AN OLD HOME AND ITS ROMANCE.
Old homesteads sacred to all that can
Gadden or sadden the heart of man,
Over whose thresholds of oak. and stone,
Life and death have come and gone !
I see it all like a chart unrolled,
But my thoughts are full of the past and old,
I hear the tales of my boyhood told ;
And the shadows and shapes of early days
Flit dimly by in the veiling haze.
We may build more splendid habitations,
Fill our rooms with paintings and with sculptures,
But we cannot
Buy with gold the old associations.
I have considered the days of old and the years that are passed.
It stands a little off from the bustling highway, from which it is separated by lichen-covered stone walls and fences, with grassy spaces surrounding it, starred in the springtime with dandelions and daisies, and shadowed here and there with knarled and knotty old apple trees. Not facing the thoroughfare, but turned almost at right angles from it, as if indifferent to the clatter and rush of this nineteenth century life, so absorbed in its own memories it recks not the passage of seasons which make its weather-worn sides more and more grass and crumbling and its timbers bend from the firm lines they once knew.
The days when these timbers were brought from their native forests, to make strong and comely the dwelling a young lover was rearing for his bride, saw William and Mary upon the throne of England, the Bourbon lilies in all their pride waving from the Gulf of St. Lawrence to the Mississippi, while the slender, straggling line of English settlements were a mere fringe along the Atlantic
Here, â€” though the exact location of the house is un- known, â€” when the town of Newbury was in its infancy, a little hamlet lying in its woodlands, with the rough, lonely roads stretching out in various directions, uniting it with neighbor settlements, lived Edward Rawson, gentle- man ; town clerk of Newbury from 1638 to 1650, and afterwards a man prominent in the affairs of the Massachu-
setts Bay colony.
He was Secretary under Gov. John Endecott, and his name figures prominently in the persecution of the Quakers under the rule of that stern Puritan.
Mr. Whittier's prose and verse have contributed largely to immortalize his share in the doing of that rough time, for which see ** Cassandra Southwick," "The King's Missive,'' and the charming story of New England life two hundred years ago, ** Margaret Smith's Journal."
Rawson removed from Newbury to Dorchester in 1650. There he seems to have become acquainted among others with a young man named William Pillsbury, who had been residing in the town for some years and evidently wished to remove to a new locality. Rawson owned several hundred acres of land in Newbury, and the two had doubtless small difficulty in making a bargain, or perhaps more
truly an exchange, as Pillsbury paid down only a small sum in cash for his new home, the remainder of the purchase money being in the form of security which family tradition states was real estate in Dorchester.
Considering the severity of the New England winters and the difficult roads, William Pillsbury with his family and household goods could hardly have been settled in their new home before late in the following spring. I have often tried to picture to myself their slow, weary journey through the wilderness over the road laid out along the coast in 1638, and wondered how many days they were on the way ; and, standing on the spot where my grandfather considered the original house must have stood, have stretched my imagination to the utmost in making a mental picture of that home and its surroundings.
Not the faintest tradition remains as to whether they had any or near neighbors. It would seem, however, that in course of time Poors, Toppans, Titcombs, Atkinsons and others took up their abode in the surrounding region, so their first loneliness was diminished.
Their place of worship was what is now known as the First Church in Newbury, about two miles away along the winding, forest-bordered road which connected the upper settlement with the lower, and in 1669 the town was stirred to its limits and beyond by the ecclesiastical difficulties existing in Mr. Noyes' meeting. The pot had been bubbling for four years, and now boiled over.
The contest turned upon that vital question in church and state. In whose hands is the power of government rightly lodged? Ought, or ought not, the majority to govern? The whole church and town were in a very excited and unbrotherly frame of mind on account of a real, or supposed, infringement of their rights and privileges as men and Christians.
The church was divided into two parties : one called Mr. Parker's or the minister's ; the other Mr. Woodman's, from Mr. Edward Woodman, a man of influence, finnness and decision. To the latter William Pillsbury and his eldest son, Job, belonged.
Mr. Parker's party held that the minister was all supreme in matters of doctrine. **The church was to be carried, not to carry ; to be subject, not to govern."
