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From Grandfather's Chair, 1840

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Part 3
Chapter 2


"LIEUTENANT-GOVERNOR HUTCHINSON," continued Grandfather, "now began to be unquiet in our old chair. He had formerly been much respected and beloved by the people, and had often proved himself a friend to their interests. But the time was come when he could not be a friend to the people without ceasing to be a friend to the king. It was pretty generally understood that Hutchinson would act according to the king's wishes, right or wrong, like most of the other gentlemen who held offices under the crown. Besides, as he was brother-in-law of Andrew Oliver, the people now felt a particular dislike to him."

"I should think," said Laurence, "as Mr. Hutchinson had written the history of our Puritan forefathers, he would have known what the temper of the people was, and so have taken care not to wrong them."

"He trusted in the might of the King of England," replied Grandfather, "and thought himself safe under the shelter of the throne. If no dispute had arisen between the king and the people, Hutchinson would have had the character of a wise, good, and patriotic magistrate. But, from the time that he took part against the rights of his country, the people's love and respect were turned to scorn and hatred, and he never had another hour of peace."

In order to show what a fierce and dangerous spirit was now aroused among the inhabitants, Grandfather related a passage from history which we shall call



On the evening of the 26th of August, 1765, a bonfire was kindled in King Street. It flamed high upward, and threw a ruddy light over the front of the Town House, on which was displayed a carved representation of the royal arms. The gilded vane of the cupola glittered in the blaze. The kindling of this bonfire was the well-known signal for the populace of Boston to assemble in the street.

Before the tar-barrels, of which the bonfire was made, were half burned out, a great crowd had come together. They were chiefly laborers and seafaring men, together with many young apprentices, and all those idle people about town who are ready for any kind of mischief. Doubtless some school-boys were among them.

While these rough figures stood round the blazing bonfire, you might hear them speaking bitter words against the high officers of the province. Governor Bernard, Hutchinson, Oliver, Storey, Hallowell, and other men whom King George delighted to honor, were reviled as traitors to the country. Now and then, perhaps, an officer of the crown passed along the street, wearing the gold-laced hat, white wig, and embroidered waistcoat which were the fashion of the day. But when the people beheld him they set up a wild and angry howl; and their faces had an evil aspect, which was made more terrible by the flickering blaze of the bonfire.

"I should like to throw the traitor right into that blaze!" perhaps one fierce rioter would say.

"Yes; and all his brethren too!" another might reply; "and the governor and old Tommy Hutchinson into the hottest of it!

"And the Earl of Bute along with them!" muttered a third; "and burn the whole pack of them under King George's nose! No matter if it singed him!"

Some such expressions as these, either shouted aloud or muttered under the breath, were doubtless heard in King Street. The mob, meanwhile, were growing fiercer and fiercer, and seemed ready even to set the town on fire for the sake of burning the king's friends out of house and home. And yet, angry as they were, they sometimes broke into a loud roar of laughter, as if mischief and destruction were their sport.

But we must now leave the rioters for a time, and take a peep into the lieutenant-governor's splendid mansion. It was a large brick house, decorated with Ionic pilasters, and stood in Garden Court Street, near the North Square.

While the angry mob in King Street were shouting his name, Lientenant-Governor Hutchinson sat quietly in Grandfather's chair, unsuspicious of the evil that was about to fall on his head. His beloved family were in the room with him. He had thrown off his embroidered coat and powdered wig, and had on a loose-flowing gown and purple-velvet cap. He had likewise laid aside the cares of state and all the thoughts that had wearied and perplexed him throughout the day.

Perhaps, in the enjoyment of his home, he had forgotten all ahout the Stamp Act, and scarcely remembered that there was a king, across the ocean, who bad resolved to make tributaries of the New-Englanders. Possibly, too, he had forgotten his own ambition, and would not have exchanged his situation, at that moment, to be governor, or even a lord.

