75%

Sketch of Connecticut, Forty Years Since/Chapter XI

From Wikisource
Jump to navigation Jump to search
[155]
CHAPTER XI.

"Gently on him had gentle Nature laid
The weight of years:—all passions that disturb
Were past away."
                                                        Madoc.<ref>Southey, Robert Madoc

THE wandering natives, in their visits to Norwich, ever found a kind reception at the mansion of Madam Lathrop. They were accustomed to point it out at a distance, as the weary traveller recognizes the house of refreshment, and repose. Here they knew that their wants would be relieved, and their simple industry promoted. It might be said that they were encouraged here to hold an annual convention. A custom was established by our pious ancestors, immediately after the settlement of New-England, of setting apart a day in Autumn, for publick and private gratitude to the Giver of all good. This, which might originally have been intended as an imitation of the Israelitish festival of in-gathering, had been gradually lowered, by the interpretations of their descendants, from a day of sacred gratitude, to one of good eating and drinking. Still there were connected with it many cheerful, and interesting associations; the return of absent children, the union of dispersed families around the domestick altar, and the offering of praise, by the ministers of religion, to the Father of all. This was a season, when anciently the rich remembered the poor, and sent portions from their own [156] tables to the needy. It was the practice in the household of Madam Lathrop to make a large quantity of pastry, expressly for the natives of Mohegan. This secured an almost universal attendance of the females, who holding a neat basket of their own manufacture, would thankfully receive in it the luxury for their expectant families. It was pleasant to Madam Lathrop to see their dark red brows beam with gentle feelings, arid to hear them speaking in the softest tones, their native language to the little ones who accompanied them. She knew each by name, and they would gaze upon her, with the most reverent, and trusting affection, when she addressed them. This people are reserved on the subject of their necessities. They view the wealth of the whites, without envy, or desire of personal appropriation. If they have been denominated the "nation of poverty," they could never have been justly styled a nation of beggars. Their little store they freely impart to the wants of another, and cultivate hospitality as faithfully as they cherish gratitude. By that sympathy with which a benevolent female enters into the hearts of her own sex, Madam Lathrop became so well acquainted with the respective characters of her pensioners, as to adapt judiciously to each the presents of clothing, or other useful articles, which at this season she prepared for them. They possessed so humble a spirit of gratitude for the gifts bestowed, that none was disposed to cavil if the portion of her neighbour seemed more valuable; or to doubt the wisdom of the giver, in doing "what she would [157] with her own." Each rejoiced in her individual share of bounty, and in that which was allotted to others; and venerated, as a benefactress, her who regarded with interest an outcast, and perishing race.

One morning, Mr. Occom, and Robert Ashbow were announced, the minister, and chieftain of the tribe. After a little conversation, the former said—

"I come, Madam, to take leave of you, and in the name of my nation, who depart with me, to give you thanks for your continued kindness. A large part of them have consented to accompany me to a tract of land, given them by their brethren of the Oneida tribe, on the condition of their removing thither, and cultivating it."

"Is there not already land enough in their possession, in this vicinity," said the Lady, "for their subsistence, if they would attend to its culture?"

"Alas! Madam," he replied, "my brethren are degenerate plants. They are but shadows of their ancestors. I wish to associate their broken spirits with others less degraded. Peradventure the Almighty, upon this humble foundation, may yet build a temple to his praise."

"Do you accompany these emigrants?" inquired the Lady of the Chief. His melancholy brow seemed to gather darkness, as he answered haughtily—

"Ask the mother, if she forsakes the cradle of her son, because disease hath wasted him? Does the bear scorn to defend her cub, because the arrow of the hunter hath wounded it? Does the bird hate her nest, while her [158] offspring are unfledg'd, and helpless? And should not man be more merciful than the beasts of the field, and wiser than the fowls of heaven?"

"You are not willing then," she replied, "that your tribe should separate from the home of their Fathers."

"Lady!" said the chieftain sternly, "that man hath stood before me, day after day, urging, like the prophet of Israel, let this people go. Like him of Egypt with the harden'd heart, I long answered, I will not let them go, But a decree was made plain to my soul. The terrible blackness of prophecy unfolded itself. I saw written, the dispersion of all our race. I was dumb. I opened not my mouth for many days. Then in my bitterness I said let them go forth! Such as are for the sword, to the sword; and such as are for the famine, to the famine; or to the pestilence; or to the wild beast of the forest. Each, his own way to the grave—let him go!"

