Julia Ward Howe (1819 - 1910)

by Laura E. Richards

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VOLUME I - Chapter I - Ancestral

These are my people, quaint and ancient,
Gentlefolks with their prim old ways;
This, their leader come from England,
Governed a State in early days.

*        *        *        *        *        * 

I must vanish with my ancients,
But a golden web of love
Is around us and beneath us,
Binds us to our home above.

Julia Ward Howe.

Our mother was once present at a meeting where there was talk of ancestry and heredity. One of the speakers dwelt largely upon the sins of the fathers. He drew stern pictures of the vice, the barbarism, the heathenism of the "good old times," and ended by saying with emphasis that he felt himself "bowed down beneath the burden of the sins of his ancestors."

Our mother was on her feet in a flash.

"Mr. So-and-So," she said, "is bowed down by the sins of his ancestors. I wish to say that all my life I have been buoyed up and lifted on by the remembrance of the virtues of mine!"

These words are so characteristic of her, that in beginning the story of her life it seems proper to dwell at some length on the ancestors whose memory she cherished with such reverence.

The name of Ward occurs first on the roll of Battle Abbey: "Seven hundred and ten distinguished persons" accompanied William of Normandy to England, among them "Ward, one of the noble captains."

Her first known ancestor, John Ward, of Gloucester, England, sometime cavalry officer in Cromwell's army, came to this country after the Restoration and settled at Newport in Rhode Island. His son Thomas married Amy Smith, a granddaughter of Roger Williams. Thomas's son Richard became Governor of Rhode Island and had fourteen children, among them Samuel, who in turn became Governor of the Colony, and a member of the Continental Congress. He was the only Colonial governor who refused to take the oath to enforce the Stamp Act. In 1775, in the Continental Congress, he was made Chairman of the Committee of the Whole, which from 1774 to 1776 sat daily, working without intermission in the cause of independence. But though one of the framers of the "Declaration," he was not destined to be a "signer." John Adams says of him, "When he was seized with the smallpox he said that if his vote and voice were necessary to support the cause of his country, he should live; if not, he should die. He died, and the cause of his country was supported, but it lost one of its most sincere and punctual advocates."

The correspondence between Governor Ward and General Washington has been preserved. In one letter the latter says: "I think, should occasion offer, I shall be able to give you a good account of your son, as he seems a sensible, well-informed young man."

This young man was Samuel Ward, Lieutenant-Colonel of the First Rhode Island Regiment, and our mother's grandfather.[1]

In Trumbull's painting of the Attack on Quebec in 1776, there is a portrait of Lieutenant-Colonel Ward, a young, active figure with sword uplifted. His life was full of stirring incident. In 1775 he received his commission as Captain, and was one of two hundred and fifty of the Rhode Island troops who volunteered to join Benedict Arnold's command of eleven hundred men, ordered to advance by way of the Kennebec River to reinforce General Montgomery at Quebec. In a letter to his family, dated Point-aux-Trembles, November 26, 1775, Captain Ward says: "We were thirty days in the wilderness, that none but savages ever attempted to pass. We marched a hundred miles upon shore with only three days' provisions, waded over three rapid rivers, marched through snow and ice barefoot, passed over the St. Lawrence where it was guarded by the enemy's frigates, and are now resting about twenty-four miles from the city to recruit our worn-out natures. General Montgomery intends to join us immediately, so that we have a winter's campaign before us. But I trust we shall have the glory of taking Quebec!"

The young soldier's hopes were vain. He was taken prisoner with many of his men while gallantly defending a difficult position, and spent a year in prison. On his release he rejoined the army of Washington and[6] fought through the greater part of the Revolution, rising to the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was at Peekskill, Valley Forge, and Red Bank, and wrote the official account of the last-named battle, which may be found in Washington's correspondence.

During the terrible winter at Valley Forge, Lieutenant-Colonel Ward obtained a month's furlough, wooed and married his cousin, Phœbe Greene (daughter of Governor William Greene, of Rhode Island, and of the beautiful Catherine Ray, [2] of Block Island), and returned to the snows and starvation of the winter camp. Our mother was very proud of her great-grandmother Catherine's memory, treasured her rat-tail spoons and her wedding stockings of orange silk, and was fond of telling how Benjamin Franklin admired and corresponded with her. Some of Franklin's letters have been preserved. He speaks of his wife as the "old lady," but says he has got so used to her faults that they are like his own—he does not recognize them any more. In one letter he gives the following advice to the lovely Catherine: "Kill no more Pigeons than you can eat. Go constantly to meeting or to church—till you get a good husband; then stay at home and nurse the children and live like a Christian."

