CHAPTER VII
THE MAN OF SORROWS


Among this infinite variety and combination of evil equally felt by both parties, some, perhaps, I may select more visible, more affecting [and], therefore, more within my reach. What is wanting in the propriety of the following account will be supplied by the truth of the facts it contains. At peculiar times I cannot resist the force of some thrilling vibrations which suddenly invade my soul when I contemplate some great distress on either side. No country can exhibit more affecting ones than these afflicted provinces. Could I have ever thought that a people of cultivators, who knew nothing but their ploughs and the management of their rural economies, should be found to possess, like the more ancient nations of Europe, the embryos of these propensities which now stain our society? Like a great river, the agitated waves of [which] are now devastating those shores which before they gently surrounded and fertilized, great revolutions in government necessarily lead to an alteration in the manners of the people. The rage of civil discord hath advanced among us with an astonishing rapidity. Every opinion is changed; every prejudice is subverted; every ancient principle is annihilated; every mode of organization, which linked us before as men and as citizens, is now altered. New ones are introduced, and who can tell whether we shall be the gainers by the exchange? You know from history the consequence of such wars. In every country it has been a field pregnant with the most poisonous weeds, with recriminations, hatred, rapidly swelling to a higher and higher degree of malice and implacability. How many have I seen which it has converted into beasts of prey, often destroying more from a principle of ferocity than from notions of gain! Too many of these vindictive friends on both sides have stained the cause they have espoused.

But why should I wonder at this political phenomenon? Men are the same in all ages and in all countries. A few prejudices and customs excepted, the same passions lurk in our hearts at all times. When, from whatever motives, the laws are no longer respected; when the mechanism of subordination ceases and all the social bonds are loosened, the same effects will follow. This is now the case with us: the son is armed against the father, the brother against the brother, family against family; the nearer the connexion, the more bitter the resentment, the more violent the rage of opposition. What is it, then,, that renders this revolution so remarkable in my eyes? What is it that makes me view some of its scenes with such heart-felt regret? The reason is that before this war, we were a regular, sober, religious people, urged neither by want nor impelled by any very great distress.

Oh, that I had finished my career ere our happiness vanished, or that the time of my existence had been postponed to a future and more tranquil period! In an overgrown society similar effects would not raise within me the same degree of astonishment. There the least subversion either of law or trade or government must cause thousands of people to want bread, and those people are ready for the sake of subsistence to commit all the outrages which the spirit of the times or the will of the leaders may dictate or inspire. However, I must remark here that those scenes which exhibit the greatest degree of severity or cruelty are not the work of every day. Forbid it, that human nature should be so universally debased! Nor do they flow from the reflected policy of the times so much as they do from that private rancour which this sort of war inspires, from that spontaneous resentment and irascibility of individuals upon particular occasions. Men in a state of civil war are no longer the same. They cease to view the former objects through the same medium as before. The most unjust thoughts, the most tyrannical actions, the most perverse measures, which would have covered them before with infamy or would have made them dread the omnipotence of heaven, are no longer called by these ancient names; the sophistry of each party calls them policy, justice, self-defence.

Who can live in the midst of this grand overthrow, who can for so many years be a witness to the pangs of this convulsed society without feeling a compunction which must wrench the heart of every good citizen, without wishing to describe some remarkable scenes, if it were only to sympathize with the unfortunate mourners?

Our rulers are very sensible of the impolicy and inexpediency of these severe deeds, but their authority and influence can hardly reach everywhere. I have heard many of them say: "If we are finally victorious, cruelty tarnishes the glory of our achievements; if conquered, we would shudder at the precedent we have given and dread the hour of retaliation." The experience of all revolutions, the uncertainty of all human events must strangely teach them that necessary caution. Alas, let the attempts be ever so wrong or ever so commendable; let war be ever so just or so unjust; the world places its applause only in the success of the enterprise. Success alone is the reward which in the eyes of men glitters and shines; 'tis the symbol of true merit. This is a melancholy proof of the strange fatality which seems to preside over all the actions of men. But I do not pretend to hold this great scale even; I am no politician. I leave with submissive humility the issue of this dispute in the hands of Him who holds the balance of the universe. This problem will be solved like so many others by the strongest. Yet I well know that in great as well as in small undertakings, nothing is acquired by too precipitate ardour, which, instead of hastening, often leads into incoherent measures. There is in all schemes a necessary development of effects, a chain of steps which gradually shows maturity at a distance. Too great a velocity of action, running too fast towards fruition without waiting for the accomplishing, moment, may lead into erroneous paths. A bold confidence may be the source of arduous deeds, yet it cannot command the event. No one can bring success from the wheel of fortune before it has undergone a certain number of revolutions.

