By Benson J. Lossing
Doubtless next in age to The Big Tree was the famous Charter Oak, in the city of Hartford, Connecticut, which was standing, in the height of its glory, and estimated to be six hundred years old, when the good Hooker and his followers planted the seeds of a Commonwealth there. It was upon a slope of Wyllys's Hill. During a lull in the storm at the autumnal equinox, in 1848, I stood in Charter Street, sheltered by a friend's umbrella, and sketched that venerable tree—a "gnarled oak" indeed. The gale had been sweeping over the land for thirty hours, and had stripped the oak of nearly all its leaves, covering the ground beneath with foliage and acorns. Its circumference, a foot from the ground, was twenty-five feet.
In the summer of 1682 a small vessel called the Welcome sailed from England with William Penn and a company of Quakers for the shores of the Delaware Bay and River, on the borders of which lay a broad domain that had been granted to Penn by his sovereign. The settlers received him with great joy when he landed early hi October. "It is the best day we have ever seen," said the Swedes.
The simple-minded children of the forest were delighted with this doctrine, so different from the practices of the Puritans and the Cavaliers of which they had heard. "We will live," they said, "in love with William Penn and his children as long as the moon and the sun shall endure." And they did so. "William Penn began," said Voltaire, "with making a league with the Americans his neighbors. It is the only treaty between those nations and the Christians which was never sworn to, and never broken."
The venerable Judge Peters, the esteemed personal friend of Washington, thus wrote after the tree had fallen:
Stuyvesant's life as Governor in New Netherland was a stormy one. It was only at his house, in the bosom of his "Bowerie Farm," that he found peace. Fledgling democrats, Puritan interlopers, exasperated Indians, ambitious Swedes, and a rebellious Patroon agent, high up the Mauritius or Hudson, continually disturbed the current of his public life.
Only nine streets above the Stuyvesant Pear-Tree stood a venerable willow-tree, until 1860, when it was cut down. Our sketch presents it as it appeared in 1845. Its history is somewhat interesting, and the record of its pedigree is curious and worth preserving. It is as follows:
I was in Detroit in the autumn of 1860, and in company with a friend rode out northward a mile on Jefferson Avenue to see the great white-wood tree, whose scars commemorate a tragedy performed in its presence about a hundred years ago. A little stream, known in early times as Parent's Creek, comes down from gentle hills after beautifying Elmwood Cemetery, passes under Jefferson Avenue, and flows into the Detroit River a few rods distant. The chief events of the tragedy alluded to may be related in few words.
The thunder-peal of revolution that went forth from Lexington and Concord aroused all New England, and a formidable army was soon gathered around Boston, with a determination to confine the British invader to that peninsula or drive him into the sea. The storm-cloud of war grew more portentous every hour. At length it burst upon Bunker Hill, and the great conflict for American Independence began. The patriots looked for a competent captain to lead them to absolute freedom and peace. That commander was found in George Washington, of Virginia. A New England delegate suggested him, a Maryland delegate nominated him, and the Confederate Congress appointed him commander-in-chief of all "the Continental forces raised or to be raised for the defense of American liberty." The army at Boston was adopted as the army of the nation; and on the 21st of June, 1775, Washington left Philadelphia for the New England capital to take command of it. He arrived at Cambridge, and made his head-quarters there on the 2d of July. He was accompanied by Major-General Lee, his next in command, and other officers, and received the most enthusiastic greetings from the people on the way.
On a dismal morning in January, 1849, I crossed the dividing line between North and South Carolina, near the Broad River. A chilling northeast wind, freighted with sleet, was driving over the dreary country; and wet snow, two inches deep, covered the ground. I was on my way to King's Mountain; where Major Patrick Ferguson, one of Lord Cornwallis's officers, with more than a thousand South Carolina Tories, was attacked and defeated by the Republicans, under Colonels Cleveland, Shelby, Campbell, Sevier, and M‘Dowell, in October, 1780.
Until within ten years, a majestic Pine-Tree stood by the highway, between the villages of Fort Edward and Sandy Hill, on the Upper Hudson. I first saw it in the summer of 1848, when an unaccountable decay had stripped it of its emerald robe, and left it standing, spectre-like, on the border of a wooded glen. Its top had been broken off by a November gale, and its more delicate branches were falling at the touch of every breeze. Upon its huge trunk, full fifteen feet in circumference, was carved in bold letters—"JANE M'CREA, 1777." It stood on the brow of a slope covered with shrubbery and small trees, at the foot of which bubbled a clear and copious fountain called "The Jane M'Crea Spring." The hollow was called "The Jane M'Crea Glen." The name of the damsel seemed to be audible in the rustle of every leaf, in the chirp of every grasshopper, and in the note of every bird in that charmed and charming spot. It is interwoven with the poetry, the romance, and the history of the country in a sad story, which that Pine-Tree for fifty years commemorated, and then fell into decay. At last it bowed before the woodman's axe, in anticipation of being laid prone by some fierce storm.
There is another tree at Fort Edward, around which cluster many historical associations. It is a Balm of Gilead—one of the oldest in the country—that stood at the water-gate of Fort Edward, in the pride of its early maturity, a hundred years ago. It was then a tree of the forest, left standing on the river's brink when the woods were removed and the fort built, in 1775.
I was in Charleston, South Carolina, early in 1849, and rode out toward evening to the remains of the lines of fortifications thrown across the Neck during the Revolution. It was just at sunset when we rode through an avenue of live-oaks draped with moss, and visited the ruins of the magazine, officers' quarters, and other structures of that period, about four miles from the city. On our way, a mile and a half nearer the town, we turned aside to see a venerable and magnificent Magnolia-Tree, under which, according to well-sustained tradition, General Lincoln held a council with his officers and leading citizens of Charleston during the siege of that place by the British in 1780. It was on the 21st day of April—a bright and sultry day; and there, in the open air, in the shade of that noble Magnolia, close by the quaint cottage of Colonel William Cummington, they discussed the propriety of an attempted retreat of the army to the open country. Sir Henry Clinton, who had carried on the siege for several weeks, had just been reinforced by Lord Cornwallis with three thousand troops from New York. The city would be speedily blockaded by sea and land, and there was no hope of safety for the army but in flight. The representatives of the inhabitants objected to its departure, because they feared the exasperation of the enemy after suffering such obstinate resistance. Lincoln remained, and three weeks afterward the army and city were surrendered to the British.