There was a pause of some emotion, and the Chief added mournfully

"Long ere our doom was revealed to us, it began to be accomplished. Where are the Pequots, once numerous as the stars, whose strong holds ruled the waves of the sea-coast? Where are the Narragansetts, the natural enemies of our tribe? They vanished before our nation, as we now sink beneath yours. All are gone. All—save a little chaff for the winds to sweep away. I would have prevented this division of my perishing people. I would have lifted my voice against it. The words of their Chief [159] should have prevailed over those of the man of God. But I saw that Fate had determined evil against us. The shades of our fallen kings uttered it in my ears. In the darkness of night-visions, their voice hath entered my soul. I heard it, as if winds murmured from some hollow cave—"Our people are water scattered upon the ground. None shall gather it."

There was an interval of silence, and then the Lady expressed, to the unhappy Chief, her good will for his people. Not heeding the remark, he continued in the same voice, as if pursuing an unbroken current of thought—

"Who shall break the chain that binds our race to destruction? Once, it might have been cut by the sword. But where now is the arm of the warriour? Strength hath perished from among the people. The avenging spirit hath lifted his hand against us. Who can stay it? What matters it, where he shall overtake us, whether upon the mountain tops, or in the wilderness, or the forest, where no ray hath penetrated? Wherever we flee, he will follow, and fulfill the curse. Therefore have I consent ed to let my people go, whom else I would have com manded to shed the last drop of their blood on the tombs of their fathers. But for me, though I should be left alone, as a blasted tree upon the desolate rock, yet will I stay, and pour my last breath where the death-sigh of my kings arose."

"It would seem at first view," said Mr. Occom. "as it the sentence of extinction were indeed passing upon [160] our race, as that of dispersion was executed upon the peculiar people. Yet we hope in the mercy of Him, who "hateth nothing that he has made." We pray that his goodness may yet be manifested in the calling of us, Gentiles. We trust, Madam, that your favoured race, who are exalting the country to a glory which under us it could never have known, will yet impress with civilization and Christianity, the features of our roving and degraded character. Then it will be but a small matter to have yielded to you these perishable possessions, if through you, we become heirs to the kingdom of heaven."

"Why are those," said the Chief, "who expect an inheritance in the skies, so ready to quarrel about the earth, their mother? Why are Christians so eager to wrest from others lands, when they profess that it is gain for them to leave all, and die? Ah! what hath been the sin of our nation, above that of all other nations, that our name must be blotted from among the living? For what crime is our heritage taken away, and given to another people? On the land which our fathers gave us, we may not set our feet, except as strangers. Like shadows we flee away to our sepulchres. Even these are no longer ours. Monuments of those whom our fathers knew not, are there, and the dust of the Indian is scattered by the winds. Ere long, white men will cease to crush us, for we will cease to be."

"Chief of the Mohegans!" said the Pastor "all men, all nations of men, have sinned. In this world retribution [161] is not perfect. It becomes not us to contend with Him, who dealeth more lightly with us than our iniquities deserve. Saith not that holy book, whose words thy strong memory so well cherisheth, "wherefore should a living man complain, a man for the punishment of his sins?"

"Did all our kings, and chiefs," he inquired "offend the God of Christians? Why does he thus draw out his anger to the latest generations? Are we sinners above all men, that we are made as driven stubble before our enemies?"

"My brother speaks like a native," said the minister addressing the Lady. "Oh! that he may yet say as a Christian, though clouds and darkness are round about Jehovah, justice and judgment are the foundations of his throne."

"God forbid!" said the Chief, "that Robert should blame the religion of Christians. Shall the snow-wreath lift itself against the sun-beam? But that religion is for white men. The God, who ordained it, is angry at the red man of the forest. He will frown upon him until he die. Let him pray then to that Great Spirit who watched over his fathers, whether his throne be amid the roll of mighty waters, or where the tempest folds its wings. The white man may seek the God who loveth him, who hath given him a book from heaven, and continually calleth to the torn that he will heal, to the smitten that he will bind him up. But where shall the poor Indian turn in his sorrow, but to that spirit of mystery, which hath led [162] him on through darkness, all his life long? He was hungry, and his bow satisfied him. Thirsty, and drank of the brook. He dies, and will He, who nourished his body, slay his soul? Can the spirit, which He breathed into clay, perish like the gale which sighs once, arid is not? Doth not the smoke ascend, and the cinders go downward to the earth, when the fuel that fed the flame is consumed?"

"Connect your natural religion, with that which is revealed from above," said the Pastor. "Whether you call Him who ruleth over all, the Great Spirit, or Jehovah, strive to enter into his Heaven. To whom do the promises of the gospel address themselves with more force, than to a race like ours, homeless and despised?"

