Chapter IV.

From: Grandfather’s Chair (1841)
Author: Nathaniel Hawthorne
Published: E. P. Peabody 1841 Boston


  “ROGER WILLIAMs,” said Grandfather, “did not keep possession of the chair a great while. His opinions of civil and religious matters differed, in many respects, from those of the rulers and clergymen of Massachusetts. Now the wise men of those days believed, that the country could not be safe, unless all the inhabitants thought and felt alike.”

  “Does any body believe so in our days, Grandfather?” asked Laurence.

  “Possibly there are some who believe it,” said Grandfather; “but they have not so much power to act upon their belief, as the magistrates and ministers had, in the days of Roger Williams. They had the power to deprive this good man of his home, and to send him out from the midst of them, in search of a new place of rest. He was banished in 1634, and went first to Plymouth colony; but as the people there held the same opinions as those of Massachusetts, he was not suffered to remain among them. However, the wilderness was wide enough; so Roger Williams took’ his staff and travelled into the forest, and made treaties with the Indians, and began a plantation which he called Providence.”

  “I have been to Providence on the railroad,” said Charley. “It is but a two hours’ ride.”

  “Yes, Charley,” replied Grandfather; “but when Roger Williams travelled thither, over hills and valleys, and through the tangled woods, and across swamps and streams, it was a journey of several days. Well; his little plantation is now grown to be a populous city; and the inhabitants have a great veneration for Roger Williams. His name is familiar in the mouths of all because they see it on their bank bills. How it would have perplexed this good clergyman, if he had been told that he should give his name to the ROGER WILLIAMS BANK!”

  “When he was driven from Massachusetts,” said Laurence, “and began his journey into the woods, he must have felt as if he were burying himself forever from the sight and knowledge of men. Yet the whole country has now heard of him, and will remember him forever.”

  “Yes;” answered Grandfather, “it often happens that the outcasts of one generation are those, who are reverenced as the wisest and best of men by the next. The securest fame is that which comes after a man’s death. But let us return to our story. When Roger Williams was banished, he appears to have given the chair to Mrs. Anne Hutchinson. At all events it was in her possession in 1637. She was a very sharp witted and well instructed lady, and was so conscious of her own wisdom and abilities, that she thought it a pity that the world should not have the benefit of them. She therefore used to hold lectures is Boston, once or twice a week, at which most of the women attended. Mrs. Hutchinson presided at these meetings, sitting, with great state and dignity, is Grandfather’s chair.”

  “Grandfather, was it positively this very chair?” demanded Clara, laying her hand upon its carved elbow.

  “Why not, my dear Clara?” said Grandfather. “Well; Mrs. Hutchinson’s lectures soon caused a great disturbance; for the ministers of Boston did not think it safe and proper, that a woman should publicly instruct the people in religious doctrines. Moreover she made the matter worse, by declaring that the Rev. Mr. Cotton was the only sincerely pious and holy clergyman in New England. Now the clergy of those days had quite as much share in the government of the country, though indirectly, as the magistrates themselves; so you may imagine what a host of powerful enemies were raised up against Mrs. Hutchinson. A synod was convened; that is to say, an assemblage of all the ministers in Massachusetts. They declared that there were eighty-two erroneous opinions on religious subjects, diffused among the people, and that Mrs. Hutchinson’s opinions were of the number.”

  “If they had eighty-two wrong opinions,” observed Charley, “I don’t see how they could have any right ones.”

  “Mrs. Hutchinson had many zealous friends and converts,” continued Grandfather. “She was favored by young Henry Vane, who had come over from England a year or two before, and had since been chosen governor of the colony, at the age of twenty-four. But Winthrop, and most of the other leading men, as well as the ministers, felt an abhorrence of her doctrines. Thus two opposite parties were formed; and so fierce were the dissensions, that it was feared the consequence would be civil war and bloodshed. But Winthrop and the ministers being the most powerful, they disarmed and imprisoned Mrs. Hutchinson’s adherents. She, like Roger Williams, was banished.”

  “Dear Grandfather, did they drive the poor woman into the woods?” exclaimed little Alice, who contrived to feel a human interest even in these discords of polemic divinity.

  “They did my darling,” replied Grandfather; “and the end of her life was so sad, you must not hear it. At her departure, it appears from the best authorities, that she gave the great chair to her friend, Henry Vane. He was a young man of · wonderful talents and great learning, who had imbibed the religious opinions of the Puritans, and left England with the intention of spending his life in Massachusetts. The people chose him governor; but the controversy about Mrs. Hutchinson, and other troubles, caused him to leave the country in 1637. You may read the subsequent events of his life in the History of England.”

  “Yes, Grandfather,” cried Laurence; “and we may read them better in Mr. Upham’s biography of Vane. And what a beautiful death he died, long afterwards! beautiful, though it was on a scaffold.”

  “Many of the most beautiful deaths have been there,” said Grandfather.

  “The enemies of a great and good man can in no other way make him so glorious, as by giving him the crown of martyrdom.”

  In order that the children might fully understand the all-important history of the chair, Grandfather now thought fit to speak of the progress that was made in settling several colonies. The settlement of Plymouth, in 1620, has already been mentioned. In 1636, Mr. Hooker and Mr. Stone, two ministers, went on foot from Massachusetts to Connecticut, through the pathless woods, taking their whole congregation along with them.

  They founded the town of Hartford. In 1638, Mr. Davenport, a very celebrated minister, went, with other people, and began a plantation at New Haven. In the same year, some persons, who had been persecuted in Massachusetts, went to the Isle of Rhodes, since called Rhode Island, and settled there. About this time, also, many settlers had gone to Maine, and were living without any regular government. There were likewise settlers near Piscataqua river, in the region which is now called New Hampshire.

  Thus, at various points along the coast of New England, there were communities of Englishmen. Though these communities were independent of one another, yet they bad a common dependence upon England; and, at so vast a distance from their native home, the inhabitants must all have felt like brethren. They were fitted to become one united people, at a future period. Perhaps their feelings of brotherhood were the stronger, because different nations had formed settlements to the north and to the south. In Canada and Nova Scotia were colonies of French. On the banks of the Hudson river was a colony of Dutch, who had taken possession of that region many years before, and called it New Netherlands.

  Grandfather, for aught I know, might have gone on to speak of Maryland and Virginia; for the good old gentleman really seemed to suppose, that the whole surface ‘of the United States was not too broad a foundation to place the four legs of his chair upon. But, happening to glance at Charley, he perceived that this naughty boy was growing impatient, and meditating another ride upon a stick. So here, for -the present, Grandfather suspended the history of his chair.

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