Thursday, May 13, 2010

An Anti-Slavery Tour of the White Hills, part 2


[From the Herald of Freedom of Sept. 17,1841.]

Nathaniel Peabody Rogers

WE meant to have gone on with our begun account of the White Mountain journey this week, but the fatigue and excitement of the Dover meetings have jaded us out, and we have no more power left to tell the story of the White Hills, than of bodily vigor to climb again their inaccessible peaks. We spare our readers another week from reading a tame attempt at it. We will go with them up North Hill, though. This is no contemptible ascent, and if it stood where some of those renowned Scottish Bens do, and had undergone the poetic handling of their Burnses and Scotts, people would cross the ocean to see the sights from its top.

We went up it the morning of Garrison’s lecture among the Holderness maples. It is one of the most charming rides in the world, for the two or three miles up the Pemigewassett, before you begin to ascend. It was a glorious morning, just such as you would choose to go to such a show. A little above our starting, the Baker’s river pays its quiet and humble tribute to the brave Pemigewassett, and tradition tells a thrilling story of an Indian right with a party of hunters under Capt. Baker, fought a long time ago, at the forks of the streams. The Indians were beaten off, the story goes, but not defeated, and the white men fled down the river toward the New England settlements. When they had retreated through the trackless woods as far as they had strength to run without fainting for hunger, they halted near the confluence of the streams that form the Merrimack. Upon that solitude now stands the populous and stirring village of Franklin. They knew the Indians were after them, and feared they would have them if they could not contrive to divert them from the pursuit. They had among them one friendly Indian. His aboriginal sagacity found a way to deliver them from their perilous predicament. He struck a line of fires along the margin of the little brook, that tumbles down from the high hills west of the village, and which in its descent now turns many a mill wheel, whose music was then unheard amid the woods. It crosses the road and empties into the Pemigewassett just above its junction with the river of the lake. The Indian knew the children of the forest would pause and study that hurried encampment. He thought of cheating them with tokens of a reinforcement; he cut some two hundred twigs of willow from the margin of the little brook, and stuck them up along beside the range of fires he had kindled, as spits for roasting their morsel of meat. Whether they stopped to roast any, or to eat, is not remembered. They retreated a short distance and secreted themselves, when the Canadian prowlers appeared upon the banks of the brook. They saw the ashes, and the signs of the hasty meal, and the smoked and scorched willow twigs. They counted them, and learned to their dismay that the hunters had got reinforced from the settlements, and were probably hard by in ambush. They took the back track, without delay, and Captain Baker’s handful army joyously made the best of their way in right the opposite direction. We do not vouch for the accuracy of this history, though we have told it many a time, and we forget with what embellishments, in the story-telling days of our boyhood. We used to think as much of Captain Baker, we remember, as we now do of Bonaparte or the Duke of Marlborough, and do still, for the matter of that. Fertile expanses of green intervale now smile along the mouth of Baker’s river, and fifteen miles up its banks among the Rumney mountains, all which distance it has not a fall or hardly a ripple—a track for the future rail-way from the Pemigewassett to the Connecticut. It would look exceedingly wild and spirited, as the locomotive streamed panting and smoking up that narrow vale!

Two miles above the meeting of the little rivers, you cross a picturesque bridge at “the Falls,” a scene for the painters when the land shall become like the old world, the home of the fine arts. Art paints nothing among us now. All our pictures are originals, from the hand of Him who made the world. A carriage road of a mile or two, at an angle with the horizon that would discourage the dwellers by the sea-side, but which is all a level to the free people of the hills, brought us to the end of wheel navigation, and two of our company took to the saddle,—brother Garrison, having never been on horse-back, except his ride on a Shetland pony from Loch Katrine to Loch Lomond last year in the Scottish Highlands, preferring to try his fortune on foot. Suffice it to say, that in some three quarters of an hour we reached the commanding peak of the hill. The earth sphered up all around us in every quarter of the horizon, like the crater of a vast volcano, and the great hollow within the circle was scarcely less smoky than that of Vesuvius or Etna during their recess of eruption. The little village of Plymouth lay right at our feet, the ingle of observation seeming far steeper from the top downward, than from the village to the top of the mountain. Off the declivity, on the western side, lay tidy farms and snug houses, along a good road where since our remembrance settlements had not penetrated, and which still bears the name of the “New Discovery.”