"I'll storm hell, if you will only plan it," said the impetuous General Wayne—Mad Anthony, as his countrymen called him—when conversing with Washington on the subject of attacking the fort on Stony Point, near the lower entrance to the Hudson Highlands, in the summer of 1779. It had been in possession of the British a short time, and Wayne was anxious to drive them from it, or make the garrison prisoners. The enterprise seemed rash, but Washington consented to the undertaking.
A few years ago the almost lifeless remains of a huge Willow-Tree stood on the border of a marsh near Beverly Dock, in the Hudson Highlands, almost opposite West Point. It was known as Arnold's Willow, because it was there, a flourishing tree, before treason clouded his reputation. It stood by the side of the pathway by which he fled from his head - quarters to the river, when his treachery was revealed, late in September, 1780.
The voyager up Narraganset Bay from Newport to Providence will observe the bald appearance of Rhode Island. The absence of forests or large trees singly or in groups, excites curiosity and commands remark. Doubtless few travelers are aware that this baldness is the effect of the desolation wrought by the British, while for three years they occupied Rhode Island. Necessity and wantonness went hand in hand in the work of demolition; and when, in October, 1779, they left the Island one solitary tree, an aged Sycamore, was all they had left of the stately groves and patches of fine forest that had beautified the Island. That venerable tree was yet standing when I visited Rhode Island, late in autumn several years ago. The coast storms had then defoliated it. It stood upon the estate of Vaucluse, the property of Thomas R. Hazzard, between his fine mansion and the Seaconnet or Eastern Channel. It was thirty-two feet in circumference within twelve inches of the ground. The storms had riven its trunks and topmost branches, and it was the picture of a desolated Anak of the woods; yet it seemed to be filled with vigor that promised it life for centuries to come.
I arrived at Norfolk, in Virginia, on Easter eve, a few years ago, and early on Monday morning started for the Dismal Swamp, accompanied by a gentleman well acquainted with the history and localities of the neighborhood. We rode into the depths of its solitudes along the Dismal Swamp Canal, contemplating with wonder the magnificent cypresses, junipers, oaks, gums, and pines, draped with long moss, that cover it.
At the junction of the St. Mary and St. Joseph Rivers, where they form the Maumee River, or Miami of the Lakes, in Indiana, is a rich plain—so rich that Indian corn has been raised upon the same field for a hundred consecutive years without exhausting the soil. It is opposite the city of Fort Wayne that stands upon the site of the Indian village of Ke-ki-on-ga. There was once one of the most noted villages of the Miami tribe of Indians; and there Mishi-ki-nak-wa, or Little Turtle, the famous Miami chief, was born and lived until late in life. He and his people have long since passed away, and only a single living thing remains with which they were associated. It is a venerable Apple-Tree, still bearing fruit when I visited it late in September, 1860. It is from a seed doubtless dropped by some French priest or trader in early times. It was a fruit-bearing tree a hundred years ago, when Pe-she-wa (Wild Cat) or Richardville, the successor of Little Turtle, was born under it; and it exhibits now—with a trunk more than twenty feet in diameter, seamed and scarred by age and the elements—remarkable vigor.
"Sumter has undoubtedly fallen!" I said to my traveling companion, as I sat upon the base of an unfinished monument, sketching the battle-ground at New Orleans, on the 12th of April, 1861, and heard seven discharges of cannon in the direction of the city. The telegraph had informed us in the morning of the attack upon it. The conjecture became certainty a few hours later, when we returned to the St. Charles. During those hours we visited the fine old residence of General Villere, a few miles below the city. It was the head-quarters of the British army at the time of the battle on the plain of Chalmette, on the 8th of January, 1815. A few rods from the mansion, on the broad lawn that surrounds it, we were shown a stately Pecan - Tree, beneath which were buried the viscera of General Packenham, the British commander-in-chief, who was mortally wounded in that battle. The tree is tall, and about nine feet in circumference. On account of its associations it is the subject of superstitious reverence among the negroes, because, since the event that made it famous, it has never borne fruit. On the bark, near an orifice in the tree, are dark red spots, which the superstitious declare to be blood, having been seen there ever since the day of Packenham's burial.
There have been no Methuselahs since the flood. Man's maximum of life is a century. Only the elephant and the tortoise feebly imitate the longevity of the antediluvians. But there are living things that outlive them all, things statelier far than the tallest man or the largest quadruped—living things that were companions of the gray-beards before Noah, from birth to death, and lived to bless their hoary-headed grandchildren. Such are now the only living links between us and the remote Past. They are TREES—grand old trees, about which memories cluster like the trailing vines. They are not numerous, and are therefore more precious. In the shadows of the dark forest—in the light of the lofty hills—in the warmth and beauty of the broad plains of the great globe, they stand in matchless dignity as exceptions. They are Patriarchs in the society of the vegetable kingdom, receiving the homage of myriads of children—Priests, who have ministered long and nobly at Nature's altar—Kings, before whom vast multitudes have fallen prostrate—Chroniclers, within whose invisible archives are recorded the deeds of many generations of men who have risen and fallen since the ancestral seeds of the ancient trees were planted. With what mute eloquence do they address us! With what moving pathos do the trees of Olivet discourse of Jesus, his beautiful life and sublime death! How the cedars of Lebanon talk of Solomon, and Hiram, and the great Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem! How the presence of "those green-robed senators of mighty woods" stirs the spirit of worship in the human soul!
"The groves were God's first temples. Ere man learned
To hew the shaft, and lay the architrave,
And spread the roof above them—ere he framed
The lofty vault, to gather and roll back
The sound of anthems, in the darkling wood,
Amidst the cool and silence, he knelt down,
And offered to the Mightiest solemn thanks
In our own country, and in our own time, there have been, and still are, ancient trees intimately connected with our history as colonists and as a nation, and which command the reverence of every American. In my journeys over most of the States during the last fifteen years I have seen many of them, learned the traditions that have made them famous, and placed sketches of them in my portfolio. From these I have chosen some of the most remarkable as the subject of this paper.