Some years after the Revolution, Colonel Ward was in Paris on a business errand. He kept a record of his stay there in a parchment pocket-book, where among technical entries are found brief comments on matters of general interest. One day the Colonel tells of a dinner party where he met Vergniaud and other prominent revolutionists. He was surprised to find them such plain men; "yet were they exceeding warm." On December 29,1792, he notes: "Dined with Gouverneur Morris. Served upon plate—good wines—his Kitchen neither french or English, but between both. Servants french, apartments good.... I have visited the halls of painting and sculpture at the Louvre. The peices [sic] are all called chef d'œuvres by connoisseurs. The oldest are thought the best, I cannot tell why, though some of the old peices are very good. Milo riving the oak is good...."

He went to the theatre, and observed that the features which appeared to him most objectionable were specially applauded by the audience.

Briefly, amid items of the sale of land, he thus notes the execution of Louis XVI:—

"January 15th. The convention has this day decided upon two questions on the King; one that he was guilty, another that the question should not be sent to the people.

"January 17th. The convention up all night upon the question of the King's sentence. At eleven this night the question was determined—the sentence of death was pronounced. 366 death—319 seclusion or banishment—36 various—majority of 5 absolute—the King caused an appeal to be made to the people, which was not allowed; thus the convention have been the accusers, the judges, and will be the executors of their own sentence—this will cause a great degree of astonishment in America....

"January 21st. Went to the Pont Royal to pass it at nine o'clock. Guards prevented me from going over. I had engaged to pass this day, which is one of horror, at Versailles, with Mr. Morris. The King was beheaded at eleven o'clock. Guards, at an early hour, took possession of the Place Louis XV, and were posted in each avenue. The most profound peace prevailed. Those who had feeling lamented in secret in their houses, or had left town. Others showed the same levity or barbarous indifference as on former occasions. Hichborn, Henderson, and Johnson went to see the execution, for which, as an American, I was sorry. The King desired to speak. He had only time to say he was innocent, and forgave his enemies. He behaved with the fortitude of a martyr. Santerre ordered the [executioner] to dispatch him. At twelve the streets were again all open."

There is a tradition that when Colonel Ward quitted Paris, with a party of friends, the carriage was driven by a disguised nobleman, who thus escaped the guillotine.

Our mother remembered him as a "gentleman advanced in years, with courtly manner and mild blue eyes, which were, in spite of their mildness, very observing."

She inherited many traits from the Wards, among them a force and integrity of purpose, a strength of character, and a certain business instinct which sometimes cropped up when least expected, and which caused some of her family to call her the "banker's daughter."

Those were also solid qualities which she inherited from the Rhode Island Greenes. Greenes of Warwick, Greenes of East Greenwich; all through Colonial and Revolutionary history we find their names. Sturdy, active, patriotic men: Generals, Colonels, and Governors of "Rhode Island and Providence Plantations," chief among them Governor William Greene, the "War Governor," and General Nathanael Greene of glorious memory.

Our liveliest association with the name of Greene is the memory of Mrs. Nancy Greene, first cousin of our grandfather Ward and daughter-in-law of the General who died in Middletown, Rhode Island, in 1886, at the age of one hundred and two. This lady was dear to our mother as the one remaining link with her father's generation. A visit to "Cousin Nancy" was one of her great pleasures, and we children were happy if we were allowed to accompany her. The old lady sat erect and dignified in her straight-backed chair, and the two discoursed at length of days gone by. To Cousin Nancy "Julia" was always young, though the "Battle Hymn of the Republic" was already written when the old lady charged her to "cultivate a literary taste." On another occasion—it was one of the later visits—she said with emphasis, "Julia, do not allow yourself to grow old! When you feel that you cannot do a thing, get up and do it!" Julia never forgot this advice.

Cousin Nancy never read a novel in her life, as she announced with pride. She wished to read the "Annals of the Schönberg-Cotta Family," but, finding it to be a work of fiction, decided not to break her rule. She was a fond and pious mother; when her son needed chastisement, she would pray over him so long that he would cry out, "Mother, it is time to begin whipping!"

If Julia Ward was part Ward and Greene, she was quite as much Cutler and Marion; it is to this descent that we must turn for the best explanation of her many-sided character.

