By Caroline C. Lamprey Shea

The Granite Monthly

Vol. XXVII — September 1899 — No. 3

John Greenleaf Whittier

John Greenleaf Whittier

“There is Whittier whose swelling and vehement heart
Strains the strait-breasted drab of the Quaker apart,
And reveals the live man, still supreme and erect,
Underneath the bemummying wrappers of sect;
There was nice a man born who had more of the swing
Of the true lyric bard and all that kind of thing.”

Said Lowell in his brilliant “Fable for Critics” and while he points out the faults and foibles of others, he has only words of love and praise for the gentle bard of New England, who has done so much to immortalize its character and scenery.

He has left many pen pictures and told several stories of the home of his ancestors, having felt, no doubt, a kinship with its inhabitants past and present.

“When heats as of a tropic clime
Burned all our inland valleys through.”

The poet loved to escape awhile

“From the cares that wear the life away
To eat the lotus of the Nile,
And drink the poppies of cathay.”

And no better place could lie find than with the life-giving winds of the Atlantic, which, while they lure to repose, impart vigor anew to tired man. So beyond the river, where he might look back on the beautiful and many-shaded marshes, with numberless ponds, and across the sand hills to Great Boars Head he pitched his tent on the beach, that he might hear

“. . . the bells of morn and night
Swing miles away their silver speech,”

within the steeples of old Newburyport, and there look upon the scenes described in The Wreck of River mouth.” In the same tent was read that tale of the early Colonial days, with its beautiful pictures of sea and shore, and description of the old superstitions.

No more charming spot may be found than that where

“Rivermouth rocks are fair to see
By dawn or sunset shone across,
When the ebb of the sea has left them free
To dry their fringes of gold-green moss
For there the river comes winding down
From salt-sea-meadows and uplands brown.”
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“And fair are the sunny isles in view
East of the grisly Head of the Boar,
And Agamenticus lifts its blue
Disk of a cloud the woodlands o’er,
And southerly when the tide is down,
‘Twixt white sea waves and sand hills brown.
The beach birds dance, and the gray gulls wheel
Over a floor of burnished steel.”

The ever-shifting clouds as they hurry through the sky send color after color chasing over the wave until the sea becomes one vast opal, fringed by the white-crested billow as it sings on the shore.

Many a story is told of Hampton river. Many a young man has gone forth in health and vigor, to be caught by the deceitful winds, and wrecked on the treacherous ledge, and the south wind which follows the storm, bears on its wings the moan of the buoy, on Newburyport bar, a requiem for the dead.

A wreck of the olden time was the poet’s theme, with its picture of beauty — its tale of storm, death, and witchcraft

“* * * in the old colonial days,
Two hundred years ago and more,
A boat sailing out on the summer sea
Veering to catch the land breeze light,
With the Boar to left and the Rock to

bore a goodly company on its way to Boston, in the fall of 1657. The persons were Robert Reed, sergeant; William Swaine, Emanuel Hilliard, John Philbrick, his wife Ann, and daughter Sarah; Alice Cox, and John, her son. And the records speak of what happened in the following quaint language:

“The sad hand of God upon eight persons going in a vessell by sea from Hampton to boston, who were all swallowed up in the ocean soon after they were out of the Harbour.”

Tradition on which Whittier founded his verse has it, that one Goody Cole, witch-wife, caused the wreck.

She, poor old woman sitting in her little cot alone by the marsh, looked across to the “landing” and saw the sailing of the vessel, and the black cloud in the sky portending the storm.

Turning to her fire, she stirred up the embers, and in the kettle of water hanging on the crane she placed a wooden piggin. As the fire blazed bright, and the water boiled, she said, “the water is the angry sea, the piggin is the boat, if it sinks they are lost;” and with one eye on the fire, and the other on the squall as it struck the white sail, she saw her own madly-tossing vessel sink out of sight in the seething cauldron, and muttered, “the rogues are gone.”

“The skipper hauled at the heavy sail;
‘God be our help,’ he only cried,
As the roaring gale like the stroke of a flail,
Smote the boat on its starboard side.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Goody Cole looked out from her door;
The Isles of Shoals were drowned and gone,
Scarcely she saw the Head of the Boar
Toss the foam from tusks of stone.
She clasped her hands with a grip of pain,
The tear on her cheek was not of rain:
‘They are lost,’ she muttered, ‘boat and crew;
Lord forgive me! my words were true!'”

