It was the captain, and some new terror seemed to have gifted him with momentary strength.
"Yes, here's Lucy," I answered, hoping that by following the fancy I might quiet him,—for his face was damp with the clammy moisture, and his frame shaken with the nervous tremor that so often precedes death. His dull eye fixed upon me, dilating with a bewildered look of incredulity and wrath, till he broke out fiercely,—
"That's a lie! she's dead,—and so's Bob, damn him!"
Finding speech a failure, I began to sing the quiet tune that had often soothed delirium like this; but hardly had the line,
"See gentle patience smile on pain,"
passed my lips, when he clutched me by the wrist, whispering like one in mortal fear,—
"Hush! she used to sing that way to Bob, but she never would to me. I swore I'd whip the Devil out of her, and I did; but you know before she cut her throat she said she'd haunt me, and there she is!"
He pointed behind me with an aspect of such pale dismay, that I involuntarily glanced over my shoulder and started as if I had seen a veritable ghost; for, peering from the gloom of that inner room, I saw a shadowy face, with dark hair all about it, and a glimpse of scarlet at the throat. An instant showed me that it was only Robert leaning from his bed's-foot, wrapped in a gray army-blanket, with his red shirt just visible above it, and his long hair disordered by sleep. But what a strange expression was on his face! The unmarred side was toward me, fixed and motionless as when I first observed it,—less absorbed now, but more intent. His eye glittered, his lips were apart like one who listened with every sense, and his whole aspect reminded me of a hound to which some wind had brought the scent of unsuspected prey.
"Do you know him, Robert? Does he mean you?"
"Lord, no, Ma'am; they all own half a dozen Bobs: but hearin' my name woke me; that's all."
He spoke quite naturally, and lay down again, while I returned to my charge, thinking that this paroxysm was probably his last. But by another hour I perceived a hopeful change, for the tremor had subsided, the cold dew was gone, his breathing was more regular, and Sleep, the healer, had descended to save or take him gently away. Doctor Franck looked in at midnight, bade me keep all cool and quiet, and not fail to administer a certain draught as soon as the captain woke. Very much relieved, I laid my head on my arms, uncomfortably folded on the little table, and fancied I was about to perform one of the feats which practice renders possible,—"sleeping with one eye open," as we say: a half-and-half doze, for all senses sleep but that of hearing; the faintest murmur, sigh, or motion will break it, and give one back one's wits much brightened by the brief permission to "stand at ease." On this night, the experiment was a failure, for previous vigils, confinement, and much care had rendered naps a dangerous indulgence. Having roused half a dozen times in an hour to find all quiet, I dropped my heavy head on my arms, and, drowsily resolving to look up again in fifteen minutes, fell fast asleep.
The striking of a deep-voiced clock woke me with a start. "That is one," thought I, but, to my dismay, two more strokes followed; and in remorseful haste I sprang up to see what harm my long oblivion had done. A strong hand put me back into my seat, and held me there. It was Robert. The instant my eye met his my heart began to beat, and all along my nerves tingled that electric flash which foretells a danger that we cannot see. He was very pale, his mouth grim, and both eyes full of sombre fire,—for even the wounded one was open now, all the more sinister for the deep scar above and below. But his touch was steady, his voice quiet, as he said,—
"Sit still, Ma'am; I won't hurt yer, nor even scare yer, if I can help it, but yer waked too soon."
"Let me go, Robert,—the, captain is stirring,—I must give him something."
"No, Ma'am, yer can't stir an inch. Look here!"
Holding me with one hand, with the other he took up the glass in which I had left the draught, and showed me it was empty.
"Has he taken it?" I asked, more and more bewildered.
"I flung it out o' winder, Ma'am; he'll have to do without."
"But why, Robert? why did you do it?"
"Because I hate him!"
Impossible to doubt the truth of that; his whole face showed it, as he spoke through his set teeth, and launched a fiery glance at the unconscious captain. I could only hold my breath and stare blankly at him, wondering what mad act was coming next. I suppose I shook and turned white, as women have a foolish habit of doing when sudden danger daunts them; for Robert released my arm, sat down upon the bedside just in front of me, and said, with the ominous quietude that made me cold to see and hear,—
"Don't yer be frightened, Ma'am: don't try to run away, fer the door's locked an' the key in my pocket; don't yer cry out, fer yer'd have to scream a long while, with my hand on yer mouth, before yer was heard. Be still, an' I'll tell yer what I'm goin' to do."
"Lord help us! he has taken the fever in some sudden, violent way, and is out of his head. I must humor him till some one comes"; in pursuance of which swift determination, I tried to say, quite composedly,—
"I will be still and hear you; but open the window. Why did you shut it?"
"I'm sorry I can't do it, Ma'am; but yer'd jump out, or call, if I did, an' I'm not ready yet. I shut it to make yer sleep, an' heat would do it quicker 'n anything else I could do."
The captain moved, and feebly muttered, "Water!" Instinctively I rose, to give it to him, but the heavy hand came down upon my shoulder, and in the same decided tone Robert said,—
"The water went with the physic; let him call."
"Do let me go to him! he'll die without care!"
"I mean he shall;—don't yer interfere, if yer please, Ma'am."
In spite of his quiet tone and respectful manner, I saw murder in his eyes, and turned faint with fear; yet the fear excited me, and, hardly knowing what I did, I seized the hands that had seized me, crying,—
"No, no, you shall not kill him! it is base to hurt a helpless man. Why do you hate him? He is not your master?"
"He's my brother."
I felt that answer from head to foot, and seemed to fathom what was coming, with a prescience vague, but unmistakable. One appeal was left to me, and I made it.
"Robert, tell me what it means? Do not commit a crime and make me accessory to it. There is a better way of righting wrong than by violence;—let me help you find it."
My voice trembled as I spoke, and I heard the frightened flutter of my heart; so did he, and if any little act of mine had ever won affection or respect from him, the memory of it served me then. He looked down, and seemed to put some question to himself; whatever it was, the answer was in my favor, for when his eyes rose again, they were gloomy, but not desperate.
"I will tell you, Ma'am; but mind, this makes no difference; the boy is mine. I'll give the Lord a chance to take him fust; if He don't, I shall."
"Oh, no! remember, he is your brother."
An unwise speech; I felt it as it passed my lips, for a black frown gathered on Robert's face, and his strong hands closed with an ugly sort of grip. But he did not touch the poor soul gasping there behind him, and seemed content to let the slow suffocation of that stifling room end his frail life.
"I'm not like to forget that, Ma'am, when I've been thinkin' of it all this week. I knew him when they fetched him in, an' would 'a' done it long 'fore this, but I wanted to ask where Lucy was; he knows,—he told to-night—an' now he's done for."
"Who is Lucy?" I asked hurriedly, intent on keeping his mind busy with any thought but murder.
With one of the swift transitions of a mixed temperament like this, at my question Robert's deep eyes filled, the clenched hands were spread before his face, and all I heard were the broken words,—
"My wife,—he took her"—
In that instant every thought of fear was swallowed up in burning indignation for the wrong, and a perfect passion of pity for the desperate man so tempted to avenge an injury for which there seemed no redress but this. He was no longer slave or contraband, no drop of black blood marred him in my sight, but an infinite compassion yearned to save, to help, to comfort him. Words seemed so powerless I offered none, only put my hand on his poor head, wounded, homeless, bowed down with grief for which I had no cure, and softly smoothed the long neglected hair, pitifully wondering the while where was the wife who must have loved this tender-hearted man so well.
The captain moaned again, and faintly whispered, "Air!" but I never stirred. God forgive me! just then I hated him as only a woman thinking of a sister woman's wrong could hate. Robert looked up; his eyes were dry again, his mouth grim. I saw that, said, "Tell me more," and he did,—for sympathy is a gift the poorest may give, the proudest stoop to receive.
"Yer see, Ma'am, his father,—I might say ours, if I warn't ashamed of both of 'em,—his father died two years ago, an' left us all to Marster Ned,—that's him here, eighteen then. He always hated me, I looked so like old Marster: he don't,—only the light skin an' hair. Old Marster was kind to all of us, me 'specially, an' bought Lucy off the next plantation down there in South Car'lina, when he found I liked her. I married her, all I could, Ma'am; it warn't much, but we was true to one another till Marster Ned come home a year after an' made hell fur both of us. He sent my old mother to be used up in his rice-swamp in Georgy; he found me with my pretty Lucy, an' though young Miss cried, an' I prayed to him on my knees, an' Lucy run away, he wouldn't have no mercy; he brought her back, an'—took her, Ma'am."
