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The word, antiquity, has many shades of meaning. Huxley, surveying the evidence of æons past, thrills us with his vast expression, "the momentary appearance of mankind upon the earth.” In contrast with this scale of thonght, the two hundred and forty-six years, since this old town began, are less than a flash of light.
But the centuries of a people are to be measured by the facts of human achievement. The twenty-two centuries of Grecian history, from Argos to Alaric, are nothing when compared with a single glacial period. But, to the historian, only fifty of those years. are an Olympian Age ; because they are immortal, with Herodotus, and Pericles, Thermopylæ, Salamis, and Marathon.
We are the heirs of all the ages ; and the two and a half centuries since the settlement of New England are venerable with toil and triumph.
If we would understand the triumph of wrenching ourselves away from England, and developing thirteen feeble colonies into a nation of forty millions, resting on the two great oceans, and stretching from the Antilles to the Arctic sea, we can never study that toil too much. Within eight hundred years England has known forty attempts at rebellion; and France has played at revolution again and again.
It is not strange that Americans should try to discover, among the embers of the past, the materials of a conflagration so intense that it melted the chains of empire. These materials are the traits of character and mind that the Puritans stamped on unborn generations. Other revolutions, generally, have been deficient in that combination of close logical reasoning, reverence for legal authority, intense conviction, and unflinching assertion of a right, which marks our own. Other revolutions, the result of intense heat, differ from this, as the ebullition which lifts the thin cover from a kettle differs from an earthquake, which, gathering its forces in silence for a thousand years, under a mountain's weight, suddenly changes the face of the world.
Honest pride commemorates a revolt which had so little of fury and so much of power. And we ask, why was this?
From the importance of Roxbury in the elder time, from her.decisive position as a pass to be defended in the siege of Boston, and from her contributions of calm counsel and fiery valor to the revolutionary cause, she is entitled to a nation's grateful memory. Her early history is unusually replete with those personal traits, and that intense education, which seem to me to explain the Revolution as a
Rocksberry, or Rocksborough, was one of the earliest Puritan settlements. Some of its primitive inhabitants came out with Governor Winthrop, in the armed vessel Arabella that warped into Salem Harbor June 14, 1630.
Whether previous settlers, of the same adventure (there were seventeen ships that year), first broke the ground of
Roxbury, is not quite clear. But a month and more before Governor Winthrop arrived, the "mercilesse ” Capt. Squeb, of the "Mary and John,” left a little body of church members from Dorchester, England, "in a forlorn wilderness” at Nantasket, whence they worked their way to their original destination, then called by the Indians " Mattapan.”
So far as can be learned from the Roxbury Church records, Mr. George Alcock, being joined to the church in Dorchester, was first chosen to be a Deacon, especially to the Brethren at Rocksborough ; and ultimately, with William Pynchon, Thomas Lamb, Thomas Rawlings, Robert Cole and William Chase, founded this first church in Roxbury in 1632. Before that time the Roxbury people were adjoined to the church in Dorchester.
Thomas Dudley, who, while the ship Arabella lay off Cowes, in the Isle of Wight, had been chosen Deputy Governor in place of Humphrey, resigned, narrates in a letter to the Countess of Lincoln the story of weakness and famine, in which the colony that had been sent out two years before was found. He
He says they were " for present shelter” obliged " to plant dispersedly,” and that some planted themselves " two miles from Boston, in a place wee named Roxbury.” And here he afterwards settled. A little falling out with Governor Winthrop occurred. It is a little like reading Homer's story of the contentions among the Olympian gods, to read that on this occasion, "the Deputy began to be in a passion, and told the Governour that if he would be so round, he could be round, too. The Governour bade him be round if he would. So the Deputy rose up in great fury and passion, and the Governour grew very hot
also, so as they both fell into bitterness. But by mediation of the mediators they were soon pacified.”
At first it was proposed to build a fortified town on the Neck between Boston and Roxbury. But want of "running water” there, as well as at Charlestowne, then called Newtowne, prevented. For " they notioned no water good for a town but running springs.”
It is remarkable, that, though at an early period Jamaica pond was used as a power for a mill to grind bread, its water, which for many years supplied the later inhabitants, did not invite an early settlement upon its shores.
July 31, 1631, Rocksberry is ordered to furnish nightly two men to the Boston Watch. And that thorn in the side of our fathers, Captain John Underhill, the same who claimed an influx of the Holy Spirit while he was indulging in " ye earthely creature called tobacko," was ordered to have a general training of his company at Boston and Rocksberry. In the old time the training-field lay between what are now Eustis street, Dudley street, and Mount Pleasant.
William Wood, in 1633, thus describes the general lay of the land : "A mile from this town” (Dorchester), which is stated to be "the greatest town in New England, well wooded and watered,” "lieth Roxbury, which is a fair and handsome country town; the inhabitants of it all being very rich. A clear and fresh brook runs through the town.” This brook, then called Smelt brook, now runs through the common sewer near Washington and Dudley streets. Boston is described as " a peninsula hemmed in on the south side by the bay of Roxbury, and on the north side by Charles river, the marshes on the back side being not half a
quarter of a mile over; so that a little fencing will secure their cattle from the wolves.”
Wolves were a constant dread, and one night Boston and Roxbury turned out under arms in alarm all night, because tho people of Watertown fired their muskets off to deter the wolves from approaching too near a lost calf of Sir Richard Saltonstall's.
Our fathers had too many "low country” soldiers in their company not to maintain the military arm. The church founder and Treasurer, William Pynchon, is " desired” to give a newly appointed ensigne " possession thereof !” Two barrels of powder out of Roxbury, and two " drakes” are "lent to Conecticott to fortify themselves with all.”
In 1836, all the military men of Boston, Roxbury, Dorchester, Weymouth and Hingham are ordered to form one regiment, under John Winthrop as Colonel and Thomas Dudley as Lieutenant Colonel. The first regiment was certainly very creditably provided with officers.
Two years before, Ensign Morris, from some distaste, desired to resign. Thereby he " gave offence to the congregation.” Being questioned and convinced of sin in forsaking his calling,” he " did acknowledge his error." promoted to a lieutenancy.
We cannot be too grateful to the old Puritans that, while they trusted in God, they kept their powder dry. The military organizations that honor this occasion by their presence to-day, the old Roxbury Artillery of 1784, the Roxbury City Guard, the Norfolk Guards of 1818, the Grand Army of the Republic, and the Latin School Battalion, the Reserve Guards and Roxbury Horse Guards