Front Page Titles (by Subject) VILLAGES. - Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 3
The Online Library of Liberty
A project of Liberty Fund, Inc.
Search this Title:
VILLAGES. - Harriet Martineau, Retrospect of Western Travel, vol. 3 
Retrospect of Western Travel in Three Vols (London: Saunders and Otley, 1838). Vol. 3.
About Liberty Fund:
Liberty Fund, Inc. is a private, educational foundation established to encourage the study of the ideal of a society of free and responsible individuals.
The text is in the public domain.
Fair use statement:
This material is put online to further the educational goals of Liberty Fund, Inc. Unless otherwise stated in the Copyright Information section above, this material may be used freely for educational and academic purposes. It may not be used in any way for profit.
The villages of New England are all more or less beautiful; and the most beautiful of them all is, I believe, Northampton. They have all the graceful weeping elm; wide roads overshadowed with wood; mounds or levels of a rich verdure; white churches and comfortable and picturesque frame dwellings. Northampton has these beauties and more. It lies in the rich meadows which border the Connecticut, beneath the protection of high wooded hills. The habitations of its gentry crown the green knolls and terraces on which the village stands: or are half buried in gay gardens, or hid under clumps of elm. The celebrated Mount Holyoke and Mount Tom are just at hand, and the Sugarloaf is in view: while the brimming Connecticut winds about and about in the meadows, as if unwilling, like the traveller, to leave such a spot.
The pilgrims were not long in discovering the promise of the rich alluvial lands amidst which Northampton stands: and their descendants established themselves there, as in the midst of a wilderness, long before there were any settlements between the spot on which they had sat down and the coast. The perils of such an abode were extreme: but so were its temptations; and here, for many years, did a handful of whites continue to live, surrounded by red neighbours,—now trafficking, now fighting; sometimes agreeing to render mutual service, but always on the watch against mutual injury. So early as 1658, the township of Northampton (then called Nonotue) was purchased at the price set upon it by the Indians; viz., for ninety square miles of land, the sellers demanded one hundred fathom of wampum by tale, and ten coats; and that the purchasers should plough for the Indians sixteen acres of land, on the east side of the river, the next summer. The making the purchase was the smallest part of the settlers' business: the defending themselves in the wilderness, surrounded as they were by numerous tribes of Indians, was a far more serious matter. The usual arrangement of a village was planned with a regard to safety from plunder and massacre. The surviving effect is that of beauty, which the busy settlers cannot he supposed to have much regarded at the time. The dwellings were erected in one long street, each house within its own enclosure, and, in many cases, fortified. The street was bordered with trees; and in the midst stood the “meeting-house,” often fortified also. This street was, when it was possible, built across the neck of a peninsula formed by the windings of the river; or from hill to hill in the narrowest part of a valley. The cattle which grazed during the day in the peninsula, or under the eye of the owners, were driven at night into the area between the rows of houses. Here and there a village was surrounded with palisades. But no kind of defence availed for any long period. From time to time disasters happened to the most careful and the most valiant. Fire was an agent of destruction which could not be always defied. When the village was burned, its inhabitants were helpless. The women and children were carried off into captivity, and the place lay desolate till a new party of adventurers arrived to clear away the ruins, and commence a fresh experiment.
Traditions of the horrors of the Indian wars spring up at every stop in this valley, and make the stranger speculate on what men and women were made of in the days when they could voluntarily fix their abode among savage foes, while there were safer places of habitation at their command on the coast. The settlers seem, by the testimony of all history, to have been possessed of spirit proportioned to their needs. We hear of women being employed in the cellars casting bullets, and handing them to their husbands during an onset of the savages; and of a girl plucking a saddle from under the head of a sleeping Indian, saddling a horse, and galloping off, swimming rivers, and penetrating forests till she reached her home. The fate of the family of the Rev. John Williams, who were living in the valley of the Connecticut, at the end of the seventeenth century, and were broken up by the Indians in an attack on the village of Deerfield, is a fair specimen of the chances to which residents in such lodges in the wilderness were exposed.
