THREE BEECHERS IN ONE DAY
In August, 1843, Lyman Beecher, D. D., formerly minister in East-Hampton
from 1798 to 1811, visited there with his sons Edward and William, who
were born there, as was Catherine E., his daughter.
On the Sabbath of August 27th the three preached in the old historic
church built in East-Hampton in 1717. Edward preached in the morning, his
father in the afternoon and William in the evening. Forty-five years had
gone by since the father first came to minister there, and a generation
had passed since he had removed.
Tradition and story had treasured and reiterated events that occurred,
sayings he had uttered, traits of character he exhibited, gifts that he
possessed, during his early career. It was said he was so small an infant
that he was put in a silver tankard, and the top shut down over his head.
That he was an enthusiastic lover of fishing, which was confirmed by his
fishing then at Alewive Brook for perch, and giving especial care and watchtul
attention to cooking the catch. It was said he was fond of hunting, and
an ardent pursuer of game. Stories were told of his fishing and hunting
with a company, who secured, as a guide, an Indian expert in the then great
wilderness of the west, who at first doubted his ability to undergo the
toil and hardship of the expedition, but as day after day he exhibited
increasing elasticity and power of endurance, extorted from the guide the
admiring exclamation, "This little old man all Indian."
John Edwards told me that when a boy he caught a lot of perch in Wainscott
pond, stringing them the largest first on a forked stick. Beecher and Dr.
Abel Huntington had been unsuccessful, getting nothing there. Beecher said
to John: "Boy, how do you sell your fish?" Ans.: "A shilling a dozen if
you pick them, and sixpence if you take them as they come." Beecher deliberately
took the stick, counted twelve of the largest, beginning at the bottom,
cut them off and handed the remainder to John, with a six pence, saying,
"Boy, I'll take a dozen as they come." The narrator said, "Huntington looking
on with astonishment, exclaimed, 'Lyman, that's a Yankee trick.'" All knew,
not the saving of money, but the triumph in wit, was the mark aimed at
by Beecher. How he caught sharks in the ocean; how on a time he tied the
line to his body and a large shark took him down in the water so that the
fishermen rescued him from drowning; how after that he tied the line to
the whiffletree, and when he had a shark bite, made his horse haul the
shark on the shore; how Beecher could sing with sweet and charming voice;
how he could beat all other experts on the violin; how nimble and agile
he was and could outrun the boys; how fertile in resource, how keen in
perception, how overcoming in argument, how eloquent in discourse; how
sympathetic in heart, how simple in manners, how regardless of ceremony.
All this from the lips of age to the ears of youth, made this visit the
talk and the thought of the town.
When that clear Sabbath afternoon came the old church was packed to
the utmost endurable pressure. The Rev. Samuel R. Ely, then minister of
the church, and Dr. Beecher with his two sons, occupied the high pulpit.
The ntroductory services, invocation, reading and singing of hymns, the
prayer before the sermon, (not long) were unmarked by any noticeable impressiveness.
The afternoon sun shone on the marked features of the speaker when he rose
to address the people. The full, expressive blue eye, the perpendicular
forehead, steep as the palisades, the convex nose, the firm under jaw,
the projecting under lip, all revealed a man who would maintain to the
death "the faith once delivered to the saints." Without preamble he announced
as his text Romans 5th chap., 1st verse: "Therefore being justified by
faith we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ." In the course
of his sermon he referred to his trial on the charge of heresy; he stated
that he had never preached any other doctrine of justification than that
by faith through Jesus Christ; he appealed to the older people who sat
under his preaching during his ministry there, to bear testimony to the
truth of his statement, that his doctrine then and his doctrine now were
one and the same. That he would live and die in this faith. He spoke of
an infidel club existing in East-Hampton in his early ministry, and in
view of this doctrine of justification by faith then preached, one of the
club sent him word he believed he had as good prospect of getting to heaven
as any of his church; for when he sold wheat, every time he struck the
half-bushel he put a handful back on the measure. Rising to his utmost
height he said, "I sent him back word if he ever expected to get to heaven
that way he had better save his wheat."