Goody Cole was hated and feared. It was said that she was in league with the devil, and the young people, peering through the latch-string hole, after dark, declared that she held converse with him, in the shape of a little black imp who wore a red cap.

It was testified in court several years before the Rivermouth wreck that she “bewitched good-wife Marston’s child,” and that a person “was changed from a man to an ape, as Goody Marston’s child was.” She was charged with saying of calves that ate her grass, that “she wished it might poysen them or choke them,” and of the calves, “not one was ever seen afterwards.”

Abraham Drake deposed in court to the loss of “two cattell,” and the “latter end of somer I lost one cowe more.” For all of which and other deeds she was sentenced to be whipped and imprisoned during her natural life.

Her trial began in 1656, and following the third trial, she was imprisoned in Boston until 1671. After her release the inhabitants of the town were ordered to support her, each taking a week in turn to provide her with food and fuel.

She was again arraigned for appearing as a dog, an eagle, and a cat, and the Salisbury court ordered her to Boston to await trial. After a few months the following decision ended her case:

“In ye case of Unie Cole now prisoner att ye Bar not Legally guilty Acording to Inditement butt just ground of vehement susprisyon of her havering had famillyarryty with the devill

  Jonas Clarke   in the name of the rest.”

She passed the remainder of her days in Hampton, it is hoped, in peace. When she was buried crossed stakes were driven down over her coffin, and rocks were heaped upon it, that she might be held fast at last.

“O Rivermouth Rock, how sad a sight
 Ye saw in the light of breaking day!
Dead faces looking up cold and white
  From sand and sea-weed where they lay
The mad old witch-wife wailed and wept,
And cursed the tide as it backward crept:
‘crawl back, crawl back, blue water-snake,
Leave your dead for the hearts that break!’

Solemn it was in that old day.
In Hampton town and its log-built church.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
And Father Dalton, grave and stern,
Sobbed through his prayer and wept in turn.”

And the old witch standing by

“. . . let the staff from her clasped hands fall.
‘Lord forgive us! we’re sinners all;’
And the voice of the old man answered her;
‘Amen!’ said Father Bachiler.”

Father Bachiler was one of Whittier’s earliest American ancestors. [Editor’s note: Whittier was NOT descended from the Rev. Stephen Bachiler, as he himself believed. His Hussey ancestors came from the Dover Husseys and not the Hampton Husseys that were related to Bachiler.] The settlers of Hampton were Puritans of the same spirit with the Mayflower pilgrims, and they brought with them their pastor, Rev. Stephen Bachiler, who was a man of gentle blood. He went first to Holland, and was preceded in this country by his daughter Theodate, and her husband Christopher Hussey, from whom the poet was descended. [Editor’s note: This is not true. Whittier was descended from the Hussey family of Dover, N.H., not the Hussey family of Hampton. During his lifetime Whittier mistakenly believed himself to be descended from the Hampton Husseys.]

He began his ministry in Lynn. Being a “liberal Puritan,” he displeased many of his people; petty quarrels arising, he went to Ipswich, from whence he traveled on foot at the age of seventy-six years, a distance of nearly one hundred miles to Cape Cod, but being unsuccessful here on account of the poverty of the people he returned, and finally settled in Winnecunnet, “which shall be called Hampton,” in 1638, with his followers.

The “log-built” church was erected on the green, where successive churches stood for two hundred years, and the people assembled to worship at the call of a bell, which was the gift of their pastor.

“Father” Dalton was summoned to assist the ancient minister, but so different were their temperaments, that they could not agree, and many of the people siding with the newcomer, charge after charge was preferred against Mr. Bachiler.

At length the people of Exeter proposed to gather a church, and invited Mr. Bachiler, then over eighty years old, to take charge of it, but the general court interfered, and the “inhabitants of Excetter” gave up their church.

Mr. Bachiler’s buildings being destroyed by fire about this time, he went to Strawberry Bank (Portsmouth), where he sued the town of Hampton for “wages,” obtaining a verdict in his favor.

In 1655 he returned to England with his grandson, Stephen Samborne, and he died at Hackney, two miles from London, in his one hundredth year. [Editor’s note: He did not die at Hackney. Click here for further info.]