"Oh! what did you do?" I cried, hot with helpless pain and passion.
How the man's outraged heart sent the blood flaming up into his face and deepened the tones of his impetuous voice, as he stretched his arm across the bed, saying, with a terribly expressive gesture,—
"I half murdered him, an' to-night I'll finish."
"Yes, yes,—but go on now; what came next?"
He gave me a look that showed no white man could have felt a deeper degradation in remembering and confining these last acts of brotherly oppression.
"They whipped me till I couldn't stand, an' then they sold me further South. Yer thought I was a white man once;—look here!"
With a sudden wrench he tore the shirt from neck to waist, and on his strong brown shoulders showed me furrows deeply ploughed, wounds which, though healed, were ghastlier to me than any in that house. I could not speak to him, and, with the pathetic dignity a great grief lends the humblest sufferer, he ended his brief tragedy by simply saying,—
"That's all, Ma'am. I've never seen her since, an' now I never shall in this world,—maybe not in t' other."
"But, Robert, why think her dead? The captain was wandering when he said those sad things; perhaps he will retract them when he is sane. Don't despair; don't give up yet."
"No, Ma'am, I guess he's right; she was too proud to bear that long. It's like her to kill herself. I told her to, if there was no other way; an' she always minded me, Lucy did. My poor girl! Oh, it warn't right! No, by God, it warn't!"
As the memory of this bitter wrong, this double bereavement, burned in his sore heart, the devil that lurks in every strong man's blood leaped up; he put his hand upon his brother's throat, and, watching the white face before him, muttered low between his teeth,—
"I'm lettin' him go too easy; there's no pain in this; we a'n't even yet. I wish he knew me. Marster Ned! it's Bob; where's Lucy?"
From the captain's lips there came a long faint sigh, and nothing but a flutter of the eyelids showed that he still lived. A strange stillness filled the room as the elder brother held the younger's life suspended in his hand, while wavering between a dim hope and a deadly hate. In the whirl of thoughts that went on in my brain, only one was clear enough to act upon. I must prevent murder, if I could,—but how? What could I do up there alone, locked in with a dying man and a lunatic?—for any mind yielded utterly to any unrighteous impulse is mad while the impulse rules it. Strength I had not, nor much courage, neither time nor wit for stratagem, and chance only could bring me help before it was too late. But one weapon I possessed,—a tongue,—often a woman's best defence; and sympathy, stronger than fear, gave me power to use it. What I said Heaven only knows, but surely Heaven helped me; words burned on my lips, tears streamed from my eyes, and some good angel prompted me to use the one name that had power to arrest my hearer's hand and touch his heart. For at that moment I heartily believed that Lucy lived, and this earnest faith rousted in him a like belief.
He listened with the lowering look of one in whom brute instinct was sovereign for the time,—a look that makes the noblest countenance base. He was but a man,—a poor, untaught, outcast, outraged man. Life had few joys for him; the world offered him no honors, no success, no home, no love. What future would this crime mar? and why should he deny himself that sweet, yet bitter morsel called revenge? How many white men, with all New England's freedom, culture, Christianity, would not have felt as he felt then? Should I have reproached him for a human anguish, a human longing for redress, all now left him from the ruin of his few poor hopes? Who had taught him that self-control, self-sacrifice, are attributes that make men masters of the earth and lift them nearer heaven? Should I have urged the beauty of forgiveness, the duty of devout submission? He had no religion, for he was no saintly "Uncle Tom," and Slavery's black shadow seemed to darken all the world to him and shut out God. Should I have warned him of penalties, of judgments, and the potency of law? What did he know of justice, or the mercy that should temper that stern virtue, when every law, human and divine, had been broken on his hearthstone? Should I have tried to touch him by appeals to filial duty, to brotherly love? How had his appeals been answered? What memories had father and brother stored up in his heart to plead for either now? No,—all these influences, these associations, would have proved worse than useless, had I been calm enough to try them. I was not; but instinct, subtler than reason, showed me the one safe clue by which to lead this troubled soul from the labyrinth in which it groped and nearly fell. When I paused, breathless, Robert turned to me, asking, as if human assurances could strengthen his faith in Divine Omnipotence,—
"Do you believe, if I let Marster Ned live, the Lord will give me back my Lucy?"
"As surely as there is a Lord, you will find her here or in the beautiful hereafter, where there is no black or white, no master and no slave."
He took his hand from his brother's throat, lifted his eyes from my face to the wintry sky beyond, as if searching for that blessed country, happier even than the happy North. Alas, it was the darkest hour before the dawn!—there was no star above, no light below but the pale glimmer of the lamp that showed the brother who had made him desolate. Like a blind man who believes there is a sun, yet cannot see it, he shook his head, let his arms drop nervelessly upon his knees, and sat there dumbly asking that question which many a soul whose faith is firmer fixed than his has asked in hours less dark than this,—"Where is God?" I saw the tide had turned, and strenuously tried to keep this rudderless life-boat from slipping back into the whirlpool wherein it had been so nearly lost.
"I have listened to you, Robert; now hear me, and heed what I say, because my heart is full of pity for you, full of hope for your future, and a desire to help you now. I want you to go away from here, from the temptation of this place, and the sad thoughts that haunt it. You have conquered yourself once, and I honor you for it, because, the harder the battle, the more glorious the victory; but it is safer to put a greater distance between you and this man. I will write you letters, give you money, and send you to good old Massachusetts to begin your new life a freeman,—yes, and a happy man; for when the captain is himself again, I will learn where Lucy is, and move heaven and earth to find and give her back to you. Will you do this, Robert?"
Slowly, very slowly, the answer came; for the purpose of a week, perhaps a year, was hard to relinquish in an hour.
"Yes, Ma'am, I will."
"Good! Now you are the man I thought you, and I'll work for you with all my heart. You need sleep, my poor fellow; go, and try to forget. The captain is still alive, and as yet you are spared that sin. No, don't look there; I'll care for him. Come, Robert, for Lucy's sake."
Thank Heaven for the immortality of love! for when all other means of salvation failed, a spark of this vital fire softened the man's iron will until a woman's hand could bend it. He let me take from him the key, let me draw him gently away and lead him to the solitude which now was the most healing balm I could bestow. Once in his little room, he fell down on his bed and lay there as if spent with the sharpest conflict of his life. I slipped the bolt across his door, and unlocked my own, flung up the window, steadied myself with a breath of air, then rushed to Doctor Franck. He came; and till dawn we worked together, saving one brother's life, and taking earnest thought how best to secure the other's liberty. When the sun came up as blithely as if it shone only upon happy homes, the Doctor went to Robert. For an hour I heard the murmur of their voices; once I caught the sound of heavy sobs, and for a time a reverent hush, as if in the silence that good man were ministering to soul as well as sense. When he departed he took Robert with him, pausing to tell me he should get him off as soon as possible, but not before we met again.
Nothing more was seen of them all day; another surgeon came to see the captain, and another attendant came to fill the empty place. I tried to rest, but could not, with the thought of poor Lucy tugging at my heart, and was soon back at my post again, anxiously hoping that my contraband had not been too hastily spirited away. Just as night fell there came a tap, and opening, I saw Robert literally "clothed and in his right mind." The Doctor had replaced the ragged suit with tidy garments, and no trace of that tempestuous night remained but deeper lines upon the forehead and the docile look of a repentant child. He did not cross the threshold, did not offer me his hand,—only took off his cap, saying, with a traitorous falter in his voice,—
"God bless you, Ma'am! I'm goin'."
I put out both my hands, and held his fast.
"Good bye, Robert! Keep up good heart, and when I come home to Massachusetts we'll meet in a happier place than this. Are you quite ready, quite comfortable for your journey?"
"Yes, Ma'am, yes; the Doctor's fixed everything; I'm goin' with a friend of his; my papers are all right, an' I'm as happy as I can be till I find"—
He stopped there; then went on, with a glance into the room,—
"I'm glad I didn't do it, an' I thank yer, Ma'am, fer hinderin' me,—thank yer hearty; but I'm afraid I hate him jest the same."
Of course he did; and so did I; for these faulty hearts of ours cannot turn perfect in a night, but need frost and fire, wind and rain, to ripen and make them ready for the great harvest-home. Wishing to divert his mind, I put my poor mite into his hand, and, remembering the magic of a certain little book, I gave him mine, on whose dark cover whitely shone the Virgin Mother and the Child, the grand history of whose life the book contained. The money went into Robert's pocket with a grateful murmur, the book into his bosom with a long look and a tremulous—
"I never saw my baby, Ma'am."