The sermon was written. The preacher read from manuscript until it
seemed some burning thought demanded immediate extemporaneous delivery,
when, pushing his spectacles over his forehead, with a rare spontaneous
eloquence he expressed and illustrated the thought, again reading and then
unexpectedly surprising and electrifying his audience by extemporaneous
speaking. It was an occasion and a sermon never to be forgotten. At the
close of this magnificent effort--magnificent in directness, in eloquence,
in sublime sincerity--exhausted and sitting down, his two sons took him
under each arm and gently eased him to the seat. Sweetly, tenderly, they
broke the suddenness of the fall, exhibiting their affection, their sympathy,
their intelligence and their experience. If listening to the old man eloquent
his hearers felt indignation towards his accusers, who could say it was
unwarranted? The impression of that sermon was deep and abiding. The electric
power of the sermonizer attracted the attention, enlisted the approval,
convinced the reason, gained the judgment and won the affection of the
In the morning of this memorable day Edward Beecher preached from Deuteronomy
8th chapter, 2d verse: "And thou shalt remember all the way which the Lord
thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness to humble thee and
to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldst keep
his commandments or no." The scholarly air, the pale expanded forehead,
the wealth of expression, the abounding flash of illustration marked him
as the student of the family. He looked as if he could study all day and
wake up at midnight to commence again. The intellectual temperament so
predominated that it seemed as if to wrestle with the deepest problems
of our faith and being was play for him. If man could sound the deeps of
Theology, could read the mind of God and speak God's thoughts and word
and will to his fellowman, that high prerogative if in the range of human
learning or human thought must be the mission of Edward Beecher. The exposition
of the training of a human mind, of the hosts of Israel from the deep debasement
of soul and body to the light and joy and freedom of Righteousness, was
a masterpiece of learning and eloquence. In the progress of his sermon
the difficulty of interpreting correctly the book of Ecclesiastes was noticed
except as viewed from the stand. point of a man disappointed by experience
of the anticipated enjoyment of worldly pleasure and finding emptiness
where he had anticipated satisfaction.
Moved to the inmost being by the deliverance of these two, father and
son, who would dare follow to say for the Most High what they had not said?
What weak hand would hold and try to sound the bugle note that their mighty
voice had blown.
The third meeting during the summer months was then held at 5 o'clock,
called the "5 o'clock meeting." At that season a Sabbath evening meeting
after sundown was unknown. William Beecher took his text in Isaiah, 3d
chap. 10th and 11th vs.: "Say ye to the righteous that it shall be well
with him: for they shall eat the fruit of their doings. Woe unto the wicked;
it shall be ill with him for the reward of his hands shall be given him."
He pictured the life of the righteous progressing in knowledge, in virtue,
in grace, in joy here and hereafter, partaking of the tree "whose leaves
are for the healing of the nations;" an unending ascent to capacities of
enjoyment ever rising to higher and still higher attainments as a law of
his being and a consequence of his doing. This was the immortal life. He
pictured the descending course of the wicked resulting from his own choice,
his own conduct, sin heaped upon sin, penalty incurring still more punishment
until the abysmal deeps of the submerged soul outmeasured the human conception
in unsounded darkness.
And all this by a law of our being, by the act of the transgressor,
by a series of movements in a downward career that disabled and were continually
disabling the wrong doer. Thus "the reward of his hands was given him."
The shades of evening began to fall, but the speaker went on and on.
At times the music of the Angelic choir, at times the wail of the lost,
now the song of the seraph, now the discord of the self-destroyed burst
upon the ear.
In power of imagination William Beecher was like Whitfield. In that
gift he seemed pre-eminent. In learning acquired from books, ancient or
modern, Edward surpassed the others. In the harmony of well balanced power,
in the endowment of strong common sense, in the quick intuition that caught
the points of relation and dependence of thought and winnowed the chaff
from the wheat, the father excelled. Looking back through the mists of
more than half a century, it now seems as if each one selected the subject
wherein he excelled, and that his power to impress others resulted largely
from the accuracy and wisdom of such choice.
