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Boston, 14 April, 1854. Hon. JOSIAH QUINCY, LL. D.: —
DEAR SIR, — At a meeting of the Massachusetts Historical Society, held yesterday, your communication of the 10th instant, addressed to the President and members, was presented by the Rev. George E. Ellis, chairman of the Publishing Committee, and the undersigned were appointed a committee to inform you of the views and votes of the Society in relation to the request which it contained.
We need not assure you that the Society had earnestly desired to have in their Collections a memoir of their late distinguished associate, John Quincy Adams, from your own pen.
It was to have formed the leading article in the forthcoming volume.
The Society cannot fail to appreciate, however, the difficulty which you have so forcibly suggested, of compressing the details of a long and eventful life within the limits assigned to this class of papers in our Historical Collections. Nor have they felt at liberty, under all circumstances, to decline acceding to your request to be released from an obligation to themselves, which might interfere with a free and full performance of the labor of love which you have undertaken.
In signifying to you this release, they have desired us to express the grateful sense which is entertained by the Society of the very liberal offer which your communication contains, and also to assure you of the interest which the members of the Society will take, in common with all their fellow-citizens, in the completion of the proposed biography of so distinguished a son of Massachusetts.
We have the honor to be, dear Sir, very respectfully
Committee of the
MEMOIR OF THE LATE THOMAS L.
PRESIDENT OF THE MASSACHUSETTS HISTORICAL SOCIETY, ETC.
The character and condition of a community like ours are adapted most happily to develop and occupy every talent. At the same time they render useful, and hence conducive ultimately to the general welfare, the diversified positions of life. And the gentleman of leisure, if he have but the desire to be useful, can find a field wide enough for the full exercise of all his benevolence. Nay, on such the burden is likely to be heavy, in proportion as ability is apparent, and the disposition to employ it is not wanting. As a result, it has been made an object of founding and maintaining our Society, not only to notice scientific and literary productions, and preserve them; but also to keep in view the elements of a nation's prosperity, and to cherish and record those statistical exhibitions of them which are calculated to interest as well the man of business, the patriotic politician, the lover of his species and of their well-being, as the meditative and accomplished scholar.
Lieutenant-Governor WINTHROP was a gentleman of a class, if so it may be termed, qualified to attract and gratify the moral observer. A beautiful harmony and propriety of character and deportment distinguished him most favorably, drawing toward him the respect, esteem, and, in the latter periods of life, even the veneration of those who enjoyed the honor and pleasure of associating with him. No airs of the parvenu, no disproportionate eagerness of hobbyism, no overbearing positiveness and obstinacy of opinion, and no exclusive feelings, obtruded
themselves on such intercourse. But extending his liberal views over a large and variegated field of individual and social responsibilities, thoroughly known to him by personal observation and experience as well as abstract study, he displayed habitually the result of a cultivated understanding combined with the best feelings of the heart.
Contemplative and active life had both been opened before him, and in good measure tried. For, descended of one of the first of the New England families, — if not indeed the very first, - and which had been distinguished not in the first generation only, but subsequently also, he enjoyed the advantage of the best education the country afforded; although he adopted the profession of a merchant, and was in that character long and successfully occupied.
And here it may be noted, that a liberal education is by no means to be considered as lost, which too many seem disposed to think, because he who obtains it does not engage in one of “the three learned professions.” There are, indeed, those who are not anxious to obtain it for their sons, although it could be afforded them with
But would they reflect on the start it gives to the mental powers, — on the pleasure it communicates, the enlargement of the sphere of vision it produces, -rendering it easy, comparatively, to turn the attention, in after life, as circumstances may invite or require, to the various objects of human research and interest, and giving to the individual a taste for occupying liberally the leisure hours or moments which occur in the busiest life, and especially in its declining period, — such an opinion might well be abandoned.