I broke down then; and though my eyes were too dim to see, I felt the touch of lips upon my hands, heard the sound of departing feet, and knew my contraband was gone.
When one feels an intense dislike, the less one says about the subject of it the better; therefore I shall merely record that the captain lived,—in time was exchanged; and that, whoever the other party was, I am convinced the Government got the best of the bargain. But long before this occurred, I had fulfilled my promise to Robert; for as soon as my patient recovered strength of memory enough to make his answer trustworthy, I asked, without any circumlocution,—
"Captain Fairfax, where is Lucy?"
And too feeble to be angry, surprised, or insincere, he straightway answered,—
"Dead, Miss Dane."
"And she killed herself, when you sold Bob?"
"How the Devil did you know that?" he muttered, with an expression half-remorseful, half-amazed; but I was satisfied, and said no more.
Of course, this went to Robert, waiting far away there in a lonely home,—waiting, working, hoping for his Lucy. It almost broke my heart to do it; but delay was weak, deceit was wicked; so I sent the heavy tidings, and very soon the answer came,—only three lines; but I felt that the sustaining power of the man's life was gone.
"I thought I'd never see her any more; I'm glad to know she's out of trouble. I thank yer, Ma'am; an' if they let us, I'll fight fer yer till I'm killed, which I hope will be 'fore long."
Six months later he had his wish, and kept his word.
Every one knows the story of the attack on Fort Wagner; but we should not tire yet of recalling how our Fifty-Fourth, spent with three sleepless nights, a day's fast, and a march under the July sun, stormed the fort as night fell, facing death in many shapes, following their brave leaders through a fiery rain of shot and shell, fighting valiantly for "God and Governor Andrew,"—how the regiment that went into action seven hundred strong came out having had nearly half its number captured, killed, or wounded, leaving their young commander to be buried, like a chief of earlier times, with his body-guard around him, faithful to the death. Surely, the insult turns to honor, and the wide grave needs no monument but the heroism that consecrates it in our sight; surely, the hearts that held him nearest see through their tears a noble victory in the seeming sad defeat; and surely, God's benediction was bestowed, when this loyal soul answered, as Death called the roll, "Lord, here am I, with the brothers Thou hast given me!"
The future must show how well that fight was fought; for though Fort Wagner still defies us, public prejudice is down; and through the cannon-smoke of that black night the manhood of the colored race shines before many eyes that would not see, rings in many ears that would not hear, wins many hearts that would not hitherto believe.
When the news came that we were needed, there was none so glad as I to leave teaching contrabands, the new work I had taken up, and go to nurse "our boys," as my dusky flock so proudly called the wounded of the Fifty-Fourth. Feeling more satisfaction, as I assumed my big apron and turned up my cuffs, than if dressing for the President's levee, I fell to work on board the hospital-ship in Hilton-Head harbor. The scene was most familiar, and yet strange; for only dark faces looked up at me from the pallets so thickly laid along the floor, and I missed the sharp accent of my Yankee boys in the slower, softer voices calling cheerily to one another, or answering my questions with a stout, "We'll never give it up, Ma'am, till the last Reb's dead," or, "If our people's free, we can afford to die."
Passing from bed to bed, intent on making one pair of hands do the work of three, at least, I gradually washed, fed, and bandaged my way down the long line of sable heroes, and coming to the very last, found that he was my contraband. So old, so worn, so deathly weak and wan, I never should have known him but for the deep scar on his cheek. That side lay uppermost, and caught my eye at once; but even then I doubted, such an awful change had come upon him, when, turning to the ticket just above his head, I saw the name, "Robert Dane." That both assured and touched me, for, remembering that he had no name, I knew that he had taken mine. I longed for him to speak to me, to tell how he had fared since I lost sight of him, and let me perform some little service for him in return for many he had done for me; but he seemed asleep; and as I stood reliving that strange night again, a bright lad, who lay next him softly waving an old fan across both beds, looked up and said,—
"I guess you know him, Ma'am?"
"You are right. Do you?"
"As much as any one was able to, Ma'am."
"Why do you say 'was,' as if the man were dead and gone?"
"I s'pose because I know he'll have to go. He's got a bad jab in the breast, an' is bleedin' inside, the Doctor says. He don't suffer any, only gets weaker 'n' weaker every minute. I've been fannin' him this long while, an' he's talked a little; but he don't know me now, so he's most gone, I guess."
There was so much sorrow and affection in the boy's face, that I remembered something, and asked, with redoubled interest,—
"Are you the one that brought him off? I was told about a boy who nearly lost his life in saving that of his mate."
I dare say the young fellow blushed, as any modest lad might have done; I could not see it, but I heard the chuckle of satisfaction that escaped him, as he glanced from his shattered arm and bandaged side to the pale figure opposite.
"Lord, Ma'am, that's nothin'; we boys always stan' by one another, an' I warn't goin' to leave him to be tormented any more by them cussed Rebs. He's been a slave once, though he don't look half so much like it as me, an' I was born in Boston."
He did not; for the speaker was as black as the ace of spades,—being a sturdy specimen, the knave of clubs would perhaps be a fitter representative,—but the dark freeman looked at the white slave with the pitiful, yet puzzled expression I have so often seen on the faces of our wisest men, when this tangled question of Slavery presents itself, asking to be cut or patiently undone.
"Tell me what you know of this man; for, even if he were awake, he is too weak to talk."
"I never saw him till I joined the regiment, an' no one 'peared to have got much out of him. He was a shut-up sort of feller, an' didn't seem to care for anything but gettin' at the Rebs. Some say he was the fust man of us that enlisted; I know he fretted till we were off, an' when we pitched into old Wagner, he fought like the Devil."
"Were you with him when he was wounded? How was it?"
"Yes, Ma'am. There was somethin' queer about it; for he 'peared to know the chap that killed him, an' the chap knew him. I don't dare to ask, but I rather guess one owned the other some time,—for, when they clinched, the chap sung out, 'Bob!' an' Dane, 'Marster Ned!'—then they went at it."
I sat down suddenly, for the old anger and compassion struggled in my heart, and I both longed and feared to hear what was to follow.
"You see, when the Colonel—Lord keep an' send him back to us!—it a'n't certain yet, you know, Ma'am, though it's two days ago we lost him—well, when the Colonel shouted, 'Rush on, boys, rush on!' Dane tore away as if he was goin' to take the fort alone; I was next him, an' kept close as we went through the ditch an' up the wall. Hi! warn't that a rusher!" and the boy flung up his well arm with a whoop, as if the mere memory of that stirring moment came over him in a gust of irrepressible excitement.
"Were you afraid?" I said,—asking the question women often put, and receiving the answer they seldom fail to get.
"No, Ma'am!"—emphasis on the "Ma'am,"—"I never thought of anything but the damn' Rebs, that scalp, slash, an' cut our ears off, when they git us. I was bound to let daylight into one of 'em at least, an' I did. Hope he liked it!"
"It is evident that you did, and I don't blame you in the least. Now go on about Robert, for I should be at work."
"He was one of the fust up; I was just behind, an' though the whole thing happened in a minute, I remember how it was, for all I was yellin' an' knockin' round like mad. Just where we were, some sort of an officer was wavin' his sword an' cheerin' on his men; Dane saw him by a big flash that come by; he flung away his gun, give a leap, an' went at that feller as if he was Jeff, Beauregard, an' Lee, all in one. I scrabbled after as quick as I could, but was only up in time to see him git the sword straight through him an' drop into the ditch. You needn't ask what I did next, Ma'am, for I don't quite know myself; all I'm clear about is, that I managed somehow to pitch that Reb into the fort as dead as Moses, git hold of Dane, an' bring him off. Poor old feller! we said we went in to live or die; he said he went in to die, an' he's done it."
I had been intently watching the excited speaker; but as he regretfully added those last words I turned again, and Robert's eyes met mine,—those melancholy eyes, so full of an intelligence that proved he had heard, remembered, and reflected with that preternatural power which often outlives all other faculties. He knew me, yet gave no greeting; was glad to see a woman's face, yet had no smile wherewith to welcome it; felt that he was dying, yet uttered no farewell. He was too far across the river to return or linger now; departing thought, strength, breath, were spent in one grateful look, one murmur of submission to the last pang he could ever feel. His lips moved, and, bending to them, a whisper chilled my cheek, as it shaped the broken words,—
"I would have done it,—but it's better so,—I'm satisfied."
