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Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since/Chapter IV

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[15]
CHAPTER IV.

              "Haste! ere oblivion's wave shall close.
                  And snatch them from the deep,
               Muse for a moment o'er their woes,
                  Then bid their memory sleep."


IT has been mentioned that the tribe of natives, whose traditions we have partially gathered, retained amid its degeneracy, some individuals worthy of being rescued from oblivion. Among these, history has been most faithful in preserving the lineaments of their spiritual guide, the Rev. Samson Occom. He received instruction in the sciences and in the Christian faith, from the Rev. E. Wheelock, afterwards President of Dartmouth College. The sympathies of this excellent man [Reverend Wheelock] were aroused by the ignorance of a race, at once rapidly vanishing, and miserably despised. Regardless of the censure which stamped him as an enthusiast, and a visionary, he commenced a school for them in Lebanon, (Connecticut,) about the middle of the eighteenth century, and by his disinterested efforts for their improvement and salvation, deserves an illustrious rank among Christian philanthropists. Occom was his first pupil, and his intellectual advances, and genuine piety, compensated the labours of his revered instructor. After a residence of several years in the family of his benefactor, he became the teacher of a school on Long Island, and endeavoured to impart the [50] rudiments of divine truth, to the Montauk tribe, who were in his vicinity. His piety, and correct deportment procured for him a license to preach the gospel to bis benighted brethren. He travelled through various tribes, enduring the hardships of a missionary, and faithfully doing the work of an evangelist. His eloquence, particularly in his native language, was very impressive, and his discourses in English were well received, from the pulpits of the largest and most polished congregations in the United Slates. In 1765, he crossed the Atlantic, and was welcomed in England, with a combination of strong curiosity and ardent benevolence, which were highly gratifying to him. Here his mind was enlarged by extensive intercourse with the wise and the good, with some of whom he continued to maintain a correspondence throughout life. At his return, he commenced the discharge of the duties of his station, with increased ardour, and an interesting humility. He delighted much in devotional poetry, and presented a volume of hymns, selected by himself, to his American brethren, which together with the letters which are preserved, evince his correct knowledge of our language, and the predominance of religious sentiments in his mind. His residence was not stationary until near the close of his life, but at the period of this sketch, he was with his brethren of the Mohegan tribe. They listened to his instructions with awe, and regarded him with affectionate interest. When in explaining to them the sufferings of a Saviour, his eyes would overflow, and [51] a more than earthly fervour pervade his features and expressions, they felt convinced that he loved what he imparted, and honoured his sincerity. But when he enforced the wrath of the Almighty against impenitence, his tones rising with his theme, and the terrours of the law bursting from his lips, they forgot the lowliness of his station, the subdued meekness of his character, and trembled as if they had heard rising among the mountains, the voice of the Eternal Spirit.

Robert Ashbow was the chieftain, the counsellor of the tribe. Descended from the royal family, he was tenacious of that shadowy honour; yet he who might decry such an empty distinction, could not long scan him, without perceiving that nature had enrolled him among her nobility. She had endued him with a noble form, and an eye, whose glance seemed to penetrate the secrets of the soul. His lofty forehead spoke the language of command, though his countenance when at rest wore a cast of gravity, even to melancholy, as if his habitual musings were among the broken images of other days. Yet his kindling brow, and the curl of his strongly compressed lip could testify the fiery enthusiasm of eloquence, or the most terrible emotions of anger. Some acquaintance with books had aided the vigour of his intellect, and he was fond of associating with the better class of whites, because he could thus gratify his thirst for knowledge. When the general government of the states had become settled upon a per manent foundation, Robert Ashbow was permitted to [52] represent his people in the council of the nation, and received from some of the most distinguished Senators, proofs that his talents were duly estimated, and his opinions honoured. In religion, he was somewhat more than a skeptick, and less than a believer. He was familiar with the language of scripture, and assented to the excellence of its precepts, yet was perplexed at the division of faith from practice, which he beheld in many who professed to obey it. His adorations of the Great Spirit were stated and reverential. On the death of the Son of God for man, and on the nature of the gospel breathing peace, and good will, he reflected with awe, and admiration, but he suffered his reasoning powers to be perplexed with the faults, the crimes of Christians. Perhaps also, the command "to love our enemies," interfered too palpably with his code of honour, or with that spirit of revenge, which his proud soul had been taught to nourish as a virtue.

