Page images

be seventy-four, one of his brothers to be ninety-six, and he himself to be eighty-eight. The Morrills were plain people; to a friend in Philadelphia he wrote in 1872, “My sympathies are all for the workingman, being one myself and with all my kith and kin of that sort"; and in an address to young men when he was eighty he said, “I was brought up on a farm and know something about how to plant corn, to pull flax, and to dig potatoes.” “The escutcheon of my family,” he wrote in bis later life, "was a blacksmith's hammer, and for many years my father worked twelve to fifteen hours a day.” As he grew older he took increasing pride in this “escutcheon," it was in fact the sign of three generations; his grandfather, his father, and at least one of his brothers were blacksmiths. An autobiographical memorandum contains the phrase “being myself the son of a hard-handed blacksmith, the most truly honest man I ever knew.” It was entirely creditable to him that on occasions he remembered that the blacksmith's forge had associations with distinction: “Demosthenes,” he said in his speech at the University of Vermont Commencement in 1893,“was the son of a blacksmith and we all know that Webster was the son of a small farmer."

With such sentiments it was not in Morrill's nature to concern himself greatly over matters of genealogy or questions of descent. Yet his origin was one in which he might well take a modest satisfaction. The family was English. His earliest ancestors in this country seem to have settled first in Salisbury, Massachusetts, later removing with the opening of new lands to Chichester, New Hampshire, and finally settling, near the end of the eighteenth century, in the town of Strafford, Vermont, then in its infancy.

The record of the Morrill ancestry and the lines of descent afford a large field for research and conjecture. To those who are curious in such matters, the Morrill, Batchelder, Hunt, Huntress, and Clark genealogies will give an abundance

of material for study, though it is to be feared the records are not all of impeccable accuracy. It appears, however, that Morrill's grandmother, Mary Batchelder, was directly descended from the Reverend Stephen Bachiler, an English Nonconformist minister, born in 1560, who came to Massachusetts among the early settlers and not long afterwards founded the town of New Hampton, New Hampshire. The line of descent runs: Reverend Stephen; Nathaniel; Nathaniel, 1630; Stephen, 1675; Stephen, 1701; Nathaniel; and Mercy, who married Smith Morrill. This grandmother of Morrill's was named, after the custom of the times, for her grandmother, Mercy Clark Longfellow, who is described as a remarkable woman, of unusual charm and distinction and of the best New England stock, in which appear strains of the Greenleafs, Somerbys, Longfellows, and Dummers.

To the new town of Strafford came, in 1795, Smith Morrill, with his five sons, Joseph, David, Daniel, Nathaniel, and Stephen — bearing a fine array of Biblical names and, as they showed a few years later, a fair measure of martial spirit — and set about earning his living by the work of his hands. Here four of the sons made their homes: Nathaniel, the father of the future Senator, set up a blacksmith's shop and married Mary Hunt, a woman of superior character and education which she bestowed in full measure upon her eldest son Justin Smith Morrill. He seems, in fact, to have been especially indebted for his spiritual endowment to his mother and his father's mother, Mercy Batchelder Morrill, who is referred to with great respect by her friends and relatives. It is of her father that Morrill wrote, in his eighty-seventh year, “Nathaniel Batchelder, my Great-Grandfather, served in the Revolutionary War; he was in Capt., afterwards General, Henry Dearborn's Company, at the battle of Bunker Hill, he took part in several campaigns and died at Bennington after the battle in 1777. He had two sons and four sons-in-law who served in the Revolutionary Army. His wife was Mary Longfellow; Henry Wadsworth Longfellow was the sixth generation from William and I, Justin S. Morrill, am the seventh, so the poet was my third cousin."

The martial history of the family was not confined to Revolutionary times. They played a part also in the War of 1812. Morrill himself has told part of the story in his account of the town of Strafford in the “Historical Gazetteer” of Vermont:

At the time of the invasion of Plattsburgh (September, 1814) the town of Strafford sent forward some of her best citizens as volunteers. Hon. Jedediah H. Harris was captain of a Light Infantry Company, and at Burlington drew and receipted for arms and rations for the whole squad, although some, as regimental officers out-ranked him, and all preferred to carry guns. Hon. Daniel Cobb, although lame with a crooked knee, was a prompt volunteer, and when about to embark at Burlington for the place of conflict, it was suggested by the party that he, being lame, had better not take a gun. He replied, “I shall need it more than any of you. Good G d! the rest of you can run!” And when he went to receive his equipments, the quartermaster, seeing his limping movements, again remonstrated with him, saying, "You can't march or run with such a load." Cobb replied, “I didn't come to run; I came to fight.” On this incident, remembered by the late Senator Collamer, he got his land-warrant.

