery, which in due course of time were to be embroidered as it were by angel fingers upon that no blest of Christian poems, the immortal epic, Para dise Lost.

Meantime there is growing up between the Yantic and Shetucket, the material for a homelier epic. Sixty, seventy, and eighty days only bring news of what is happening across the water ; and it matters little to our sturdy colonists if Charles II. or if Richard Cromwell is wearing the purple, if only goodman Elderkin has built, his mill according to contract, and the town surveyors keep the cart path in good order, from the Cove below, along the plain to the meeting-house above, and to the store. The clergyman is giving good, honest doctrine ; Uncas, below upon the river, is a good friend, and keeps a sharp look out for intruders. The swamps are yield ing gradually to cultivation. The worshipful Mr. Winthrop has secured a charter from the king, which gives all needed independence, and with slip-shod

indulgence, extends the boundaries of the Connec- 10


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ticut colony from the Narragansett river to the shores of the Pacific rather too liberal to be last ing, but forming the basis of that claim which in after years secured to the State its admirable school fund. And the same worshipful Mr. Winthrop, be ing Governor, is occasionally waited upon by the ac tive men of our little township Deacon Simon Huntington, or Lieutenant Thomas Leffingwell, or perhaps the grand Major Mason, who report prog ress to the Governor, and listen to his after-dinner discourses about my Lord Clarendon, or Sir Isaac Newton, or John Milton, or the Hon. Robert Boyle, all of whom he has personally known, and with some of whom he still corresponds.

The quieter men at home, who do not dine with the Governor, are laying out new highways, or pushing a little trade down the river and along the coasts. There are no savage onslaughts ; the worst enemies the town knows, for a long succession of years, are a short crop, or an occasional wolf, or a rattlesnake, or some drunken friend of an Indian, or some new clergyman who does not hold precisely the right views in regard to the Saybrook plat form. Bating these little diversions, life seems al most Arcadian here, as we look back upon it. The cattle are feeding and lowing in the new pasture grounds ; the red blush of the English fruit trees is


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beginning to show itself in all the gardens ; the vir gin meadows along the Yantic are filled with flowers that perfume the air ; the brooks, fuller and more numerous before the forests are cut off, frolic down all the hill sides ; and of a Sabbath morning, while the dew is still sparkling on the grass and on the tree tops, the church bell from the rocky height yon der tone after tone tone after tone spends its musical gushes of sound over the roof of the farthest settler.

Thus a hundred years or more pass on ; the king Philip battles, and the long stretch of the old French and Indian war, bring their train of mourners ; but Haverhill, and Deerfield, and Fort Edward are very far away from the homes of Norwich ; as far on the score of news as Pike s Peak or the California trail are now. The growth of the town is not seriously interrupted. The original settlers have multiplied ; new people have come in from year to year by vote. Death has, indeed, drawn a little array of recruits to one side, but courage and faith and work and hope are still the masters of the situation. And in this hundred years or more there have been changes in England. Sidney and Milton (whom we saw sit ting on his door-step) have both gone long ago to their reward. Charles II, and Clarendon, and Buck ingham, and Nell Gwynne and the rest are sleeping


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a long sleep in the pages of the biographical diction aries. It is the time of the Georges and of the elder Pitt, and of that dogmatic Dr. Johnson, who thought the king could screw down the colonies by as many taxes as he chose, and of a greater man than Dr. Johnson I mean Edmund Burke who thought the king could not screw down the colonies just as he chose. Over in France, the reign of Louis XTV. is ended, and the king that the courtiers fancied too grand to die, is as dead as any pauper in a Norwich grave. There has come after him a weaker and a worse king, Louis XV., who is ruling jointly with the madame Pompadour, while Voltaire, with his sar donic smile and his witty flings at Providence and simple faith, is not only a writer, but a power in France ; and he is leading on very swiftly with the rhythmical cadence of his artful and sonorous pe riods toward the bloody gulf of revolution. In the scientific coteries of Paris there is just now an American name well known that of Benjamin Franklin. And there are other names well known at home, such as Israel Putnam, and Patrick Henry ; and this latter has made a speech before the bur gesses of Virginia which has found echo in every valley of New England. There is living, too, some where in his neighborhood a tall, quiet, sedate country gentleman, looking after his estates just