John Cooper deserves also to be mentioned, were it only because he was the most wealthy man in his tribe, It would be unpardonable to forget this distinction, in a country like ours, where wealth so often supplies the place of every other ground of merit; and where it is understood by the body of the people, if not literally the "one thing needful," yet the best illustration of what is shadowed forth in scripture, as the "pearl of great price," which the wise merchantman will sell all to obtain.

The habitation of John bore no external marks of splendour, but beside a numerous household, his jurisdiction [53] extended over a yoke of oxen, two cows, and sundry swine, riches heretofore unknown among the unambitious sons of Mohegan.

He was also a patient, and comparatively skilful agriculturist. He had a supply of the implements of husbandry, for himself and sons, and availed himself of the labours of the plough, which his countrymen, either from dislike of toil, or jealousy at innovation, too generally neglected. The corn of John Cooper might be known from that of his neighbours, by its tall, regular ranks, and more abundant sheaves. Its interstices were filled with the yellow pumpkin, and the green crooked-neck'd squash, and its borders adorned with the prolific field bean. A large stack of hay furnished the winter food of his animals, as he had not yet aspired to the luxury of a barn. He was regarded by some of his brethren with a suspicious eye; not that they envied his possessions, for they had not learned to place wealth first on the list of virtues. But they imagined that he approximated too closely to the habits of white men, whom if they regarded as friends, they could not wholly forget had been invaders. They conceived poverty to be less degrading than daily toil, and thought he could not be a true Indian, who would not prefer the privations of one, to the slavery of the other. But John found patient industry favourable not only to his condition but to his character. His regular supply of necessary articles removed those temptations to intemperance, which arise from the alternation of famine [54] and profusion. Labour promoted his health, and providence of comforts for his family inspired a soothing self satisfaction. His untutored mind also found the connexion, which has been thought to exist between agriculture and natural religion. While committing his seed to the earth, he thought of Him who made both the earth and her son who feeds upon her bosom. He remembered that all his toil would be fruitless, unless that Great Spirit should give his smile to the sun, and to the rain that matured the harvest. Softened by such contemplations, his heart became prepared for the truths of revealed religion. Mr. Occom found him a docile student in the school of his Saviour, and imparted to him with delight the knowledge of the word that bringeth salvation. The husbandman submitted himself to the teaching of the Spirit, and embraced the Christian faith. His employment became dearer than ever, and he was continually drawing from it spiritual emblems, to animate gratitude, or to deepen humility. When subjecting to cultivation an unbroken piece of ground, the brambles which invested it, would remind him of the spontaneous vices of the unrenovated heart. "Their end is to be burned," he would say internally, "and such had been mine, but for thy mercy, my God." The pure spring that gave refreshment to his weariness, restored to his thought "that fountain, which cleanseth from sin, and of which he who drinketh shall thirst no more." In the storm which frustrated his hopes, he traced the wisdom of Him, who giveth not account of his ways unto man, but [55] from the cloud sendeth forth the bow of promise to renew his trust, and the sunbeam to cheer his toil. In the cultured fields, clothed with their various garb, he perceived an emblem of the righteous man, bringing forth good fruits, out of faith unfeigned: in the harvest bowing to the reaper, he beheld him ready to be gathered into the garner of eternal life. Thus increasing in knowledge and, piety, Mr. Occom considered him an useful assistant in his stated instructions to the people, and thought of committing them to his spiritual charge, when he was compelled to be absent. But though they acknowledged that what John Cooper said of religion was well, and his prayers to the Great Spirit sufficiently long, it was evident that he did not possess their entire confidence, and some of them could not refrain from saying, that they "never yet saw an Indian so eager after both worlds." Near the dwelling of John was that of Arrowhamet the warrior, or Zachary as he was familiarly called, by the name of his baptism. Tall, erect and muscular, he seemed to defy the ravages of time, though the records of his memory proved, that seventy winters had passed over him. He had borne a part in the severe campaign, which preceded the defeat of Braddock, and shared the hardships of the war of revolution, as the firm friend of the Americans. The taciturnity of his nation prevented that garrulous recitation of the minutiæae of his drama, to which aged soldiers are often addicted; but sometimes, when induced to speak of his battles, his flashing eye, and lofty form rising still [56] more high, attested his military enthusiasm. His wife, Martha, who with him had embraced the Christian religion, was a descendant of the departed royalty of Mohegan. Their attachment for each other was strong, and exemplified on his part, by more of courteousness, on hers by more of affectionate expression, than was common to the reserve of their nation. Their tenement consisted of two rooms, with a shed in the rear, for the deposite of tools, or the rougher household utensils.