THE BIG TREE
Probably the most ancient of these living links of the Present with the Past was "The Big Tree" that stood on the bank of the Genesee River, near the village of Geneseo, New York. When the white man first saw it it was the patriarch of the Genesee Valley, and was so revered by the Senecas that they named the beautiful savanna around it, and their village near it "Big Tree." It also gave name to an eminent Seneca chief, the coadjutor and friend of Corn-planter, Half-town, Farmers-brother, and other great leaders of the warlike Seneca nation, when Sullivan, with a chastising army, swept so ruthlessly through their beautiful land in the early autumn of 1779, annihilating villages, and leaving sombre tracks of desolation behind him, that Washington, "chief of the pale-faces," who was held responsible for the act, was called, like Demetrius of old, An-nata-kau-les, or The Town-Destroyer. "When your army entered the Six Nations," said Cornplanter to Washington in 1792, " we called you 'The Town-Destroyer;' and to this day, when that name is heard, our women look behind them and turn pale, and our children cling close to the necks of their mothers."
The Big Tree was an oak; and when, with a small party, I visited and sketched it in the summer of 1857, a few weeks before its destruction, its appearance was a fair counterpart of another thus described by Spenser:
"A huge oak, dry and dead,
Still clad with reliques of its trophies old;
Lifting to heaven its aged, hoary head;
Whose feet on earth had got but feeble hold,
And half disboweled stands above the ground,
With wreathed roots and naked arms."
It was a sultry day in August. Our visit was brief, for a tempest was gathering, and frequent peals of thunder warned us to retreat to the shelter of the town. But we had time to study the venerable tree. It was in evident peril from the abrading current of the Genesee. Little of it was left but its mighty trunk. A vigorous elm that had germinated beneath its roots had clasped one of its larger but decayed branches, and seemed like another Aeneas piously bearing old Anchises in its filial arms. But it was a treacherous friend. It robbed the old tree of its needed sustenance, and hour by hour, while it twined its young branches lovingly among the gnarled ones of the patriarch, it drew from it its life-blood. A local writer happily compared the relationship to the contact of the hardy Indian with the white man, and wrote:
"Crushed in the Saxon's treacherous grasp
The Indian's heart is broke:
The graceful elm's insidious clasp
Destroys the mighty oak I"
We measured the trunk, and found it to be twenty-six feet nine inches in circumference. Its age was doubtless more than a thousand years. During a great flood in the Genesee River, early in November, 1857, The Big Tree and that treacherous elm were swept away, and buried in the bosom of Lake Ontario.
Ni-ho-ron-ta-go-zat, or Big-Tree, the Seneca chief, whose residence was at Geneseo, was active in the council and the field. He was less a sachem than a chief—less a diplomat than a warrior; yet he was often employed in the civil service of his nation. He was the friend of Washington and his cause; and in the early autumn of 1779 he traversed the Seneca country and tried to dissuade his people from fighting the Americans with Brant. But he was unsuccessful. Sullivan was invading his domain. His countrymen flew to arms in defense of their families, corn-fields, orchards, and villages. Big-Tree's patriotism rose superior to his friendship for the republicans, and placing himself at the head of his warriors he became the most powerful opponent of Sullivan's invading army. But his resentment soon cooled, and he was with Harmar, St. Clair, and Wayne, in after-years, in the Ohio country, where they were endeavoring to "conquer a peace" among the restless tribes of the Northwest. With Corn-planter and the aged Gu-a-su-tha he was at the treaty of Greenville, which ended the war. That treaty caused his death. He loved Colonel Butler, who was killed at St. Clair's defeat, and had sworn to sacrifice three victims to the manes of his friend. The treaty of peace deprived him of the opportunity, and in his exasperation he committed suicide.
Big-Tree died, an aged man, more than sixty years before his namesake in the Genesee Valley. He was only an infant in years compared to the longevity of that venerable oak.
THE CHARTER OAK
The orifice through which the charter of the Commonwealth of Connecticut was thrust, on the memorable night of the 31st of October, 1687, was smaller at the time of my visit (scarcely admitting a hand) than in the days of Andross, but the cavity remained the same. Sixty years ago, a lady wrote of the Charter Oak, saying, "Age seems to have curtailed its branches, yet it is net exceeded in the height of its coloring or richness of its foliage. The cavity (orifice), which was the asylum of our Charter, was near the roots, and large enough to admit a child. Within the space of eight years that cavity has closed, as if it had fulfilled the divine purpose for which the tree had been reared." On a stormy night in August, 1854, the old oak was prostrated; and now almost every particle of it is in some pleasing form wrought by the cunning hand of art, and cherished as a memento of a curious episode in our colonial history.
That episode is indeed curious. When James, Duke of York, one of the worst of the Stuart dynasty, ascended the British throne, he took measures, by the advice of unscrupulous courtiers, to suppress the growth of free governments in America, which had been established and fostered under liberal charters given by his brother and predecessor, Charles the Second. He conceived a scheme for making all New England a sort of vice-royalty; and he sent Edmund Andross, a bigot and petty tyrant, to take away the charters from the different colonies, and rule over them all as Governor-General. Connecticut refused to give up her charter. The incensed Andross went to Hartford with a band of soldiers, at the close of October, 1687, while the Assembly was in session, to demand an instant surrender of it. He walked into the Assembly chamber with all the assumed dignity of a Dictator. The members received him courteously. He made his demand with hauteur, and the subject was discussed with dignified freedom until evening and the candles were lighted. The charter, contained in a neat, long box, was placed upon the table. Andross stretched forth his hand to take it, when the lights were suddenly extinguished, loud huzzas went up from a large crowd outside, and many pressed into the Assembly chamber. Captain Wadsworth, according to a concerted plan, had seized the charter, and borne it away in the gloom unperceived. He hid it in the cavity of a venerable oak in front of the mansion of the Honorable Samuel Wyllys a magistrate of the colony.