It will be seen by the above date of his return to his mother country, that he could not have been present at the funeral of the victims of the Rivermouth wreck.

It is said that “Father” Bachiler had prominent dark eyes which were transmitted to many of his posterity, Daniel Webster’s being mentioned among others.

A careful historian summing up the Rev. Stephen Bachiler’s character concludes thus, “He was a good and useful man,” being of an independent and liberal mind, “he refused to bow to unreasonable mandates,’’ making himself “enemies in high places.”

“Father Dalton continued his ministry until his death, at the age of eighty-five years, ‘a faithful and painful laborer in God’s vineyard.’”

Of the names of those recorded as lost or being wounded in the wreck, only those of Philbrick and Batchelder remain in the town of to-day, though they are common enough elsewhere.

The Hon. Tristram Dalton, United States senator from Massachusetts, was of the third generation, from a brother of “Father” Dalton.

Christopher Hussey’s son, Stephen, grandson and namesake of “Father” Bachiler, settled in Nantucket, as did Richard Swayne, father of William, being one of the proprietors of the island. He left Hampton soon after his son’s death.

A son of John Philbrick settled in Groton, Mass.

So as I sat on Appledore,
In the calm of a closing summer day,
And the broken lines of Hampton shore
In purple mist of cloudland lay,
The Rivermouth Rocks their story told;
And waves aglow with sunset gold,
Rising and breaking with steady chime,
Beat the rhythm and kept the time.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“The beacon glimmered from Portsmouth bar,
The White Isle kindled its great red star,”

which preludes the stars of heaven as it trembles on the eastern horizon, the first star to come after the setting sun, and “signal twilight’s hour.”

In the same tent on the beach the poet heard of the “ghosts on Haley’s Isle,” who begged a “passage to old Spain.”

“For,” said an ancient dame of the town, who had once been a “Shoaler,” as she related the legends of the isles, ‘‘the spirits of the dead guard the graves and the treasures buried there. My own father found coin in the rocks. He used to go out and dig for the heft of it, and when his spade struck the chest, there would come a low mumble and roar in the earth, and down out o’ sight would go the chest. Though he dug many times he never outwitted the ghosts.”

Once more in the “The Changling,” we see the superstition of those old days, and again is Goody Cole charged with evil work, though the prayer of Goodman Dalton restores to her right mind his young wife, and she begs that the old woman bear not the burden of her charge:

“Then he said to the great All-Father,
“Thy daughter is weak and blind,
Let her sight come back and clothe her
Once more in her right mind.’
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“‘Now mount and ride, my goodman,
As thou lovest thy own soul;
Woe’s me if my wicked famine
Be the death of Goody Cole!'”

Sometimes the poet came to the home of his ancestors another way than from Salisbury to the sands, for he said,

“On, on, we tread with loose-flung rein our seaward way,
Through dark green fields and blossoming grain,
Where the wild brier-rose skirts the lane,
And bends above our heads the flowering locust spray.”

On his road thither he passed the little Quaker meeting-house, one of the oldest, built in 1701, in what is now Seabrook. Prior to this it was recorded of the Quakers that thirteen persons, all of Hampton, “were convicted before this court for ye breach of ye law called Quakers meeting,” in 1674. The sum of sixty-six pounds and four shillings was raised for the meeting-house, and here the Quakers from Hampton, Salisbury, and Amesbury held their meetings, until the Friends meeting-house was built four years later in Amesbury, the quarterly meeting still continuing in Hampton.

Less than forty years before this was executed the cruel order of Capt. Richard Waldron in the town.

“At last a meeting-house came in view,

A blast on his horn the constable blew;
And the boys of Hampton cried up and down,
‘The Quakers have come!’ to the wondering town.”

Three helpless women, “Vagabond Quakers,” Ann Coleman, Mary Tomkins, and Alice Ambrose, tied fast to the tail of a cart, received there ten hashes each on the bare back.

Let us hope the fear of authority compelled the deed in Hampton, and that pity made the blows light, but

“The tale is one of an evil time
When souls were fettered and thought was crime,
And heresy’s whisper above its breath
Meant shameful scourging, and bonds and death.’

The Society of Friends, afterwards established in Hampton, grew and spread out, and we find them, in 1728, contributing five pounds, ten shillings towards repairing a Boston meeting-house.