It was encompassed with a little garden of herbs and vegetables, and the whole wore an unusual aspect of neatness and comfort. But a mysterious personage had been added to that family, which had not within the memory of the young, comprised but Zachary and Martha. More than two years had elapsed, since a female had been observed to share their shelter, and to sit at their board. The Indians had remarked with surprise that she was of the race of the whites, young, and apparently in ill health, as she never quitted the mansion. "They at first had testified some disgust, but as in their visits to the old warrior and his companion, she had always looked mildly on them, and spoken gently, they came to the conclusion, that "the pale squaw was wauregan," or good. Any inquiry respecting the guest, was uniformly answered,— "She is our daughter;" and perceiving that their friends did not wish to be pressed on the subject, they resigned their researches, and considered the stranger as a denizen, and a friend. [57]

The Indian possesses in such respects a native politeness, which might sometimes be a salutary model to more civilized communities. It is an accomplishment which their neighbours of Yankee origin might however be slow in acquiring. They seem to have elevated into a virtue, that close inspection of the concerns of their neighbour, which almost precludes attention to their own, and doubtless think their knowledge of the contents of his cellar and garret, the management of his kitchen, the genealogy of his guests, and his secrets so far as they might be ascertained, a suitable employment for those who are commanded to love their neighbour as themselves.

It might have been remarked, however, that since the arrival of this stranger, the dress of old Zachary was arranged with a more scrupulous attention to neatness. No rents were observed in any part of his apparel, and where they threatened to make their appearance, the delicate stitches of no untaught needle might be traced. The broad gold band, which had been the present of an officer, as a testimony of valour, was now constantly worn upon his well-brush'd hat; and old Martha was arrayed every afternoon in a plain black silk gown, made in a very proper and becoming manner. The interiour of the humble house evinced the daily use of the broom, and near its door two bee-hives, ranged upon a rough bench, sent forth the cheerful hum of industry. Beds of thyme and sage lent their aromatic essence to the winged throng, which might be seen settling upon them with intense [58] pleasure, in the earliest ray of the morning sun. The department of medicinal herbs was gradually enlarged, as they were found to promote the comfort of the drooping inmate, and Martha had become too old to seek them as she was wont in the woods. She busied herself frequently in the construction of work-baskets, whose smooth compartments displayed the light touches of a pencil, to whose delicacy the natives laid no claim. The zeal of these hospitable beings to promote the accommodation of their guest was very remarkable. Zachary would push his rude boat into the distant waters, that he might obtain supplies of those fish which were accounted most rare, or of such oysters as might allure the appetite of an invalid. When he carried to the market articles of domestic manufacture, he never returned without having expended some portion of his little gains, in the purchase of a few crackers, or a small quantity of wheat flour, or perhaps some of the tropical subacid fruits, which are so grateful to the parched lip of the sufferer from febrile disease, Martha brought with maternal tenderness, the morning draught of milk warm from the cow, who in her rude tenement in the rear of the building quietly ruminated. She would present also on a clean wooden plate, a dessert from her bee-hive, for the knowledge of whose management, she was indebted to the gentle being on whom her care centered. She would also search the adjoining fields for the first ripe strawberries, and whortleberries in their reason, and bring them in a little basket of green leaves, [59] that their freshness and fragrance might tempt the sickening palate. An emaciated hand would receive these gifts, and a face white as marble beam with a faint smile, while a soft voice uttered, "I thank you Mother." But all seemed in vain, the liliy grew paler upon its stem. and seemed likely to sink into the grave, lonely and beautiful, with all its mysteriousness unrevealed.