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now, whose name is colonel George Washington, and who, not very well known as yet to Norwich people, will presently make himself known and make him self felt all through the country, like a great rain in time of drought. And there is a certain boy born in Norwich a little before this, (I have a sad story to tell here) whose father had come from Ehode Island, and who was of a somewhat doubtful charac ter, falling eventually into dissolute habits and pov erty ; but he had married a worthy woman ; and the boy, as such things will happen, had inherited all of the mother s energy and none of her goodness, and all of the father s deviltry with none of his weak ness ; the boy s name was Benedict Arnold. I dis like to name it ; but truth is truth, and history is history. He cannot stay in the drug store of the Messrs. Lathrop, where he has been placed too bad for that. He runs away and enlists for the French war. Ah ! if some friendly bullet had slain him there ! But no ; he is to gain manhood for a warning to all men everywhere, that courage and ambition and energy are nothing, and worse than nothing, except they be governed by an honest pur pose, and tempered by a sterling humanity.

More honor to-day from us who are gathered here, to Goodman John Elderkin, who built his mill ac cording to contract, and faithfully ground his grist,


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than to the great major-general Arnold, in British short clothes, and crowned with infamy. These memorial days are not the glorifiers only, they are also the avengers. If Norwich, in an awkward mo ment, has given birth to a villain, let us not be silent in this the day of her rejoicing, but let the world know that we are second to none in giving him our scorn.

Shall we take a glance at the town in those times anywhere from 1750 to 1770 ?

The little sloop Defiance is making her trips with credit and dispatch. There is a thriving ship trade at the Landing occasionally a fleet of twenty or thirty sail ; or a stout packet Ebenezer Fitch, commander is up for London. There is a nour ishing business with the West Indies ; long teams come in from the adjoining towns, blocking up the roads in the neighborhood of the town Green, bar tering their produce for West India molasses, or possibly some tight little jug of West India rum. Houses are scattered up and down, from the Land ing to the up town Plain. The generous old fire places are not all gone by, and sitting in some corner of one of these, on a winter s night, it may happen that some traveller or sailor-man just arrived by London packet, entertains an earnest, curious com pany, with a story of a trip to Paris, and of the


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shady avenues of Versailles, and the carriages of the great king covered with gold, and fountains that throw water a hundred feet in the air ! I say the fire-places are not all gone, though a certain Dr. Franklin has latterly contrived stoves, which are said to secure a wonderful economy of heat. And the same gentleman, it is whispered, in well read circles, has learned to catch the lightning and to bottle it.

Some adventurous young fellow, disposed to make a dash, is fined heavily for riding to church in a gig, and disturbing the sobriety of the congregation. The women go to church in plain homespun good, innocent creatures, never having thought of making a personal exhibition of themselves. Ah, if good old Dr. Lord, who was preaching in that day, though he was past seventy if good old Dr. Lord, I say, could have seen some fine woman of our time, sailing up the centre aisle, swaying along under a great breadth of silken canvas, I think he would have urged with new unction, " strait is the gate and narrow is the way," that the good people follow. 1

1 The fashion of that day compelled use of stupendous hoops, or of some equivalent device for making " spread ; " the allusion as such things will created its little breeze of applause. I particularly remember the approval of a cer tain quiet, bald-headed gentleman among the auditors, who


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But Dr. Lord s is not the only church in these times ; there has grown up below the hill a thriv ing little village, called Chelsea, which has its own meeting-house, and church members, not very harmonious as yet, a certain Mr. Whitaker be ing the bone of a rather sharp theological conten tion ; but who knows but the little parish may come in time to rival the mother church upon the Green ?