Ah! well he might be,—for, as he turned his face from the shadow of the life that was, the sunshine of the life to be touched it with a beautiful content, and in the drawing of a breath my contraband found wife and home, eternal liberty and God.
* * * * *
THE SAM ADAMS REGIMENTS IN THE TOWN OF BOSTON.—CONCLUDED.
"I have been in constant panic," wrote Franklin in London to Dr. Cooper in Boston, "since I heard of troops assembling in Boston, lest the madness of mobs, or the interference of soldiers, or both, when too near each other, might occasion some mischief difficult to be prevented or repaired, and which might spread far and wide."
The people wore indignant at the introduction of the troops, and the crown officials were arrogant and goading; but so wise and forbearing were the popular leaders, that, for ten months, from October, 1768, to August, 1769, no detriment came to their cause from the madness of mobs or the insolence of soldiers. The Loyalists, in this public order, saw the wholesome terror with which military force had imbued the community; they said this "had prevented, if it had not put a final period to, its most pestilential town-meetings": but they termed this quiet "only a truce procured from the dread of the bayonet"; and they held that nothing would reach and suppress the rising spirit of independence but a radical stroke at the democratic element in the local Constitution. They relied on physical force to carry out such a policy, and hence they looked on the demand of the people for a withdrawal of the troops as equivalent to a demand for the abandonment of their policy and the abdication of the Government. The partial removal already made caused great chagrin. The report, at first, was hardly credited in British political circles, and, when confirmed, was construed into inability, inconsistency, and concession by the Administration, and a sign that things were growing worse in America.
General Gage had withdrawn the Sixty-Fourth and Sixty-Fifth Regiments, the detachment of the Fifty-Ninth, and the company of artillery, which left the Fourteenth Regiment under Lieutenant-Colonel Dalrymple and the Twenty-Ninth under Lieutenant-Colonel Carr,—the two regiments which Lord North termed "the Sam Adams Regiments,"—not enough, if the Ministers intended to govern by military force, and too many, if they did not intend this. They continued under General Mackay until he left for England, when the command devolved on Lieutenant-Colonel Dalrymple, the senior officer, under whom they had landed, who was exacting, severe in his judgment on the Patriots, and impatient of professional service. Commodore Hood and his family also sailed for Halifax. Both Mackay and Hood, aiming at reconciliation, and liberal in non-essentials, easily won the general good-will. The disuse of the press-gang, which even "Junius" was now justifying, and which England had not learned to abominate, but which rowelled the differently trained mind of the Colonies, was regarded as a great concession to personal liberty; and the discontinuance of parades and horse-racing on Sundays was accepted as a concession to a religious sentiment that was very general, and which, so far from deserving the sneer of being hypocritical, indicated the wide growth of respect for things noble and divine. These officers seemed, at least, to steer clear of political matters, to keep to the line of their profession, and to make the best of an irksome duty. They lived on good terms with the popular leaders, were invited to visit the common-schools with the Selectmen, appeared at the public festivals, and, on their departure, were handsomely complimented in both the Whig and Tory journals for the manner in which they had discharged their duties. They were, however, no mere lookers-on, and their official representations and conclusions were no more far-reaching than those of their superiors. Hood, from Halifax, wrote in harsh terms of Boston, although he put on record severe and true things of that chronic local infliction, the Commissioners of the Customs. His official letters, printed this year, were open to sharp criticism, which they received in the journals. Not, however, until the publication of the Cavendish Debates was it known that General Mackay, who was regarded as uncommonly liberal, received every personal attention, and was the most complimented by the press, stood up in the House of Commons, soon after his arrival in England, and maligned Boston in severe terms. He charged the town with being without government; said it was tyrannized over by a set of men hardly respectable, in point of fortune; and even had the hardihood to say that some of the troops he commanded there had been sold for slaves!
Boston, now a subject of speculation in Continental courts, as well as of abuse in Parliament, was destined to undergo a still severer trial for the succeeding seven months, from August, 1769, to March, 1770, during the continuance of the two remaining regiments. This was an eventful period, characterized by violent agitation in the Colonies to promote a repeal of the revenue acts and an abandonment of the intermeddling and aggressive policy of the Ministry; and it was marked by uncommon political activity in Boston. The popular leaders, as though no British troops were lookers-on, and in spite, too, of the protests and commands of the crown officials, steadily guided the deliberations of the people in Faneuil Hall; and at times the disorderly also, in violations of law and personal liberty that can never be justified, intrepidly carried out their projects. The events of this period tended powerfully to inflame the public mind. The appeals of the Patriots, through the press, show their appreciation of the danger of an outbreak, and yet their determination to meet their whole duty. They endeavored to restrain the rash among the Sons of Liberty within the safe precincts of the law; yet, repelling all thought of submission to arbitrary power, they strove to lift up the general mind to the high plane of action which a true patriotism demanded, and prepare it, if need were, for the majestic work of revolution.
The executive, during an interval thus exciting and important, was in a transition-state, from Francis Bernard to Thomas Hutchinson. It was semi-officially announced in the journals, when the Governor sailed for England, that the Administration had no intention of superseding his commission; and it was intimated that the Lieutenant-Governor would administer the functions of the office until the return of the chief magistrate to his post. These officials, for nine years, had been warm personal friends and intimate political associates. Indeed, so close had been their private and public relations, that Bernard ascribed the origin of his administrative difficulties to his adoption of the quarrels of Hutchinson. For a long time, the Governor had been seeking and expecting something better in the political line than his present office, as a substantial recognition of his zeal; and he had urged, and was now urging, the selection of the Lieutenant-Governor for his successor in office. He represented that Hutchinson was well versed in the local affairs,—knew the motives of the Governor,—warmly approved the policy of the Ministry,—had been, on critical occasions, a trusted confidential adviser,—and, in fact, had become so thoroughly identified with public affairs, that, of the two officials, he (Hutchinson) was the most hated by the faction, which the Governor seemed to consider a special recommendation. He favored this appointment as a measure that would be equivalent to an indorsement of his own administration, and therefore a compliment to himself and a blow at the faction. "It would be," he said, "a peculiarly happy stroke; for while it would discourage the Sons of Liberty, it would afford another great instance of rewarding faithful servants to the Crown."
Thomas Hutchinson, descended from one of the most respected families of New England, and the son of an honored merchant of Boston, was now fifty-seven years of age. He was a pupil at the Old North Grammar School, and was graduated at Harvard College, when he entered upon a mercantile life. He was not successful as a merchant. Thus early, however, he evinced the untiring industry that marked his whole career. He had a decided political turn, and, with uncommon natural talent, had the capacity and the ambition for public life. An irreproachable private character, pleasing manners, common-sense views of things, and politics rather adroit than high-toned, secured him a run of popular favor and executive confidence so long that he had now (1769) been thirty-three years uninterruptedly engaged in public affairs; and he confessed to his friends that this concern in politics had created a hankering for them which a return to business-pursuits could not overcome. He had reason to be gratified at the tokens of public approbation. He was so faithful to the municipal interests as a Selectman that the town intrusted him with an important mission to England, which he satisfactorily executed; his wide commercial knowledge, familiarity with constitutional law and history, decided ability in debate, and reputed disinterestedness, gave him large influence as a Representative in the General Court; he showed as Councillor an ever ready zeal for the prerogative, and thus won the most confidential relations with so obsequious a courtier as Bernard; as Judge of Probate, he was attentive, kind to the widow, accurate, and won general commendation; and as a member of the Superior Court, he administered the law, in the main, satisfactorily. He had been Chief Justice for nine years, and for eleven years the Lieutenant-Governor. He had also prepared two volumes of his History, which, though rough in narrative, is a valuable authority, and his volume of "Collections" was now announced. His fame at the beginning of the Revolutionary controversy was at its zenith; for, according to John Adams, "he had been admired, revered, rewarded, and almost adored; and the idea was common that he was the greatest and best man in America." He was now, and had been for years, the master-spirit of the Loyalist party. It Is an anomaly that he should have attained to this position. He had had practical experience, as a merchant, of the intolerable injustice of the old mercantile system, and yet he sided with its friends; he had dealt, as a politician, to a greater degree than most men, with the rights and privileges which the people prized, conceded that they had made no ill use of them, and yet urged that they ought to be abridged; as a patriot, when he loved his native land wisely, he remonstrated against the imposition of the Stamp Tax, and yet he grew into one of the sturdiest of the defenders of the supremacy of Parliament in all cases whatsoever. He exhibited the usual characteristics of public men who from unworthy considerations change their principles and desert their party. No man urged a more arbitrary course; no man passed more discreditable judgments on his patriot contemporaries; and if in that way he won the smiles of the court which he was swift to serve, he earned the hatred of the land which he professed to love. The more his political career is studied, the greater will be the wonder that one who was reared on republican soil, and had antecedents so honorable, should have become so complete an exponent of arbitrary power.