"I know that the shades of my fathers live," he replied, "but not in the white man's Heaven. On earth they lived not as brothers, though ye say that one Father created them. Ye say that in your Heaven, they "go no more out. But the spirit of the red man must wander; as on earth, so in heaven. If it might not rove, it would faint amid the islands of bliss. Your holy book; tells of the great city in Heaven, the New-Jerusalem, which is built of pure gold. It is described with gates of pearl, and streets of transparent glass. Our Heaven is not so. The poor Indian would tear to enter such a glorious place. He is contented to lie down in the forest, whose, lofty columns prop the blue arch of the skies, and to see the moon look forth in brightness from her midnight throne. [168]

This is splendour enough for his untutor'd soul. He loves not the pomp of cities. He loves better to stand on the cliff, where the cloud rests, and gaze upon the troubled ocean, while the voice of its storms dies beneath his feet. He loves to feel himself to be but as a drop in its bosom, swallowed up in the vast and awful creation. Ye say that your Jehovah is a God of wisdom. Will he then carry to one place souls, which like contending elements, can have no communion? Would he kindle war in Heaven if he be a Spirit of love?"

Mr. Occom, raised his eyes upwards, as if they uttered "Thy light alone, is able to dissolve this darkness!" Preparing to depart, he approached the Lady, and said,—

"I could not leave this part of the country, Madam, without saying to you, that your bounty, and that of your deceased partner can never be forgotten, either by the natives who go, or by those who remain behind. In their prayers, they will commend you to that God whom in truth you worship. My people were hungry, and you have given them bread. Naked, and you clothed them. Sick, and you visited them. Lady! I seek not to praise man, but God, who hath breathed goodness into his heart. Yet there is written a book of remembrance, and the righteous need not shrink from it in the day of scrutiny, for the traces of errour, over which Repentance weeps, shall be blotted out in the blood of Calvary. Farewell, blessed Lady! When, before the throne of mercy, you remember the sorrowful, let the outcast Indian share in your petitions." [164]

The sorrow-stricken Chief drew near, and bowed with the deepest reverence upon the hand which was extended to him.

"Think not that Robert condemneth all thy race. Out of the bitterness of a heavy heart hath he spoken. Yet he can see the dew-drop sparkling in its pureness, amid the darkest path. He can distinguish the "herb of life," though the venomous vine overshadow it. He can love those, who shall hereafter be angels, though he come not himself into their holy place."

Soon after the departure of these visitants, Dr. Lathrop entered, and said,—

"The affliction, which our Church expected, has arriv ed. Her venerable pastor, Dr. [Benjamin Lord][1] is dead. The "ides of March" 1784, will long be remembered in her annals as a time of mourning."

"I have frequently thought," she replied, "that, if anniversaries of both our sorrows and our joys were faithfully kept, the dealings of the Almighty would be more deeply impressed on the heart, for its "instruction in righteousness." A tablet of individual, domestick, and social vicissitudes, would serve as a monument to recall the past, and as a way-mark to direct the future. The record of our adversities is not easily forgotten; but, when the Sun of Mercy beams upon us, we do not always, like the Israelites, set up a stone of remembrance, and say "hitherto hath the Lord helped us." Our beloved minister has departed, full of days, and full of honour. Four [166] score and ten years were appointed him, yet but a short time has elapsed, since he spoke to us from the pulpit. The tones of his voice were dear to me, and his countenance ever restored the memory of scenes of happiness, in which his friendship had participated, or of affliction, in which his piety had administered consolation."

"How majestic was his presence," he answered, when he enforced the obligations of conscience, and the terrours of the law. He spoke with a power that forced the guilty to tremble. With what an overflowing fullness would his mind illustrate points, which the thoughtless had deemed of minor importance? In prayer his solemnity was so striking, that I think none could listen to him, without revering that devotion by which he was inspired."

"I have been peculiarly impressed with this, my brother, during the exciting events of our recent war. In his humility for our occasional defeat, his gratitude for deliverances, his thanksgiving at the result, he seemed to pour out his whole soul, in all that variety of sacred language, with which the prophets recite the battles of the hosts of Israel. Yet there were some who were fatigued with the length of his orisons, and others who objected to the narrations which they contained. The nurse of my niece, who was a member of the Church of England, remarked that his prayers seemed principally intended, to "convey information to the Lord."