Smith Morrill, then between sixty-five and seventy years of age, and quite lame, went with a two-horse team to carry baggage and those who could not go on horseback. At Burlington he wanted a gun as much as either of his four sons (Joseph, Nathaniel, Stephen, and David), who were all on the spot; and when told it would be necessary for him to remain to guard the team and other horses and luggage, the disappointment showed itself in the old man's tears.

On Sunday, there being then no telegraph to transmit the fact of the battle having taken place, Elder Aaron Buzzell was preaching in the old red Baptist meeting-house, and during the service he observed one of the brethren gliding and whispering from pew to pew. Elder Buzzell stopped short in his discourse and inquired, “Brother Brown, what do you want?" "I want," said Mr. Brown, “a horse to go to Plattsburgh.” “Take mine," instantly responded the Elder, and went on with his sermon.

The news, when it came, though less sanguinary than some of the fire-eaters may have desired, was of a very satisfactory tenor. The warriors of Strafford had arrived at Plattsburgh too late to engage in actual fighting, since the British forces had already been repulsed and were withdrawing, but were able to take part in the pursuit of the enemy, and so returned as victors. The Morrills had played their full part in the episode, a part which probably led not long afterward to Nathaniel being made commander of one of the regiments of State militia from which he drew the title which stuck to him all his life of “Colonel Nat.”

The Vermont into which, twenty years before the Plattsburgh “Invasion," Smith Morrill and his sturdy sons, joining in one of those sporadic, miniature migrations that were characteristic of American life for at least a century, moved from New Hampshire, was the scene of greater stir and activity than it has known at any later time. It was still in its youth as a State, for it had been admitted to the Union only four years before, and was receiving the full tide of immigrants who came to share in founding the new towns under the encouragement of the officials of the new commonwealth. The status of semi-tutelage as “New Hampshire grants” and the threatened possibility of annexation to New York both had passed and given place to the eager, expansive life of a full-fledged member of the Federal Union.

Nathaniel Morrill was a boy of only fifteen when the family settled in Strafford, but it was a time when youth comes to maturity in long strides, and it was no great time before he saw and seized on the possibilities of a dam across the Ompompanoosuc River which flowed down the lovely valley which had already invited a number of settlers. There he set up a blacksmith's forge, joined with a neighbor in building a dam, and with the power from the river was able to add to his forge a triphammer, a grindstone and a blower with which he contrived to manufacture axes, hoes, and scythes to supply the farmers of the neighborhood. “My father," wrote the Senator in reply to an inquiry, "was rather more than a village blacksmith. Having a triphammer shop he made and sold scythes and hoes at wholesale as well as retail and always employed journeymen and apprentices. But he was also a fair farmer, owning a very good farm near by, although he personally only attended to the feeding of his sheep and cattle and to the work in haying time.” The blacksmith's shop seems to have possessed the traditional fascination, for it was recalled many years later by a contemporary who describes a frame — still to be discovered by the curious, though now in ill repair — in which to shoe oxen. It had a windlass at one end to which the rope, tied round the horns of the ox, was fastened. Then as the windlass turned, "the ox,” sagely observes the chronicler, "was sure to trudge slowly into the frame.”

More than eighty years later, when Morrill had become "the Nestor of the Senate,” the dam and the water rights drew from him an interesting letter. It is addressed to Mr. Royal A. Hatch at Strafford, Vermont:

I have a letter this morning from my brother Amos who says that his man, Mr. Fulton, refuses any longer to work in the shop for the reason that there is no water to run the blower, and he also states that you deny his right to any water and that you are ready to commence a lawsuit to test the matter.

I am surprised at your taking this ground. My father had enough water to run a triphammer, grindstone, and a blower which took a great deal more water than the present one does. And you may remember that I paid you between eighty and ninety dollars of my share of the repairs to the dam several years ago. It was always understood that my father had a right

« PreviousContinue »