It is not intended here to attempt a history of the family of WINTHROP. In addition to the fact, that, already, accounts have been given to the public in various volumes, and are familiar to almost every American reader, the limits assigned to the present article will not permit it. But it is necessary to say, that the immediate ancestry of our lamented President were inhabitants of the Connecticut territory. There his father was born, and there his great-great-grandfather, the eldest and much beloved
son of the venerated Governor of Massachusetts, acquired an extensive landed property, formed settlements, expended his labor and much of his fortune, and bequeathed to his posterity a noble inheritance. He is as justly regarded the founder of Saybrook, of the city of New London, and of Groton, as Governor of the State.
No well-informed inhabitant, indeed, of either Massachusetts or Connecticut can pronounce the name of WINTHROP with indifference. “It is,” says Lord Bacon, “a reverend thing to see an ancient castle or building not in decay, or to see a fair timber tree sound and perfect; how much more to behold an ancient family which hath stood against the waves and weathers of time!”
Soon after the almost total destruction of the Pequot tribe, in 1637, JOHN WINTHROP the younger, eldest of the thirteen children of his honored and excellent father, procured a grant of Fisher's Island.
of Fisher's Island. The secure possession of this gem of the Sound” was in time guaranteed to him and his heirs by the respective governments of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and New York. The patent of the Colony last named, in language recalling the feudal tenures of Europe, declares it to be “ an entire enfranchised township, manor, and place of itself, in no wise subordinate or belonging unto or dependent upon, any riding, township, place, or jurisdiction whatever. 6 His house on that island, observes the accomplished historian of New London, “ was the first English residence in the Pequot . country”; and she adds, with reference to the city itself, “He brought out the first company of settlers, laid out the plan of the new town, organized the municipal government, conciliated the neighboring Indians, and determined the bounds of the plantation.” *
This gentleman, having married Martha, daughter of Thomas Fones, Esq., of London, February 8, 1631, had come to New England the same year. He had received every advantage of early and elaborate instruction afforded by the Universities of Cambridge and Dublin, at the latter of which he appears to have passed three years; and this was aided by extensive travel on the Continent, even
* History of New London, by Miss F. M. Caulkins, p. 39.
as far as Turkey, and free and full correspondence with men of science and literature, at home and abroad. His fine natural powers were thus highly cultivated; and, with an inquisitive, observing mind, he was eminently prepared to investigate a new country, and to avail himself and his associates of all its productions. Hence we find him engaged in the new settlement of Agawam, or Ipswich, soon after his arrival,* and there he resided until the death of his wife, May 14, 1634, encountering the necessary hardships and privations of such an undertaking with heroic courage as well as fortitude. The intercourse of paternal and filial regard between his venerated father and himself, apparent in the letters appended to the Hon. Dr. Savage's edition of the Governor's History, and in its admirable notes, is truly affecting, breathing as it does the genuine spirit of the Gospel.
In 1643, Mr. Winthrop returned from one of his frequent voyages to England with pecuniary means and men to commence iron-works, both a furnace and forge. It was done at Lynn, and appears also to have been done at Braintree. But he had previously been intrusted, for a year at least, with the enterprise of a settlement at Saybrook. This was in 1635, † for after the death of his wife, who left no children, he had spent some time in England, and married Elizabeth, daughter of Edward Read, Esq., of Wickford in Essex, whose widow appears to have married the celebrated Hugh Peter. He returned to this country in October. The activity of mind and body, the force of resolution, the enlargedness of view, and the success which attended his enterprises, all attract our regards, and exhibit him as an admirable leader in a colony.
The grant from Massachusetts, grounded on a claim of conquest, which was obtained by him in 1644, to settle “a plantation ” in the Pequot country, was, during the next year, carried into execution; and on the 6th of May, 1646, New London is considered as founded. In the autumn of that year he removed his family thither; yet
* See Felt's History of Ipswich,' at large.
+ See Savage's Winthrop, I. 170, and Trumbull's Connecticut, quoted there. Also History of New London, p. 40.