Mr. Woodman's party declared this to be flat tyranny, and that Mr. Parker was fain to set up a prelacy and have more power than the pope. So the dispute raged until the business was taken into the courts for the civil authority to decide. Their verdict was against Mr. Woodman's party, the members of which were fined sums varying as it would seem according to their individual prominence.
William and his son were fined a noble each, equivalent to six shillings and eight pence.
A full account of this episode may be found in Coffin's History of Newbury.
At his death, in 1686, William Pillsbiiry left the home farm to his eldest son, Job. Job in turn divided it between his two sons Daniel and Josiah, the former of whom soon bought out the latter and held the whole in his own hands.
Job in his will dated August, 1716, gives his ^* share in the new house to my son Daniel, and my old house and
he shop to my son Josiah."
Judging from the foundation of a chimney discovered in digging post holes for a new fence, my grandfather formed the opinion that the "old house '* above mentioned must have stood on that spot; while the ** new house'' was the on, whose history I am relating, placed twenty feet or more distant, and which my grandfather always affirmed was built four years before his great-grandfather was born, the said great-grandfather being Joshua, eldest son of Daniel and Sarah (Allen) Pillsbury, born 11 February, 1704; thus fixing the date of erection as A. D. 1700.
It consisted of a chimney ten feet square in the centre, a room twenty feet square on either side, with chambers the same size above them, and lastly an attic. The sides of the house were covered like the roof with shingles painted red, while the windows, family tradition states,
were originally diamond-paned. The front yard was open to the road, the family woodpile rose before the further front windows, the well was in line with it a little distance away from the house. My grandfather has told me that the first well dug was never stoned, and so after the lapse of a few years caved in, when a second well was sunk in a more workmanlike manner just where the large old appletree now stands, near the angle of the fence next the road. This remained until 1809 when my great-grand-father filled it up and dug the well in use at present.
The domicile must have been a quaint looking affair standing by the lonely winding road, which could have been little better than a cart-track, a veritable outpost of civilization, its nearest and only neighbors being Samuel Poore's house at the foot of what is now Woodland street, and Jacob Toppan's house on Toppan's lane.
Joshua Pillsbury, son of Daniel and Sarah, married in 1731, Mary, daughter of Abiel Somerby, the parish clerk of the First Religious Society of Newburyport, and great-granddaughter of Anthony Somerby, the first schoolmaster of Newbury. He seems to have brought his bride home to his father^s house and set up housekeeping on the opposite side of the chimney from his parents. Four sons and three daughters came one after another to bloom around their table.
How these large families managed to bestow themselves by night it is hard to conceive. My grandmother has told me that it was usual to put four beds in each of the chambers. The saying, "As thick as three in abed,*' must have had its origin about that time.
Joshua was a prosperous man and able to put his money into the ventures of the day. He was one of the original proprietors of the town of Boscawen, N. H., owning large tracts of land there and in the adjoining township of Warner. He also owned land in Maine in the vicinity of Saco and Biddeford, and doubtless was in the habit of sending his sons to look after his property, as his second son Joshua, Jr., born 1738, brought home a bride behind him on a pillion from one of these excursions, in 1764 â€” Rebekah Witham of Pepperellboro'.
His younger brother Samuel had married the preceding year, 1763, Mary, daughter of Kent the maltster, and had made a home where the silver factory now stands near the foot of Oakland street.
Again there was upheaval and moving in the home-nest and Joshua and Rebekah set up their household goods in
the room nearest the road.
Little ones came to them as rapidly as in the preceding generation, and when with the birds and flowers of the summer of 1782, the maternal prophecy came for the ninth time to the busy mother, she took counsel with her husband that some room for overflow must be provided, and so in the intervals of harvesting the two-story L at right angles to the main house was built, and here little Mollie Pillsbury first saw the light in January, 1783. She was the youngest of six sisters, Sally, Rebekah, Lois, Eunice and Phebe, being her seniors. I often picture to myself my great-great-grandmother and her daughters busy about the household duties of the day. The largeroom with its low ceiling, whitewashed walls, unpainted woodwork, and sanded floor ; I hear the whirr of the spinning-wheel, the clatter of the loom ; and the great back-log sends a shower of crackling sparks no the chimney's wide black throat as my ancestress rakes onto a bed of live coals in which to set the Dutch oven that holds a cake for the noonday meal. Suddenly a discordant steam whistle from locomotive or tug boat dispels my visions and brings me back to the nineteenth century.
