« PreviousContinue »
Whittemore y' Oaths to y® Accts. and Mr. John Briggs to his, as they are Attorneys to Dr. Cotton Mather Administrator to y Estate of Nathan Howell deceased." Journal.
9. “ 1727–8 January 8. George & Nathan Howell ab' 15 & 14 y's old, went a skating at the bottom of ye Common, & were both drown'd. O Ld. sanctify thine awfull Provdce to the near Relations ; Support & Comfort ym. Be to yne Handmaid better y" 10 Sons. To ye Town,” &c., &c. Rev. Dr. Sewall's Journal.
From the above extracts it appears, that, shortly after Mr. Howell's death, Dr. Mather undertook to administer on his estate ; and Samuel, son of Major Stephen Sewall of Salem, and brother of Jonathan and of Chief Justice Stephen, married his widow. The two boys referred to, Extract 9, were doubtless children of this Mr. Howell, and the 6 phans,” or at least two of them, named in the anonymous letter, and in the Judge's to Dr. Mather. The “ Nephew," so frequently named in the anonymous letter, as contriving the Doctor's ruin, was not Jonathan Sewall, as I supposed till I came across Extract 5, but his brother Samuel. And the nephew's “predecessor” was doubtless Mr. Howell, the first husband of his “ Tirrible wife.” Concerning the trait in the character of this “ Tirrible wife,” what in particular it was, I am unable to say. But concerning her second husband and his brother, the two nephews of the Judge referred to in the letter, Samuel and Jonathan Sewall, the Judge writes in a letter, dated Oct. 29, 1717, to a cousin and correspondent in England, as follows: " I suppose you are not unacquainted with Mr. Samuel Sewall, Son of Maj" Sewall of Salem. He is an accomplish'd Merch' and dwells in town. If you might transfer the buisness wherein you employ'd Mr. Hirst upon him, I hope it would be for your Profit, and you would therein very much gratify me. His brother Jonathan Sewall' liv'd with Mr. Hirst several years, who was pleased with his skillfull & faithfull Services, and has often in my hearing given him a very good character. Jonathan now dwells with his brother, and joins with him in his Ship Chandlers Business.” In the same letter the Judge communicates to this cousin (Mr. Samuel Storke of London) the death of Mr. Hirst. In another letter written the next day, Oct. 30, 1717, to a brother of the above Mr. Storke, and probably a partner in business, the Judge writes as follows: “I am thankfull to you & others that may be concerned for yo profitable buisnesse you Imployed Mr. Hirst in, & now if you should see meet to transfer your
Buisnesse to my Cousin Mr. Samuel Sewall Eldest son of my Brother Majk Sewall of Salem, It would very much gratify me: he has a good Storehouse just by Mr. Hirsts & I hope would transact for you wh Integrity ability & application. His brother Jona. Sewall dwells with him, who formerly lived several years with Mr. Hirst, who gave him a very good character, & he understands & is well acquainted wih Mr. Hirst's affairs.”—LetterBook.
The above nephew of the Judge's, Samuel, may have been unfortunate in his wife, but I can hardly think that either he or his brother would be guilty of entering into any plot to ruin or “ to plague” Dr. Mather. The probability seems to me to be, that the business of the administration had been very negligently or unskilfully managed by Dr. Mather or his agents, or both ; and that now, after it had been conducted above
three years in this manner without being brought to any close (when it might have been “ in two months according to the doctor's own confession), the father-in-law of the orphans had begun to use some threatening, and perhaps other legal measures, to oblige the administrator and his attorneys to fulfil their trust. And the letter of the Judge to Dr. Mather seerns by the event to have contributed to this end. How it should have ever been necessary for him to remind the Doctor of the necessity of rendering into the Probate Office a regular particular account of his receipts and expenses in this administration, before he could obtain a discharge, it is difficult to conceive.