JOHN HOWARD PAYNE.
The author of "Sweet Home" is entitled to remembrance. He often visited
relatives and friends in East-Hampton. I can see him now as I saw him then;
short, some five feet and a half high, compactly built, well set, active,
sprightly, of sanguine, nervous temperament, blue eyed, fair and florid
in countenance, nose large with Romanic curve, hair dark, forehead high
and white, features strongly marked but mobile, expression intellectual,
rapid in conception and thought, elastic in step, imitative in capacity,
in penetration far-seeing, a reader of human nature, genial, impulsive,
sympathetic, humorous, kind-hearted, social, in some practical affairs
a child, in the world of imagination a genius, in the sphere of wit and
humor exhaustless, missing no mark for the first, no twinkle of light for
His mother was sister of Samuel Isaacs, of East-Hampton, whom in person
he resembled, and where he, his sisters and his aunt Esther, (his mother's
sister) often visited. His father, William Payne, was for many years a
teacher in Clinton Academy, and probably while so engaged formed
the acquaintance which resulted in his marriage.
The proprietors of the Academy voted December 28th, 1784, "that Mr.
Jabez Peck be elected master of the classic school and Mr. William Payne
master of the English and writing school." In Thompson's History of Long
Island John Howard Payne is mentioned as "familiarly known in early life
as the American Roscius and since as a distinguished writer, author of
the tragedy of 'Brutus' and other dramatic compositions of high merit."
I think Payne was a precocious genius in youth, intellectually above his
cotemporaries, higher than in after life. If so it would account for the
laudatory notice of his early writings, which have failed to live in the
after ages, while his song of home has survived and echoed wherever the
sweets of social life are known or harmony is heard.
John Howard Payne was born June 9th, 1792 and died in Tunis April 12th,
1852. About the year 1839 he contributed to the Democratic Review or National
Magazine, a characteristic account of East-Hampton, which was republished
in the Sag-Harbor Corrector of March 10th, 1838. The rustic manners of
its social, religious and business life its fishing and whaling, were facetiously
described, not altogether to the acceptance of the good people of the town.
The pleasantry and humor of the portrayal of the character of the old town
was thought to be beneath its merits. Col. Hunt commented editorially upon
it in the Corrector of that date. The Republican Watchman of March 17th,
1838, contained a criticism of it signed "An Auld Acquaintance."
For the time being the people of East-Hampton regarded Payne's account
of their manners, ways and habits as so far exaggerated as to subject them
to the undeserved ridicule if not derision, of the world. As time passed
their resentment faded away. With the welcome the nations gave to his immortal
song, the approving voice of East-Hampton joined. His renown impelled Boston
and New-York and East-Hampton to claim the honor of being his birthplace.
I should delight to advocate the claims of East-Hampton; but the historian
who worships at an altar lower than Truth dishonors his cause and himself.
John Howard Payne was probably born in New-York city, as appears by the
ST. MATTHEW'S RECTORY,
BEDFORD, N. Y., Aug. 15, 1895.
H. P. HEDGES, DEAR SIR:
As you write to me for authentic information about the date and place
of birth of John Howard Payne, I will make the following statement: My
wife, Eloise E., was the niece of John H. Payne, and had in her possession
all the papers relating to the Payne family. She died in 1892. In 1875
Mr. Harrison, of Brooklyn, wrote a biography of J. H. Payne, and had frequent
interviews with Mrs. Luquer, in regard to date, and facts connected with
his life. In 1884 Mr. Brainard, of Washington, wrote another memoir, which
was dedicated to W. W. Corcoran of that city. Before publication this had
been submitted to Mrs. Luquer, for inspection and correction. This later
publication was considered by her, in all its statements, to be entirely
reliable. In both these biographies it is asserted that John H. Payne was
born in the city of New-York, June 9th, 1791.
In support of this statement I find among my wife's papers a momorandum,
signed: "A true statement, attest, Wm. Osb. Payne," giving June 9th, 1791,
as the birth of the poet; and also in another genealogical table, apparently
in the same handwriting, giving New-York city as his birth place. I find
also a "History of the Family," dated March 16, 1861, and written by Mrs.
