A Forgotten Hero
AMONG family papers I find the following letter to my grandfather, evidently from a former patient: —
SHIPPENSBURG, Jna. 6thth 1810.
Every thing, says somebody, has a beginning, a middle and an end. I wrote you from Lancaster, where I considered myself as beginning my enterprise; I now am I think about the centre and should deem myself inexcusable did I not write you something appertaining thereto. I do this the more readily as I am a little down at the heel and in writing to you, I shall entertain the comfortable idea of a Doctor. Besides I have the satisfaction of telling you that I have atoned for all those small sins and I could hope some of the big ones. Be patient, and I will answer you that old catechistical query, ‘What is atonement?’ it consists in doing as follows. The day after I wrote you I started from Lancaster on foot for York, the shire town of the county of that name. I did this because the stage would not go till the next week, which would delay me five days. It is 23 miles to York and half of that way I travelled in a wet snow of four inches deep with thin boots and of course with wet feet. York is in point of wealth and population the third town in the state, about 3400 inhabitants. They have a ‘College’ there with small funds. It was said they were in great want of an instructor and much encouragement was given me by people acquainted with the place. I concluded it was the most favorable place for me in the State. I arrived in due time; and, after waiting three days, met the trustees in solemn conclave; who, I found, amounted to about a dozen, portly Dutchmen by trade; and the amount of all this fuss was, I might open a school, if I chose. I found they had one professor, who instructed in the A, B, C, and gave lectures on the A, B, ab, with a salary of three hundred per An. Were I to engage, I should have the income of seven latin schollars at $24 each per An.; of perhaps fifteen english schollars at $8 each and the interest of their funds, which I was informed, consisted of thirteen ‘fippenny bits’ and a cent and an half. To be serious. As I am a famous pedagogue, I expect, I could earn about $400 the first year and $500 or 600 the 2 next. But it is all a matter of experiment. Dutchmen do not like to be insulted with Latin and Greek. Their brain is so impregnably fortified with scull, that surprise is out of the question; and who, of common mortal composition, would not shrink at undertaking to carry them by a regular siege? I left York, to return if nothing better offered. I was told at that place, that by taking the stage for Hanover, (which, they said was only twenty-three miles from Carlisle whither I wished to go) I should find a stage there ready on my arrival to start for Carlisle. Thinking 23 miles such walk as I had was quant. suff. I determined to go the rest of the way by stage via Hanover. I took the stage for that place and arrived in due order and time viz. very late and body bruised and partly frozen. On my arrival think of my disappointment, when I found I was two miles farther from Carlisle than I was at York; with the comfortable prospect of embracing one of three alternatives, wait seven days for a stage, hire a man and two horses to carry me, or walk thro’ a mudy road where every step brought after it a sample of the soil of a pounds weight!! Good God! such a bore! a ‘trick upon a traveller!’ After mature deliberation I determined to mortify the flesh a little more. I started and tramped seven miles of it. There I would have hired a passage, had not the price there been the same as at Hanover. After walking 7 miles I swore I would not give so much viz. 5 Dollars and bear all the expenses! In short after wading the bigger part of three days in mud or clay nearly over shoes I arrived in Carlisle, worn quite out. I really fear serious bad consequences from the excessive fatigue. In Carlisle I found no encouragement. I expect some here but it is very uncertain. I shall if nothing better is found here return to Lancaster for my trunk and settle at York. I must settle myself and recruit soon or I shall be settled with by the universal Accountant; be brought to a balance and may I not be found wanting! Sixty miles on foot in the very worst of travelling and four hundred and thirty with ninety more to get to York again making of stage riding in dreadful roads 520 plus 60 equal to 580 miles in the very worst season of the year, is enough to wear out all but the soul, which God be praised, rises in strength as difficulties increase. I could travel the last inch of skin from my bones (I have no flesh) and not repine could I but be assured by so doing I could pay my debts. To do that is the first wish of my heart and will draw my last sigh, should Heaven decree an impossibility of it. But cheerly, Doctor, I am yet two thirds as stout as you last saw me and there is no telling what a little squad of a Dutch girl may do for me in case of necessity. I have been to one ball with them (a very genteel one when I saw congressmen) and squeezed the little cross cut rogues with a righte smarte squeeze. My Dear friend, tho’ clouds and darkness rest on my prospects, I have faith well grounded of being bettered by my journey in point of property, if not health. Believe me your thankful friend
Dr. G. C. Shattuck, Boston.
