Chapter VII.

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


  WHEN his little audience next assembled round the chair, Grandfather gave them a doleful history of the Quaker persecution, which began in 1656, and raged for about three years in Massachusetts.

  He told them how, in the first place, twelve of the converts of George Fox, the first Quaker in the world, had come over from England. They seemed to be impelled by an earnest love for the souls of men, and a pure desire to make known what they considered a revelation from Heaven. But the rulers looked upon them as plotting the downfal of all government and religion. They were banished from the colony. In a little while, however, not only the first twelve had returned, but a multitude of other Quakers had come to rebuke the rulers, and to preach against the priests and steeple-houses.

  Grandfather described the hatred and scorn with which these enthusiasts were received. They were thrown into dungeons; they were beaten with many stripes, women as well as men; they were driven forth into the wilderness, and left to the tender mercies of wild beasts and Indians. The children were amazed to hear, that, the more the Quakers were scourged, and imprisoned, and banished, the more did the sect increase, both by the influx of strangers, and by converts from among the Puritans. But Grandfather told them, that God had put something into the soul· of man, which always turned the cruelties of the persecutor to nought.

  He went on to relate, that, in 1669, two Quakers, named William Robinson and Marmaduke Stephenson, were hanged at Boston. A women had been sentenced to die with them, but was reprieved, on condition of her leaving the colony. Her name was Mary Dyer. In the year 1660, she returned to Boston, although she knew death awaited her there; and, if Grandfather had been correctly informed, an incident had then taken place, which connects her with our story. This Mary Dyer had entered the mint-master’s dwelling, clothed in sackcloth and ashes, and seated herself in our great chair, with a sort of dignity and state. Then she proceeded to deliver what 1he called a message from Heaven; but in the midst of it, they dragged her to prison.

  “And was she executed?” asked Laurence.

  “She was,” said Grandfather.

  “Grandfather,” cried Charley, clenching his fist, “I would have fought for that poor Quaker woman!”

  “Ah! but if a sword had been drawn for her,” said Laurence, “it would have taken away all the beauty of her death.”

  It seemed as if hardly any of the preceding stories had thrown such an interest around Grandfather’s chair, as did the fact, that the poor, persecuted, wandering Quaker woman had rested in it for a moment. The children were so much excited, that Grandfather found it necessary to bring his account of the persecution to a close.

  “In 1660, the same year in which Mary Dyer was executed,” said he, “Charles the Second was restored to the throne of his fathers. This king had many vices; but he would not permit blood to be shed, under pretence of religion, in any part of his dominions. The Quakers in England told him what had been done to their brethren in Massachusetts; and he sent orders to Governor Endicott to forbear all such proceedings in future. And so ended the Quaker persecution—one of the most mournful passages in the history of our forefathers.”

  Grandfather then told his auditors, that, shortly after the above incident, the great chair had been given by the mint-master to the Rev. Mr. John Eliot. He was the first minister of Roxbury. But besides attending to his pastoral duties there, he learned the language of the red men, and often went into the woods to preach to them. So earnestly did he labor for their conversion, that he has always been called the apostle to the Indians. The mention of this holy man suggested to Grandfather the propriety of giving a brief sketch of the history of the Indians, so far as they were connected with the English colonists.

  A short period before the arrival of the first Pilgrims at Plymouth, there had been a very grievous plague among the red men; and the sages and ministers of that day were inclined to the opinion, that Providence had sent this mortality, in order to make room for the settlement of the English. But I know not why we should suppose that an Indian’s life is less precious, in the eye of Heaven, than that of a white man. Be that as it may, death had certainly been very busy with the savage tribes.

  In many places, the English found the wigwams deserted, and the corn-fields growing to waste, with none to harvest the grain. There were heaps of earth also, which, being dug open, proved to be Indian graves, containing bows and flint-headed spears and arrows; for the Indians buried the dead warrior’s weapons along with him. In some spots, there were skulls and other human bones, lying unburied. In 1633, and the year afterwards, the small-pox broke out among the Massachusetts Indians, multitudes of whom died by this terrible disease of the old world. These misfortunes made them far less powerful than they had formerly been.

  For nearly half a century after the arrival of the English, the red men showed themselves generally inclined to peace and amity. They often made submission, when they might have made successful war. The Plymouth settlers, led by the famous Captain Miles Standish, slew some of them in 1623, without any very evident necessity for so doing. In 1636, and the following year, there was the most dreadful war that had yet occurred between the Indians and the English. The Connecticut settlers, assisted by a celebrated Indian chief, named Uncas, bore the brunt of this war, with but little aid from Massachusetts. Many hundreds of the hostile Indians were slain, or burnt in their wigwams. Sassacus, their sachem, fled to another tribe, after his own people were defeated; but he was murdered by them, and his head was sent to his English enemies.

  From that period, down to the time or King Philip’s war, which will be mentioned hereafter, there was not much trouble with the Indians. But the colonists were always on their guard, and kept their weapons ready for the conflict.

  “I have sometimes doubted,” said Grandfather, when he had told these things to the children, “I have sometimes doubted whether there was more than a single man, among our forefathers, who realized that an Indian possesses a mind, and a heart, and an immortal soul. That single man was John Eliot. All the rest of the early settlers seemed to think that the Indians were an inferior race of beings, whom the Creator had merely allowed to keep possession of this beautiful country, till the white men should be in want of it.

  “Did the pious men of those days never try to make Christians of them?” asked Laurence.

  “Sometimes, it is true,” answered Grandfather, “the magistrates and ministers would talk about civilizing and converting the red people. But, at the bottom of their hearts, they would have had almost as much expectation of civilizing a wild bear of the woods, and making him fit for paradise. They felt no faith in the success of any such attempts, because they had no love for the poor Indians. Now Eliot was full of love for them, and therefore so full of faith and hope, that he spent the labor of a life time in their behalf.”

  “I would have conquered them first, and then converted them,” said Charley.

  “Ah, Charley, there spoke the very spirit of our forefathers!” replied Grandfather.

  “But Mr. Eliot had a better spirit. He looked upon them as his brethren. He persuaded as many of them as he could, to leave off their idle and wandering habits. and to build houses, and cultivate the earth, as the English did. He established schools among them, and taught many of the Indians how to read. He taught them, likewise, how to pray. Hence they were called ‘praying Indians.’ Finally, having spent the best years of his life for their good, Mr. Eliot resolved to spend the remainder in doing them a yet greater benefit.”

  “I know what that was!” cried Laurence.

  “He sat down in his study,” continued Grandfather, “and began a translation of the Bible into the Indian tongue. It was while he was engaged in this pious work, that the mint-master gave him our great chair. His toil needed it, and deserved it.”

  “Oh, Grandfather, tell us all about that Indian Bible!” exclaimed Laurence. “I have seen it in the library of the Athenæum; and the tears came into my eyes, to think that there were no Indians left to read it.”

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