The candles were soon relighted, order was restored, but the charter could not be found. No one could or would reveal the place of its concealment. Andross stormed, and threatened them with the hot displeasure of the King. The members heard him with calmness, and they uttered no word of remonstrance when he took possession of their records, declared the General Court dissolved, and the Government at an end, writing FINIS upon their journal at the close of such declaration. They knew the value and, power of their preserved Constitution.
The Charter was not long concealed. James was soon driven from the British throne, and Andross from New England. Eminent English jurists decided that as Connecticut had never surrendered its charter it remained in full force. It was drawn from its hiding-place, and the government was immediately re-established under it. From that time until its destruction Wyllys's venerable tree was known as the Charter Oak.
An interesting fact may properly be mentioned in this connection. Charles the Second granted the charter to Connecticut, which was concealed in an oak for its preservation. Charles himself was concealed in a hollow oak eleven years before (1676), for his own preservation, after the battle of Worcester. In honor of his King, and in commemoration of this event, Dr. Halley, the astronomer, named a constellation in the heavens Robur Cared. The oak may be justly styled a royal tree. Spenser speaks of it as
"The builder oak, sole King of forests all."
It is an emblem of strength, constancy, virtue, and long life; attributes which ought to be the characteristics of a monarch.
PENN'S TREATY TREE
|Penn's Treaty Tree|
After making some arrangements with the colonists Penn proceeded up the river, in November, to Shackamaxon (now Kensington precinct, Philadelphia), and there, under the wide-spreading but leafless branches of a venerable elm-tree, on the bank of the Delaware, he made a treaty with the Indians, not for their lands, but of peace and friendship. "We meet," said Penn, "in the broad pathway of good faith and good-will; no advantage shall be taken on either side, but all shall be openness and love. I will not call you children, for parents sometimes chide their children too severely; nor brothers only, for brothers differ. The friendship between me and you I will not compare to a chain, for that the rains might rust, or the falling tree might break. We are the same as if one man's body were to be divided into two parts; we are all one flesh and blood."
Penn then proceeded to found the capital of his province, between the Delaware and the Schuylkill, where the Swedes had already built a church. The city was named Philadelphia—brotherly love—and houses soon began to rise upon " the virgin elysian shore." Thus was established the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, upon principles expressed in the name of the capital.
"Thou'lt find, said the Quaker, in me and mine,
But friends and brothers to thee and thine,
Who abuse no power and admit no line,
'Twist the red man and the white.'
And bright was the spot where the Quaker came
To leave his hat, his drab, and his name,
That will sweetly sound from the trump of Fame
'Till its final blast shall die."
"The Treaty Tree," as the great elm was ever afterward called, became an object of veneration. Penn loved the spot; and twenty years afterward, when he contemplated making his permanent residence in Pennsylvania, he tried to purchase the fine house of Thomas Fairman, by the tree, and the estate around it, considering it, he said, "one of the pleasantest situations on the river for a governor." Benjamin West commemorated the scene of the treaty in a beautiful painting—a picture, however, full of absurdities. He omitted the river; and he represented Penn as an old man in the Quaker garb of George the Third's time, whereas he was a young man, thirty-eight years old, dressed in the costume of the better class in Charles the Second's reign, and wearing, as a badge of distinction on that occasion, a sash of blue silk net-work around his waist. That sash is preserved by the Penn family in England.
|Treaty Tree Monument|
"Let each take a relic from that hallowed tree,
Which, like Penn, whom it shaded, immortal shall be;
As the pride of our forests let elms be renowned,
For the justly-prized virtues with which they abound.
Though Time has devoted our tree to decay,
The sage lessons it witnessed survive to our day;
May our trust-worthy statesmen, when called to the
Ne'er forget the wise treaty held under the Elm."
THE STUYVESANT PEAR-TREE
"Peter the Headstrong," of Irving's inimitable comic history of early New York, was not always disputing with democratic burgomasters, watching interloping Yankees, silencing the complaints of those who were not fond of despotism, nor fighting Swedes and Indians. He loved the country and the delights afforded by farm and garden. He loved home, in its broadest Teutonic sense; and during the first year of his life in New Amsterdam (now New York) he laid the foundations of domestic happiness by marrying Judith Bayard, the beautiful daughter of a wealthy Huguenot, whom he found blooming in this Western wild. He had built a house of small yellow brick brought from Holland, remote from the town, laid out a garden, and planted in it some choice pear-trees from his native country, in 1647. Peter Stuyvesant was a soldier, with a silver leg and an attractive face. He was a bachelor of forty-five when he married Judith, the black-eyed brunette.
|Stuyvesant Pear Tree|
At length a greater calamity fell upon Stuyvesant. The lately-restored monarch of England, with the impudence of the Prince of Darkness, who offered the Lord from heaven whole kingdoms of which he did not own a rood, gave the fair domain of the Dutch West India Company to his brother, James, Duke of York and Albany, and granted him military power sufficient for him to come and take it with the strong hand and will of a highway robber. Resistance was useless. All the people of Manhattan counseled surrender; but Peter Stuyvesant, with the proverbial obstinacy of his race, stood out for three days against the threats of enemies and the remonstrance’s of friends. At last he yielded. Dutch power in North America crumbled, and New Netherland and New Amsterdam became New York.
Stuyvesant retired to his farm, built a chapel on the site of the present St. Mark's Church, and, after eighteen years of repose in the bosom of domestic life, he was buried there, leaving his farm to yield enormous wealth to his descendants. Time wrought mighty changes in farm, in house, and in garden. At last no living thing that Stuyvesant had fostered with his own hand remained except a solitary pear-tree. The farm and the garden lie beneath costly structures of brick and stone; yet that pear-tree continues to blossom and bear fruit. Year after year it has been bereft of branches, until it has become little more than a venerable trunk.
The Stuyvesant Pear-Tree (now two hundred and fourteen years old) stands on the corner of Third Avenue and Thirteenth Street—the oldest living thing in the city of New York.