Luquer's aunt, Mrs. Lucy Osborne, John H. Payne's sister-in-law. In this
the writer says: "My father and mother took with them (from East-Hampton)
to New-York five children, my brother William the only son."
The statement in Brainard's life of the poet, that "he
was born at No. 33 Pearl St., near corner of Broad Street, (New-York
city), on the 9th of June, 1791," was made after close investigation of
authentic record and family tradition, and should be considered a settled
fact of history.
MISS CORNELIA HUNTINGTON.
Miss Cornelia Huntington, daughter of Abel Huntington and Frances Lee his
wife, was born in East-Hampton, June 24th, 1803, and died there April 15th,
1890. Descended from that famous Connecticut family of Huntingtons who
shone in the sphere of statesmanship, finance, jurisprudence, and all the
professions of scholarship and learning, she early gave tokens of a brilliant
intellect. In her youth the atmosphere of East-Hampton sparkled with learning
and genius. Clinton Academy then flourished as an educational institution
inferior to none in the land. Lyman Beecher filled the pulpit; Senators,
Congressmen, Assemblymen and Judges were neighbors and friends. Other stars
shone in the hemisphere of her childhood and youth. Her father was endowed
with great mental power. He was in the State Senate, in Congress, and a
life-long skilful medical practitioner. In this social constellation no
light flashed more conspicuous in surprising wit, more penetrating with
the intuitions of genius, more profound in the depths of sentiment, more
varied in creations of the ideal, than that of the school girl, Cornelia
Huntington; out-reaching, out-shining, out-witting all competitors. She
mastered the elements of education with a celerity and ease that seemed,
even in the classic halls of Clinton Academy where she was instructed,
a marvel. Her modesty forbid the collection and publication of her poems
until after her body was laid in the burial ground which her own lines
had consecrated and hallowed.
In 1891, her nephew, Abel Huntington, M. D., of Brooklyn, N. Y., collected
and published her poems, including the lines on the title page of this
book, and the odes composed for the celebration of the 200th anniversary
of the settlement of the town of East-Hampton.
In 1857 was published her romance entitled "Sea Spray." The house wherein
she lived and died was the residence of Capt. Thos. Wickham, a member of
the Colonial Congress and a commander of a Privateer out of Stonington,
Ct., in the Revolution. Probably the assumed name "Martha Wickham" of the
writer was thereby suggested. Mrs. Mary D. Rockwell, who obtained the copywright
of the book, was a friend of Miss Cornelia Huntington, and the publication
thereof resulted from her friendship and abounding activity. The scene
and all the characters are located in East-Hampton, except as otherwise
Lena Hesselton, p. 11, is Cornelia Huntington.
Alice Hesselton, p. 11, is Abby, her sister.
Col. Hesselton, p. 14, is Dr. Abel Huntington, their father.
Milly, p. 11, is Mehetable Hedges.
Drury, p. 13, is Montauk squaw servant of Dr. Huntington.
Capt. Hull, p. 17, is Capt. Ezekiel Howes.
Capt. Melton, p. 18, is Capt. Jeremiah Mulford.
Capt. Hardy, p. 18, is Capt. George Hand.
Mr. Alden, p. 19, is Rev. Samuel R. Ely.
Lester Bennett, pp. 25, 279 and 454, is Lester Bennett.
Shumway, p. 28, is Hiram Sherrill.
Allen Hesselton, p. 29, is Abel Huntington, now M. D. in Brooklyn,
Sam Grey, p. 38 is Samuel G. Mulford.
Miss Osgood, p. 39, is Mrs. Charles Osborne.
Mrs. Melton, p, 40, is wife of Capt. Jeremiah Mulford.
Gosport, p. 67, is Sag-Harbor.
Lummux, p. 72, is Ezekiel Miller.
Mrs. Godrich, p. 89, is Miss Ruth Hand, an aunt of Capt. George Hand.
