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
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
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
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
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
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?
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