The wax candles were now lighted, and showed a handsome room, well provided with rich furniture. On the walls hung the pictures of Hutchinson's ancestors, who had been eminent men in their day, and were honorably remembered in the history of the country. Every object served to mark the residence of a rich, aristocratic gentleman, who held himself high above the common people, and could have nothing to fear from them. In a corner of the room, thrown carelessly upon a chair, were the scarlet robes of the chief justice. This high office, as well as those of lieutenant-governor, councillor, and judge of probate, was filled by Hutchinson.

Who or what could disturb the domestic quiet of such a great and powerful personage as now sat in Grandfather's chair?

The lieutenant-governor's favorite daughter sat by his side. She leaned on the arm of our great chair, and looked up affectionately into her father's face, rejoicing to perceive that a quiet smile was on his lips. But suddenly a shade came across her countenance. She seemed to listen attentively, as if to catch a distant sound.

"What is the matter, my child?" inquired Hutchinson.

"Father, do not you hear a tumult in the streets?" said she.

The lieutenant-governor listened. But his ears were duller than those of his daughter; he could hear nothing more terrible than the sound of a summer breeze, sighing among the tops of the elm-trees.

"No, foolish child!" he replied, playfully patting her cheek. "There is no tumult. Our Boston mobs are satisfied with what mischief they have already done. The king's friends need not tremble."

So Hutchinson resumed his pleasant and peaceful meditations, and again forgot that there were any troubles in the world. But his family were alarmed, and could not help straining their ears to catch the slightest sound. More and more distinctly they heard shouts, and then the trampling of many feet. While they were listening, one of the neighbors rushed breathless into the room.

"A mob! a terrible mob!" cried he. "They have broken into Mr. Storey's house, and into Mr. Hallowell's, and have made themselves drunk with the liquors in his cellar; and now they are coming hither, as wild as so many tigers. Flee, lieutenaut-governor, for your life! for your life!"

"Father, dear father, make haste!" shrieked his children.

But Hutchinson would not hearken to them. He was an old lawyer; and he could not realize that the people would do anything so utterly lawless as to assault him in his peaceful home. He was one of King George's chief officers; and it would be an insult and outrage upon the king himself if the lieutenant-governor should suffer any wrong.

"Have no fears on my account," said he. "I am perfectly safe. The king's name shall be my protection."

Yet he bade his family retire into one of the neighboring houses. His daughter would have remained; but he forced her away.

The huzzas and riotous uproar of the mob were now heard, close at hand. The sound was terrible, and struck Hutchinson with the same sort of dread as if an enraged wild beast had broken loose and were roaring for its prey. He crept softly to the window. There he beheld an immense concourse of people, filling all the street and rolling onward to his house. It was like a tempestuous flood, that had swelled beyond its bounds and would sweep everything before it. Hutchinson trembled; he felt, at that moment, that the wrath of the people was a thousand-fold more terrible than the wrath of a king.

That was a moment when a loyalist and an aristocrat like Hutchinson might have learned how powerless are kings, nobles, and great men, when the low and humble range themselves against them. King George could do nothing for his servant now. Had King George been there he could have done nothing for himself. If Hutchinson had understood this lesson, and remembered it, he need not, in after years, have been an exile from his native country, nor finally have laid his bones in a distant land.

There was now a rush against the doors of the house. The people sent up a hoarse cry. At this instant the lieutenant-governor's daughter, whom he had supposed to be in a place of safety, ran into the room and threw her arms around him. She had returned by a private entrance.

"Father, are you mad?" cried she. "Will the king's name protect you now? Come with me, or they will have your life."

"True," muttered Hutchinson to himself; "what care these roarers for the name of king? I must flee, or they will trample me down on the floor of my own dwelling."