Don’t tell at Rev. Oliver’s what I am doing nor where I am. I have no desire, that old ex consul should know of my travels or any of the rest of them. Please to be guarded on this point and oblige
George C. Shattuck M.D., Boston, Mass. (Memorandum in writing of G. C. S.)
S. Bacon Jan 10, 1810.
The revelation of character, and also of the conditions of life in Central Pennsylvania little more than a hundred years ago, arrested my interest. The writer is clearly a Yankee, energetic, courageous, diligent in business. As we shall see later, he became a faithful servant of the Lord. Last, but not least, he had a sense of humor, and retained it under circumstances which would have daunted most of us. That part of Pennsylvania had a large German contingent. The state of the roads, the lack of culture or desire thereof, are impressive. York, with 3400 inhabitants, the third centre of population in the State!
The letter excited my curiosity and led to an effort to find out more about the writer. I found that a Samuel Bacon graduated at Harvard in 1808, and Mr. Lane, of the Widener Library, put me on the track of a Life of Samuel Bacon by Jehudi Ashmun, 1822, and of a condensation thereof published by the Philadelphia Bible Society. Both draw freely from Bacon’s diaries. The story of his life seems worth telling.
Bacon was born in Sturbridge, the youngest of nine children of a farmer, a hard and unsympathetic man. His mother died of consumption, after a long illness, while he was still a mere boy. His schooling was very scant. The father’s consent was won to an eight weeks’ course of English grammar. The charge for board and tuition with the pastor of the Baptist Church in Sturbridge was $1.25 a week. The frugal father thought this high, so he betook himself to Leicester, sixteen miles. He found that tuition at the Leicester Academy was one dollar a quarter, and board could be had for one dollar a week. Thus in eight weeks a whole dollar could be saved; and to Leicester Academy he went, with twenty-five cents for spending money. His father’s gospel was hard work, and when Samuel came of age and desired to pursue his studies the father told him to stay on the farm or shift for himself. For two years he studied to fit for college, entering Harvard in 1804 at twenty-three. By waiting on the college commons, bell ringing, and other aids, he finished his course.
He then began the study of law in Worcester, editing, meanwhile, the National Ægis, a weekly paper. In 1809 his health, never too good, failed. Doubtless consumption was feared, and, advised to seek a milder climate than that of New England, he went to Philadelphia. Failing here to get employment as a teacher, he went to the interior. The climatic and other advantages of his Southern move are indicated in his letter. He settled in Lancaster, where he taught school with greater public usefulness than financial return. Later he took charge of the ‘College’ in York. In 1812 he was offered a lieutenancy in the U. S. Marine Corps. This he accepted and was stationed in Washington, where he was wounded in the thigh in a duel with a brother officer who had been a close friend. His biographer says that ‘they were alike destitute of the fear of God and strangers to the restraints of His religion.’ In May 1814, Bacon married, and in June was promoted to be captain. In spare time he read law again, and was admitted to the Washington bar in 1815. A son was born to him. He was sent to York, Pennsylvania, to recruit for the Marine Corps. His wife died. He opened a law office in York and in 1815 resigned from the Marines, having seen no active service during the war. He was appointed Deputy United States District Attorney for York and Adams counties, and was elected major of a military regiment.
Up to this time he had been devoid of ‘religion,’ save in spasms usually allied with illness and the fear of death.
