Scenes in My Native Land . . .

SCENES IN MY NATIVE LAND; By Mrs. L.H. SIGOURNEY. Boston: James Monroe & Co.

  This is a book that will have a permanent value as a traveling companion. It is written in a very plain and natural manner, and with good taste and feeling, giving, with regard to the places described, just those leading facts that the visitor desires to know.

  Those which relate to Monte-Video—Huguenot Fort—the Charter Oak at Hartford—the Moravian settlements at Bethlehem and Nazareth—and the story from the Vale of Wyoming, were the most interesting to ourselves.

  We extract a part of Huguenot Fort as a fair specimen of the book:

I STOOD upon a breezy hight, and marked
The rural landscape’s charms; fields thick with corn,
And new-mown grass that bathed the ruthless scythe
With a forgiving fragrance, even in death
Blessing its enemies; and broad-armed trees
Fruitful, or dense with shade or crystal streams
That cheered their sedgy banks.
But at my feet
Were vestiges that turned the thoughts away
From all this summer beauty. Moss-clad stones
That formed their fortress, that in earlier days
Sought refuge here, from their own troubled clime,
And from the madness of a tyrant king,
Were strewed around.
Methinks, yon wreck stands forth
Is rugged strength once more, and firmly guards
From the red Indian’s shaft, those sons of France,
Of purple vintage, found but welcome cold
From thee, my native land! The wintry moan
Of wind-swept forests, and the appaling frown
Of icy floods. Yet didst thou leave them free
To strike the sweet harp of the secret soul,
And this was all their wealth. For this they blest
Thy trackless wilds, and ‘neath their lowly roof
At morn and night, or with the murmuring swell
Of stranger waters, blent their hymn of praise.
Green Vine! That mantlest in thy fresh embrace
Yon old, grey rock, I hear that thou with them
Didst brave the ocean surge
Say drank thy germ
The dews of Languedoc? or slow uncoiled
As infant fibre, ‘mid the fruitful mould
Of smiling Rouseillon? or didst thou shrink
From the fierce footsteps of a warlike train,
Brother with brother fighting unto death,
At fair Rochelle?
Hast thou no tale for me?
Methought its broad leaves shivered in the gale,
With whispered words.
There was a gentle form,
A fair, young creature, who at twilight hour
Oft brought me water, and would kindly raise
My drooping head. Her eyes were dark and soft,
As the gazelle’s, and well I knew her sigh
Was tremulous with love. For she had left
One in her own fair land, with whom her heart
From childhood had been twined.
Oft by her side,
What time the youngling moon went up the sky,
Conquering with silvery beam their woven bower;
He strove to win her to the faith he held,
Speaking of heresy with flashing eye,
Yet with such blandishment of tenderness,
As more than argument dissolveth doubt
With a young pupil, in the school of love.
Even then, sharp lightening quivered through the gloom
Of persecution’s cloud, and soon its storm
Burst on the Huguenots
Their churches fell,
Their pastors fed the dungeon or the rack;
And ‘mid each household-group, grim soldiers sat,
In frowning espionage, troubling the sleep
Of infant innocence.
Stern war burst forth;
And civil conflict on the soil of France
Wrought fearful things.
The peasant’s blood was plowed
In, with the wheat to be planted, while from cliffs
That overhung the sea, from caves and dens
The hunted worshippers were madly driven,
Out, ‘neath the smiling sabbath skies, and slain,
The anthem on their tongues.
The coast was thronged
With hapless exiles, and that dark-haired maid,
Leading her little sister in the steps
Of their afflicted parents, hasting left
The meal uneaten, and the table spread
In their sweet cottage, to return no more.
The lover held her to his heart, and prayed
That from her erring people she would turn
To the true fold of Christ, for so he deemed
That ancient Church, for which his breast was clad
In soldier’s panoply.
But she, with tears
Like Niobe, a never ceasing flood,
Drew her soft hand from his, and dared the deep.
And so, as years sped on, with patient brow
She bare the burdens of the wilderness,
His image, and an everlasting prayer
Within her soul.
And when she sank away,
As fades the lily when the day is done,
There was a deep-drawn sigh, and unpraised glance
Of earnest supplication, that the hearts
Severed so long might join, where bigot zeal
Should find no place.
She hath a quiet bed
Beneath you turf, and an unwritten name
On earth, which sister angels speak in heaven.
Vine of Rousaillon! Tell me other tales
Of that high-hearted race, who for the sake
Of conscience, made those western wilds their home?
How to their door the prowling savage stole,
Staining their hearth-stone with the blood of babes,
And as the Arab strikes his fragile tent
Making the desert lonely, how they left
Their infant Zion with a mournful heart
To seek a safer home?
Fain would I sit
Beside this ruined fort and muse of them
Mingling their features with their humble verse,
Whom many of the noblest of our land
Claim as their honored sires.
On all who bear
Their name, or lineage, may their mantle rest,
That firmness for the truth, that calm content
With simple pleasures, that unswerving trust
In toil, adversity and death, which cast
Such healthful leaven ‘mid the elements
That peopled this New World.