Thos. and Geo. Fuller, p. 149, is Thos. and Geo. Filer.
Chas. and Eddy Osgood, p. 153, are sons of Chas. Osborn.
Col. Preston, p. 240, is Col. W. D. Parsons, of Fire Place.
Sam Lister, p. 257, is Sam. Lester.
Talkhouse, p. 295, is Indian servant of Col. W. D. Parsons.
Caroline, p. 300, is Caroline Parsons. daughter of Ambrose Parsons.
Dr. Huntington was a widower, and it is singular that no mention seems
to be made of his wife previous to the solitary notice given on page 403,
and none thereafter. So hard it is to make fiction deny facts. By the references
to the Montauk contest and law suit I know the manuscript was not written
until 1851, and by the election (Presidential) not finished before 1852.
See pages 162, 248, 455.
Martin VanBuren and Miss Warner, author of the "Wide Wide World," visited
East-Hampton about 1851 or '52--page 332. All the poetry in "Sea Spray"
I think is original, and is largely or wholly included in the poems of
Miss Cornelia Huntington, published in 1891, after her death, by her nephew,
Abel Huntington, M. D., of Brooklyn, N. Y., the Allen of "Sea Spray."
Exercise in arms dates from the first settlement of the Colonies. Confronted
by hostile Indians, threatened by the French in the Canadas, by the Dutch
in New-York, by the Spaniard in Florida, by pirates in every harbor and
involved in all the wars of Great Britain, military necessity called for
practical action. The war of the Revolution and that of 1812 kept alive
the martial spirit of the states that resented the wrongs wreaked upon
them by the mother country. Hence the training of the militia, sometimes
by companies and thence called "Company Training," sometimes by regiments
and thence called "General Training." The inherited wrath of generations
kindled in these two wars against Great Britain burned seventy years ago
with an intensity now unfelt. This impelling force added to the attraction
of training days. The notes of martial music, the display of banners, the
vestured uniform, the mounted officers, the array of numbers, the exhibition
of armor, "the pomp and circumstance of war" attract attention, crowds
go to see the General Training. They luxuriate on oranges and peanuts and
ginger snaps and molasses candy and boiled eggs, cider, beer and ginger
pop. What a place for bargains and pedlars and auctions. My first sight
of "General Training" in the main street of East-Hampton dates some seventy
years back. Of that training I write. Apart from the array of movements
of the militia, so often described as to be a worn out theme, I then saw
an auction and an auctioneer that has survived "the oblivious years," and
seems now as he seemed then, a living wonder. New England is precise and
angular, unceasingly asking for a definition and a reason. We think of
her genius as grinding out dictionaries rather than expressing impressive
utterances. But New England is capable of concentration and elasticity.
Her genius is varied. At that General Training she was represented by an
auctioneer that excelled all I ever saw before or since. He was the most
rapid, musical, sonorous talker conceivable. He opened his mouth and words
streamed in endless and unceasing vollies. Lips, features, face, hands,
head, feet and body all moved together, all talked together, and all kept
time. A live Yankee auctioneer unrivalled and outdone and outtalked never.
The manufacture of wooden combs just then attained such excellence as to
supply the market at a price thought to be incredibly small. He would hold
up the wooden combs and cry "combs! combs! here's two dozen wooden combs;
what'll you give for 'em? Ah! sixpence; sixpence happeny; going for sixpence
happeny! Combs! combs enough for the whole neighborhood! Combs enough to
shingle a meeting house! All going for sixpence happeny! Who'll give any
more?" Perhaps the next thing offered would be suspenders, and the cry,
"Suspenders! here's suspenders! suspenders long enough for any man, short
enough for any girl; let out and taken in like an old woman's conscience!
How much will you give for this pair of suspenders? Oh, dear! If my grandfather
knew I was selling goods at this rate he would get down on his knees and
cry like a child!"
THE WHALE CHASE.
"The chronicles of East-Hampton," with rare fidelity, record the events,
the occupation, the manners and modes of thought connected with the history
of our forefathers, not omitting the whale chase. Published by the New-York
State Historical Society, it is accessible to the antiquarian but not to
Therefrom we learn that canoes were first used in offshore whaling.