Hutchinson was not so blinded by party-spirit or love of money or of place as not to see the living realities of his time; for he wrote that a thirst for liberty seemed to be the ruling passion, not only of America, but of the age, and that a mighty empire was rising on this continent, the progress of which would be a theme for speculative and ingenious minds in distant ages. It was the vision of the cold and clear intellect, distrusting the march of events and the capacity and intelligence of the people, he had no heart to admire, he had not even the justice to recognize, the greatness that was making an immortal record,—the sublime faith, the divine enthusiasm, the dauntless resolve, the priceless consciousness of being in the right, that were the life and inspiration of the lovers of freedom. He conceded, however, that the body of the people were honest, but acted on the belief, inspired by wrong-headed leaders, that their liberties were in danger; and while, with the calculation of the man of the world, he dreaded, and endeavored to stem, still, with a statesman's foresight, he appreciated and held in respect, the mysterious element of public opinion. He felt that it was rising as a power. He saw this power already intrenched in the impregnable lines of free institutions. Seeking to know its springs, he was a close and at times a shrewd observer, as well from a habit of research, in tracing the currents of the past, as from occupying a position which made it a duty to watch the growth of what influenced the present. His letters, very voluminous, deal with causes as well as with facts, and are often fine tributes to the life-giving power of vital political ideas, from the pen of a subtle and determined enemy.
When the executive functions devolved on Hutchinson, it had been semi-officially announced that the Ministry, wholly out of commercial considerations, intended to propose, at the next session of Parliament, a repeal of a portion of the revenue acts; and the Patriots were pressing, with more zeal than ever, the non-importation agreement, in the hope of obtaining, as matter of constitutional right, a total repeal. To enforce this agreement, the merchants had held a public meeting in Faneuil Hall, adopted a series of spirited resolves, and adjourned to a future day; and Hutchinson's first important gubernatorial decision had reference to this meeting. He had urged the necessity of troops to sustain the authority of the Government. He had awarded to them the credit of preventing a great catastrophe. He had written that they would make the Boston saints as tame as lambs. It was his settled conviction that the Americans never would set armies in the field against Great Britain, and if they did, that "a few troops would be sufficient to quell them." He was now importuned to use the troops at his command to disperse the merchants' meeting at its adjournment. He held that this meeting was contrary to law. He characterized its resolves as contemptuous and insolent, and derogatory to the authority of Parliament. He never grew weary of holding up to reprobation the objects which the merchants had in view. And his political friends now asked him to make good his professions by acts. But he declined to interfere with this meeting. The merchants proceeded to a close with their business. Hutchinson's explanation of his course to the Ministry, on this occasion, applies to the popular demonstrations which took place, at intervals, down to the military crisis. "I am very sensible," are his words, "that the whole proceeding is unwarrantable; but it is so generally countenanced in this and in several of the Colonies, and the authority of Government is so feeble, that an attempt to put a stop to it would have no other effect than still further to inflame the minds of the people. I can do no more than represent to your Lordship, and wait for such instructions as may be thought proper." And he continued to present these combinations of the merchants as "a most certain evidence of the lost authority of Government," and as exhibiting "insolence and contempt of Parliament." But he complains that they were not so much regarded in England as he expected they would be, and that he was left to act on his own judgment. He soon saw pilloried in the newspapers the names of a son of Governor Bernard and two of his own sons, in a list of Boston merchants who "audaciously counteracted the united sentiments of the body of merchants throughout North America by importing British goods contrary to agreement."
The Lieutenant-Governor again kept quiet, as a town-meeting went on, which he watched with the keenest interest, freely commented on in his letters, and which is far too important to be overlooked in any review of these times. William Bollan, the Colonial Agent in London, sent to the popular leaders a selection from the letters of Governor Bernard, General Gage, Commodore Hood, and others, bearing on the introduction of the troops, which were judged to have aspersed the character, affected the rights, and injured the interests of the town. Their publication made a profound impression on the public mind, and they became the theme of every circle. At one of the political clubs, in which the Adamses, the Coopers, Warren, and others were wont to discuss public affairs, Otis, in a blaze of indignation, charged the crown officials with haughtiness, arbitrary dispositions, and the insolence of office, and vehemently urged a town-meeting. One was soon summoned by the Selectmen, which deliberated with dignity and order, and made answer to the official indictment in a strong, conclusive, and grand "Appeal to the World," and appointed, as a committee to circulate it, Thomas Cushing, Samuel Adams, Joseph Warren, Richard Dana, Joshua Henshaw, Joseph Jackson, and Benjamin Kent,—men of sterling character, and bearing names that have shed lustre on the whole country. Reason and truth, thus put forth, exerted an influence. Hutchinson felt the force of this. "We find, my Lord, by experience," he advised Lord Hillsborough, October 19, 1769, "that associations and assemblies pretending to be legal and constitutional, assuming powers that belong only to established authority, prove more fatal to this authority than mobs, riots, or the most tumultuous disorders; for such assemblies, from erroneous or imperfect notions of the nature of government, very often meet with the approbation of the body of the people, and in such case there is no internal power which can be exerted to suppress them. Such case we are in at present, and shall probably continue in it until the wisdom of Parliament delivers us from it."
It would be difficult to say what power the people now assumed that belonged only to established authority; they assumed only the right of public meeting and of liberty of discussion, which are unquestionable in every free country; but the ruling spirit of Hutchinson is seen in this fine tribute to the instrumentality of the town-meeting, for he regarded the American custom of corporate presentation of political matters as illegal, and the power of Parliament as sufficient to meet it with pains and penalties. As the committee already named sent forth the doings of the town, they said, (October 23, 1769,) "The people will never think their grievances redressed till every revenue act is repealed, the Board of Commissioners dissolved, and the troops removed."
A few days after this the Lieutenant-Governor was obliged to deal with a mob, which grew out of the meanness of importers, whose selfish course proved to be a great strain on the forbearing policy of the popular leaders. The merchants on the Tory side, among whom were two of Hutchinson's sons, persisted in importing goods; and he writes, with a good deal of pride, as though it were meritorious, that since the agreement was formed these two sons had imported two hundred chests of tea, which they had been so clever as to sell. But such was the public indignation at this course, that they, too, were compelled to give in to the non-importation agreement; and Hutchinson's letters are now severer than ever on the Patriots. He characterizes "the confederacy of merchants" as a very high offence, and the Sons of Liberty as the greatest tyrants ever known. But as he continually predicted a crisis, he said, "I can find nobody to join with me in an attempt to discourage them." He adds, "If any tumults should happen, I shall be under less difficulty than if my own children had been the pretended occasion of them; and for this reason Dalrymple tells me he is very glad they have done as they have." The immediate occasion of the mob was the dealing of the people with an informer on the twenty-eighth of October. They got track of him about noon, and, after a long search, found him towards evening, when they immediately prepared to tar and feather him. It was quite dark. A formidable procession carted the culprit from one quarter of the town to another, and threatened to break the windows of all houses which were without lights. The Lieutenant-Governor summoned such of the members of the Council as were at hand, and the justices of the county, to meet him at the Council-Chamber; he requested Dalrymple to order the force under his command "to be ready to march when the occasion required"; and he "kept persons employed to give him immediate notice of every new motion of the mob." Dalrymple, with a soldier's alacrity, complied with the official request; but the mob went on its course, for "none of the justices nor the sheriff," writes Hutchinson, "thought it safe for them to restrain so great a body of people in a dark evening,"—and the only work done by the soldiers was to protect Mien, the printer, who, being goaded into discharging a pistol among the crowd, fled to the main guard for safety. The finale of this mob is thus related by Hutchinson:—"Between eight and nine o'clock they dispersed of their own account, and the town was quiet."