And on the heights of Franklin, which was then but a corner of the "Nine miles square," there is an other orthodox place of worship, whose quaint ar chitecture withstood the bleak northwesters down to our own time ; and I can well remember, though my memory does not run so far back as that of a good many I see about me I can well remember, I say, treading very awe-stricken over the broad stone boulder which formed the stepping-stone, and peer ing through the bobbin balustrade that ran round the tops of the square pews, at the huge sounding- board, with its wonderful carving, and the gray vel vet cushions of the desk ; and listening to the quavering falsetto tones of the little white-haired

had been perspiring between two enormous heaps of silk which permitted only his waistcoat and head to appear and who applauded this utterance with a relish that was almost frantic.


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old gentleman, in black knee-breeches, who main tained, there upon his mountain altar, to the very last, all the fire and energy of the puritan spirit.

There were two good taverns in those days upon the town green ; and there was a paper mill in the valley of the Yantic, with Christopher Leffingwell, Esq., for proprietor ; there was a stage coach running to Providence ; there was a bridge built after long altercation over the foot of the Cove. And though it sounds like an Arabian story, I must relate to the young people of Norwich that before this period a wide expanse of water, over which an occasional ferry-boat plied, lay between John Breed s corner and the station of the New London railway. Good revolutionary feeling prevailed ; the ladies giving last and sternest proof of it in abandoning their tea drinking ; and the stamp act was anathematized in good set terms in open town meeting. Old Gov ernor Trumbull used to come down, in a square- topped gig, perhaps to see his son Joseph, who lived hereabout, and to look out for his West Indian busi ness ; or, as times grew threatening, to collect am munition, or beef or mutton for the army, all the while writing his messages regularly, giving good advice to his son regularly, paying his debts regular ly, collecting his bills regularly, attending church


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regularly ; in short, a most capital type of the shrewdness, and energy, and piety of the old Con necticut character. A little later he entertains there upon the Lebanon green the gay Duke of Lauzun, l who has come over, with a generosity that is more chivalric than earnest, to help us fight out the great fight of the century.

And what a contrast it is, this gay nobleman, carved out, as it were, from the dissolute age of Louis XV., who had sauntered under the colon nades of the Trianon, and had kissed the hand of the Pompadour, now strutting among the staid dames of Norwich and of Lebanon ! How they must have looked at him and his fine troopers, from under their knitted hoods ! You know, I suppose, his after history ; how he went back to Paris, and among the wits there, was wont to mimic the way in w r hich the stiff old Connecticut Governor had said grace at his table. Ah, he did not know that in Governor Trum- bull, and all such men, is the material to found an enduring State ; and in himself, and all such men, only the inflammable material to burn one down.


1 Armand-Louis Gontaut, due de Biron but known in all his earlier days, and by the Memoires (Paris, 1822) as Due de Lauzun. He was condemned to death by the French re volutionary tribunal in 1793.


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There is a life written of Governor Trumbull, and there is a life written of the Due de Lauzun. The first is full of deeds of quiet heroism, ending with a tranquil and triumphant death ; the other is full of rankest gallantries, and ends with a little spurt of blood under the knife of the guillotine upon the gay Place de la Concorde.

I shall not linger upon the revolutionary period, nor seek to prove that our fathers were good patriots, and, therefore, good revolutionists. I think we feel that truth sufficiently in the tingling blood which they have bequeathed to us. I go on, therefore, to glance for a moment at times which white-haired men here and I see many remember : when trade had revived after the war ; when turnpike roads were laid out with wonderful engineering skill straight over the tallest hills ; when wagons with elliptic springs had been contrived to carry four persons with ease ; when the weekly newspaper gave startling intelligence from New York not more than three days old ; when the slow sailing Defiance has given place to a rakish looking, two masted craft ; and when in well informed, though somewhat speculative circles, there is talk of eventually put ting upon the route a vessel that should go by steam. Of course, there were prodigious shakings of the head at this, just as we shake our heads now at the