GATES'S WEEPING WILLOW
|Gates's Weeping Willow|
Soon after Pope, the eminent English poet, built his villa at Twickenham a friend in Smyrna sent him a drum of figs. In it was a small twig, which Pope stuck in the ground on the bank of the Thames, near his dwelling. It took root, grew rapidly, and became the admiration of the poet and his friends, for it was the Salix Babylonica, or Weeping Willow. This was the parent of all its kind in England and the United States. But its life was short. Pope died, and Lord Spenser became the owner and careful guardian of Twickenham. It was finally purchased by Lady Howe, to whom Pope once addressed the following lines, in reply to her question, "What is Prudery?"
"Tis a beldam
Seen with Wit and Beauty seldom.
Tis a fear that starts at shadows.
'Tis (no 'tisn't) like Miss Meadows.
'Tis a virgin, hard of feature,
Old, and void of all good-nature:
Lean and fretful—would seem wise,
Yet plays the fool before she dies.
Tis an ugly, envious shrew,
That rails at dear Lepell and you.'
Lady Howe had little reverence for the material works of Pope's taste and genius. She leveled the villa, and built a commonplace house near the site; and everything that he prized was suffered to fall into decay. A Scotch writer who visited the spot a few years ago, remarked, "The house of the poet was gone, ruthlessly pulled down by a lady—Queen of the Goths and Vandals might she well be called; a lady of rank was she and title; and her only object in this wanton piece of barbarism would seem to have been to demonstrate, by an overt act, how little of communion, sympathy, or feeling may subsist in the breast of some of the aristocracy of rank for the abiding-place of the aristocracy of genius ….. The Willow-Tree, also springing from the hand of the poet, as much one of his works as the ‘Messiah’ or the ‘Windsor Forest', whose pendent boughs overshadowed the silvery Thames, was pulled up by the roots!"
The British officers who came to Boston in 1775 to "crush the American rebellion," expected to complete the business in a few weeks. Some came prepared for sporting; and one young officer made preparations for settling upon the confiscated land of some "rebel." He brought with him, wrapped in oil-silk, a twig from Pope's Willow to plant in his American grounds. Events disappointed him. He had become acquainted with Mr. Custis, Washington's step-son, and who was his aid at Cambridge. The young officer presented his twig to him. Custis planted it near his house at Abingdon, in Virginia, where it grew vigorously.
In 1790 General Gates leased a farm on Rose Hill, On Manhattan Island. His house (consumed in 1845) was at the end of a lane leading from the Boston road, now Third Avenue. He brought from Abingdon a shoot from Custis's willow, and planted it at the entrance gate to his lane. It became in time the venerable willow we have delineated on the corner of Third Avenue and Twenty-second Street. It was a grandchild of Pope's Weeping Willow at Twickenham.
PONTIAC'S MEMORIAL TREE
|Pontiac's Memorial Tree|
Pontiac, a great Ottawa warrior and statesman, formed a league of several of the Indian tribes in the Northwest, at the close of the French anti. Indian war, for the purpose of exterminating the English west of Oswego and Fort Duquesne.
He said to the Canadians at a Council in his camp: "I have told you before, and I now tell you again, that when I took up the hatchet it was for your good. This year the English must all perish throughout Canada. The Master of Life commands it." He then told them that they must act with him, or he would be their enemy. They cited the capitulation at Montreal, which transferred Canada to the English, and released to join him. He pressed forward in his conspiracy without them, and finally invested Detroit with a formidable force.
In July, 1763, Pontiac was encamped behind a swamp a mile and a half north of the fort at Detroit. Captain Dalzell, who had ranged with Putnam in Northern New York, arrived with reinforcements at the close of the month, and obtained permission to attack Pontiac immediately. A perfidious Canadian informed Pontiac, and he made ready for the attack.
At little past midnight Dalzell marched to Parent's Creek. The darkness was intense. A thousand eager ears were listening for their approach. Five hundred dusky warriors were lurking near the rude log bridge, in the wild ravine through which Parent's Creek flowed. Dalzell's advance was just crossing the bridge when terrific yells in front, and a blaze of musketry on the left flank, revealed the presence of the wily foe. Half of the advance party were slain, and the remainder shrank back appalled. The main body, advancing, also recoiled. Then came another volley, when the voice of Dalzell in the van inspirited his men. With his followers he pushed across the bridge, and charged up the hill; but in the blackness the skulking enemy could not be seen, and his presence was known only by the flash of his guns.
Word now reached Dalzell that the Indians, in large numbers, had gone to cut off his communication with the fort. He sounded a retreat, and in good order pressed toward Detroit, exposed to a most perilous enfilading fire. Day dawned with a thick fog; and now, for the first time, the army enemy seen. They came darting through the mist on flank and rear, and as suddenly disappeared after firing deadly shots upon the English. One of these slew Captain Dalzell, while he was attempting to bear off a wounded sergeant. The detachment finally reached the fort, having lost sixty-one of their number, in killed and wounded. Most of the slain fell at the bridge; and Parent's Creek has ever since been called from that circumstance Bloody Run.
The bridge was much nearer the river than Jefferson Avenue; and the huge tree I have delineated, sixteen feet in circumference, and scarred by the bullets of that battle, stood in a thicket in the ravine between the assailants and the assailed.
THE WASHINGTON ELM AT CAMBRIDGE
At about nine o'clock on the morning of the 3d of July, Washington, accompanied by the general officers of the army who were present, proceeded on foot from the quarters of the Commander-in-chief, to a great Elm tree at the north end of Cambridge Common, near which the Republican forces were drawn up in proper order. Under the shadow of that wide-spreading tree, Washington stepped forward a few paces, made some appropriate remarks, drew his sword, and formally assumed the command of the army.
Eighty-six years have passed away since that imposing and important event occurred. The great Elm-Tree is still there, flourishing in the pride of its strength and beauty. Near it, when I sketched it in 1848, was Moore's house, one of the oldest in Cambridge, in which then lived the venerable Mrs. Moore, who saw the ceremony from the window of that dwelling. The venerable Elm stands there in the midst of a busy city, a living representative of the forest that covered the land when the "Pilgrim Fathers" came.