The times that tried men's souls during the struggle for American Independence left their mark on the dwellers in the old house, for when the echo of the '*shot heard round the word reached Newbury, eight companies of minute- men started for Cambridge,' one of which under the command of Capt. Moses Little, shows on its muster roll the names of Joshua Pillsbury, private, together with his cousin, Timothy Pillsbury, as lieutenant. His brother Samuel appears to have joined the army at a later period, as I find among the Revolutionary Rolls at the Mass. State House a muster roll of Capt. Stephen Jenkins' company in Col. Jacob Gerrish's regiment, sent to the army of His
Excellency General Washington, Oct., 1779, containing the names of Moses Pillsbury, sergeant, and Jonathan and Samuel, privates. They enlisted Oct. 14, 1779.
Samuel left a young wife and five children at home, and a sixth was added during his absence in the army ; family tradition asserts that they were very poor, which is highly probable. For many months during the year 1780 nothing was heard from the father and he was given up for dead, when to the great joy of his family he returned with a tale of adventure which delighted more than one generation,
and which his posterity repeat with pride to this day.
Let us picture him fighting his battles over again by the fireside of his aged parents in the old house imder the hill.
'Tis an autumn night at the close of the Revolution. The flames from the high-piled logs leap merrily up the throat of the Santa Clans chimney and light a semicircle of earnest, listening faces from the grandsire of fourscore to the babe in its mother's arms. Sally, the eldest daughter, the promised bride of young Joseph Couch of Boscawen, is busy with her wheel, for her wedding day is not far off and she must carry a goodly plenishing with her when she leaves her father's house.
Rebekah and Lois, the next sisters, are plying their knitting needles, for winter is coining on and there are many feet to cover.
Daniel and Joshua, sturdy lads in their teens, drink in their uncle Samuel's words and make a series of pinches the safety-valve for their excitement. And he tells them the fresh and soul-stirring tale of the toils and sufferings of the Continental army, familiar to every student of history in these days, but a wonderful interlude to those secluded lives, while the personal experience of one innocently connected with the immortal treason of Benedict Arnold makes the narration still more thrilling. He relates how he and his companions rowed General Arnold from West Point to the strange ship lying down the river, and how to their terror and dismay they were forcibly detained on board and carried prisoners to New York. â€¢
Of his interviews with the British commanders, and how the sight of their gold pieces and the thought of the want and privation at home seemed almost too much, some- times, for his patriotism ; but he had come back with clean hands, God be thanked !
A low murmur passes round the circle ; the wheel and the knitting-pins are at rest and the boys forget to pinch each other. The wind sweeps with a roar down the chimney where the great back-log has fallen asunder and the brands fly out upon the hearth. It is nine o'clock.
" Henceforward, listen as we will,
The voices of that hearth are still ;
Look where we may, the wide earth o'er,
Those lighted faces smile no more.
We tread the paths their feet have worn,
We sit beneath their orchard trees,
We hear, like them, the hum of bees
And rustle of the bladed corn ;
We turn the pages that they read,
Their written words we linger o'er,
But in the sun they cast no shade,
No voice is heard, no sign is made,
No step is on the conscious floor !
Ten years and more pass away. The grandparents are resting side by side on the breezy summit of the Burying- hill. Sons and daughters have gone out from the fireside one by one to make them new homes of their own ; but a new and darker shadow has settled down over the hearthstone. The woeful burden of a disordered brain rests on the father, and he sits through the long hours of the day in the chimney corner turning the worn pages of his Bible as if to find some refuge from the demon of doubt that obsesses him ; lingering longest over that strange Shemitic poem of the chieftain of Uz and his three friends, despite the advice of his wife, who bids him lay to heart David's
psalms rather than Job's sighs and lamentations.