The situation of these people who live on our frontiers is truly deplorable. No imagination can conceive, no tongue can describe their calamities and their dangers. The echoes of their woods repeat no longer the blows of. the axe, the crash of the falling trees, the cheerful songs of the ploughman. These happy sounds are changed into mournful accents, deep exclaims; howling of poor orphan children just escaped from the flames, of desolate widows bemoaning the fate of murdered or captivated husbands. Human society presents here nothing but tears and groans, and every species of calamity; the most innocent of our blood is daily shed. Some districts, more unfortunate still than the rest, are exposed to the fury of Indian excursions, as well as to the mischief of parties that are sent to protect them. So slender, so impermanent a protection only serves to increase their misfortunes. Their houses become little citadels, often defended and attacked, and, when taken, exhibit the most hideous scenes of blood and conflagrations. These cruel flames are reaching nearer and nearer; nothing can prevent or extinguish them—no, not even the blood that is shed within their walls. Judge then what ferment, what state of irascibility the minds of people thus situated must be in throughout all these last-settled countries)

Some time ago the beautiful settlement of ---, upwards of a hundred years old, was utterly destroyed. It presented to the eyes a collection of all that the industry of the inhabitants and the fertility of soil could exhibit [which was] most pleasing, most enchanting. Their lands were terminated by the shores of a beautiful river; their houses were all elegantly built; their barns were the most spacious of any in that part of the country; the least wealthy inhabitant raised at least a thousand bushels of wheat a year. Their possessions were terminated by the steep ascent of a great chain of mountains, beyond which no improvements ever can extend. From their bosoms enemies 'came and laid everything waste. Many sober, industrious people were killed, and all they had was destroyed.

Some parties of militia, which had been employed in protecting the contiguous settlements, on their return home were informed that some white people and Indians had, on their way to ---, lodged at a certain man's house, which was described to them. This discovery suddenly inflamed them with the most violent resentment and rage. Full of the most vindictive sentiment, they hastened thither. The man of the house was in his meadows making hay. They instantly surrounded him, and in the most opprobrious language upbraided him with the crime laid to his charge. He solemnly denied it. A strong altercation ensued. Some of the party were resolved to bayonet him instantly, as their friends had been bayoneted before. Their passions were too highly inflamed; they could not hear him with patience or give him an opportunity of justifying himself; they believed him guilty. Their unanimous wish seemed to be that he should confess the crime, a wish founded probably on some remains of ancient justice. He still denied it and appealed to heaven for the truth of his assertions. They disbelieved him, and in the madness of their rage they resolved to hang him by the toes and the thumbs, a punishment which, singular as it may appear, yet has been frequently made use of by the wretches of both parties.

Whilst in this painful suspension, he attested his innocence with all the energy he was master of. By this time his wife, who had been informed of the tragical scene, came from her house, with tears gushing in streams and with a countenance of terror. In the most supplicating posture, she implored their mercy, but they rejected her request. They accused her of having participated also in her husband's abominable crime. She repeated her entreaties, and at last prevailed on them to relieve her husband. They took him down after a suspension of six minutes, which will appear a long interval to whoever considers it anatomically. The bitter cries of the poor woman, the solemn asseverations of her husband seemed for a few moments to lull the violence of their rage, as in a violent gale of wind Nature admits of some kind intermission which enables the seaman to bring his vessel to. But all of a sudden one of the company arose, more vindictive than the rest. He painted to them their conflagrated houses and barns, the murder of their relations and friends. The sudden recollection of these dreadful images wrought them up to a pitch of fury fiercer than before. Conscious as they were that he was the person who had harboured the destroyers of their country, they resolved finally to hang him by the neck.

Hard was this poor man's fate. He had been already suspended in a most excruciating situation for not having confessed what was required of him. Had he confessed the crime laid to his charge, he must have been hung according to the principle of self-preservation which filled the breasts of these people. What was he then to do? Behold here innocence pregnant with as much danger as guilt itself, a situation which is very common and is a characteristic of these times. You may be punished to-morrow for thoughts and sentiments for which you were highly commended the preceding day, and alternately. On hearing of his doom, he flung himself at the feet of the first man. He solemnly appealed to God, the searcher of hearts, for the truth of his assertions. He frankly owned that he was attached to the king's cause from ancient respect and by the force of custom; that he had no idea of any other government, but that at the same time he had never forcibly opposed the measures of the country; that his opinions had never gone beyond his house; that in peace and silence he had submitted to the will of heaven without ever intending to take part with either side; that he detested from the bottom of his heart this mode of war which desolated and ruined so many harmless and passive inhabitants who had committed no other crime than that of living on the frontiers. He earnestly begged and entreated them that they would give him an opportunity of proving his innocence: "Will none of you hear me with patience? I am no stranger, no unknown person; you well know that I am a home-staying man, laborious and peaceable. Would you destroy me on a hearsay? For the sake of that God which knows and sees and judges all men, permit me to have a judicial hearing."