When she said of any relation, however distant, "He is a Cutler!" it meant that she recognized in that person certain qualities—a warmth of temperament, a personality glowing, sparkling, effervescent—akin to her own. If in addition to these qualities the person had red hair, she took him to her heart, and he could do no wrong. All this, and a host of tender associations beside, the name of Cutler meant to her; yet it may be questioned whether any of these characteristics would have appeared in the descendants of Johannes Demesmaker, worthy citizen of Holland, who, coming to this country in 1674, changed his name to Cutler for convenience' sake, had not one of these descendants, Benjamin Clarke Cutler, married Sarah (Mitchell) Hyrne, daughter of Thomas Mitchell and Esther (or Hester) Marion.

To most people, the name of Marion suggests one person only,—General Francis Marion of Revolutionary fame; yet it was the grandfather of the General, Benjamin Marion, of La Rochelle, who was the first of the name to settle in this country, coming hither when the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove the Huguenots into exile. Brigadier-General Peter Horry,[11][3] friend and biographer of General Marion, quotes the letter which told Benjamin of his banishment:—

Your damnable heresy well deserves, even in this life, that purgation by fire which awfully awaits it in the next. But in consideration of your youth and worthy connections, our mercy has condescended to commute your punishment to perpetual exile. You will, therefore, instantly prepare to quit your country forever, for, if after ten days from the date hereof, you should be found in any part of the kingdom, your miserable body shall be consumed by fire and your impious ashes scattered on the winds of heaven.

(Signed) Père Rochelle. Within the ten days Benjamin Marion had wound up his affairs, married his betrothed, Judith Baluet, and was on his way to America to seek his fortune. He bought a plantation on Goose Creek, near Charleston, South Carolina, and here he and his Judith lived for many peaceful years in content and prosperity, seeing their children grow up around them.[4]

Gabriel Marion, the eldest son of Benjamin, married a young woman, also of Huguenot blood, Charlotte Cordés or Corday, said to have been a relative of the other Charlotte Corday, the heroine of the French Revolution. To this couple were born six children, the eldest being Esther, our mother's great-grandmother, the youngest, Francis, who was to become the "Swamp Fox" of Revolutionary days.

Esther Marion has been called the "Queen Bee" of the Marion hive; she had fifteen children, and her descendants have multiplied and spread in every direction. She was twice married, first to John Allston, of Georgetown, or Waccamaw, secondly to Thomas Mitchell, of Georgetown. The only one of the fifteen children with whom we have concern is Sarah Mitchell, the "Grandma Cutler" of Julia Ward's childhood. This lady was married at fourteen to Dr. Hyrne, an officer of Washington's army. Julia well remembered her saying that after her engagement, she wept on being told that she must give up her dolls.

Dr. Hyrne lived but a short time, and four years after his death the twenty-year-old widow married Benjamin Clarke Cutler, then a widower, Sheriff of Norfolk County, Massachusetts, and third in descent from John Demesmaker,[5] before mentioned, sometime physician and surgeon.

Our mother was much attached to "Grandma Cutler," and speaks thus of her in a sketch entitled "The Elegant Literature of Sixty Years Ago": "Grandma will read Owen Feltham's 'Resolves,' albeit the print is too small for her eyes. She knows Pope and Crabbe by heart, admires Shenstone, and tells me which scenes are considered finest in this or that of Scott's novels. Calling one day upon a compeer of her own age, she was scandalized to find her occupied with a silly story called 'Jimmy Jessamy.'"

Mrs. Cutler had known General Washington, and was fond of telling how at a ball the Commander-in-Chief crossed the room to speak to her. Many of her letters have been preserved, and show a sprightliness which is well borne out by her portrait, that of a charming old lady in a turban, with bright eyes and a humorous mouth.

A word remains to be said about General Francis Marion himself. This hero of history, song, and romance was childless; our mother could claim as near relationship to him as could any of her generation. She was extremely proud of this kinship, and no one who knew her could doubt that from the Marions she inherited many vital qualities. One winter, toward the end of her life, there was a meeting at the Old South Church at which—as at the gathering described at the beginning of this chapter—there was talk of ancestry and kindred topics. The weather was stormy, our mother well on in the eighties, but she was there. Being called on to speak, she made a brief address in the course of which she alluded to her Southern descent, and to General Francis Marion, her great-great-uncle. As she spoke her eyes lightened with mirth, in the way we all remember: "General Marion," she said, "was known in his generation as the 'Swamp Fox'; and when I succeed in eluding the care of my guardians, children and grandchildren, and coming to a meeting like this, I think I may be said to have inherited some of his characteristics!"


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