From the stories repeated to me about my great-great- grandmother, I think she spoke from her own experience as regarded the Psalms, and must have been a woman of fortitude and strong common sense.
Surely both were tried to the utmost when her son, Joshua, who was her right hand in the trouble that had fallen upon her husband, came home from the market place one day and announced that his sweetheart, Betsy Wood, had been taken with the small pox and he was going to the pest-house with her to take care of her.
We of this present time can form no idea of the terror and loathing connected with the name of small pox a century ago. Hawthorne in his story of "Grandfather's Chair," makes reference to it, and in Rev. Sylvester Judd's story of "Margaret," is a like reference and also
some description of what a pest-house in the olden time used to be.
Mention is made in Coffin's History of Newbury of pest houses in two different localities. My grandfather has told me that the one to which his father and mother went was at or near the foot of Toppan's Lane ; and that year the cases of the disease being especially numerous, an overflow hospital was established in a farmhouse on the borders of West Newbury, to which place my great-grand-
parents were assigned.
They had the plague lightly and showed but slight traces of it in later years. Are the young men plentiful nowadays who would dare so much for their lady-loves ?
Again a period of time passes over the old house. The sad eyes of the father which looked so long through the darkened glass have seen face to face for many a year.
The mother lives in the happiness of her children, for Joshua and Betsy long ago took each other for better as well as worse, and three sons and four daughters have blest their union. It is a pleasant evening in the spring-time ; the door stands partly open and there are only a few coals among the ashes on the hearth. A little company of friends and neighbors are seated with the family in decorous silence, while in their midst the young minister of the recently gathered church close by, Rev. James Miltimore, lifts up his voice in prayer and exhortation.
A fever of emigration is agitating the community and on the morrow Joshua Pillsbury with his family and household goods start for new home on a farm in Boscaweu in the far off wilderness of New Hampshire, an undertaking as serious to the contented dwellers of those days as a journey to Alaska now. So the minister, without whose countenance hardly any enterprise was begun three-quarters of a century ago, has been called in for a farewell blessing, and with strange appropriateness addresses them from the text,"If Thy presence go not with us carry us not up thence,'' With the morrow's coming, the teams are loaded up, the old mother bids them a sorrowful adieu, and away they go up the winding High street, full of hope for the future but destined never to return as they have gone forth.
In a little more than two years the father is laid to rest under the shadow of the New Hampshire hills to be followed in a few short years by his widow ; while of the scattered band of children only two or three find their way back to the paternal home.
And now there comes a new dispensation, for young David Emery, with his bride, pretty, spirited Sally Smith, from Crane-neck hill, have rented the farm for the purpose of opening a house of public entertainment, and a mansion of hospitality it truly proves to be. The L next to the street had recently been added for a kitchen, with a shed for baiting attached, and Mrs. Emery has told me of the many dinners she has cooked over its fire-place.
How many feet have trodden the threshold of the bar- room on errands of pleasure or business ! What animated political discussions, what merry stories recounted, round the great peat fire on the hearth ! Emery's tavern in Newbury soon came to be a well-
known hostelry between Portsmouth and Boston. Mrs. Emery relates that she often counted as many as twenty wagons covered with their white tilts standing drawn up along the side of the road near the house.
One morning the family learned to their horror that a certain heavily loaded vehicle which had stood directly opposite during the night carried nothing less than a large consignment of gunpowder. After that the contents of wagons stopping for a halt were more carefully enquired into.
The war of 1812 was under full headway at this date and was very unpopular in all the New England states, more especially the seaport towns, hence smuggling in every form was freely carried on and winked at.
Emery's tavern was a noted depot and safe deposit for the illicit trade, and often and again every hiding-place in the house and barns would be filled with contraband articles.
One summer afternoon two gentlemen came riding up to the door, and on their dismounting Mrs. Emery recognized to her great alarm two custom house officials, Mr. Cross and Mr. Whitmore; came they wittingly?