Were Gabriel on earth," he replied, "there would [166] undoubtedly be some to object to the strain of his devotion. I have heard our departed minister censured for credulity, because in one or two instances, he gave thanks for victory, which afterwards proved a defeat. But, amid the variety of rumours which, during our long war, often deceived professed politicians, how could he be expected always to discern between correct and false information; he, whose integrity of soul would render him one of the last to suspect others. I have recently heard, also, some uneasiness expressed at the length of his sermons. It seems that some of our audience have tutored their minds to perform so skilfully the office of an hour-glass, that they can ascertain the moment, when the speaker passes the limit of sixty minutes. All beyond is to them weariness and vanity. They are not indifferent to any other species of gain; but "goodly pearls without price" are scorned if they are presented in large numbers, or in a capacious casket. Yet these cavillers are principally among the younger part of our auditors, who have not yet attained the piety of their fathers. They feel the winter's cold, or the summer's heat, more sensibly than the peril of their souls. If the stoves and the furs of Russia could be introduced into our places of worship, changing an inclement season into the softness of Spring, I fear that even then they would scarcely listen, without murmuring, to a discourse of an hour and a half in length. Ah! I fear that days are coming, when sound doctrine must be stinted, both in weight and measure; and when it will be thought [167] necessary, so to refine and gild truth, as to destroy its specific nature. So that there may Yet be a time, when the spirit of the gospel will be held secondary to the vehicle in which it is presented, and men will hear sermons, not for the purpose of laying conscience open to their power, but to employ the mind in criticism upon their construction. Our aged Pastor might have had the satisfaction of reflecting, that he never curtailed the copiousness of his theme, or allayed its pungency, for the accommodation of "ears polite."

"To me," she replied "his performances were ever consistent with each other, and with the holy dignity of one appointed to lead "the sacramental host of God's elect." And it has given me great pleasure, in my visits to him during his decline, to perceive, that his strenuousness about particular doctrines had become absorbed in the sublimity of the great plan of salvation. While we are ascending the hill of life, little obstructions or aids seem of great importance; but when we reach the summit, if the Sun of Glory beam there, the whole journey appears but as one path of light. His happy spirit wondered where were the obstacles that had impeded its course. They vanished, when it sat so peacefully on the threshold of the gate of Heaven."

This I have also observed, my sister, in recent conversation with him. Undoubtedly, many of those opinions, which we now defend with asperity, will appear divested of importance, when the light of another world [168] shines upon them. Our clergyman seemed to gather gentleness and charity, while he went downward to the grave, as the sun sheds a more serene lustre, when "he trembles at the gates of the west." I witnessed an affecting occurrence of this nature, in the chamber of his sickness. The Divine of a neighbouring township differed from him. in ihe interpretation of a particular doctrine, and a dispute on this point had been conducted with considerable acrimony. Like the strife between Paul and Barnabas, it caused a suspension of their accustomed intercourse. For many years, their friendly exchange of pulpits had ceased. A meeting between them was effected, by Mr. Joseph Strong——,[2] the young colleague, and successor of our departed guide. They pressed each other's hands, and tears fell down like rain. "Brother!" said the dying clergyman, raising him self on his couch, "underneath thee be the everlasting arms. One thing is needful. I trust that we both have faith in our Redeemer, and shall dwell together eternally, where one spirit of love pervadeth all." Those who know with what tenacity learned men of ardent temperament adhere to their favourite theories, will fully estimate the extent of this sacrifice."

"It does more honour to his piety," she answered, "than all the books of controversy, which he could have written. To contend, is the dictate of our nature; to desist from strife, the victory of a divine motive. This reconciliation must have been highly satisfactory to the benevolent feelings of our young minister. His filial [169] deportment toward this patriarch in the Church, and the solemnity with which he administers the appointed ordinances, reflect honour upon the religion which he professes. In prayer, he condenses, as it were, the spirit of devotion, and gives it force even among the inattentive. I have seldom heard any thing more pathetic than his performances in the house which Death has entered, where there is such an expressive adaptation of manner, countenance, and supplication, to the sorrows of the mourner, and the desires of the penitent heart."

"These excellencies," said Dr. Lathrop, "he possesses in an eminent degree; and his union, with one of our most ancient and respectable families, affords reason to hope that he will continue with us. In length of days, and in exemplary piety, may he equal his revered predecessor, that "mighty man so eloquent in the Scriptures." To us, who are going down into the dust, many would deem it of little importance, who shall stand as a watchman upon the walls of Zion. Yet it ought never to be a matter or indifference, who shall be the spiritual guide of our children. Those, who desire religion to be honoured when they are no more, should not only teach their descendants to obey its precepts, but to revere its minister.

  1. Sigourney used Dr. L***. Benjamin Lord was pastor until his death in March 1784. General Association of Connecticut. Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of Connecticut. New Haven: William L. Kingsley, 1861. P. 458.
  2. Joseph Strong succeeded Dr. Lord and served as pastor from March 1778 to December 1834. General Association of Connecticut. Contributions to the Ecclesiastical History of Connecticut. New Haven: William L. Kingsley, 1861. P. 458.