Hurrying away, he and his daughter made their escape by the private passage at the moment when the rioters broke into the house. The foremost of them rushed up the staircase, and entered the room which Hutchinson had just quitted. There they beheld our good old chair facing them with quiet dignity, while the lion's head seemed to move its jaws in the unsteady light of their torches. Perhaps the stately aspect of our venerable friend, which had stood firm through a century and a half of trouble, arrested thcm for an instant. But they were thrust forward by those behind, and the chair lay overthrown.

Then began the work of destruction. The carved and polished mahogany tables were shattered with heavy clubs and hewn to splinters with axes. The marble hearths and mantel-pieces were broken. The volumes of Hutchinson's library, so precious to a studious man, were torn out of their covers, and the leaves sent flying out of the windows. Manuscripts, containing secrets of our country's history, which are now lost forever, were scattered to the winds.

The old ancestral portraits, whose fixed countenances looked down on the wild scene, were rent from the walls. The mob triumphed in their downfall and destruction, as if these pictures of Hutchinson's forefathers had committed the same offences as their descendant. A tall looking-glass, which had hitherto presented a reflection of the enraged and drunken multitude, was now smashed into a thousand fragments. We gladly dismiss the scene from the mirror of our fancy.

Before morning dawned the walls of the house were all that remained. The interior was a dismal scene of ruin. A shower pattered in at the broken windows; and when Hutchinson and his family returned, they stood shivering in the same room where the last evening had seen them so peaceful and happy.

"Grandfather," said Laurence, indignantly, "if the people acted in this manner, they were not worthy of even so much liberty as the King of England was willing to allow them."

"It was a most unjustifiable act, like many other popular movements at that time," replied Grandfather. "But we must not decide against the justice of the people's cause merely because an excited mob was guilty of outrageous violence. Besides, all these things were done in the first fury of resentment. Afterwards the people grew more calm, and were more influenced by the counsel of those wise and good men who conducted them safely and gloriously through the Revolution."

Little Alice, with tears in her blue eyes, said that she hoped the neighbors had not let Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson and his family be homeless in the street, but had taken them into their houses and been kind to them. Cousin Clara, recollecting the perilous situation of our beloved chair, inquired what had become of it.

"Nothing was heard of our chair for some time afterwards," answered Grandfather. "One day in September, the same Andrew Oliver, of whom I before told you, was summoned to appear at high noon under Liberty Tree. This was the strangest summons that had ever been heard of; for it was issued in the name of the whole people, who thus took upon themselves the authority of a sovereign power. Mr. Oliver dared not disobey. Accordingly, at the appointed hour he went, much against his will, to Liberty Tree."

Here Charley interposed a remark that poor Mr. Oliver found but little liberty under Liberty Tree. Grandfather assented.

"It was a stormy day," continued he. "The equinoctial gale blew violently, and scattered the yellow leaves of Liberty Tree all along the street. Mr. Oliver's wig was dripping with water-drops; and he probably looked haggard, disconsolate, and humbled to the earth. Beneath the tree, in Grandfather's chair,--our own venerable chair,--sat Mr. Richard Dana, a justice of the peace. He administered an oath to Mr. Oliver that he would never have anything to do with distributing the stamps. A vast concourse of people heard the oath, and shouted when it was taken."

"There is something grand in this," said Laurence. "I like it, because the people seem to have acted with thoughtfulness and dignity; aud this proud gentleman, one of his Majesty's high officers, was made to feel that King George could not protect him in doing wrong."

"But it was a sad day for poor Mr. Oliver," observed Grandfather. "From his youth upward it had probably been the great principle of his life to be faithful and obedient to the king. And now, in his old age, it must have puzzled and distracted him to find the sovereign people setting up a claim to his faith and obedience."

Grandfather closed the evening's conversation by saying that the discontent of America was so great, that, in 1766, the British Parliament was compelled to repeal the Stamp Act. The people made great rejoicings, but took care to keep Liberty Tree well pruned and free from caterpillars and canker-worms. They foresaw that there might yet be occasion for them to assemble under its far-projecting shadow.

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