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From Grandfather's Chair, 1840

By Nathaniel Hawthorne

Part 3
Chapter 10


WHEN Grandfather resumed his narrative the next evening, he told the children that he had some difficulty in tracing the movements of the chair during a short period after General Washington's departure from Cambridge.

Within a few months, however, it made its appearance at a shop in Boston, before the door of which was seen a striped pole. In the interior was displayed a stuffed alligator, a rattlesnake's skin, a bundle of Indian arrows, an old-fashioned matchlock gun, a walking-stick of Governor Winthrop's, a wig of old Cotton Mather's, and a colored print of the Boston massacre. In short, it was a barber's shop, kept by a Mr. Pierce, who prided himself on having shaved General Washington, Old Put, and many other famous persons.

"This was not a very dignified situation for our venerable chair," continued Grandfather; "but, you know, there is no better place for news than a barber's shop. All the events of the Revolutionary War were heard of there sooner than anywhere else. People used to sit in the chair, reading the newspaper, or talking, and waiting to he shaved, while Mr. Pierce, with his scissors and razor, was at work upon the heads or chins of his other customers."

"I am sorry the chair could not betake itself to some more suitable place of refuge," said Laurence. "It was old now, and must have longed for quiet. Besides, after it had held Washington in its arms, it ought not to have been compelled to receive all the world. It should have been put into the pulpit of the Old South Church, or some other consecrated place."

"Perhaps so," answered Grandfather. "But the chair, in the course of its varied existence, had grown so accustomed to general intercourse with society, that I doubt whether it would have contented itself in the pulpit of the Old South. There it would have stood solitary, or with no livelier companion than the silent organ, in the opposite gallery, six days out of seven. I incline to think that it had seldom been situated more to its mind than on the sanded floor of the snug little barber's shop."

Then Grandfather amused his children and hhnself with fancying all the different sorts of people who had occupied our chair while they awaited the leisure of the barber.

There was the old clergyman, such as Dr. Chauncey, wearing a white wig, which the barber took from his head and placed upon a wig-block. Half an hour, perhaps, was spent in combing and powdering this reverend appendage to a clerical skull. There, too, were officers of the continental army, who required their hair to be pomatumed and plastered, so as to give them a bold and martial aspect. There, once in a while, was seen the thin, care-worn, melancholy visage of an old tory, with a wig that, in times long past, had perhaps figured at a Province House ball. And there, not unfrequently, sat the rough captain of a privateer, just returned from a successful cruise, in which he had captured half a dozen richly laden vessels belonging to King George's subjects. And sometimes a rosy little school-boy climbed into our chair, and sat staring, with wide-open eyes, at the alligator, the rattlesnake, and the other curiosities of the barber's shop. His mother had sent him, with sixpence in his hand, to get his glossy curls cropped off. The incidents of the Revolution plentifully supplied the barber's customers with topics of conversation. They talked sorrowfully of the death of General Montgomery and the failure of our troops to take Quebec; for the New-Englanders were now as anxious to get Canada from the English as they had formerly been to conquer it from the French.

"But very soon," said Grandfather, "came news from Philadelphia, the most important that America had ever heard of. On the 4th of July, 1776, Congress had signed the Declaration of Independence. The thirteen colonies were now free and independent States. Dark as our prospects were, the inhabitants welcomed these glorious tidings, and resolved to perish rather than again hear the yoke of England."

"And I would perish, too!" cried Charley.

"It was a great day,--a glorious deed!" said Laurence, coloring high with enthusiasm. "And, Grandfather, I love to think that the sages in Congress showed themselves as bold and true as the soldiers in the field; for it must have required more courage to sign the Declaration of Independence than to fight the enemy in battle."

Grandfather acquiesced in Laurence's view of the matter. He then touched briefly and hastily upon the prominent events of the Revolution. The thunderstorm of war had now rolled southward, and did not again burst upon Massachusetts, where its first fury had been felt. But she contributed her full share to the success of the contest. Wherever a battle was fought,--whether at Long Island, White Plains, Trenton, Princeton, Brandywine, or Germantown,--some of her brave sons were found slain upon the field.

In October, 1777, General Burgoyne surrendered his army, at Saratoga, to the Amencan general, Gates. The captured troops were sent to Massachusetts. Not long afterwards Dr. Franklin and other American commissioners made a treaty at Paris, by which France bound herself to assist our countrymen. The gallant Lafayette was already fighting for our freedom by the side of Washington. In 1778 a French fleet, commanded by Count d'Estaing, spent a considerable time in Boston Harbor. It marks the vicissitudes of human affairs, that the French, our ancient enemies, should come hither as comrades and brethren, and that kindred England should be our foe.

"While the war was raging in the Middle and Southern States," proceeded Grandfather, "Massachusetts had leisure to settle a new constitution of government instead of the royal charter. This was done in 1780. In the same year John Hancock, who had been president of Congress, was chosen governor of the State. He was the first whom the people had elected since the days of old Simon Bradstreet."