One more personage deserves to be noticed ere we close the brief catalogue. Maurice, or as he was called before his baptism Kehoran, was deemed by his countrymen the most singular of men. Yet so accustomed had they become to his habits, that they almost ceased to be an object of animadversion. Years had elapsed since he withdrew himself from the residence of man, and became the tenant of a cave, at the base of a rock, at a consider able distance from the principal settlement. Nature had there formed an irregular apartment of about twenty feet in length, and varying in height and breadth. Its aperture, much below the stature of a man, was of a triangular shape, and apparently made by the disruption of the rock, which formed the roof of the cavern. It was partially closed by rolling against it a large stone which was found within, among other rubbish, which the hermit had removed. Here Maurice dwelt, subsisting upon the roots and berries, which the shaggy forest overhanging his roof supplied, and quenching his thirst at a spring which ran bubbling from the rocky height, and, gliding past his door like a ribband-snake, disappeared in the adjoining [60] thicket. A bed of skins afforded him a place of repose, and the severity of his life distressed even the natives, who were accustomed to despise hardships and privation, Maurice was tall, and emaciated, clad in a rough mantle of skins, fastened round his loins with a strip of bark. At a distance he might be taken for a miserable Franciscan, and as he approached, the crucifix always borne around his neck, revealed the religion which he professed. It was the general opinion that the terrible penances which he endured, had been enjoined as an expiation for some unknown crime. It was remembered by the oldest inhabitants that he had been a warrior, and a hunter of athletic frame, and keen eye. Now, when a partridge rested near him, or a squirrel sprang from the branch where he stood, he had been observed to raise his arm involuntarily, as if to bend his bow, then dropping it suddenly to exclaim, "No! No! there is blood enough already." His feet were bare, and often wounded by thorns, and his white beard which he suffered not to be cut, rested upon his breast. Every autumn he disappeared, and was no more seen, until the opening spring permitted him to inhabit his cave, and resume his usual regimen. It was at length understood, that in his intervals of absence, he travelled to Canada, to visit the Jesuit who converted him, and to become confirmed in the faith which he had embraced. But the present winter he had omitted this stated journey. Some fancied that his be loved instructer was dead, but the majority concluded [61] that the infirmities of age precluded the hermit from the fatigues of his pilgrimage. He was seen to guide his tottering steps by a staff, and to look vacantly at surrounding objects, as if his eye was dim to their proportions. The hair upon his head had become thin, and whiter than silver, yet he defended it by no covering from the blast or from the tempest. He now received with unwonted kindness, additional clothing, or occasional food from his countrymen, but if they offered him flesh he would repel it with disgust, saying "it must never pass the lips of Maurice." The benevolence of Mr. Occom was strongly excited in his behalf. He visited him in his cell, relieved his famine, and urged him to accept of a milder faith and to rely on the expiation of his Redeemer, and not on the mortification of his frail, decaying body. He would listen calmly to his discourses, but when he touched upon any peculiar tenet of the Roman church, would wave his withered hand, with all its wasted energy, and exclaim "your way is not my way."