  When Louis XIV, by the revocation of the Edict of Naniz, scattered the rich treasure of the hearts of more than half a million of subjects to foreign climes, this Western World profited by his mad prodigality.

  Among the wheat with which its newly broken surface was sown, none was more purely sifted than that which France thus cast away. Industry, integrity, moderated desires, piety without austerity, and the sweetest domestic charities, were among the prominent characteristics of the exiled people. Among the various settlements made by the Hugueno’s, at different periods upon our shores, that at Oxford, in Massachusetts, has the priority in point of time. In 1686, thirty families with their clergyman, landed at Fort Hill, in Boston. There they found kind reception and entertainment, until ready to proceed to their destined abode. This was at Oxford, in Worcester County, where an area of 12,000 acres was secured by them from the township of eight miles square which had been laid out by Governor Dudley. The appearance of the country, though uncleared, was pleasant to those who counted as their chief wealth, “freedom to worship God.” They gave the name of French River to a stream, which, after diffusing fertility around their new home, becomes a tributary of the Quinabaug, in Connecticut, and finally merged in the Thames, passing on to Long Island Sound.

  Being surrounded by the territory of the Nipmug Indians, their first care was to build a fort, as a refuge from savage aggression. Gardens were laid out in its vicinity, and stocked with the seeds of vegetables and fruits, brought from their own native soil. Mills were also erected, and ten or twelve years of persevering industry, secured many comforts to the colonists, who were much respected in the neighboring settlements and acquired the right of representation in the Provincial Legislature.

  But the tribe of Indians by whom they were encompassed, had, from the beginning, met with a morose and intractable spirit their proffered kindnesses. A sudden, and wholly unexpected incursion, with the massacre of one of the emigrants and his children, caused the breaking up of the peaceful little settlement, and the return of its inmates to Boston. Friendships formed there on their first arrival, and the hospitality that has ever distinguished that beautiful city, turned the hearts of the Huguenots towards it as a refuge, in this, their second exile. This reception, and the continuance of their names among the most honored of its inhabitants, proved that the spot was neither ill chosen, nor uncongenial. Here, their excellent pastor, Father Pierre Dulle, died in 1715. His epitaph, and that of his wife, are still legible in the “Granary Burying Ground.” He was succeeded by Mr. Andrew LeMerier, author of a history of Geneva. Their place of worship was in School street, and known by the name of the French Protestant Church.

  About the year 1713, Oxford was resettled by a stronger body of colonists, able to command more military aid; and thither, in process of time, a few of the Huguenot resorted, and made their abode in those lovely and retired vales.

  Some pleasing anecdotes follow of traditions related to the author by descendants of these Huguenot families.

  In mentioning visits during childhood to the burial-place of the Mohegans near Norwich, these interesting particulars were given of the last rest of “the last of the Mohegans.”

  Seated there, as we returned from school at the close of a summer-day, loaded with our books, and sometimes with the baskets which had contained our noon-repast, we read the simple inscriptions on the rude grave-stones, and listened to the moan of the cataract, as it stole, softened by distance, to that solitary and not uncongenial recess.

  One of these epitaphs used especially to attract our attention. It was composed at the request of the Indians, by Dr. Tracy, a highly respected physician, whose philanthropy was often called into exercise, for the red-browed race.

  “Here lies Samuel Uncas, the second and beloved son of his father, John Uncas, who was the grandson of Uncas, Grand Sachem. He died July 31st, 1741, in the 28th year of his age.

For beauty, wit, and sterling sense,
For temper mild, and eloquence,
For courage bold, and things waureegan
He was the glory of Mohegan,
Whose death hath caused great lamentation,
Both to the English and the Indian nation.”

  The term ‘waureegan,’ in the language of our Indian neighbors, signifies ‘good things,’ or praiseworthy conduct. Some writers have translated it as ‘good tidings,’ or costly apparel; but this is not conformable to the usage of the Mohegans. Over another mossy stone, the little critics sometimes paused, thinking that the close of its inscription possessed wonderful force and simplicity.

  “In memory of young Seasar Jonus, who died April 30th, 1749, in the 28th year of his age. And he was cousin to Uncas.”