The enemy came over the snow, which was four feet deep, and hard enough to bear them up, and thus were enabled to surmount the palisades. Not being expected at that time of year, they met with no opposition. The inhabitants had not time to rouse themselves from sleep before they were tomahawked or captured. Out of a population of two hundred and eighty, forty-seven were killed, and one hundred and twelve made prisoners. Mr. Williams was the minister of the settlement. Two of his children were killed on the threshold of his own door. His son Eleazer escaped, and was left behind. Mrs. Williams was one of the Mathers of Northampton. She was marched off, with her husband and several remaining children, in the direction of Canada: but they were not allowed to be together and comfort each other. It was a weary march for sufferers who carried such heavy hearts into so horrible a captivity. Over wastes of snow, through thawing brooks, among rugged forest-paths, they were goaded on,—not permitted to look back, or to loiter, or to stop, except at the pleasure of their captors. Mrs. Williams presently fell behind. She was in delicate health, and unused to hardship like this. When her husband had passed Green River, he looked back and saw her faltering on the bank, and then stumbling into the water. He turned to implore the savage who guarded him to allow him to go back and help his wife. He was refused, and when he looked again she had disappeared. Having fallen into the water through weakness, an Indian had buried his tomahawk in her skull, stepped over her body, and passed on. Her remains were discovered and carried back to Deerfield for interment.
For a few moments the captives had been tantalised with a hope of release. The Indians were attacked during their retreat by a small body of settlers, and pressed hard. At this moment an Indian runner was despatched to the guard, with orders to put all the prisoners to death. A hall laid him low while he was on his errand: and the settlers being compelled to give way, the order about the prisoners was not renewed.
At night they encamped on the snow, digging away spaces to be down in, and spreading boughs of the spruce-fir for couches. During the first night one of the captives escaped: and in the morning Mr. Williams was ordered to tell his companions, that if any more made their escape the rest of the prisoners should be burned.
At the close of a day's march, when they had advanced some way on their long journey, a maidservant belonging to Mr. Williams's family came to the pastor, requested his blessing, and offered her farewell. He inquired what she meant. She replied with great quietness of manner, that she perceived that all who lagged in the march were tomahawked: that she had kept up with great difficulty through this day; and that she felt she should perish thus on the morrow. Mr. Williams examined into her state of body, and was convinced that she was nearly exhausted. He gave his blessing and this was all he could do for her. He watched her incessantly the next day. He saw her growing more feeble every hour, but still calm and gentle. She kept up till late in the afternoon, when she lagged behind: being urged, she fell, and was despatched with the tomahawk. Two of the prisoners were starved to death on the road; and fifteen others were murdered like Mrs. Williams and her servant.
The pastor, with his remaining children, reached Canada, where he remained, suffering great hardships, for two years and a half. He was ransomed, with sixty-one others, and returned to Boston, where he was waited upon by a deputation from his old parish, and requested to resume his duties among the remnant of his people. He actually returned, and died in peace there twenty-three years afterwards. It appears that all his captive children but one were redeemed. Two besides Eleazer were educated at Harvard College. His little daughter, Eunice, was six years old when she was carried away. She grew up to womanhood among the Indians, and married a red man, retaining the name of Williams, and adopting the Romish faith. Being brought to Deerfield to see her family, she could not be persuaded to remain; nor would she accommodate herself to the habits of civilised life, preferring to sleep on the floor on a blanket, to using a bed. Some half-breed descendants of her's are living on the borders of Lake Michigan.
The sufferers seem to have consoled themselves with turning their disasters into verse; sometimes piously, in hymns, and sometimes in a lighter ballad strain, like the following:—
Many of the half-breeds who have sprung from the wars between the settlers and the natives have been missionaries among the savages. Much doubt hangs over the utility of Indian missions: if good has been done, it seems to be chiefly owing to the offices of half-breeds, who modify the religion to be imparted, so as to suit it to the habits of mind and life of the new converts. As far as I could learn, the following anecdote is no unfair specimen of the way in which missionaries and their religion are primarily regarded by the savages to whom they are sent.