"But, Grandfather, who had been governor since the British were driven away?" inquired Laurence. "General Gage and Sir William Howe were the last whom you have told us of."

"There had been no governor for the last four years," replied Grandfather. "Massachusetts had been ruled by the Legislature, to whom the people paid obedience of their own accord. It is one of the most remarkable circumstances in our history, that, when the charter government was overthrown by the war, no anarchy nor the slightest confusion ensued. This was a great honor to the people. But now Hancock was proclaimed governor by sound of trumpet; and there was again a settled government."

Grandfather again adverted to the progress of the war. In 1781 General Greene drove the British from the Southern States. In October of the same year General Washington compelled Lord Cornwallis to surrender his army, at Yorktown, in Virginia. This was the last great event of the Revolutionary contest. King George and his ministers perceived that all the might of England could not compel America to renew her allegiance to the crown. After a great deal of discussion, a treaty of peace was signed in September, 1783.

"Now, at last," said Grandfather, "after weary years of war, the regiments of Massachusetts returned in peace to their families. Now the stately and dignified leaders, such as General Lincoln and General Knox, with their powdered hair and their uniforms of blue and buff, were seen moving about the streets."

"And little boys ran after them, I suppose," remarked Charley; "and the grown people bowed respectfully."

"They deserved respect; for they were good men as well as brave," answered Grandfather. "Now, too, the inferior officers and privates came home to seek some peaceful occupation. Their friends remembered them as slender and smooth-cheeked young men; but they returned with the erect and rigid mien of disciplined soldiers. Some hobbled on crutches and wooden legs; others had received wounds, which were still rankling in their breasts. Many, alas! had fallen in battle, and perhaps were left unburied on the bloody field."

"The country must have been sick of war," observed Laurence.

"One would have thought so," said Grandfather. "Yet only two or three years elapsed before the folly of some misguided men caused another mustering of soldiers. This affair was called Shays's war, because a Captain Shays was the chief leader of the insurgents."

"O Grandfather, don't let there be another war!" cried little Alice, piteously.

Grandfather comforted his dear little girl by assuring her that there was no great mischief done. Shays's war happened in the latter part of 1786 and the beginning of the following year. Its principal cause was the badness of times. The State of Massachusetts, in its public capacity, was very much in debt. So likewise were many of the people. An insurrection took place, the object of which seems to have been to interrupt the course of law and get rid of debts and taxes.

James Bowdoin, a good and able man, was now governor of Massachusetts. He sent General Lincoln, at the head of four thousand men, to put down the insurrection. This general, who had fought through several hard campaigns in the Revolution, managed matters like an old soldier, and totally defeated the rebels at the expense of very little blood.

"There is but one more public event to be recorded in the history of our chair," proceeded Grandfather. "In the year 1794 Samuel Adams was elected governor of Massachusetts. I have told you what a distinguished patriot he was, and how much he resembled the stern old Puritans. Could the ancient freemen of Massachusetts who lived in the days of the first charter have arisen from their graves, they would probably have voted for Samuel Adams to be governor."

"Well Grandfather, I hope he sat in our chair," said Clara.

"He did," replied Grandfather. "He had long been in the habit of visiting the barber's shop, where our venerable chair, philosophically forgetful of its former dignities, had now spent nearly eighteen not uncomfortable years. Such a remarkable piece of furniture, so evidently a relic of long-departed times, could not escape the notice of Samuel Adams. He made minute researches into its history, and ascertained what a succession of excellent and famous people had occupied it."

"How did he find it out?" asked Charley; "for I suppose the chair could not tell its own history."

"There used to be a vast collection of ancient letters and other documents in the tower of the Old South Church," answered Grandfather. "Perhaps the history of our chair was contained among these. At all events, Samuel Adams appears to have been well acquainted with it. When he became governor, he felt that he could have no more honorable seat than that which had been the ancient chair of state. He therefore purchased it for a trifle, and filled it worthily for three years as governor of Massachusetts."

"And what next?" asked Charley.

"That is all," said Grandfather, heaving a sigh for he could not help being a little sad at the thought that his stories must close here. "Sainuel Adams died in 1803, at the age of above threescore and ten. He was a great patriot, but a poor man. At his death he had scarcely property enough to pay the expenses of his funeral. This precious chair, among his other effects, was sold at auction; and your Grandfather, who was then in the strength of his years, became the purchaser."

Laurence, with a mind full of thoughts that struggled for expression but could find none, looked steadfastly at the chair.

He had now learned all its history, yet was not satisfied.

"Oh, how I wish that the chair could speak!" cried he. "After its long intercourse with mankind, after looking upon the world for ages,--what lessons of golden wisdom it might utter! It might teach a private person how to lead a good and happy life, or a statesman how to make his country prosperous."

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