The intrepid and yet prudent course of the popular leaders and of the people, in standing manfully for the common cause in presence of the British troops, was now eliciting the warmest encomiums on the town from the friends of liberty in England and in the Colonies. The generous praise was copied into the local journals, and, so far from being received with assumption, became a powerful incentive to worthy action. "Your Bostonians," a Southern letter runs, "shine with renewed lustre. Their last efforts were indeed like themselves, full of wisdom, prudence, and magnanimity. Such a conduct must silence every pretended suspicion, and baffle every vile attempt to calumniate their noble and generous struggles in the cause of American Liberty." "So much wisdom and virtue," says a New-Hampshire letter, "as hath been conspicuous in the Bostonians, will not go unrewarded. You will in all respects increase until you become the glory of New England, the pride of British kings, the scourge of tyrants, and the joy of the whole earth," "The patriotism of Boston," says another letter, "will be revered through every age." One of these tributes, from a Southern journal, in the Boston papers of December 18, 1769, runs,—"The noble conduct of the Representatives, Selectmen, and principal merchants of Boston, in defending and supporting the rights of America and the British Constitution, cannot fail to excite love and gratitude in the heart of every worthy person in the British empire. They discover a dignity of soul worthy the human mind, which is the true glory of man, and merits the applause of all rational beings. Their names will shine unsullied in the bright records of Panic to the latest ages, and unborn millions will rise up and call them blessed."
This eulogy on Boston is a great fact of these times, and therefore ought to have a place in a history of them. It was not of a local cast, for it appears in several Colonies and in England; it was not a manufacture of politicians, for it is seen in the private letters of the friends of constitutional liberty which have come to light subsequently to the events; it was not a transient enthusiasm, for the same strain was continued during the years preceding the war. The praise was bestowed on a town small in territory and comparatively small in population. Such were the cities of Greece in the era of their renown. "The territories of Athens, Sparta, and their allies," remarks Gibbon, "do not exceed a moderate province of France or England; but after the trophies of Salamis or Plataea, they expand in our fancy to the gigantic size of Asia, which had been trampled under the feet of the victorious Greeks." No trophies had been gathered in an American Plataea; there had been no great civic triumph; there was no hero upon whom public affection centred; nor was there here a field on which to weave a web of court-intrigue, or to play a game of criminal ambition;—there was, indeed, little that common constructors of history would consider to be history. Yet it was now written, and made common thought by an unfettered press,—"Nobler days nor deeds were never seen than at this time." This was an instinctive appreciation of a great truth; for the real American Revolution was going on in the tidal flow of thought and feeling, and in the formation of public opinion. A people inspired by visions of better days for humanity, luxuriating in the emotions of hope and faith, yearning for the right, mastering the reasoning on which it was based, were steadily taking their fit place on the national stage, in the belief of the nearness of a mighty historic hour. And their spontaneous praise was for a community heroically acting on national principles and for a national cause. Because of this did they predict that unborn millions would hold up the men of Boston as worthy to be enrolled in the shining record of Fame.
As the new year (1770) came in, the people were looking forward to a meeting of the General Court, always a season of peculiar interest, and more so now than ever, for it was certain that the debates in this body would turn on the foremost local subject, the removal of the troops. But the subject was no longer merely local, for it had become a general issue, one affecting not only Boston and Massachusetts, but other towns and Colonies, and the interest felt in the controversy was wide and deep. "In this day of constitutional light," a New-York essay copied into a Boston newspaper runs, "it is monstrous that troops should be kept, not to protect the right, but to enslave the continent." While it was thus put by the journals, the policy was meant to be of this significance by the Ministry; and the letters printed for the first time in this monograph attest the accuracy of the Patriot judgment. On purely local grounds, also, the presence of the troops continued to be deplored. "The troops," Dr. Cooper wrote, January 1, 1770, "greatly corrupt our morals, and are in every sense an oppression. May Heaven soon deliver us from this great evil!" Samuel Adams said, "The troops must move to the Castle; it must be the first business of the General Court to move them out of town"; and James Otis said. "The Governor has the power to move them under the Constitution." Hutchinson endeavored to conciliate the people by making arrangements with General Gage for a removal of the main guard from its location near the Town-House, being informed that this might satisfy the greater part of the members.
Having taken this precaution, Hutchinson was really anxious for a meeting of the General Court. He was in great uncertainty both as to public and private affairs. He knew now that Bernard was not to return, but he did not know who was to be the successor; he conjectured that it might be "that the government was to be put on a new establishment, and a person of rank appointed Governor"; and he confessed that he was "ignorant of the Ministerial plan" as to the Colonies. The Legislature was appointed to convene on the tenth of January. But the November packet from England, happening to make an uncommonly short passage, brought him a peremptory order, which he received on the evening of the third of January, to prorogue the time of the sitting of the General Court; and the journals of the next morning contain his Proclamation, setting forth that "by His Majesty's command" the Legislature was prorogued to the second Wednesday in March. "I guess," Hutchinson writes, "that the Court is prorogued to a particular day with an intention that something from the King or the Parliament shall be then laid before them." "Some of the distant members will be on their journey before the Proclamation reaches them; and if the packet had not had a better passage than common, my orders would have found the Court sitting." As a consequence of this unlooked-for prorogation, the main guard continued to be stationed near the Town-House, until a portion of it played its tragic part on the memorable fifth of March.
The Lieutenant-Governor was apprehensive that this sudden prorogation would cause a great clamor; but he judged that the popular leaders were rather humbled and mortified than roused and enraged by it; and he soon expressed the conviction that this was the right step. But the favorite organ of the Patriots, the "Boston Gazette," in its next issue, of January the eighth, indicates anything but humility. Through it James Otis, John Hancock, and Samuel Adams spoke kindling words to a community who received words from them as things. Otis, in a card elicited by strictures on the "unmanly assault, battery, and barbarous wounding" of himself by Robinson, declared that "a clear stage and no favor were all he ever wished or wanted in court, country, camp, or city"; Hancock, in a card commenting on the report that he had violated the merchants' agreement, "publicly defied all mankind" to prove the allegation, and pledged his cooeperation "in every legal and laudable measure to redress the grievances under which the Province and the Continent had so long labored"; and Samuel Adams, under the signature of "Vindex," tested the legality of the prorogation by the terms of the Charter, and adjured every man to make it the subject of his contemplation. "We all remember," are his weighty words, "that, no longer ago than last year, the extraordinary dissolution by Governor Bernard, in which he declared he was purely Ministerial, produced another assembly, which, though legal in all its proceedings, awaked an attention in the very soul of the British empire." He claimed that a Massachusetts executive ought to act from the dictates of his own judgment. "It is not to be expected that in ordinary times, much less at such an important period as this, any man, though endowed with the wisdom of Solomon, at the distance of three thousand miles, can be an adequate judge of the expediency of proroguing, and in effect of putting an end to, an American legislative assembly."
The Lieutenant-Governor had now to meet the severest pressure brought to bear on him by the Tory faction for the employment of the troops, occasioned by a violation on the part of his sons of their agreement as to a sale of goods. They had stipulated with the merchants that an importation of teas made by them should remain unsold, and, as security, had given to the committee of inspection the key of the building in which it was stored. Yet they secretly made sales, broke the lock, and delivered the teas. This was done when the non-importation agreement was the paramount measure,—when fidelity to it was patriotism, was honor, was union, was country,—and when all eyes were looking to see Boston faithful. "If this agreement of the merchants," said "Determinatus" in the "Boston Gazette," "is of that consequence to all America which our brethren in all the other governments and in Great Britain itself think it to be,—if the fate of unborn millions is suspended upon it, verily it behooves not the merchants only, but every individual of every class in city and country to aid and support them, and peremptorily to insist upon its being strictly adhered to. And yet what is most astonishing is, that some two or three persons, of very little consequence in themselves, have dared openly to give out that they will vend the goods they have imported, though they have solemnly pledged their faith to the body of merchants that they should remain in store till a general importation takes place." The merchants met in Faneuil Hall in a large and commanding gathering; for it was composed of the solid men of the town. After deliberation, they proceeded in a body to the residence of the Lieutenant-Governor to remonstrate against the course of his sons. Meantime, the ultra Loyalists pressed him to order the troops to disperse the meeting; the Commissioners savagely urged, that "there could not be a better time for trying the strength of the government"; and others said, "It were best to bring matters to extremities." The commanding officers of the troops now expected work, and prepared for it. Dalrymple dealt out twelve rounds of cartridges to the men. But Hutchinson involuntarily shrank from the bloody business of this programme. He tried other means than force. He appealed to the justices of the peace, and through the sheriff he commanded the meeting, in His Majesty's name, to disperse. But the intrepid merchants, in a written paper, in Hancock's handwriting, averred that law warranted their proceeding; and so they calmly adhered to the action that patriotism dictated. Hutchinson at length sent for the Moderator, William Phillips, of fragrant Revolutionary renown and of educational fame, and stipulated to deposit a sum of money to stand for the tea that had been sold, and to return the balance of it to the store. The concession was accepted. In explanation of his course, and with special reference to the action of the Commissioners in this case, Hutchinson pleaded a want of power, under the Constitution, to comply with their demand. "They did not consider the Constitution," he remarked, "and that by the Charter I can do nothing without the Council, the major part of whom are against me, and the civil magistrates, many of whom made a part of the body which was to be suppressed; so that there could not have been a worse occasion [to call out the troops], and I think anything tragical would have set the whole Province in a flame, and maybe spread farther."