Mr. K., a missionary among a tribe of northern Indians, was wont to set some simple refreshment,—fruit and cider,—before his converts, when they came from a distance to see him. An old man, who had no pretensions to be a Christian, desired much to be admitted to the refreshments, and proposed to some of his converted friends to accompany them on their next visit to the missionary. They told him he must be a Christian first. What was that? He must know all about the Bible. When the time came, he declared himself prepared, and undertook the journey with them. When arrived, he seated himself opposite the missionary, wrapped in his blanket, and looking exceedingly serious. In answer to an inquiry from the missionary, he rolled up his eyes, and solemnly uttered the following words, with a pause between each—
“What do you mean?” asked the missionary.
“Stop, stop. What do you mean?”
This is one way in which an unintelligible religion is received by savages. Another resembles the mode in which they meet offers of traffic from suspicious parties:—“the more you say bow and arrows, the more we won't make them.” Where Christianity is received among them with any efficacy, it appears to be exactly in proportion to the skill of the missionary in associating the new truth he brings with that which was already sanctified in their hearts; in proportion as the new religion is made a sequel of the old one, instead of a substitution for it.
The dusky race was in my mind's eye as we followed the windings of the river through the rich valley from Springfield to Northampton. The very names of the places, the hamlet of Hoccanum, at the foot of Mount Holyoke, and that of Pascommuc, lying below Mount Tom, remind the traveller how the possessors have been displaced from this fair land, and how their descendants must be mourning their lost Quonnecticut. Such sympathies soon wither away, however, amidst the stir and loveliness of the sunny village.
We had letters of introduction to some of the inhabitants of Northampton, and knew that our arrival was expected: but we little anticipated such eagerness of hospitality as we were met with. The stage was stopped by a gentleman who asked for me. It was Mr. Bancroft, the historian, then a resident of Northampton. He cordially welcomed us as his guests, and ordered the stage up the hill to his house; such a house! It stood on a lofty terrace; and its balcony overlooked first the garden, then the orchard stretching down the slope; then the delicious village, and the river with its meadows; while opposite rose Mount Holyoke. Far off in the valley, to the left, lay Hadley, half hid among trees; and on the hills, still further to the left, was Amherst, with its college buildings conspicuous on the height.
All was in readiness for us,—the spacious rooms with their cool arrangements; (it was the 7th of August;) and the ladies of the family, with their ready merry welcome. It was past noon when we arrived; and before the early dinner hour we were as much at home as if we had been acquainted for months. The American mirth, common everywhere, was particularly hearty in this house; and as for us, we were intoxicated with the beauty of the scene. From the balcony we gazed as if it was presently to melt before our eyes.—This day, I remember, we first tasted green corn—one of the most delicious of vegetables, and by some preferred to green peas. The greatest drawback is the way in which it is necessary to eat it. The cob, eight or ten inches long, is held at both ends, and, having been previously sprinkled with salt, is nibbled and sucked from end to end, till all the grains are got out. It looks awkward enough: but what is to be done? Surrendering such a vegetable from considerations of grace is not to be thought of.
After dinner, we walked in the blooming garden, till summoned within doors by callers. My host had already discovered my taste for rambling, and determined to make me happy during my short visit, by driving me about the country. He liked nothing better himself. His historical researches had stored his memory with all the traditions of the valley, of the State, and, I rather think, of the whole of New England. I find the entries in my journal of this and the next two days, the most copious of any during my travels.
Mr. Bancroft drove me to Amherst this afternoon. He explained to me the construction of the bridge we passed, which is of a remarkably cheap, simple, and safe kind for a wooden one. He pointed out to me the seats and arrangements of the villages we passed through; and amused and interested me with many a tale of the old Indian wars. He surprised me by the light he threw on the philosophy of society in the United States; a light drawn from history, and shed into all the present relations of races and parties to each other. I had before been pleased with what I knew of the spirit of Mr. Bancroft's History of the United States, which, however, had not then extended beyond the first volume. I now perceived that he was well qualified, in more ways than one, for his arduous task.