The passive character of this man, though otherwise perfectly inoffensive, had long before been the cause of his having been suspected. Their hearts were hardened and their minds prepossessed; they refused his request and justified the sentence of death they had passed. They, however, promised him his life if he would confess who were those traitors that came to his house, and who guided them through the woods to With a louder voice than usual, the poor culprit denied his having the least knowledge whatever of these persons; but seeing that it was all in vain, he peaceably submitted to his fate and gave himself up to those who were preparing the fatal cord. It was soon tied round the limb of a tree, to which they hanged him.

As this execution was not the action of cool, deliberate justice, but the effects of mad revenge, it is no wonder that in the hurry of their operation they forgot to tie his arms and to cover his face. The struggles he made as soon as he was suspended; the agitations of his hands, instinctively trying to relieve him; the contortions of the face necessarily attending such a state presented a most dreadful spectacle, which in common executions are hid from the public's eyes. But so irresistible is the power of self-preservation, so high was their resentment, so great their consciousness of his being guilty that these dreadful images conveyed neither horror nor thoughts of mercy to the minds of these incensed people. Whilst they were thus feeding their passions, and whilst unmoved they stood gazing on their departing enemy, Nature was hastening his final dissolution, as evidently appeared by the trembling nerves, the quivering appearance of the limbs, the extension of the tongue. The shades of patibulary death began to spread on his face; the hands, no longer trying to relieve the body, hung loose on each side.

Fortunately at this instant some remains of humanity sprung up in the breasts of a few. They solicited that he might be taken down. It was agreed and done. The next threw cold water on him; and to the surprise of some and the mortification of others, he showed some signs of life. He gradually recovered. The first dawn of his returning reason showed what were the objects which had engrossed his last thoughts. He most tenderly inquired for his wife. Poor woman! At a small distance she lay stretched on the ground, happily relieved from feeling the horrid pangs with which the preceding scene must have harrowed up her soul, by having fainted as soon as she saw the fatal cord fixed round her husband's neck. The second part of his attention was attracted by the sight of his children, who were crowded at the door of his house in astonishment, terror, and affright. His breast heaved high, and the sobs it contained could hardly find utterance. He shed no tears, for their source had almost been dried up along with those of life. Gracious God, hast Thou then intended that Man should bear so much evil, that Thou hast given him a heart capable of resisting such powerful sensations without breaking in twain?

Again he was commanded to confess the crime he was accused of, and again he solemnly denied it. They then consulted together, and, callous to the different impressions occasioned by so complicated a distress, unwilling to acquit him, though incapable of convicting him, they concluded him guilty and swore that he should die. Some in mercy repented that they had taken him down. Whilst they were employed in fixing on this last resolution, the poor unfortunate man was leaning against a tree. His wife, who had been brought back to life by the same means that had been used with him, sat near him on a log, her head reclined and hid in her hands, her hair dishevelled and loose. On hearing his second final doom, he tenderly and pathetically reproached them with making him pass through every stage of death so slowly when malefactors have but one moment to suffer. "Why, then, won't you confess that you have harboured our enemies? We have full and sufficient proofs." "Why should I confess in the sight of God that which is not true? I am an innocent man. Aren't you afraid of God and His vengeance?" "God and His vengeance have overtaken you for harbouring the incendiaries of our country." "I have nothing but words to make use of. I repeat it again for the last time: I am innocent of the accusation." "What say you, men, guilty or not guilty?" "Guilty he is and deserving of death." "Must I, then, die a second time? Had you left me hanging, now I should be no more. Oh, God, must I be hanged again? Thou knowest my innocence; lend, oh, lend me a miracle to prove it."

He shed a flood of tears; and looking once more toward his children and wife, who remained stupid and motionless, he approached those who were preparing to hang him.