The above Samuel Sewall, nephew of the Judge, is, I have no doubt, the “ Major Sewall ” to whom Rev. Mr. Upham refers in his Lectures upon Witchcraft, as introducing into the General Court, nearly fifty years after the witchcraft, a resolution“ for the appointment of a Committee to make an inquiry into the condition and circumstances of individuals and families, that might have suffered from the calamity of 1692' as it was called.” (Page 122.) Mr. Upham mentions him as
a son of the Judge.” But the Judge's son Samuel never had the title of “ Major," by which, I believe, this son of Major Stephen of Salem was known. His brother Jonathan's first wife was Elizabeth Alford (of Charlestown, I presume), by whom he had two daughters. After her death, Sept. 11, 1723, he married Mary Payne, a sister of Edward Payne of Boston, by whom he had two other daughters, and Jonathan, the celebrated Attorney-General. This Jonathan died November, 1731, leaving a widow and the above children. His mother also, the daughter of "matchless Mitchel,” was then yet living, and I presume in Boston, perhaps with Jonathan.
If I can lend any further aid, dear Sir, in explaining the document in question, I will cheerfully do it. The above is all that is now in my power. Yours, very respectfully,
Perhaps every reader would be satisfied with these illustrations, equal. ly ample and judicious, of the descendant of the first Chief Justice Sewall. Some additional light on the relation of Cotton Mather to the wretched administration is derived from our records of marriages.
Nathan Howell and Katherine George were married by Mr. Benjamin Colman, 7 Oct., 1708.
The Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather and Madam Lydia George were married by the Rev. Dr. Increase Mather, 5 July, 1715.
Samuel Sewall and Katherine Howell were married by the Rev. Dr. Cotton Mather, 1 January, 1716, i. e. in our computation 1717.
Notice of the death of Howell is contained in the Boston Newsletter of the 7th of May, No. 629, and the birth of his sons is recorded in our town books, George, son of Nathan Howell and Katherine his wife, 1 November, 1712, Nathan, 21 March, 1713–4.
The most curious evidence, however, is furnished by the records of our Probate Court, of which Boydell, mentioned both in the letter of Judge Sewall and that, supposed, of Mather, was Register. Grant of Administration on Estate of Nathan Howell is found in Vol. XIX. p. 119, at
the desire of Katherine, widow of the intestate, in favor of Cotton Mather, D. D., calling the deceased his son-in-law. So that it is evident that Mather had the preceding year married the mother of this lady, whom he describes as the terrible wife of the Judge's nephew, Stephen ; and that his own wife's daughter had solicited this neighborly and Christian trust of her departed husband's property to be granted to him. By the appointment, he was required to return inventory at or before the 4th of September, 1716, and plain and true account of administration at or before the 4th of June, 1717; and from his own letter it may be inferred, that one of his sureties had great apprehension of ruin from his neglect. Stranger still is the fact, that no inventory is recorded, nor any account of the administration, although in his private memoranda the Judge has noted his giving the oath on the 12th of October, 1720, for the former, and only five days later for the accounts. May we infer, that both were surreptitiously withdrawn from the hands of the Register?
Greater promptitude was found in the action on the estate of Mather after his decease, on the 13th of February, 1728. By Vol. XXVI. p. 187, it appears that administration was granted on the 22d of July, 1728, to Nathaniel Goodwin; and p. 189 contains the inventory, taken the next day after, and sworn to on the 5th of August of the same year. This document is observable for two things : the silver plate exceeds in value all the other personal property, and not a single book is mentioned among the assets of this eccentric scholar.
It may, at last, be demanded, why this remarkable letter, which affords such insight into the character of Cotton Mather, is attributed to himself?