The sharp ends of the canoe, so well adapted for moving "fore and aft,"
may have suggested the like form for the whale boat, which probably soon
succeeded and superceeded it. So soon that we read not of canoes but of
boats as used in this enterprise. Seemingly contradictory conditions are
conjoined in the whale boat. It is of light draft yet without much drift.
It sits on the smooth surface and rides the rough sea like a duck. It sails
like the wind. The American whaleboat came to perfection two centuries
ago and has yet known no superior. With the earliest recollections of my
childhood is the wigwam that sheltered the whalemen at Wainscott, constructed
of oak saplings sharpened and forced down in the sand with an elliptical
curve toward the narrow open top, free for the exit of smoke, tied together
by twigs interwoven at right angles with these, sapling ribs, and all thatched
with rye straw, except the door south. The wigwam was a structure invested
with romantic charms to the eye of childhood, and no small cl??arm of comfort
and content to the more mature onlooker. Three score and ten years by gone
this was the home of the whaling watch and whaling men. Hard by was the
high stage pole--a tree twenty-five to thirty-five feet high--set deep
in the sand. The projecting branches left untrimmed some foot or more to
facilitate climbing, and at intervals pins driven in holes bored, projected
both sides to further aid the climber. To the eyes of youth how grand,
how lofty, seemed the "stage pole." The boats near by, in a sheltered nook,
rested top side down (with all the whaling gear in) on poles which were
laid in crutches driven in the sand. In good whale weather, the surf not
being too rough, the watch set a signal on the pole that told all far and
near of good weather and warned the whalemen to be ready for a call. When
a whale was seen near enough to warrant the hope of catching, the watch
waved his coat on the stage pole and this was "making a weft." If the whale
came ?? earer, he waved the more vigorously and faster. "He wefted harder."
Then horns blew. Then the frantic yell "a whale off," rent the air. Men
ran wild to gain the beach in time. Boys shouted with delight. For once
our little world woke up. The whale boats, borne on the shoulders of the
crew are deposited near the incoming wave. Each oar is a-peak and each
man opposite his oar. The experienced eye of the boat header watches the
surf. At the favorable moment his word "now" is seconded by a pull all
together towards the
incoming wave, and if the time is auspicious, into it, the men tumbling
in and rowlng on the receding wave into the jaws of that inexorable sea
that has ingulphed so oft the hopes of human life. Now for the leviathan
of the deep. "Now for a long pull" and "a strong pull" and "a pull all
together." Now steadily the men strain at the oar. Every nerve, every muscle,
every sinew is tauht with toil. The steersman's eye is searching the "sea's
do ??ain." He sees and cries "there she blows." With one strong sweep of
the steering oar he heads for his mighty game. His intensity is magnetism
to the crew. His "pull, boys, pull," means something. And now he seconds
their movements, swinging his powerful right arm and swaying his body to
and fro, keeping time with the sweep of their motion as if all were parts
of one harmonious whole, he heaves at the leading oar and the whale boat
trembles. The gliding boat, the hissing waters, the heaving steersman,
the straining c??ew; these are sights and sounds and this a scene worthy
a painter's excellence, a sculptor's skill, a poet's genius. The Gladiatorial
conflicts of imperial and brutal Rome exhibit no scene more worthy of enduring
record. They near the whale. The steersman calls on the harpooner who peaks
his oar, rises, poises the harpoon and darts with all his concentrated
power. He has fastened; "starn all!" cries the Captain, and the backward
movement of the oars sends the boat at the earliest possible moment from
the centre of danger. The sweep of the broad flukes in an instant might
mean destruction to the boat and all therein. The surge of mighty waters,
the huge proportions of the monster of the deep, the presence of a power
appaling in its strength, the glistening "black skin" terrific to the eye,
the conscious impotence of human power--All this with lightning flash quickens
the imagination. Hardy and self-possessed is he who is not overwhelmed
with fear and horror. In my childhood, some seventy years gone by, from
the beach banks on the borders of my father's farm, I saw a sight like
this: Two crews in whaleboats, close in shore, fast to a right whale, and
Capt. Jonathan Osborn, successful and veteran whaleman that he was, (captain
and chief. ??Twere vain to attempt the picture of the scene. Whenever a
boat neared the whale, as if apprehensive of impending danger and conscious
of a power resistless, she reared in mid air her mighty flukes, shook them
in tremulous wrath, struck them on the water with a shock that resounded
and re-echoed over the breakers far from shore like the thunder of cannon.