THE TORY TULIP-TREE
|Tory Tulip Tree|
I arrived near the battle-ground in the afternoon when the clouds were breaking; and, on horseback, accompanied by a resident in the neighborhood, ascended the pleasant wooded hills to the memorable spot. The sun was low in the west, and its slant rays, gleaming through the boughs dripping with the melting snows, garnished the forest for a few moments with all the seeming splendors of the mines. In a little dell at the northern foot of the hill, whereon most of the battle was fought, was a clear brook, laving the roots of an enormous Tulip - Tree, whose branches were wide-spread. "That," said Mr. Leslie, my companion," we call the Tory Tree, because, after the battle here, ten Tories were hung upon those two lower branches." "Were they not prisoners of war?" I asked. "They were taken in battle," he replied; "but they were too wicked to live."
The conduct of the Tories in Upper South Carolina was so relentless and cruel that some of the Republican leaders resolved that, if certain persons among them should fall into their hands, they should be hung as robbers and murderers. Several of these were in Ferguson's band at King's Mountain. In the hard-fought battle that ensued many of that band were killed, and the remainder were made prisoners. The crimes of some had placed them out of the pale of mercy. They were tried by a court-martial, found guilty, and ten of them were hung upon the Tulip-Tree in the dell, even then a young giant of the forest.
Near that tree, in the lonely hollow of the solitary mountains, is an humble monument to mark the spot where American officers, and Ferguson, the leader of the Tories, who were slain in battle, were buried. One inscription reads "Col. Ferguson, an Officer belonging to his Britannic Majesty, was here defeated and killed."
THE JANE M'CREA TREE
|Jane M'Crea Tree|
The story of Jane M'Crea is a sad one indeed. She was the young and lovely daughter of a Scotch clergyman in New Jersey. After his death she took up her abode with her brother, near Fort Edward. A neighbor's son became her accepted lover. The old war for independence was then raging. He was a loyalist, and was in the army of Burgoyne when, in the summer of 1777, it came sweeping victoriously from Lake Champlain to the Hudson. Jenny, as Miss M'Crea was called, visited a loyalist friend at Fort Edward, where she heard of the approach of the British, hoping to see her lover. But painted savages preceded the army. Early one morning a party of them rushed from the woods, seized Jenny and her friend, and started with them up the road toward Sandy Hill. Jenny was light and slender; her friend was a heavy, corpulent woman.
The report of Indians near soon reached the fort, and a detachment was sent out to confront them. The Indians were just making off with the prisoner, having Jenny on horseback, and her corpulent friend between two stalwart savages. The soldiers fired several volleys, but the Indians escaped unhurt. Not so the fair prisoner. A bullet intended for her captor killed the poor girl. She fell to the ground near the Spring, below the great Pine-Tree, and expired. The savages immediately scalped her, and carried her long black tresses in triumph to the camp of Burgoyne to receive the usual reward for such trophies.
The bereaved lover purchased the beautiful locks of his betrothed, deserted from the army, and retired to Canada, where he lived to be an old man. He never recovered from the shock of that sad event. He had always been gay and garrulous; ever afterward he was melancholy and taciturn. He never married; avoided society; and at the close of every July, near the time of the anniversary of his bereavement, he would shut himself in his room for several days, and refuse to see even his most intimate friends.
Such was the tragedy that caused the stately Pine, portrayed in the engraving, to be called The Jane M’Crea Tree.
BALM OF GILEAD TREE, FORT EDWARD
|Balm of Gilead Tree|
"The fire that threatened us with destruction," wrote Colonel Haviland to his sister in March, 1756, "spared our noble Balm of Gilead tree at the water-gate. The wind was from the northwest. Not a twig was scorched, and we expect to see it budding in a few weeks."
The fire referred to originated in the barracks, near the northwest angle of the fort. Colonel Haviland was in command of the garrison, and summoned them to the rescue. The magazine was only twelve feet distant, and contained three hundred barrels of gunpowder. Cannon were brought to bear on the burning buildings, but they could not be speedily demolished. Major (afterward General) Israel Putnam was stationed on Rogers's Island in the Hudson, opposite the fort. When the flames burst out he hurried across the river, rushed into the fortress, took his station on the roof of the barracks, and ordered the soldiers to form a line to the river, and hand him buckets of water. Nearer and nearer the flames approached the magazine. The peril was imminent, and Colonel Haviland ordered Putnam down. But the brave Major would not leave his position until he found the roof tottering to its fall. He then leaped to the ground, and placing himself between the burning building and the magazine he poured on water with all his might. The external planks of the magazine were now consumed, and only a thin partition remained between the flames and the powder. The hero was not dismayed by even this appalling danger, and finally succeeded in subduing the flames, and in saving the magazine, the fort, and the garrison. He was dreadfully burned in that heroic conflict with fire, and it was several weeks before he recovered from his wounds.
When I last visited Fort Edward, in the summer of 1859, and made the accompanying sketch, the venerable tree, which is composed of three huge stems starting from the root, was shorn of the beautiful proportions which it exhibited a few years before. Since I first visited it, in 1848, lightning had three times struck one of the stems. There it stood, a seamed and blighted trunk, in melancholy contrast with its remaining vigorous companions.
MAGNOLIA COUNCIL TREE, CHARLESTON
|Magnolia Council Tree|
This beautiful Council Tree, as it was called, was ever held in special veneration by the loyal inhabitants of Charleston. Its branches, at the time of my visit, had spread over a space of more than two hundred square feet. But on that very day the indolent owner, displaying the absence of the nobler sensibilities of the human heart, had cut it down for fire-wood! In the old house near it he and his mother were born, and both had played in its shade in their childhood! There it lay, a prone giant, with trunk and branches as vigorous as they were when the storm of war was raging around it seventy years before. I made careful drawings of it and the old house, marked the place of the stump and thus have preserved a portrait of the famous Magnolia Council Tree.