To the south stretches a broken, swelling upland country, but champaign from the top of North Hill, patched all over with grain fields and green wood lots, the roofs of the farm-houses shining in the sun. South-west, the Cardigan mountain showed its bald forehead among the smokes of a thousand fires, kindled in the woods in the long drought. Westward, Moosehillock heaved up its long back, black as a whale; and turning the eye on northward, glancing down the while on the Baker’s river valley, dotted over with human dwellings like shingle bunches for size, you behold the great Franconia Range, its “Notch” and its Haystacks, the Elephant mountain on the left, and Lafayette (Great Haystack) on the right, shooting its peak in solemn loneliness high up into the desert sky, and o’ertopping all the neighboring Alps but Mount Washington itself. The prospect of these is most impressive and satisfactory. We don’t believe the earth presents a finer mountain display. The Haystacks stand there like the Pyramids on the wall of mountains. One of them eminently has this Egyptian shape. It is as accurate a pyramid to the eye as any in the old valley of the Nile, and a good deal bigger than any of those hoary monuments of human presumption, of the impious tyranny of monarchs and priests, and of the appalling servility of the erecting multitude. Arthur’s Seat in Edinburgh does not more finely resemble a sleeping lion than the huge mountain on the left of the Notch does an elephant, with his great, overgrown rump turned uncivilly toward the gap where the people have to pass! Following round the Panorama, you come to the Ossipees and the Sandwich mountains, peaks innumerable and nameless, and of every variety of fantastic shape. Down their vast sides are displayed the melancholy looking slides, contrasting with the fathomless woods.

But the lakes—you see lakes, as well as woods and mountains, from the top of North Hill. Newfound lake in Hebron, only eight miles distant, you can’t see, which we can’t account for, but that it lies too deep among the hills, Ponds show their small blue mirrors from various quarters of the great picture. Worthen’s Mill Pond and the Hardhack, where we used to fish for trout in truant, bare-footed days, Blair’s Mill Pond, White Oak Pond, and Long Pond, and the Little Squam, a beautiful, dark sheet of deep, blue water, about two miles long, stretched amid the green hills and woods, with a charming little beach at its eastern end, and without an island. And then the Great Squam, connected with it on the east by a short, narrow stream, the very queen of ponds, with its fleet of islands, surpassing in beauty all the foreign waters we have seen, in Scotland or elsewhere—the islands, covered with evergreens, which impart their hue to the mass of the lake, as it stretches seven miles on east from its smaller sister, towards the peerless Winnipisockee. Great Squam is as beautiful as water and island can be. But WINNIPISOCKEE—it is the very “Smile of the Great Spirit.” And the Indians gave it the name to signify that smile. And, verily, if the propitious glance of creative Power could be left upon its inanimate works, we should think it would play there in the form of this glorious lake. Its finest view, however, is not from North Hill. Red Hill is the place to behold it, and there the Indians must have stood when they gave it its name. Red Hill is near its northern extremity, and we never saw such an object in nature as Winnipisockee seen from its top. It looks as if it had a thousand islands. They tell of three hundred and sixty-five, one for every day in the year. But there must be many more, some of them large enough for little towns, and others not bigger than a swan or a wild duck swimming on its surface of glass. Days might be spent to gratification and profit on the top of North Hill; but we had not the time. Garrison was to speak to the people on American slavery in the afternoon, and we had to curtail our stay. It was with emotions that we can’t describe, that we cast our farewell gaze over all that well-remembered, intimately known, native region, that lay beneath our feet. It was the scene of most of our mortal existence. Our young footsteps had wandered over most of its localities. Time had cast it all far back. That Pemigewassett, with its meadows and its border trees! That little village, whitening on the margin of its intervale, and that one house we could distinguish among them, where the mother that watched over and endured our wayward childhood, totters at fourscore! We had to turn away and seek refuge from it all in God and ANTI-SLAVERY, and descended the hill with what cheer we might. O that we could have found an anti-slavery people in the valley below! But they were absorbed in the miserable business of scraping up more than is needful or innocent, of the perishing trash of this world, and in the paltry village habitudes that belong to mercenary life. The interest once felt for humanity, there in the breasts of a choice corps of abolitionists, had faded out under the influence of selfishness, politics and sect. The little minister had got the better of their philanthropy, and they were quietly in his harness at the call of the steeple bell.

No comments: