Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Anti-Slavery Tour of the White Hills, part 1


[from the Herald of Freedom of Sept. 10, 1841.]

Nathaniel Peabody Rogers

WE meant, from the several stages of our hurried expedition, to drop back for the Herald some of its incidents, detailed while events and impressions were fresh. But we could not find opportunity. The rapidity of our movement and constant occupation during intervals of anti-slavery action, compelled us to defer attempting it, and we must now give our readers a dull reminiscence.

In company with brother Garrison, we left Concord the morning of 23d of August. The morning was clear and pleasant after the rains of Saturday night and Sunday. The air was purified and refreshed from the parching drought, and the earth joyous as the “shining morning face” of a new-washed school boy. The dust was laid, and travelling beautiful. We crossed the Merrimack, hailing it as our native stream, brother G. at its mouth, and we up its coldest tributary, and rode over Canterbury high hills with that lightness of heart and freedom of spirit, which God vouchsafes, in our land and day, only to the faithful abolitionists. Others may “labor” “and seek rest” as they may. They don’t find it. Kearsarge mountain, looming in the western distance, at solemn height, gave us promise of the mightier peaks in the great chain to which we were journeying, standing alone, in advance of its high peers, like an advance guard, encouraging us by its great, but subordinate elevation, to expect altitudes equal to our loftiest wishes. Speeding on by many a bold home on the hills, and many a valley whose retired beauty recalled to delighted recollection the vales of Scotland, we approached the tributary stream paid to the Merrimack, from out New Hampshire’s chiefest lake, and which bears its name, the Winnipisockee. This, with our own little native river, the cold and swift Pemigewasset, from the Franconia Notch, conspiring a short distance to the left of our way, in the formation of the Merrimack. Just before crossing Winnipisockee river, we passed the brick “steeple house,” where the honorable Samuel Tilton, at the instigation of the honorable Daniel Atkinson, and supported by an honorable mob—“all honorable men”—arrested George Storrs for the felony of an anti-slavery prayer. What a sign that event of republican and christian times! And they tried him, for his anticipated anti-slavery lecture, before a New Hampshire justice of the peace! a fact that will be picked up by the future Belknap for our history, and which will afford a sort of immortality to some on the banks of the Winnipisockee, who otherwise might have enjoyed a comfortable oblivion.

On the high lands of Sanbornton (taking the old road for prospect) the glorious mountains of the North showed us their blue outline, the broad, whale-like back of Moosehillock, and the pyramid-looking Haystacks, blending with the sky, and bedimmed with vapor and cloud. They called to mind the first discovered land, last summer, on our voyage to England—the dim Irish shores, and the misty mountains of Wales. Towards sunset our own home-hills greeted our sight, and the once loved spires of the village where we were born, their clean white showing picturesquely among the green of the woods beyond them. Old North Hill, with its bare forehead and commanding peak, which in Scotland would have been crowned with immortality in a hundred songs, standing there unhonored and unsung, a bleak hill top, climbed now and then for prospect, but chiefly for the blueberries that grow upon its brow, or the sheep and young cattle and wild colts that pasture up its sides. Few places, of so little note, strike the eye of the traveller so pleasantly as the town of Plymouth in Grafton county. A beautiful expanse of intervale opens on the eye like a lake among the hills and woods, and the pretty river Pemigewasset, refreshed with its recent tributary, Baker’s river, from the foot of Moosehillock, and bordered along its crooked sides with rows of maple, meanders widely from upland to upland through the meadows, and realizes to the mind some of the sequestered spots in the valleys of the Swiss cantons. It was with no small interest that we introduced the editor of the Liberator to the scene of our birth and boyhood. It was the birth-place of New Hampshire anti-slavery, too. We are sad to say, it is not now anti-slavery’s dwelling place. The spirit that once animated it, has faded under the influence of the proslavery pulpit.

We had been led to expect somewhat that the Congregational meeting-house, a very tasty synagogue, which we helped largely to erect a few years before our removal from the village, would be opened to brother Garrison for a lecture. We did not expect it from the character of its pulpit, but from the majority of the committee in charge of it, professed abolitionists, as well as from the prudence of the minority, though not interested in the antislavery cause. We supposed all had the necessary curiosity, if not the good taste, to want to hear the man of whom so many bugbear stories had been told in the village, and whose name had, they knew, become renowned on both sides the Atlantic. But a petty bigotry and priest-ridden prejudice prevailed. Perhaps the church malignity towards his fellow-traveller moved them to shut the meeting-house. No matter for the reason. They refused the house, unless upon a condition which abolitionists could not accept, and which honorable men would never have offered.