WAYNE'S BLACK WALNUT
|Wayne's Black Walnut|
Wayne determined to surprise the garrison at midnight. At noon on the 15th of July he led a large party of Massachusetts infantry cautiously through the defiles of the mountains, and at eight o'clock in the evening rendezvoused in a thicket about a mile and a half below the fort, on the road to Haverstraw. He had formed his plans with care. The dogs in the neighborhood were all killed, to prevent their attracting the notice of the sentinels by their barking. A shrewd negro named Pompey, who furnished the officers of the garrison with berries and fruit, had their unbounded confidence, and obtained the countersign regularly, on the plea that, it being hoeing-corn time, his master would not let him go to the fort except at night, was employed by Wayne as his guide. Under a large Black Walnut-Tree, on the border of the thicket, and not far from the road, Wayne gave his orders to his officers, and directed them to follow Pompey. At eleven o'clock they moved from that tree toward the fort, as stealthily as tigers crouching for their prey. Pompey gave the countersign to the sentinels, and while conversing with them they were seized and gagged by the Americans. Thus silence was secured and alarm prevented, until the party, in two columns, ascended the rough promontory on which the fort lay. Then they answered picket-guns by bayonet thrusts. The garrison were aroused by the cry "To arms!" It was too late; victory was with Wayne; and at two o'clock in the morning he wrote to Washington; "The fort and garrison, with Colonel Johnston, are ours. Our officers and men behaved like men determined to be free."
I have been told that since I visited and sketched the venerable Walnut- Tree it has perished by decay or the axe. It stood on the river side of the road, between Haverstraw and Stony Point.
|Arnold's Weeping Willow|
Arnold's flight was precipitate and, perilous. His quarters were at the house of Colonel Beverly Robinson, on the high ground overlooking the dock and the marsh. His treason was to have been consummated while Washington was in Connecticut in conference with French officers, by surrendering into the hands of the British the post of West Point and its dependencies. Major Andre, the Adjutant-General of the British army, had made all the arrangements with him, and was returning to New York, when he was captured, with the evidence of Arnold's treason in his possession. A stupid officer, who did not comprehend the case, wrote to Arnold, informing him of the arrest of Andre. Washington had just returned. He rode over from Fishkill before breakfast, and sent Hamilton and Lafayette forward, while he tarried on professional duty, to take that meal with Arnold and his wife. But Mrs. Arnold was confined in her room, and did not appear.
The gentlemen were at breakfast when the letter reached Arnold, informing him of Andre's fate. He immediately left the table, went to his room, told his wife that he must leave her, perhaps forever, kissed his babe in her arms, mounted a horse belonging to one of the officers, and fled at full gallop down the lane, by the old Willow-Tree, to the shore. His barge was in readiness. He entered it in haste, and bidding the oarsmen pull southward with all their strength, for his business was urgent, he escaped to the British sloop-of-war Vulture, then lying in Tappan Bay.
Major Andre was executed as a spy; but Arnold lived twenty years to feel the tortures of a troubled conscience and the bitter scorn of his fellow-men. He had attempted to sell the liberties of his country for the commission of a brevet-brigadier in the British army, and fifty thousand dollars in gold.
"From Cain to Catiline, the world hath known
Her Traitors—vaunted votaries of crime—
Caligula and Nero sat alone
Upon the pinnacle of vice sublime;
But they were moved by hate, or wish to climb
The rugged steeps of Fame, in letters bold
To write their names upon the scroll of Time;
Therefore their crimes some virtue did enfold—
But Arnold! thine had none—'twas all for sordid gold:"
Those whom he had served loathed and scorned him. Cornwallis would not associate with him in Virginia; and in England even the Government could not gain him recognition in society.
THE RHODE ISLAND SYCAMORE
|Rhode Island Sycamore|
Seaconnet Channel, just below Vaucluse, was the scene of one of the most dashing exploits of the Revolutionary war. The British had blocked it up with a floating battery, the Pigot, armed with twelve 8-pounders and ten swivels. Captain Silas Talbot undertook the capture of the Pigot. Embarking sixty men on the Hawk, a coasting schooner, armed, besides small arms, only with three 3-pounders, he sailed down under cover of darkness, grappled the enemy, boarded, drove the crew below, coiled the cables over the hatchway to secure his prisoners, and carried off his prize to Stonington.
The destruction of wood on Rhode Island at that time was the cause of great distress to the loyal inhabitants who returned at the opening of the severely cold winter of 1780. Fuel was so scarce that wood sold in Newport for twenty dollars a cord.
That majestic Sycamore, if it still lives, is doubtless many hundred years old. It may have been there when the Scandinavian sea-kings trod the forests around it, and reared the old Tower at Newport. It was there when the Pilgrims landed at Plymouth, and when Roger Williams seated himself at Providence, that he might enjoy perfect freedom in the wilderness. No doubt the eyes of Philip of Mount Hope and Canonchet of Canonicut, of Witamo, and Miantonomoh of the beautiful Aquiday have looked upon that patriarch, which stood, and may still stand, upon that gentle eastern slope of the Island, a solitary survivor of the primeval forest.
THE WASHINGTON CYPRESS
We penetrated to Drummond's Pond, and went a short distance along its northeastern verge to an immense Cypress-Tree, at the foot of which, tradition avers, Washington once passed a night. The gentleman assured me that an old man, who died at Richmond twenty-five years before, once went to the Swamp with him, pointed out that tree, and affirmed that he accompanied Washington on that occasion, as a guide, though a young man only nineteen years of age. I sketched the Cypress and its surroundings, but did not believe the story. But on reference to Washington's writings, collected by Dr. Sparks, the tradition assumes the features of truth. A project was formed in Virginia for draining the Dismal Swamp. A company for that purpose was chartered by the Virginia Legislature in 1764. Washington was one of the corporators. In October, 1763, he explored the Swamp on horseback and on foot. In a letter to Dr. Hugh Williamson, in 1784, he refers to it as follows: "Once I traversed Drummond's Pond through its whole circuit, and at a time when it was brimful of water. I lay one night on the east border of it, on ground something above the common level of the Swamp; and in the morning I had the curiosity to ramble as far into the Swamp as I could get," etc. Upon such testimony, I give a drawing of that venerable Cypress, as the one under which Washington slept almost a hundred years ago.