We mounted the steep hill on which Amherst stands, and stopped before the red brick buildings of the college. When the horse was disposed of, Mr. Bancroft left me to look at the glorious view, while he went in search of some one who would be our guide about the college. In a minute he beckoned me in, with a smile of great delight, and conducted me into a lecture-room, where Professor Hitchcock was lecturing. In front of the lecturer was a large number of students; and on either hand as many as forty or fifty girls. These girls were from a neighbouring school, and from the houses of the farmers and mechanics of the village. The students appeared quite as attentive as if they had had the room to themselves. We found that the admission of girls to such lectures as they could understand (this was on Geology), was a practice of some years' standing; and that no evil had been found to result from it. It was a gladdening sight, testifying both to the simplicity of manners, and the eagerness for education. I doubt whether such a spectacle is to be seen out of New England.
The professor showed us the Turkey Tracks, the great curiosity of the place; and distinct and gigantic indeed they were, deeply impressed in the imbedded stone. Professor Hitchcock's name is well known among geologists, from his highly-praised work. A Report on the Geology, Mineralogy, Botany, and Zoology of Massachusetts. We ascended to the observatory, whence we saw a splendid variety of the view I had been admiring all day, and we pronounced this college an enviable residence.
It is a presbyterian college, and is flourishing, as the presbyterian colleges of New England do, under the zeal of professors who are not content with delivering courses of lectures, but who work with the students, as much like companions as teachers. The institution had been at work only ten years; and at this time it contained two hundred and forty under-graduates,—a greater number than any in the state, except, perhaps, Harvard.
The next day was a busy one. We were called away from gazing from the balcony after breakfast, the carriage being at the door. Two more carriages joined us in the village, and we proceeded in the direction of Mount Holyoke. Our road lay through rich unfenced corn-fields, and meadows where the mowers were busy. There was a great contrast between the agriculture here and in other parts of the State. Here an annual inundation spares much of the toil of the tiller. It seems as if little more were necessary than to throw in the seed and reap the produce; while, in less-favoured regions, the farmer may be seen ploughing round the rocks which protrude from the soil, and bestowing infinite pains on his stony fields. The carriages conveyed us a good way up the far-famed hill. When it became too steep for the horses we alighted, and found the ascent easy enough. There are rude but convenient ladders, broad and strong, at difficult turns of the path; and large stones, and roots of trees, afford a firm footing in the intervals. The most wayward imagination could not conjure up the idea of danger; and children may be led to the top in perfect safety.
On the summit is a building which affords shelter in case of rain, and lemonade and toddy in case of thirst. There is a fine platform of rock on which the traveller may rest himself while he looks around over a space of sixty miles in almost every direction. The valley is the most attractive object, the full river coiling through the meadows, and the spires of village churches being clustered at intervals along its banks: but smokes rise on the hill sides, from the Green Mountains in the north, to the fading distance beyond Springfield in the south. To the east the view extends nearly to Newhaven (Connecticut), seventy miles off. Mount Holyoke is eleven hundred feet above the river.
While I was absorbed in the contemplation of this landscape, I was tapped on the shoulder. When I turned, a shipmate stood smiling behind me. She highly enjoyed the odd meeting on this pinnacle, and so did we. The face of a pleasant shipmate is welcome everywhere, but particularly in a scene which contrasts so strongly with those in which we have lived together, as a mountain-top with the cabin of a ship.—Some person who loves contrasts has entered a remarkable set of names in the album on Mount Holyoke as having just visited the spot,—Hannah More, Lord Byron, Martin Luther, & c.
We returned by a shorter, but equally pretty, road to dinner; and presently after, as we were not at all tired, we set off again for the Sugar Loaf, ten miles up the valley. We had a warm ride, and a laborious scramble up the Sugar Loaf; but we were rewarded by a view which I think finer than the one we saw in the morning, though not so various. It commanded the whole valley with its entire circle of hills. White dots of buildings on the hill sides spoke of civilization: Amherst, with its red buildings, glowed in the sun; and the river below was of a dark grey, presenting a perfect reflection of its fringed banks, of the ox-team on the margin, and of boys fishing among the reeds. Smokes rose where brush was burning, indicating the foundation of new settlements. In one of these places, which was pointed out to me, an accident had happened the preceding spring, which affords another hint of what the hearts of emigrant mothers have sometimes to bear. A child of two years old wandered away one afternoon from its parents' side, and was missing when the day's work was done. The family and neighbours were out in the woods for hours with torches, but they only lost their own way without discovering the little one. In the morning it was found, at a considerable distance from home, lying under a bush as if asleep. It was dead, however: the cold of the night had seized it, and it was quite stiff.