Perhaps any critic, conversant with the epistolary productions of the author of Magnalia Christi Americana, would decide by the style of this composition ; but a general reader would infer from the disclosure of character and incidents, that nobody else was authorized to speak as this letter does of him, his intentions (as, for instance, about the Lecture for conversion of the Jews), and, above all, his private sufferings from the accident of being amenable to the jurisdiction of the Probate Court. Something like a parallel to the obliquity of the opening sentence in this document is found in a remarkable epistle to Governor Shute, of the 31st of October, 1718, preserved in the Appendix to Quincy's History of Harvard University, Vol. I. p. 524, where is shown a cunning less profound than disreputable : “ Your Excellency's incomparable goodness and wisdom will easily discern and approve the intention of the freedom used in this letter, and have it and its writer covered under the darkest concealment." The injunction of the writer as to his immunity of darkness seems to have been equally disregarded, probably scorned, by the Judge and the Governor.
Yet more direct proof of the origin of this letter is deducible from minute, than general, inquiry. It would not, likely, have been produced by a scribe under dictation; and four several petty occurrences in this original manuscript delivered to "Judge Sewall prove it to be a copy from a draft lying before the transcriber, and that the author read his letter to the amanuensis, instead of taking this paper to see if it exactly conformed.
I. In the third sentence, him is omitted, without doubt, in the clause, s such an effect upon.”
II. Near the end of second paragraph, “can be a farther the better for,” may be judged a blunder for farthing.
III. The malediction of Major Stephen Sewall's wife, under the epithet of “ Tirrible," was, by the meek author's autograph, unquestionably given terrible. Some other words may appear spelt in an older style than then prevailed.
IV. In the concluding sentence “to hard” is manifestly curtailed of
Still a higher confidence may be felt from inspection of this curious paper, which, though of so great length, contains not a single erasure or interlineation, clearly showing, in my opinion, that it must be a transcript, not a first draft
. In his manuscript Cotton Mather made many corrections, both of erasure and insertion, almost universally.
How much the occurrence in this document explained affects the reputation of Cotton Mather, may be unnecessary to determine. It surely goes far to elucidate the ill repute in which he was held in his latter days, that was so prevalent as to cause him to lament that old admirers would not recognize him as he passed through the streets. Many of the deceased members of our Society, and a few survivors, have received traditional stories of an unfavorable bearing, of which the whole foundation may have been only the transaction above detailed, or similar ones. The high reverence in which he had been held may naturally have conduced to a greater depreciation of his character than justice would authorize. Pity is due to his hypochondriac lamentation of ingratitude, under which the father also suffered, but with too proper a self-esteem to utter perpetual complaint. The great misery of Cotton Mather was his vanity; and this gangrene, first applying to his literary, then to his social, may ultimately have tainted his moral reputation, in the judgment of his fellow-citizens.
The copy is most carefully made from the original, with every variety of spelling, and every abbreviation.
JAMES SAVAGE. Boston, July, 1844.
MEMOIR OF REV. THADDEUS MASON
HARRIS, D. D.
By NATHANIEL L. FROTHINGHAM, D.D.
A MEMOIR of this learned and amiable divine belongs of peculiar right to the Massachusetts Historical Society, of which he was for a time the Librarian, and had been a diligent member, at the period of his death, for just half a century. Such a Memoir was expected from the hand of one of his earliest associates. But as the Society has been disappointed in this, the writer of the present notice succeeds to the task, and feels that in obeying an injunction he is at the same time performing a labor of love. The task is made an easy one by his being permitted to make use of a manuscript Account of Dr. Harris's Life and Writings by the late venerable Dr. John Pierce, whose accuracy can always be relied on, and whose very words he may cite at pleasure with perfect propriety.
Thaddeus Mason Harris was born in Charlestown, July 7, 1768. He was the son of William Harris. His mother was Rebekah, daughter of Hon. Thaddeus Mason of Charlestown, afterwards of Cambridge, - a gentleman of excellent quality, who filled, in the course of a long and useful life, many offices of honor and trust in the Commonwealth and in the County of Middlesex, and among the rest that of Clerk of the Courts of Session and of Common Pleas, which he held during fifty-four years.
* Thaddeus Mason was a graduate of Harvard College, in the class of 1723. After the destruction of Charlestown, he resided at Cambridge, where he died in 1802, in the ninety-sixth year of his age.