Drummond's Pond is near the center of the Swamp, and is a dreary, solitary, and mysterious sheet of water. When Moore, the Irish poet, visited Norfolk in 1804, he heard the story of a young man who, on the death of a girl he loved, became insane. He believed she was not dead, but had made the Swamp her abode, and under that impression he wandered into its solitudes and perished. This was the origin of his touching ballad, commencing-
"They made her grave too cold and damp
For a soul so warm and true;
And she's gone to the Lake of the Dismal Swamp,
Where all night long, by her fire-fly lamp,
She paddles her white canoe.
And her fire-fly lamp I soon shall see,
And her paddle I soon shall hear:
Long and loving our life shall be,
And I'll hide the maid in a cypress-tree
When the footsteps of death are near"
THE MIAMI APPLE TREE
|Miami Treaty Tree|
Glimpses of the city of Fort Wayne may be seen from the old Apple-Tree; and around it are clustered memories of stirring scenes near the close of the last century, when American armies were sent into that region to chastise the hostile Indians. On the Maumee, nearby, a detachment of General Harmar's troops were defeated and decimated by the Indians, under Little Turtle, in the autumn of 1791. The sanguinary scene was at the ford, just below the Miami village; and Richardville, who was with Little Turtle, always declared that the bodies of the white men lay so thick in the stream that a man could walk over on them, without wetting his feet.
A short distance from Little Turtle's village, in another direction, lies a beautiful and fertile plain, between the St. Mary and St. Joseph, opposite Fort Wayne. There, in a garden, near an apple-orchard planted by Captain Wells, the white brother-in-law of Little Turtle (who was killed at Chicago in 1812), is the grave of the chief. That orchard is the oldest in Northern Indiana, having been planted in 1804.
Little Turtle commanded the Miamis at the defeat of St. Clair, in the autumn of 1791. He was also in command in the battle with Wayne, at the Fallen Timbers, in 1794. He was not a chief by birth, but by election, on account of personal merits. He died in 1812, when Co-is-see, his nephew, pronounced a funeral oration at his grave.
Volney, the eminent French traveler and philosopher, became acquainted with Little Turtle in Philadelphia, in 1797, two years after he led his people in making the final treaty of peace with Wayne, at Greenville. By his assistance Volney made a vocabulary of the Miami language.
While in Philadelphia Little Turtle sat for his portrait, and alternated with an Irish gentleman. They were both fond of joking, and sometimes pushed each other pretty hard. On one occasion, when they met at the artist's studio, the chief was very sedate, and said but little. The Irish gentleman told him that he was defeated in badinage, and did not wish to talk. (They talked through an interpreter.) Little Turtle replied, "He mistakes; I was just thinking of proposing to this man to paint us both on one board, and then I would stand face to face with him, and blackguard him to all eternity!"
|Villere's Pecan Tree|
After the battle the bodies of the slain or mortally wounded British officers were taken to Villeres. Some of them were interred in the garden, by torchlight, the same night. Those of Generals Packenham and Gibbs, and of Colonels Dale and Rennie, were placed in casks of rum, after proper preparation, and sent to England. The viscera of each were first removed and buried. Packenham's, as we have observed, were buried at the foot of the great Pecan-Tree, then standing in the garden, but now included in the lawn.
The remainder of the dead of the British army were buried in the rear of Bienvenu's plantation near. The implements of culture have never since touched the spot. A grove of inferior cypresses mark the dreary cemetery and it is regarded with awe by the superstitious negroes.
Near the famous Pecan-Tree stands another, younger but not more vigorous, that bears fruit in abundance. This fact makes the barrenness of its notable companion seem more remarkable.
THE FOX OAK AT FLUSHING
The last in the order of our historical trees, and the one latest sketched, is in the eastern part of the village of Flushing, Long Island, a few miles from New York city, and known as the Fox Oak. It is in quiet Bowne Avenue, not far from the ancient mansion of the Bowne family, erected in 1661. It has ever been held in reverence by the Society of Friends or Quakers, because it once sheltered George Fox, the founder of their sect, while preaching to a multitude. Fox came to America in the year 1672, on a religious visit. He landed at Philadelphia, where he remained a while. He then passed through New Jersey to Middletown, where he embarked for Gravesend at the western extremity of Long Island. From Gravesend he traveled by land the whole length of Long Island. Returning he stopped at Flushing, "where," he says in his journal, "we had a meeting of many hundred people." There being no place of worship large enough to hold the multitude, Fox preached in the shade of two large white-oak trees near the house of John Bowne, a Quaker, who entertained him. The oaks were made famous by that remarkable gathering.
Several years ago those venerable oaks showed signs of decay; and one of them fell one pleasant, breezy afternoon in September, 1841. Its companion remains, but its life is extinct. I give a portrait of it as it appeared in August, 1861. From the ascertained age of the other one, it is supposed to be at least four hundred years old. Its circumference, two fir from the ground, is sixteen feet.
Fox, in his journal, mentions an extraordinary circumstance that occurred soon after his visit on Long Island. "We passed," he said, "from Flushing to Gravesend, about twenty miles, and had three precious meetings there. While we were at Shrewsbury, John Jay, a Friend, of Barbados, who came with us from Rhode Island, fell from his horse and broke his neck, as the people said. Those near him took him up for dead, carried him a good way, and laid him on a tree. I got to him as soon as I could, and concluded he was dead. Whereupon I took his head in both my hands, and setting my knees against the tree, raised his head two or three times with all my might, and brought it on. He soon began to rattle in his throat, and quickly after to breathe. The people were amazed; but I told them to be of good faith, and carry him into the house. He began to speak, but did not know where he had been. The next day we passed away, and he with us, about sixteen miles, to a meeting at Middletown, through woods and bogs, and over a river where we swam our horses. Many hundred miles did he travel with us after that."
With the Fox Oak at Flushing we will close these brief sketches of American Historical Trees and their associations; and will leave the subject with the pleasant thought that our group comprises a variety of species, and that their consideration has introduced us to a wide field of historical research.
from Harper’s New Monthly Magazine, May 1862.