  The latest interment in this royal cemetery, was that of Mazeen, about twenty years since, the last man in whose veins flowed the royal blood of Mohegan. He was in the 28th year of his age, and deeply mourned by his people. That tribe, in all conveyances of land to the white people, strenuously reserved this sacred sepulchral ground.

  The coincidence of all these deaths in the 28th year of the age has an air somewhat Homeric and solemn.

  The following particulars are related of Samuel Wyllys, the gentleman who owned the ground on which the Charter Oak grew:

  “By his virtuous and dignified deportment, he acquired great influence over the Indians, whose wigwams were thickly planted in the great meadows toward the south-east, and along the margin of Connecticut river. When their midnight carousals arose to such a point that a quarrel might be apprehended, he often stilled their uproar, and sent them affrighted to their homes, by a few words uttered from his open window through a speaking-trumpet in the name of their Great Spirit. Such was the security and confidence in the honesty of the people, in which that honorable and wealthy family dwelt, that till within sixty years, a large silver cup was left unharmed by a well, for the accommodation of all, who in passing through the premises might wish to taste of its waters.”

  That is a romantic picture of Hon. Mr. Wyllys bidding the Indians, scattered over the broad meadows, good night, through his speaking-trumpet.

  In contrast with the love of ravage which distinguishes the American settler and which makes the marks of his first passage over this land, like those of corrosive acid upon the cheek of beauty, rather than that smile of intelligence which would ensue from the touch of an intelligent spirit, Mrs. S. observes:

  “It seems almost a wickedness, wantonly to smite down a vigorous healthful tree. It was of God’s planting, and in its veins is circulating the life which He has given.”

  We have often marveled to see the Reformers who weary every one by their protest against violence done to life in the animal kingdom, coolly hewing down and heaping on the hearth trunks that half a century had been required to rear, trunks of trees, the home of birds, and the fairest monuments of earth’s devotion. We suppose that the hatred of our people for trees is from a feeling that they are symbols of a wilderness to be conquered; and inherited from a time when each was a shield or hiding place for an Indian foe. But it is time that the barbarous form of this prejudice should give place. With it contrast the Old English feeling:

  “The reverence of our ancestors, in England, for trees, is well known. It is not uncommon in some of their parks, to observe by a clump of fine trees, a stone monument, recording when and by whom it was planted; thus coupling the name of the founder with these masses of umbrageous foliage which deepen as ages pass by.”

  We may be sure, if we do not resume some of this old Druidical veneration for trees, no oak will bear for us the sacred mistletoe, emblem of the purest thoughts.

  The mention of a taste for art, as developed in the creation of scarecrows at Fonda and Johnstown, is pretty:

  “Something of the kind is often seen in New-England among planted fields or loaded cherry trees, but not worthy to be compared with these in device or execution. Here were parti-colored pennons, broad white flags, long ropes hung with bright tin filings, and braided wisps of straw, flapping in every breeze; stuffed boys, with one foot raised as in the act of ascension; men in full vigor, brandishing the semblance of a fowling-piece, or some other nondescript weapons; aged sires, with uplifted brow, in an attitude of supplication. Surely some incipient Chantry must ennoble this region!”

  It is, indeed, pleasing to see among our people some of the Greek spirit that leads to turn the common occasions of life to themes of fancy, and something like a love of creation.

  We marked several parts of this book for comment, but our limits, at present, forbid this.—Only one thing we must speak of,—the apologetic tone for hours passed in the contemplation of natural beauty, and the assumption of calling such a person as the hermit of Niagara “erring brother,” because he sequestered some part of his life to this purpose. We have no patience with all this sort of remark, which so strongly marks a gross materialist tendency in our time and place. Mrs. Sigourney does not share it, but is so often conversant with those who do, that she is led to speak of those pure natural enjoyments, meant by Heaven for a great means of education to man for his proper place in his universe in this dubious or apologetic tone. Let those “erring brethren” apologize who spend their lives in gossip, or money-making; not those who think it worth while to devote some hours to sympathy with the glories that surround them. Is it such a fault, then, to take a little time from the service of Mammon? What do you mean by your “social duties?” What are they good for, except to educate the soul to worship? This mania as to “social duties,” is so fostered among us that for any one to pass a day alone in contemplation of the most sublime work of the Great Spirit is enough to make him pointed or jeered at as “crazy” or (more deadly stigma, it would seem,) “peculiar.” My friends! angels and poets are peculiar; and to be gregarious is not the way to be social. Good society can only be composed of intelligent and devout men.*

“Scenes in My Native Land . . .” New-York Daily Tribune, 28 January 1845, p. 1.