The Methodist meeting-house was also refused, but more honestly than the other, with a broad, ill-mannered No, from the temporary divine who tends it. Let them be forever shut against the cause of BLEEDING HUMANITY. They are abandoned to their uses. As is ever the case, in the overruling of Providence, the paltry refusal of the meeting-houses served greatly to advance our cause, and magnify the occasion. Driven from the synagogues, the abolitionists applied for a grove across the river, on the land of Mr. Joy, of Holderness. He readily allowed them the use of it;—one spot was found in the neighborhood of Plymouth steeples, not dedicated and given over to slavery, and to soulless, heartless, ungodly sect. One temple there was, not made with hands, of God’s own building, roofed with the blue sky and pillared about with the trees of the wood, and floored and carpeted with the glorious, green earth, dedicated, not to imitations of Jewish ceremonials, or the rites of heathenism, but to that worship of the Father, which He requireth of them, who worship Him in spirit and in truth. Thither anti-slavery repaired to hold her assembly, and hear the advocate of the Savior’s poor. Semicircular seats, backed against a line of magnificent trees, to accommodate, we should judge, from two to three hundred, though we did not think about numbers, were filled principally with women, and the men who could not find seats stood on the green sward on either hand, and at length, when wearied with standing, seated themselves on the ground. Garrison mounted on a rude platform in front, lifted up his voice and spoke to them in prophet tones and surpassing eloquence, from half past three till I saw the rays of the setting sun playing through the trees on his head. It was at his back—but the auditory could see it, if they had felt at leisure to notice the decline of the sun or the lapse of time. They heeded it not, any more than he, but remained till he ended, apparently undisposed to move, though some came from six, eight, and even twelve miles distance. A vastly better impression was made than would have been, had poor, pitiful sect opened its portals. More attended. It was a different and a far better auditory than would have been gathered in the meeting-house, especially if the pastors had countenanced the meeting and led in their implicit flocks. The auditory was not the village aristocracy from under the eaves of Bank, Court House, Seminary, or the Steeple House, as George Fox used to call it. Such would have had as little heart to hear or to act as any of their corporations which admittedly “have no soul.” Pearls cast before them would have been cast contrary to the scripture injunction. They could not have listened with hearing ears or understanding hearts. Their ears and hearts are kept by their pastors. Driven from the sanctuaries, we had another and freer auditory. They were politicians, to be sure, many of them; but a politician has more of a heart left in him than a sectarian. Politics is not such a soul-canker as sect. Sect eats the heart all up. It leaves nothing in a man. He can’t say his soul is his own, or that he has one, belonging to any body. He is a poor, creeping, formal idolater, bowing down to an image he has helped to set up, and to the wooden perch on which he mounts his idol for exhibition and worship. No, the politicians have their humanity left, at least a portion of it. And if it appeals to them, they are not afraid to hear it. It is not irreligious in their estimation to have “flesh in their hearts,” and pity for bleeding humanity. The meeting in the grove called out many of them who would not have entered the house, and we confess they have reason to suspect the motives of even an anti-slavery lecturer, who is admitted by the pastor into a pulpit. We don’t blame them for their jealousy of meeting-house lecturers. It is a sign, if they are let into pulpits, that they have not at heart the interests of humanity. The rejection from the house gave Garrison many auditors of this kind. And though he told them the stern truth about their politics, they knew it was told in honesty. They knew there was no speculation or hypocrisy or party in it. They felt it was true, or at least honest. They understood it, and can repeat it. And they are the men to spread it among the people, at least some of them. Now let the little papacy of Plymouth village prate of Garrison’s infidelity. The people have seen him and heard him, infidelity and all. And they heard more of christian truth and gospel preaching, in that one, river-bank discourse, than those yoked and fettered meeting-houses can ever afford from the day of their dedication to the time when not one stone of them shall be left upon another.

Garrison spoke the better for being driven to the open air. The injustice and meanness of it aroused his spirit, and the beauty of the scene animated his eloquence. We never heard him speak so powerfully; and as he spoke the more earnestly, the people, from like cause, heard with deeper interest. He scarcely alluded to the miserable jesuitry that excluded us from the synagogue. We are thankful it all happened so. To God be the praise.

We must defer, for another week, further account of our journey, our ascent of North Hill, our jaunt to the Franconia Notch, to the Littleton convention—by the way, gloriously attended and conducted—and to Mount Washington, and our passage of its tremendous gap, side by side with the infant Saco, not wider there than the narrow path, but soon expanding into a bridged and boated river in the beautiful champaign region below the mountains.

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