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talk of Mr. La Mountain or of Mr. Wise (of course I speak of the Wise who puts his gas in balloons). But the steamboats come in their time ; and I am sure that I address a large crowd of sympathizing auditors, now that I come to speak of the magni ficent old " Fanny," spluttering and paddling, and splurging up to the little wharf under the lea of Pepper s Hill, where the pine wood lay piled in fab ulous quantities. It was a rare treat in those days to drive down in a gig to Swallowall or Chelsea, and look over at the marine monster, with her smoke pipe, and her balustrade of netted ropes, and her engine of twenty-horse power more or less, and capa ble of driving through the United States mail in twenty-four hours. Ah, those wonders, and lifts, and joys of boyhood ! There are those here, I am sure, who will pardon me the expression of them ; for there are those here who have kindred memories joys that are past; houses they knew, that are demolished ; trees that sheltered them, cut down ; brooks, whose murmur they loved, filled in, banked over, lost. Graves, too, which you and I remember, fresh rounded, that are sunken now ; and voices low

1 Messrs. La Mountain and Wise were the famous aeronauts of that day : and just at that time too, Hon. Henry A. Wise of Virginia was exasperating the public mind by inflamma tory political harangues full of wind and flame.



BEGINNINGS OF

and tender, and loving voices which, for these many a weary year, have been silent silent ! I do not envy the man who has not such memories to-day ; they make hearts touch each other as nothing else could do ; and we, who come here under the cold tie of township, find suddenly breaking into life and power that nobler bond of brotherhood.

But this is a festal day ; we are crowning the good year 59 with rejoicing ; and in this time, is our town of Norwich doing nothing ? Are the good things, and the brave things, all past things ? Is it nothing, the hum of a myriad spindles along all your water-courses, singing of industry and enter prise ? Is it nothing to inaugurate the century with such temples of learning 1 as stand yonder, the monument of your private munificence ? Is it noth ing to show such phalanx of men as I see about me, all of whom by nativity, or citizenship, or near ties of blood, give honor to your town, and take honor ? 2 Is it nothing to have given a half score of the best, and worthiest, and weightiest names to the commercial exchange of our metropolis ? Is it noth-

1 The allusion was to the Norwich Free School.

2 Among those upon the platform, and in the immediate neighborhood of the speaker, were Governor Buckingham, Senator Lafayette Foster, Ex-president Fillmore, Chancellor Walworth, and the Hon. Erastus Corning of New York.


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ing to have furnished the Empire state a presiding head for her great central thoroughfare ; nothing to have provided them in the person of our venerable friend, with a man who honored their high office of Chancellor? Is it nothing to be represented in our national senate by a man whom you delight to honor at home ? Is it nothing to have given to the world a songstress, whose melody charms, and whose vir tues allure and instruct the growing mind of the whole country ? Is it nothing to have loaned our little commonwealth of Connecticut what is so rare in politics a thoroughly upright man for Governor ?

But while we boast and glorify ourselves to-day, let us remember that Nine-miles-square do not bound the world, and never did. Year by year, the iron roads, and the journals, and the leashes of elec tric wire are binding us in the bond of a common humanity. Year by year, and century by century, special titles and special states, and special privileges, and special nationalities, are going down under the horizon, as \ve rise to the level of a higher, a nobler, and juster civilization. Year by year, the good, and the strong, and the true, and the hopeful, are form ing more and more one great parish, whose high priest is the God of Love. Not an oppressor can lift his arm to strike, the wide world over, but the


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knowledge and the shame of it, riding upon the wing of lightning, shall kindle indignation in honest hearts everywhere. Only yesterday, how onr bosom thrilled with the struggles, and toils, and broken hopes of those poor children of Italy, not farther from us than the victims of Frontignac from our fathers.

And now, one last word to you who live in Nor wich : You have a great trust to fill ; and we, who are natives or descendants, commit it this day solemnly to your charge. There are memories here that are ours as well as yours ; cherish them faithfully. There are graves here that are ours more than they are yours ; I pray you guard them tenderly ! We have hopes here, too ; build them up build them up bravely. We have a pride here. See to it, men of Norwich, that our pride and your pride just pride have no fall, until the rocks, and the rivers, and the plains, which are spread out here for your abode and for your delight, shall pass away.