"Stop a while," said the first man; "'tis the will of these people that you should die and suffer that death which all the enemies of their country so justly deserve. Prepare yourself, therefore; you have ten minutes to make your peace with God." "If I must die, then God's will be done." And kneeling down close by his wife, Who kneeled also, he pronounced the following prayer, the sentiments of which are faithfully transcribed, though, through want of memory, clothed in words somewhat different from the original ones: "Gracious God, in this hour of tribulation and of mind and bodily distress, I ask Thee forgiveness for the sins I have committed. Grant me that grace by which I may be enabled to support my fainting spirits, and to quit this world with the confidence of a Christian. Despise not the sighs of my heart, which, though sometimes unmindful of Thee in its worldly hours, yet has never been guilty of any gross impiety. The patience with which I have borne my preceding trials, my innocence, my resignation, and Thy divine goodness make me hope that Thou wilt receive me into Thy kingdom. Thou, 0 Lord, knowest without the assistance of words the sincerity of my sentiments; to Thee I appeal for the manifestation of my innocence, which unjust men want to rob me of. Receive the repentance of a minute as an atonement for years of sin; Thy incomprehensible mercy and justice, unknown to Man, can do it. Endow me with all the benefits of our Redeemer's cross, the great Pattern of all those who, like Him, untimely perish by the hands of violence. Allowed but ten minutes to live, I seize my last to recommend to Thy paternal goodness my wife and children. Wilt Thou, O Master of Nature, condescend to be the protector of widows, the father of orphans? This is, Thou knowest, the strongest chain which binds me to the earth and makes the sacrifice of this day so bitter. As Thou hast promised pardon to all men, provided that they also pardon their enemies, I here before Thee cheerfully pardon all my persecutors and those by whose hands I am now going to be deprived of life. I pray that the future proofs of my innocence may call them to early repentance ere they appear before Thy awful tribunal. Forgive me my sins as I forgive the world, and now I go to Thee, the boundless fountain, the great ocean of all created things. Death is but the gateway towards Thee. 0 Lord, have mercy on me and receive my soul."

"You have prayed so well and so generously forgiven us that we must think at last that you are not so guilty as the majority of us had imagined. We will do you no further injury for the present, but it is our duty to send you to ---, where, according to law, you may have a fair trial; and there let the law of the land hang you and welcome, if it is found that you deserve it. For my part, I'll wash my hands of you as soon as I have delivered you into safe custody. I wish we had not gone on so precipitately. What say you men?" "Aye, aye, let him go, but mark our words and see if the judges do not completely do what we have done."

With a feeble voice, he thanked them and begged a few minutes to speak to his wife, who with a kind of stupid insensibility and an unmoved countenance had heard her husband's last sentence and even joined him in prayer. I have no words to describe her joy, for her joy was a mixture of frenzy, of fear, of laughter, of strange expressions. The transition had been too sudden; her nerves, rigidly strained by the preceding scene, were too soon relaxed on hearing the joyful news; it very nearly cost her the loss of her reason. They embraced each other with a tender and melancholy cheerfulness. She ran towards the house whilst he called his children. Poor little souls! They came as quickly as their different strengths permitted them. "What has been the matter, Father? We have been crying for you and Mother." "Kiss me, my dear little ones, your daddy thought he would see you no more, but God's Providence has spoken to the heart of these people." They all partook of this new and extraordinary banquet in proportion to their ages and understandings. This was a scene which Humanity herself would with peculiar complacence have delineated in all the pleasing hues of her celestial colours. It was indeed so powerfully energetic that it melted all the spectators into a sudden sensation of regret and tenderness, so singularly variable are the passions of men. The most dreadful and afflicting spectacle which the spirit of civil discord could possibly devise was metamorphosed into the most pleasing one which a good man could possibly wish to behold.

0 Virtue, thou, then, really existest! Thou, best gift of heaven, thou then secretly residest in the hearts of all men, always ready to repair every mischief and to dignify every action when not repelled by the force of superior vice or passion. [If] I had the pencil of true energy, of strong expression, I would dip it into their best colours; I would discard those which my scanty palette contains.

After a few hours' rest, they carried him to , where some time afterwards he had an impartial trial and was acquitted. No government, no set of men can ever make him amends for the injury he has received. Who can remunerate him for all his sufferings, for his patience, for his resignation? He lives, a singular instance of what the fury of civil wars can exhibit on this extensive stage of human affairs. How many other instances, if not similar, at least as tragical, might be recorded from both sides of the medal! Alas, poor man, I pity thee. I call thee "poor man" though not acquainted with thy circumstances. I would be meant to conceive by that expression all that sympathy and compassion have of [the] most exquisitely tender and expressive. What a subject for a painter who delights to represent mournful events! What a field for a judge and a master of the passions! A man leaning against a tree, hardly recovered from the agonies of death, still visible in the livid hue and altered lineaments of his face, still weak and trembling, his mind agitated with the most tumultuous thoughts, racked by the most anxious suspense, hearing his third and final doom. At a little distance, his wife, sitting on a log, almost deprived of her reason. At a more considerable distance, his house, with all his children crowded at the door, restrained by amazement and fear from following their mother, each exhibiting strong expressions of curiosity and terror, agreeable to their different ages. I can conceive the peculiar nature of all these colourings, but where would the painter find the originals of these faces who, unmoved, could behold the different scenes of this awful drama?

< Back   Next >