For instance, ‘In a moment he was seized with a strange bodily affection for which he could not account, and which seemed to threaten an immediate death. He breathed with difficulty — his body was convulsed — his strength was exhausted and he believed himself to be dying. Then fear took hold upon his soul. He had before him an angry God and a dreadful eternity, and he felt how unprepared he was to die. He raised the cry of despair to God. The terrors of Hell seemed to encompass him. He prayed for a single day — for a few hours to live that he might escape from the wrath to come.’ As danger passed, so did fear, as at various times before for twenty-odd years. Once he was tempted to suicide, at times to drown his sorrows in the flowing bowl. Not long after the above episode he ‘got religion,’ this time the real thing and for good and all. After getting religion, his sense of humor was less in evidence. He joined the German Lutheran Church, a few months later changing to the Episcopal Church. He was a pioneer in forming Sunday Schools. Starting in York, he organized them in a considerable area. He became interested in the free blacks. Two quotations from his diary throw light on the Sunday School teaching of the period: —
I am grieved to see you so careless of the salvation of your souls. If a happy spirit could come from Heaven and tell you how much it cost to get there; or if a miserable soul could come from Hell and tell you of the unheard of and unexpected torments it found there; you would all fall upon your trembling knees and begin to pray.
L. was a child of ten years old. He seemed to combine in his disposition the cunning of the serpent with the fierceness of the young tiger, and mischievousness of the ape. The first time he attended the Sunday School he stole a testament. He was detected in having it in possession; but persisted with the most daring effrontery in asserting that he had bought it. The label of ‘Sunday School,’ which was written in it by the superintendant, was pointed out to him; and that, together with confronting him with the gentleman of whom he said he bought it, and who explicitly declared he had not sold it to him, seemed to have no other effect than to induce him, in defiance of the most positive testimony, to redouble his falsehoods and prevarications. His case was pointed out to all the teachers. We feared to do anything that might drive him from school, or throw him off our hands unreformed. There was danger of exciting the hostility of his friends, as he was a favourite, and a spoiled child. We exhorted, expostulated, and explained on the holy command, — ‘Thou shalt not steal’; but without any direct application to him. This course was pursued for one year; about half the Sundays of which he attended school. We had flattered ourselves that he was reformed. But judge of our surprise, when we learnt by information from another scholar, that our books had multiplied on his hands at home, to the number of half a dozen, which he had the hardihood to offer for sale. We then felt him heavy at our skirts. The plan of reformation was soon devised and adopted. L. was taken aside into a vacant room by the superintendant, and his crimes set in full array before him. Warnings, entreaties, life, death, the gallows and the final judgment, were all called up in aid of the cause of reformation; and at last his soul was commended to God in earnest prayer. The superintendant, having exhausted his stock of grace, turned him over to one of the teachers. The same course was gone through. This done, another teacher, and so on, till seven in succession, exhausted all they had to say. — You may judge of his feelings. At the close of the school, he went home. His friends were at first enraged: but on being told his crimes, and warned, themselves, to look to it, that his blood did not lie at their doors; they became quiet. Two Sabbaths intervened, and no L. appeared in school. But on the third, he made his appearance with all the books under his arm. He gave them to the superintendant, took his seat, and soon manifested that he had left behind him, his former uncomfortable passions and dispositions, and had brought in their stead a temper entirely docile and lamb-like.
One might be curious to know how real and lasting was the reformation.
The fullness of his life and his religious fervor brought an unaccustomed happiness, though he still had periods of depression. His diary states, ‘Shame, shame is my part! I suffered myself to slumber a few minutes, under both the sermons which I attended today; owing to my fatigue in the Sunday School. But it is a wicked — a very vile thing to sleep in church.’ He offered himself as a candidate for orders to Bishop White, practising law, studying divinity, and spreading Sunday Schools. No bread of idleness was on his table. Can we wonder he napped in church during sermon?
In September 1819 he was ordained a deacon, all secular work was laid aside, and he then visited Central Pennsylvania in the interests of the Philadelphia Bible Society for two and a half months.
