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From Grandfather's Chair, 1840

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Part 3
Chapter 4


THE next evening, Clara, who remembered that our chair had been left standing in the rain under Liberty Tree, earnestly besought Grandfather to tell when and where it had next found shelter. Perhaps she was afraid that the venerable chair, by being exposed to the inclemency of a September gale, might get the rheumatism in its aged joints.

"The chair," said Grandfather, "after the ceremony of Mr. Oliver's oath, appears to have been quite forgotten by the multitude. Indeed, being much bruised and rather rickety, owing to the violent treatment it had suffered from the Hutchinson mob, most people would have thought that its days of usefulness were over. Nevertheless, it was conveyed away under cover of the night and committed to the care of a skilful joiner. He doctored our old friend so successfully, that, in the course of a few days, it made its appearance in the public room of the British Coffee House, in King Street."

"But why did not Mr. Hutchinson get possession of it again?" inquired Charley.

"I know not," answered Grandfather, "unless he considered it a dishonor and disgrace to the chair to have stood under Liberty Tree. At all events, he suffered it to remain at the British Coffee House, which was the principal hotel in Boston. It could not possibly have found a situation where it would be more in the midst of business and bustle, or would witness more important events, or be occupied by a greater variety of persons."

Grandfather went on to tell the proceedings of the despotic king and ministry of England after the repeal of the Stamp Act. They could not bear to think that their right to tax America should be disputed by the people. In the year 1767, therefore, they caused Parliament to pass an act for laying a duty on tea and some other articles that were in general use. Nobody could now buy a pound of tea without paying a tax to King George. This scheme was pretty craftily contrived; for the women of America were very fond of tea, and did not like to give up the use of it.

But the people were as much opposed to this new act of Parliament as they had been to the Stamp Act. England, however, was determined that they should submit. In order to compel their obedience, two regiments, consisting of more than seven hundred British soldiers, were sent to Boston. They arrived in September, 1768, and were landed on Long Wharf. Thence they marched to the Common with loaded muskets, fixed bayonets, and great pomp and parade. So now, at last, the free town of Boston was guarded and overawed by redcoats as it had been in the days of old Sir Edmund Andros.

In the month of November more regiments arrived. There were now four thousand troops in Boston. The Common was whitened with their tents. Some of the soldiers were lodged in Faneuil Hall, which the inhabitants looked upon as a consecrated place, because it had been the scene of a great many meetings in favor of liberty. One regiment was placed in the Town House, which we now call the Old State House. The lower floor of this edifice had hitherto been used by the merchants as an exchange. In the upper stories were the chambers of the judges, the representatives, and the governor's council. The venerable councillors could not assemble to consult about the welfare of the province without being challenged by sentinels and passing among the bayonets of the British soldiers.

Sentinels likewise were posted at the lodgings of the oflicers in many parts of the town. When the inhabitants approached they were greeted by the sharp question, "Who goes there?" while the rattle of the soldier's musket was heard as he presented it against their breasts. There was no qulet even on the sabbath day. The pious descendants of the Puritans were shocked by the uproar of military music; the drum, fife, and bugle drowning the holy organ peal and the voices of the singers. It would appear as if the British took every method to insult the feelings of the people.

"Grandfather," cried Charley, impatiently, "the people did not go to fighting half soon enough! These British redcoats ought to have been driven back to their vessels the very moment they landed on Long Wharf."

"Many a hot-headed young man said the same as you do, Charley," answered Grandfather. "But the elder and wiser people saw that the time was not yet come. Meanwhile, ]et us take another peep at our old chair."

"Ah, it drooped its head, I know," said Charley, "when it saw how the province was disgraced. Its old Puritan friends never would have borne such doings."

"The chair," proceeded Grandfather, "was now continually occupied by some of the high tories, as the king's friends were called, who frequented the British Coffee House. Officers of the Custom House, too, which stood on the opposite side of King Street, often sat in the chair wagging their tongues against John Hancock."

"Why against him?" asked Charley.

"Because he was a great merchant and contended against paying duties to the king," said Grandfather.

"Well, frequently, no doubt, the officers of the British regiments, when not on duty, used to fling themselves into the arms of our venerable chair. Fancy one of them, a red-nosed captain in his scarlet uniform, playing with the hilt of his sword, and making a circle of his brother officers merry with ridiculous jokes at the expense of the poor Yankees. And perhaps he would call for a bottle of wine, or a steaming bowl of punch, and drink confusion to all rebels."

"Our grave old chair must have been scandalized at such scenes," observed Laurence; "the chair that had been the Lady Arbella's, and which the holy apostle Eliot had consecrated."

"It certainly was little less than sacrilege," replied Grandfather; "but the time was coming when even the churches, where hallowed pastors had long preached the word of God, were to be torn down or desecrated by the British troops. Some years passed, however, before such things were done."

Grandfather now told his auditors that, in 1769, Sir Francis Bernard went to England after having been governor of Massachusetts ten years. He was a gentleman of many good qualities, an excellent scholar, and a friend to learning. But he was naturally of an arbitrary disposition; and he had been bred at the University of Oxford, where young men were taught that the divine right of kings was the only thing to be regarded in matters of government. Such ideas were ill adapted to please the people of Massachusetts. They rejoiced to get rid of Sir Francis Bernard, but liked his successor, Lieutenant-Governor Hutchinson, no better than himself.

About this period the people were much incensed at an act committed by a person who held an office in the Custom House. Some lads, or young men, were snowballing his windows. He fired a musket at them, and killed a poor German boy, only eleven years old. This event made a great noise in town and country, and much increased the resentment that was already felt against the servants of the crown.

"Now, children," said Grandfather, "I wish to make you comprehend the position of the British troops in King Street. This is the same which we now call State Street. On the south side of the Town House, or Old State House, was what military men call a court of guard, defended by two brass cannons, which pointed directly at one of the doors of the above edifice. A large party of soldiers were always stationed in the court of guard. The Custom House stood at a little distance down King Street, nearly where the Suffolk Bank now stands, and a sentinel was continually pacing before its front."

"I shall remember this to-morrow," said Charley; "and I will go to State Street, so as to see exactly where the British troops were stationed."

"And before long," observed Grandfather, "I shall have to relate an event which made King Street sadly famous on both sides of the Atlantic. The history of our chair will soon bring us to this melancholy business."

Here Grandfather described the state of things which arose from the ill will that existed between the inhabitants and the redcoats. The old and sober part of the townspeople were very angry at the government for sending soldiers to overawe them. But those grayheaded men were cautious, and kept their thoughts and feelings in their own breasts, without putting themselves in the way of the British bayonets.

The younger people, however, could hardly be kept within such prudent limits. They reddened with wrath at the very sight of a soldier, and would have been willing to come to blows with them at any moment. For it was their opinion that every tap of a British drum within the peninsula of Boston was an insult to the brave old town.

"It was sometimes the case," continued Grandfather, "that affrays happened between such wild young men as these and small parties of the soldiers. No weapons had hitherto been used except fists or cudgels. But when men have loaded muskets in their hands, it is easy to foretell that they will soon be turned against the bosoms of those who provoke their anger."

"Grandfather," said little Alice, looking fearfully into his face, "your voice sounds as though you were going to tell us something awful!"

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