At a monthly meeting in Hampton in regard to a communication received from a quarterly meeting, the following decision was reached as to the wearing of wigs, “yt ye Wearing of Extravegent Superflues Wigges Is all to Gather Contreary to truth.”

As the poet drove on he passed the “Moulton House,” not far from where dwelt Witch Cole. Stately and grand, though shorn of its former ornamentation both within and without, it has stood for more than a hundred years, and by its doors Washington halted on his journey to Portsmouth to pay his repects to General Moulton.

In the dim vista between now and its past is many a picture of stately dame and haughty squire, while there walks unseen the troubled spirit which seeks again its earthly abode when night has hushed the world to slumber.

From the numerous legends, the memory of which haunts the old mansion, Whittier has selected the tale of two wives. For many a time, no doubt, he heard the oft-repeated story of the first wife with stately mein and ghostly step, who rustled in stiff brocade over the broad stairway, where but a short time before she held full sway in the flesh.

“Dark the ball and cold the feast,
Gone the bridesmaids, gone the priest;
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“All is dark and all is still,
Save the starlight, save the breeze
Moaning through the graveyard trees;
And the great sea waves below,
Pulse of midnight beating slow.
“From the brief dream of a bride
She hath wakened at his side.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Ha! that start of honor! why
That wild stare and wilder cry
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Spare me, spare nine, let me go

“But she hears a murmur low,
Full of sweetness, full of woe,
Half a sigh and half a moan,–
‘Fear not, give the dead her own!’

“Ah! the dead wife’s voice she knows!
That cold hand whose pressure froze,
Once in warmest life bath borne
Gem and band her own bath worn.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
“Ah, the dead, the unforgot!
From the solemn homes of thought,
Where the cyprus shadows blend
Darkly over foe or friend,
Or in love or sad rebuke,
Back upon the living look.”

The poet has taken more license with this story than in any other of his Hampton pictures.

The first wife was the mother of eleven children, and the second, no longer a girl when she married the stern old man, but a woman of thirty-five.

The story of the rings taken from the bride’s fingers by the ghostly hands of the first wife, is well known in the old town. And years ago, when some gossip bolder than the rest ventured to ask the second Mrs. Moulton if the rumor which had come to her ears was true, she could win from her lips no denial.

Those less prone to believe in the power of spirit or ghost, declared it was the “general” himself, whose conscience rebuked him for having bestowed on his new spouse the gems which his own fair daughter should have worn after her mother.

However, it is a pretty tale, and lends a charm to the old mansion to this day known as the “haunted house,” though it is only one of many a strange story told of the place.

“Good-by to pain and care! I take
Mine ease to-day
; Here where these sunny waters break,
And ripples this keen breeze, I shake
All burdens from the heart, all weary thoughts away.”

He loved to sit by the mighty deep, and dream of the past — of the future — and no doubt he gave many a backward glance to his forefathers, who came to the little town so many years before — charging the very sin with the mighty purpose which brought them thither, and leaving posterity, who should go forth into all parts of this broad land, carrying the grand principles which have made it the best spot on earth for man to dwell.

Not many years before his death Whittier spent a few days in a hotel at the foot of the bluff close by the sea, and with his usual modesty and retirement kept his room except when he chose to wander on the “floor of burnished steel” beyond.

It was probably his last visit to Hampton beach.

So then beach, bluff, and wave, farewell!
I bear with me
No token stone or glittering shell,
But long and oft shall memory tell
Of this brief, thoughtful hour of musing by the sea.”

With loving hand he held the pen, when he told the legends of old Hampton, and pictured the beauty of sea and shore, and with loving heart he turned to the home of his ancestors to die.

Within a stone’s throw of the mansion, where Meshech Weare lived, and Washington once lodged, at Hampton Falls Hill, is the Gove mansion, where the poet spent his last days, and may it stand for future generations to say, “here died our own New England bard.”

“. . . when times’s veil shall fall asunder
The soul may know
No fearful change, nor sudden wonder,
Nor sink with weight of mystery under,
But with the upward rise, and with the vastness grow.”

NOTE — All historic quotations are taken from Dow’s “History of Hampton.” All quotations from Whittier are from the following poems: “The Tent on the Beach,” “The Wreck of Rivermouth,” “The Changeling,” “How the Women Went From Dover,” “Hampton Beach,” “The New Wife and the Old.”