Time and again the crew pulled the Captain near enough to dart his whale
spade into the sinews where the flukes are set on the small of the back,
as a human hand is set on the joint of the wrist, in the hope that by cutting
them the whale would be disabled. With unabated fury hour after hour the
whale fought back. The shock of her flukes resounded for miles on and off
the shore. Some stray chance made and the captain darted his keen two-edged
lance into the vitals, in sailor words, "the life of the whale." And she
"spouted blood," sure premonition of the coming end. A conflict rarely
seen, never to be forgotten, lasting from 7 o'clock A. M. until 2 P. M.
I see them "towing" the whale to shore, the joyful faces of the crew, the
tall and stalwart form of the Captain, clad in his red flannel shirt, his
face and hands almost equally red. He looked the incarnation of the whale
fighter that fame had reported him to be. He had sailed from Sag-Harbor
on voyages in command of a ship from thence, owned by J. Fenimore Cooper,
the novelist. His creation of "long Tom Coffin" out of Capt. Jonathan Osborn
would be a slight dilation on the reality. Ah me! no mortal eye of all
the living but mine has seen the sight of that April morn. No tongue but
mine remains to tell the tale.
In December, 1838, in East-Hampton, there was a "weft for whale," "an
alarm" of the boys, "a rally" of the crews, and two boats put off in chase
of the whale. Fearful to relate, they made fast. More fearful for the writer,
he was one of the crew. Just graduated from Yale he had not taken his degree
of A. B. in what our earnest forefathers in their records termed "whale
design." Space is wanting to express but in briefest words the picture
indelibly impressed upon my memory. The skill and experience of Lewis Gann,
who commanded our boat, was far overbalanced by the inexperience of the
crew who had never been "fast to a whale." That he was a consummate master
of the situation all believed. The event justified our faith. 'Twas he
that ruled the crew, guided their efforts, shielded them from danger. I
see the whale side to us; fin just under the water. I see him standing
in the bow of the boat with the lance in his grasp. He hurls it with the
force of an avalanche. It hisses on the water and enters the whale. He
says in exultant cry, "that whale is dead!" Within an hour the whale is
"turned up." A hole is cut in the under jaw and a line made fast from our
boat, next the whale, the post of honor, and extended to the other boat,
and the monotonous, slow pull for towing begins.
How the multitude gathers on the shore! How impressible the young life
and pranks of boyhood break out! How lithe and sweet and winsome seems
the form and charm of the maiden! Admiration lights up and glorifies the
face of man and woman. The eye of age kindles at the recollection of past
conflicts and gratification at the success achieved. Curiosity may rule,
wonder may control; the victim may attract the regard of the crowd, but
not to the exclusion of the victors. Crowned with the applause, sharing
the wonder, objects of regard, Captains and crew for the time are invested
with a halo of glory that ato??es for past misfortune, for unmerited neglect,
for unjustified scorn. The beheld of all beholders. If the victor in the
Olympic games received the crown as his reward, in attestation of his triumph,
the combatants in a mightier game and grander contest were not unworthy
the Attic crown so awarded to perilous achievement. One hundred and fifty
years before the heathen Indian might have appeared and claimed a piece
of the fin and tail as an acceptable offering to propitiate his God. The
Indian has vanished.
Of those twelve men who in 1838 were successful in their "whale design,"
Hiram Sherrill and Edward Dayton, with the writer, only survive. Lingering
on the shores of time they can attest the fidelity of the writer in this
narrative of the age that is past.
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