Thus Hutchinson, as well as Franklin, dreaded the effect of a serious collision between the citizens and the troops. At this time the feeling was one of sullen acquiescence in their presence. "Molineaux," he says, February 18, 1770, "to whom the Sons of Liberty have given the name of Paoli, and some others, are restless; but there seems to be no disposition to any general muster of the people again." And yet the newspapers were now crowded with unusually exciting matter, and so continued up to the first week in March: articles about the Liberty-Pole in New York being cut down by the military and replaced in a triumphal procession by the people; about McDougal's imprisonment for printing free comments on the Assembly for voting supplies to the troops; the famous address of "Junius" to the King, in which one count is his alienation of a people who left their native land for freedom and found it in a desert; the details of the shooting, by an informer, of Christopher Snider, the son of a poor German, and of the imposing funeral, which moved from the Liberty-Tree to the burial-place. The importers now feared an assault on their houses; whereupon soldiers were allowed as a guard to some, while others slept with loaded guns at their bedsides. These things deserve to be borne in mind; for they show how much there was to exasperate, when the popular leaders were called upon to meet a paroxysm without a precedent in the Colonies.
It seemed to the Patriots astonishing that the Ministry persisted in keeping troops in Boston. There was no spirit of resistance to law; there was no plot maturing to resist the Government; the avocations of life went on as usual; the popular leaders, men of whom any community might be proud, averred that their opposition to public measures had been prudent and legal, and that they had not taken "a single step that could not be fully justified on constitutional grounds"; and the demand in the public prints was continuous to know what the troops were wanted for, and how they were to be used. On the other hand, the ultra Loyalists as continuously represented that the town was full of a rebellious spirit, was a nest of disorder, and threatened the leaders in it with transportation. Hutchinson seems to have apprehended that this misrepresentation had been carried so far as to be suicidal; for he advised Lord Hillsborough, that, "in matters that had no relation to the dispute between the Kingdom and the Colonies, government retained its vigor, and the administration of it was attended with no unusual difficulty." This is to the point, and conclusive. This was the truth on which the popular leaders rested; and hence it seemed to them a marvel that the Ministry, to use the words of Samuel Adams, should employ troops only "to parade the streets of Boston, and, by their ridiculous merry-andrew tricks, to become the objects of contempt of the women and children."
It would be a tedious and profitless task to go over the bickerings and quarrels that occurred between the inhabitants and the soldiers. The high-spirited citizens, on being challenged in their walks, could not keep their temper; the roughs, here as in every place, would have their say; and the coarse British soldier could not be restrained by discipline; yet in all the brawls, for seventeen months, not a gun was fired in an affray. Fist had been met with fist, and club with club; and not unfrequently these quarrels were settled in the courts. The nature of such emergency as would justify the troops in firing on the people was acutely discussed in the newspapers, and undoubtedly the subject was talked about in private circles and in the political clubs. "What shall I say?" runs an article in the "Gazette." "I shudder at the thought. Surely no provincial magistrate could be found so steeled against the sensations of humanity and justice as wantonly to order troops to fire on an unarmed populace, and more than repeat in Boston the tragic scene exhibited in St. George's Fields." It was a wanton fire on an unarmed populace that was protected against; and the protest was by men who involuntarily shrank from mob-law as they would from the hell of anarchy. They apprehended an impromptu collision between the people and the troops; they knew that an illegal and wanton fire on the people would produce such collision; the danger of this result formed, undoubtedly, a large portion of the common talk; and the frequency and manner in which the subject was discussed elicited from General Gage the rather sweeping remark, that every citizen in Boston was a lawyer. Every citizen was interested in the support of public liberty and public order, and might well regard with deep concern the threats that were continually made, which, if executed, would disturb both. Hutchinson, in one of his letters, thus states the conclusions that were reached:—"Our heroes for liberty say that no troops dare to fire on the people without the order of the civil magistrate, and that no civil magistrate, would dare to give such orders. In the first part of their opinion they may be right; in the second they cannot be sure until they have made the trial."
On Friday, the second of March, in the forenoon, as three soldiers were at Gray's Ropewalks, near the head of India Wharf, they were asked by one of the workmen to empty a vault. Sharp altercation followed this insult, and the soldiers went off, but soon returned with a party of their comrades, when there was a challenge to a boxing-match, and this grew into a fight, the rope-makers using their "wouldring-sticks," and the soldiers clubs and cutlasses. It proved to be the most serious quarrel that had occurred. Lieutenant-Colonel Carr, commander of the Twenty-Ninth, which, Hutchinson said, was composed of such bad fellows that discipline could not restrain them, made a complaint to the Lieutenant-Governor relative to the provoking conduct of the rope-maker which brought on the affray; and thus this affair became the occasion of political consultation, which tended to intensify the animosity between the parties.
On Saturday, the report was circulated that the parties who were engaged in this affray would renew the fight on Monday evening; on Sunday, Carr and other officers went into the ropewalk, giving out that they were searching for a sergeant of their regiment; but though on these days there was much irritation, the town was comparatively quiet.
On Monday, the Lieutenant-Governor laid the complaint of Lieutenant-Colonel Carr before the Council, and asked the advice of this body, which gave rise to debate about the removal of the troops,—members freely expressing the opinion, that the way to prevent collisions between the military and the people was to withdraw the two regiments to the Castle. No important action was taken by the Council, although the apprehension was expressed that the ropewalk affair might grow into a general quarrel. And it is worthy of remark, that, ominous as the signs were, the Lieutenant-Governor took no precautionary measures, not even the obvious step of having the troops restrained to their barracks. His letters, and, indeed, his whole course, up to the eventful evening of this day, indicate confidence in the opinion that there was no intention on the part of the popular leaders to molest the troops, and that the troops, without an order from the civil authority, would not fire on the citizens.
Nor was there now, as zealous Loyalists alleged, any plan formed by the popular leaders, or by any persons of consideration, to expel the troops by force from the town, much less the obnoxious Commissioners of the Customs; nor is there any evidence to support the allegation on the other side, that the crown officials, civil or military, meditated or stimulated an attack on the inhabitants. The Patriots regarded what had occurred and what was threatened, like much that had taken place during the last seventeen months, as the motions of a rod of power needlessly held over the people to overawe them, serving no earthly good, but souring their minds and embittering their passions; the crown officials represented this chafing of the free spirit at the incidents of military rule as a sign of the lost authority of Government and of a desire for independence. Among the fiery spirits, accurately on both sides the mob-element, the ropewalk affair was regarded as a drawn game, and a renewal of the fight was desired on the ground that honor was at stake; while to spirit up the roughs among the Whigs, to use Dr. Gordon's words,—"the newspapers had a pompous account of a victory obtained by the inhabitants of New York over the soldiers there in an affray, while the Boston newspapers could present but a tame relation of the result of the affray here." These facts account satisfactorily for the intimations and warnings given during the day to prominent characters on both sides, and for the handbill that was circulated in the afternoon. The course things took fully justifies the remark of Gordon, that "everything tended to a crisis, and it is rather wonderful that it did not exist sooner, when so many circumstances united to hasten its approach."
There was a layer of ice on the ground, a slight fall of snow during the day, and a young moon in the evening. At an early hour, as though something uncommon was expected, parties of boys, apprentices, and soldiers strolled through the streets, and neither side was sparing of insult. Ten or twelve soldiers went from the main guard, in King Street, across this street to Murray's Barracks, in Brattle Street, about three hundred yards from King Street; and another party came out of these barracks, armed with clubs and cutlasses, bent on a stroll. A little after eight o'clock, quite a crowd collected near the Brattle-Street Church, many of whom had canes and sticks; and after a spell of bantering wretched abuse on both sides, things grew into a fight. As it became more and more threatening, a few North-Enders ran to the Old Brick Meeting-House, on what is now Washington Street, at the head of King Street, and lifted a boy into a window, who rang the bell. About the same time, Captain Goldfinch, of the army, who was on his way to Murray's Barracks, crossed King Street, near the Custom-House, at the corner of Exchange Lane, where a sentinel had long been stationed; and as he was passing along, he was taunted by a barber's apprentice as a mean fellow for not paying for dressing his hair, when the sentinel ran after the boy and gave him a severe blow with his musket. The boy went away crying, and told several persons of the assault, while the Captain passed on towards Murray's Barracks, but found the passage into the yard obstructed by the affray going on here,—the crowd pelting the soldiers with snowballs, and the latter defending themselves. Being the senior officer, he ordered the men into the barracks; the gate of the yard was then shut, and the promise was made that no more men should be let out that evening. In this way the affray here was effectually stopped.