The sun set as we returned homewards with all speed,—having to dress for an evening party. While the bright glow was still lingering in the valley, and the sky was beginning to melt from crimson to the pale sea-green of evening, I saw something sailing in the air like a glistening golden balloon. I called the attention of my party to it just in time. It burst in a broad flash and shower of green fire. It was the most splendid meteor I ever saw. We pitied a quiet-looking couple whom we met jogging along in a dearborn, and whose backs had, of course, been turned to the spectacle. They must have wondered at the staring and commotion among our party. I saw an unusual number of falling-stars before we reached home.
The parties, on all the three evenings when I was at Northampton, were like the village parties throughout New England. There was an over proportion of ladies, almost all of whom were pretty, and all well dressed. There was a good deal of party spirit among the gentlemen, and great complaints of religious bigotry from the ladies. One inhabitant of the place, the son of a Unitarian clergyman, was going to leave it, chiefly on account, he told me, of the treatment his family received from their Calvinistic neighbours. While he was at home they got on pretty well; but he had to quit home sometimes, and could not bear to leave his wife to such treatment as she met with in his absence. This was the worst case I heard of: but instances of a bigotry nearly as outrageous reminded me painfully of similar cases of pious cruelty at home. The manners towards strangers in these social meetings are perfectly courteous, gay, and friendly. I had frequent occasion to wonder why a foreign Unitarian was esteemed so much less dangerous a person than a native.
There was endless amusement to me in observing village-manners and ways of thinking. Sometimes I had to wait for explanations of what passed before my eyes, finding myself wholly at fault. At other times I was charmed with the upright simplicity which villagers not only exhibit at home, but carry out with them into the world.
In one Massachusetts village a large party was invited to meet me. At tea-time I was busily engaged in conversation with a friend, when the teatray was brought to me by a young person in a plain white gown. After I had helped myself, she still stood just before me for a long while, and was perpetually returning. Again and again I refused more tea; but she still came. Her pertinacity was afterwards explained. It was a young lady of the village who wished to see me, and knew that I was going away the next day. She had called on the lady of the house in the afternoon, and begged permission to come in a plain gown as a waiter. She was, of course, invited as a guest; but she would not accept the invitation, and she was allowed to follow her own fancy.
In another village I became acquainted with one of its most useful residents, the schoolmaster, who has a passion for music, and is organist of a church. It was delightful to hear him revelling in his own music, pouring his soul out over his organ. He has been to Rome, and indulged himself with listening to the Miserere. He told me that two monks whom he met in Italy, before reaching Rome, saw him reading his Bible, with a Commentary lying before him. In his own words,
“They told me I had better give over that. ‘Give over what?’ says I. ‘Why, reading your Bible, with that book to help you.’ ‘Why shouldn't I read in my own Bible?’ says I. ‘Because the Pope won't like it,’ said they. ‘In my humble opinion,’ says I, ‘it is far from plain what the Pope has to do with my duty and way of improving myself. It's no wish of mine, I'm sure, to speak disrespectfully of the Pope, or to interfere with what he chooses to do in his own sphere; but I must save my own soul in the way I think right.’ Well, they talked about the Inquisition, and would fain have made me believe I was doing what was very unsafe: so, after a good deal more argument, I settled with myself what I would do. When I got to Rome, I put away the Commentary, thinking that that way of reading was not necessary, and might be left to another time: but I went on rending my Bible as usual.