Sending Guy, the sharp-witted houseboy, with a hurried word of warning to seek his master, the hostess advanced to receive her unwelcome visitors, and ushering them into her private parlor proceeded to set out the best the house afforded, enhancing the entertainment with all the wit and woman's wile of which she was mistress. It may readily be understood how in occasional pauses in the conversation her anxious eyes stole furtive glances from the window toward the great barns in full view, behind whose closed doors she knew her husband and the hired men were loading the wagons with all speed and driving off toward West Newbury. After spending what must have seemed a very long hour to their entertainer the gentlemen made their adieux and rode away giving no sign. Mrs. Emery could then draw a breath of relief and try in vain to conjecture the reason of their visit ; but she never knew.
â€¢ I would refer all those to whom I would fain hold up a picture of those days, to the ** Reminiscences" of the hostess told at ninety years. The venerable narrator's graphic description outstrips my halting pen.
The sunny room at the further end of the house, added in 1795, with its woolen carpet and old-fashioned bed covered with an equally ancient patch counterpane, was her private parlor, where she entertained the custom-house officers on the memorable visit of which she delighted to to tell. In this room Mr. John Tracy, son of Patrick, loved to sit of an afternoon and relate his Revolutionary experiences ; and here the parties of young people who had walked up from town for a game of bowls, and early afternoon tea, lingered for an hour exchanging repartee and badinage with their entertainer.
At that time and for many years previous, what is now a grassy lawn before the house was a dusty, open dooryard through which teams and horsemen could approach the very door.
The stout iron hook projecting from the wall near the doorpost was very convenient to fling a bridle over.
The bowling alley stood across this courtyard at right angles to the house, protected from the view of passengers on the road by a bulk-head and reaching from the land then the property of the Messrs. Titcomb to the point now marked by a tall old apple tree.
What a commotion there must have been that winter morning seventy-eight years ago, when a mounted messenger dashed up the road to the door shouting "Peace ! Peace ! " The joyful announcement of the act which had been consummated at Ghent more than a month before. With what a generous hand Mrs. Emery must have dealt out the candles to assist in the illumination by which Belleville showed its joy at so happy a termination of the unpopular war. Never before or since have the many- paned windows glowed with so much brilliancy. They shall glow again even brighter when William Pillsbury*s great-great-great-great-great-grandson fills the chair of
the governor of Massachusetts.
But quieter days, like the old time, were coming. Young Joshua Pillsbury, the fourth of his name, with his brother Nat and sister Eunice, have returned from New Hampshire to the home of their fathers, to make it their own again. According to my grandfather's story the
brothers and sister must have made their housekeeping a sort of prolonged picnic and fully as enjoyable.
My grandfather has been described to me as being one of the goodliest young men in Belleville at that time, and Mrs. Emery added that all the young ladies were anxious to win him for a gallant ; but he had an absorbing ambition which stood between him and their charms, and when he did at last wake up to the propriety of taking a wife he found his way to Joppa and took a bride from the
waterside folk, â€” Sallv, the daughter of Capt. Samuel Rolfe.
To gratify my curiosity my grandmother would relate some of the incidents connected with her wedding which took place in the latter part of July on one of the hottest days she ever knew. Parson Williams of the Old South meeting house performed the ceremony, assisted by Parson Miltimore of Belleville, and there were cake and wine in abundance.
The groom wore a coat and waistcoat of blue adorned with brass buttons, and white pantaloons, which attire combined with his rosy cheeks, blue eyes and curly brown hair, made him a very comely swain.
The bride's costume could be described in a very few words : the gown being of pearl-colored China crape having low neck and short sleeves; with two breadths and gores in the skirt which probably cleared the floor all round, a toilet that could be donned in fifteen minutes. What would my poor grandmother have said to the elaborate preparations of to-day !
After their modest home-coming my grandfather and grandmother settled down to a quiet uneventful life varied only by the multiplying little feet that ran in and out over the threshold. One scene, however, of his early married life stood out before all the rest in my grandfather's memory, and he enjoyed describing it as indeed he did all the events of his younger days to any one who would listen.