For a little time, perhaps twenty minutes, there was nothing to attract to a centre the people who were drawn by the alarm-bell out of their homes on this frosty, moonlight, memorable evening; and in various places individuals were asking where the fire was. King Street, then, as now, the commercial centre of Boston, was quiet. A group was standing before the main guard with firebags and buckets in their hands; a few persons were moving along in other parts of the street; and the sentinel at the Custom-House, with his firelock on his shoulder, was pacing his beat quite unmolested. In Dock Square, a small gathering, mostly of participants in the affair just over, were harangued by a large, tall man, who wore a red cloak and a white wig; and as he closed, there was a hurrah, and the cry, "To the main guard!" In another street, a similar cry was raised, "To the main guard!—that is the nest!" But no assault was made on the main guard. The word went round that there was no fire, "only a rumpus with the soldiers," who had been driven to their quarters; and well-disposed citizens, as they withdrew, were saying, "Every man to his home!"
But at about fifteen minutes past nine, an excited party passed up Royal Exchange Lane, (now Exchange Street,) leading into King Street; and as they came near the Custom-House, on the corner, one of the number, who knew of the assault on the apprentice-boy, said, "Here is the soldier who did it," when they gathered round the sentinel. The barber's boy now came up and said, "This is the soldier who knocked me down with the butt-end of his musket." Some now said, "Kill him! knock him down!" The sentinel moved back up the steps of the Custom-House, and loaded his gun. Missiles were thrown at him, when he presented his musket, warned the party to keep off, and called for help. Some one ran to Captain Preston, the officer of the day, and informed him that the people were about to assault the sentinel, when he hastened to the main guard, on the opposite side of the street, about forty rods from the Custom-House, and sent from here a sergeant, a very young officer, with a file of seven men, to protect the sentinel. They went over in a kind of trot, using rough words and actions towards those who went with them, and, coming near the party round the sentinel, rudely pushed them aside, pricking some with their bayonets, and formed in a half-circle near the sentry-box. The sentinel now came down the steps and fell in with the file, when they were ordered to prime and load. Captain Preston almost immediately joined his men. The file now numbered nine.
The number of people here at this time is variously estimated from thirty to a hundred,—"between fifty and sixty" being the most common statement. Some of them were fresh from the affray at the barracks, and some of the soldiers had been in the affair at the ropewalks. There was aggravation on both sides. The crowd were unarmed, or had merely sticks, which they struck defiantly against each other,—having no definite object, and doing no greater mischief than, in retaliation of uncalled-for military roughness, to throw snowballs, hurrah, whistle through their fingers, use oaths and foul language, call the soldiers names, hustle them, and dare them to fire. One of the file was struck with a stick. There were good men trying to prevent a riot, and some assured the soldiers that they would not be hurt. Among others, Henry Knox, subsequently General, was present, who saw nothing to justify the use of fire-arms, and, with others, remonstrated against their employment; but Captain Preston, as he was talking with Knox, saw his men pressing the people with their bayonets, when, in great agitation, he rushed in among them. Then, with or without orders, but certainly without any legal form or warning, seven of the file, one after another, discharged their muskets upon the citizens; and the result indicates the malignity and precision of their aim. Crispus Attucks, an intrepid mulatto, who was a leader in the affair at Murray's Barracks, was killed as he stood leaning and resting his breast on a stout "cord-wood stick"; Samuel Gray, one of the rope-makers, was shot as he stood with his hands in his bosom, and just as he had said, "My lads, they will not fire"; Patrick Carr, on hearing the alarm-bell, had left his house full of fight, and, as he was crossing the street, was mortally wounded; James Caldwell, in like manner summoned from his home, was killed as he was standing in the middle of the street; Samuel Maverick, a lad of seventeen, ran out of the house to go to a fire, and was shot as he was crossing the street; six others were wounded. But fifteen or twenty minutes had elapsed from the time the sergeant went from the main guard to the time of the firing. The people, on the report of the guns, fell back, but instinctively and instantly returned for the killed and wounded, when the infuriated soldiers prepared to fire again, but were checked by Captain Preston, and were withdrawn across the street to the main guard. The drums beat; several companies of the Twenty-Ninth Regiment, under Colonel Carr, promptly appeared in the street, and were formed in three divisions in front of the main guard, the front division near the northeast corner of the Town-House, in the kneeling posture for street-firing. The Fourteenth Regiment was ordered under arms, but remained at their barracks.
The report now spread that "the troops had risen on the people"; and the beat of drums, the church-bells, and the cry of fire summoned the inhabitants from their homes, and they rushed through the streets to the place of alarm. In a few minutes thousands collected, and the cry was, "To arms! to arms!" The whole town was in the utmost confusion; while in King Street there was, what the Patriots had so long predicted, dreaded, and vainly endeavored to avert, an indignant population and an exasperated soldiery face to face. The excitement was terrible. The care of the popular leaders for their cause, since the mob-days of the Stamp Act, had been like the care of their personal honor: it drew them forth as the prompt and brave controlling power in every crisis; and they were among the concourse on this "night of consternation." Joseph Warren, early on the ground to act the good physician as well as the fearless patriot, gives the impression produced on himself and his co-laborers as they saw the first blood flowing that was shed for American liberty. "Language," he says, "is too feeble to paint the emotions of our souls, when our streets were stained with the blood of our brethren, when our ears were wounded by the groans of the dying, and our eyes were tormented by the sight of the mangled bodies of the dead." "Our hearts beat to arms; we snatched our weapons, almost resolved by one decisive stroke to avenge the death of our slaughtered brethren."
Meantime the Lieutenant-Governor, at his residence in North Square, heard the sound of the church-bell near by, and supposed it was an alarm of fire. But soon, at nearly ten o'clock, a number of the inhabitants came running into the house, entreating him to go to King Street immediately, otherwise, they said, "the town would be all in blood." He immediately started for the scene of danger. On his way, in the Market-Place, he found himself amidst a great body of people, some armed with clubs, others with cutlasses, and all calling for fire-arms. He made himself known to them, but pleaded in vain for a hearing; and, to insure his safety, he retreated into a dwelling-house, and thence went by a private way into King Street, where he found an excited multitude anxiously awaiting his arrival. He first called for Captain Preston; and a natural indignation at a high-handed act is expressed in the stern and searching questions which the civilian put to the soldier, bearing on the vital point of the subordination of the military to the civil power.
"Are you the commanding officer?"
"Do you know, Sir, you have no power to fire on any body of people collected together, except you have a civil magistrate with you to give orders?"
Captain Preston replied,—
"I was obliged to, to save the sentry."
So great was the confusion that Preston's reply was heard but by few. The cry was raised, "To the Town-House! to the Town-House!" when Hutchinson, by the irresistible violence of the crowd, was forced into the building, and up to the Council-Chamber; and in a few minutes he appeared on the balcony. Near him were prominent citizens, both Loyalists and Whigs; below him, on the one side, were his indignant townsmen, who had conferred on him every honor in their power, and on the other side, the regiment in its defiant attitude. He could speak with eloquence and power; throughout this strange and trying scene he bore himself with dignity and self-possession; and as in the stillness of night he expressed great concern at the unhappy event, and made solemn pledges to the people, his manner must have been uncommonly earnest. "The law," he averred, "should have its course; he would live and die by the law." He promised to order an inquiry in the morning, and requested all to retire to their homes. But words now were not satisfactory to the people; and those near him urged that the course of justice had always been evaded or obstructed in favor of the soldiery, and that the people were determined not to disperse until Captain Preston was arrested. In consequence, Hutchinson ordered an immediate court of inquiry. The Patriots also entreated the Lieutenant-Governor to order the troops to their barracks. He replied, that it was not in his power to give such an order, but he would consult the officers. They now came on to the balcony,—Dalrymple of the Fourteenth Regiment being present,—and after an interview with Hutchinson returned to the troops. The men now rose from their kneeling posture; the order to "shoulder arms" was heard; and the people were greatly relieved by seeing the troops move towards their barracks.