“Well: when Passion Week came, I took care to see all that was going forward; and I was in the great square when the Pope came out to give the blessing. The square was as full as ever it could hold, and I stood near the middle of it. I found all the people were about to go down on their knees. Now, you know, it is against my principles altogether to go down on my knees before the Pope, or any man: so I began to think what I should do. I thought the right principle was to pay the same respect to the Pope that I would to any sort of chief ruler; but none in particular on religious grounds: so I settled to do just what I should do to the President of the United States. So, when the whole crowd dropped on their knees in one moment, there I stood, all alone, in the middle of the square. I knew the Pope must see me, and the people about him; but my hope was that the crowd would be so occupied with their own feelings that they would not notice me. Not so, however. One looked at me, and then another, and then it spread, till I thought the whole crowd was looking at nothing but me. Meantime I was standing with my body bent—about this much—and my hat off, which I held so, above my head. It happened the sun was very hot, and I got a bad headache with keeping my head uncovered; but that was not worth minding. Well, I was glad enough when the people all rose on their feet again. Rut it was by no means over yet. The Pope came down, and walked through the midst of the people; and as it happened, he came just my way. I was not sorry at the prospect of getting a near view of him, so I just stood still till he came by. The people kept dropping on their knees on cither side of him as he approached. Some of them tugged at me to do the same; but, said I, ‘excuse me, I can't.' So, when the old Pope came as near to me as I am to you, he stopped, and looked full in my face, while I stood bent, and my hat raised as before, and thinking within myself, ‘Now, Sir, I am paying you the same respect I would show to the President of the United States, and I can't show more to any one:' so, after a good look at me, the old gentleman went on; and the people near seemed soon to have forgot all about me. And so I got off.”
On the last day of my visit at Northampton, I went into the grave-yard. Some of the inhabitants smiled at Mr. Bancroft for taking me there, there being no fine monuments, no gardens and plantations, as in more modern cemeteries; but there were things which my host knew I should consider more interesting. There were some sunken, worn, mossy stones, which bore venerable pilgrims' names and pious inscriptions. Several of the original settlers lie here; and their graves, gay with a profusion of the golden rod, and waving with long grass, are more interesting to the traveller than if their remains reposed in a less primitive mode. The stranger is taken by surprise by finding how much stronger are the emotions excited among these resting-places of the pilgrims, than by the institutions in which their spirit still lives. Their spirit lives in its faulty, as well as its nobler characteristics. I saw here the grave of a young girl who was as much murdered by fanaticism as Mary Dyar, who was hanged for her Antinomianism, in, the early days of the colony. The young creature, whose tomb is scarcely yet grass- grown, died of a brain-fever, brought on by a revival.
I happened to be going the round of several Massachusetts villages when the marvellous account of Sir John Herschel's discoveries in the moon was sent abroad. The sensation it excited was wonderful. As it professed to be a republication from the Edinburgh Journal of Science, it was some time before many persons, except professors of natural philosophy, thought of doubting its truth. The lady of such a professor, on being questioned by a company of ladies as to her husband's emotions at the prospect of such an enlargement of the field of science, excited a strong feeling of displeasure against herself. She could not say that he believed it, and would gladly have said nothing about it: but her inquisitive companions first cross-examined her, and then were angry at her scepticism. A story is going, told by some friends of Sir John Herschel, (but whether in earnest, or in the spirit of the moon story I cannot fell,) that the astronomer has received at the Cape, a letter from a large number of Baptist clergymen of the United States, congratulating him on his discovery, informing him that it had been the occasion of much edifying preaching, and of prayer-meetings for the benefit of brethren in the newly explored regions; and beseeching him to inform his correspondents whether science affords any prospects of a method of conveying the Gospel to residents in the moon. However it may be with this story, my experience of the question with regard to the other, “Do you not believe it?” was very extensive.
In the midst of our amusement at credulity like this, we must remember that the real discoveries of science are likely to be more faithfully and more extensively made known in the villages of the United States, than in any others in the world. The moon hoax, if advantageously put forth, would have been believed by a much larger proportion of any other nation than it was by the Americans; and they are travelling far faster than any other people beyond the reach of such deception. Their common and high schools, their Lyceums and cheap colleges are exciting and feeding thousands of minds, which in England would never get beyond the loom or the plough-tail. If few are very-learned in the villages of Massachusetts, still fewer are very ignorant: and all have the power and the will to invite the learning of the towns among them, and to remunerate its administration of knowledge. The consequence of this is a state of village society in which only vice and total ignorance need hang the head, while (out of the desolate range of religious bigotry) all honourable tastes are as sure of being countenanced and respected, as all kindly feelings are of being reciprocated. I believe most enlightened and virtuous residents in the villages of New England are eager to acknowledge that the lines have fallen to them in pleasant places.