The reminiscence referred to was the grand military muster of Oct., 1821, which took place on Grasshopper Plains and must have surpassed all similar affairs of later years. A venerable lady of my acquaintance, now in her ninetieth year, recollects very well how she and her mates walked from their homes in Joppa to the muster ground (a distance of at least three miles) , what a crowd there was
on the way, and how the drunken men lay by the side of the road every few rods ; this was before the days of prohibition.
My grandfather as an officer of the day held some important part in the manoeuvres, and according to his own declaration never felt any better before or since. The old house was full of a merry party of guests, sisters, cousins and aunts of the master and mistress ; as charming a set of relatives as Sir Joseph Porter's. The long dinner table was set in the bar-room and there was no lack of
mirth and jollity.
" O precious hours ! O golden prime !
And afEuence of love and time !"
Of all that joyous company my grandfather was the last survivor.
This seems to have been the last of the festival days the mansion was to see. My grandfather and mother absorbed in their occupations, envying nobody, and envied by none, educated with a Puritan dislike of profitless junketings, eschewed all but a neighborly tea-drinking or a mild form of hospitality at Thanksgiving.
So the years passed on. The friends and relatives dropped away one by one ; the grass slowly crept up the broad door-rock, and the shingles and clapboards grew grayer with the storms of each succeeding winter, though a faint tinge of red still held its own along the edge of the plaster under the eaves to show what the color originally was.
Grandchildren representing the seventh generation of inhabitants wandered through the wide, bare rooms, studying the primitive architecture and gathering up such scraps of family history and biography as came in their way, until every room had its individuality and associations ; the bar-room ; the " siimmer"' kitchen ; in distinction from the *'old'' kitchen; great-great-grandmother RebekahVs parlor ; the east chamber, with the cheese safe and grandfather's military accoutrements on the wall ; the west chamber with its three churns, cradle, dasher and crank, manipulated by every juvenile visitor ; and the old red cradle, which had rocked more than one generation, and which was such a marvel to the "lady from Pennsylvania; ” each had its own coloring and memories.
" All the day within the ancient house,
The doors upon their hinges creaked ;
The blue fly sung in the pane ; the mouse
Behind the mouldering wainscot shrieked
Or from the crevice peered about.
Old faces glimmered through the doors,
Old footsteps trod the upper floors,
Old voices called one from without."
And in the glooming of the twilight the shadowy forms of my five grandfathers, the successive masters of the house would pass slowly in array before me and melt into the dimness that followed the closing door.
The last regular inhabitant of the old house died in the latter part of the year 1887, and pending the settlement of the estate, owing to its want of repair, and comfortless condition, it was left vacant by night for a number of months.
Taking advantage of this fact and possessed of the spirit that one man calls '* wilful wickedness," and another " pure cussedness," which seeks to amuse itself at other people's expense, some person or persons, thought to properly celebrate July 4, 1889, by applying the torch to the unguarded mansion. The prompt arrival of the fire department saved the dwelling from utter destruction, but it was found impossible to make good the ravages of the fire ; therefore at the earliest day practicable the remains were taken down after thorough and careful measurements had been made of every portion, and all material found worthy of being used again was laid one side.
Numerous photographs in addition to the measurements made the matter of rebuilding the old house an easy one, and so in a short space of time it had risen phoenix-like from its ashes with all its old time features faithfully reproduced; the overhanging eaves, the projecting story; the small-paned windows of different sizes, irregularly placed, the walls being covered with rough shingles and
painted the same ancient red they knew a century ago, the low ceiled, wide rooms with their hard-finished walls, bare floors and wide fire places, were all restored ; though numerous modern comforts and conveniences have been added which were unknown to our forbears.
A similar example of restoration of a noted old house may be found in the instance of the historic Frankland mansion, in Westborough, which was totally destroyed by fire something more than forty years ago. Its owner immediately rebuilt it exactly after the old model and it is standing at this day.
See an interesting little book entitled, ** The Hundredth Town." Also reference to the same in one of Dr.
The Pillsbury house is owned and occupied by the compiler of this history.
[Published originally in Putnan's Historical Monthly
Magazine, Salem, Mass., Oct., 1893.]