We now enter upon the final and dramatic act of Bacon’s life. In 1817 the American Colonization Society was formed. Its aim was to plant Christianity on the African Coast with a nucleus of free blacks from this country. In 1819 Congress authorized the President to provide care in Africa for rescued slaves, returning such of them to their homes as proved feasible. Two men, Mills and Burgess, were sent out to study the ground. As a result of their report it was decided to found a colony, and Bacon was appointed chief government agent in charge of those rescued from the slavers. The sloop of war Cyane, with twenty-four guns, was detailed, and the Elizabeth, a merchantman of three hundred tons, was chartered by the Society. The Government agreed to transport on the Elizabeth a group of free blacks selected by the Colonization Society. Thirty families, eighty-nine souls in all, were chosen from a large number of Africans, and the vessels started from New York on January 31, 1820, though the weather was such that a week passed before they could get to sea.
Bacon’s colleagues were John P. Bankson for the Government and Dr. Crozer, agent for the Colonization Society. All were full of hope and joy in their high emprise. Storms without and threatened mutiny within the Elizabeth marked the voyage. On March 9 anchor was cast at Freetown, Sierra Leone. Bacon enters in his diary, ‘Our sick have all recovered and passengers and crew enjoy perfect health.’ Their orders were to settle first on Sherbro Island, one of the native chiefs of which, ’Mr. Kizzel,’ as Bacon always calls this naked savage, made a good impression, which later proved unjustified. The site of settlement was ill chosen, the rainy season started, enthusiasm abounded over knowledge. Nemesis delayed not. By April 6 twenty-one were sick of a fever, thirty-five by the eighth. A few days later Bacon writes, ‘There are only six or eight of the people in health.’ Some of the blacks died, as did Crozer and Midshipman Townsend. Bankson was desperately ill, seemed to be recovering, relapsed, and died. On May 1, Bacon himself, after ten days’ illness, also died. Thus the three heads of the expedition were swept away in less than two months after the joyful landing. So were some twenty of the colonists. A tragic story of idealism! The record shows that Bacon was quite prepared to sacrifice his life in the cause.
A final word about Ashmun. As editor of the Theological Repertory in Washington, he became interested in the American Colonization Society and its work, and was thus led to write Bacon’s Life, the sale of which was very disappointing. He then accepted the Agency of the Society, religious ardor being reënforced with the hope of becoming able to pay burdensome debts, and in 1822 he sailed for his field of duty. There he labored for nearly six years, suffering from repeated attacks of fever. In the spring of 1828 his physical condition was so bad that he returned home, and died in New Haven in August, thirty-four years old. A Life of him by Ralph Randolph Gurley was published in 1835. Gurley was associated with him, and he it was who suggested the name Liberia for the colony which was established on the mainland, the capital of which is Monrovia.
A heavy price has been paid by white men to Christianize and civilize savages. It is probable that malaria in its grave form was a cause of death. That it was so in Ashmun’s case seems certain; but there is more than a possibility that yellow fever was responsible for some, if not many, of the deaths.
It appeared later that sickness befell Northern much more than Southern negro colonists, and the Colonization Society was therefore urged to send no negroes from north of the Potomac.
Studies recently made and now in progress warrant a strong suspicion that yellow fever is not primarily a disease of the Americas, as has been believed in the past. The disease is widespread on the Central West African Coast, and is extending into the interior along the lines of river communication. The disease is endemic, constant, with frequent epidemics of limited extension. In one of these, eight white men died in Monrovia two years ago. The suggestion is plain that the disease is of African origin, of long standing, with large acquired immunity of the natives as a result. Then slaves brought in their blood to America the causative agent of yellow fever. The appropriate mosquitoes were lying in wait, bit the slave disease-carriers and then their owners, who, having no immunity, suffered grievously. ‘The wages of sin is death.’
Since the above was written comes the news of the death of Dr. Adrian Stokes, of the great scientist, Noguchi, and of Dr. W. A. Young, all engaged in Rockefeller West African yellow fever study. All were really victims of yellow fever; whether directly or indirectly seems to be still in some doubt.
We shall have to add a new count to the indictment of slavery among us. Slavery is gone. The Civil War ended sixty years ago. The mastery of yellow fever was won twenty-five years ago, but some eight or ten million colored folk are in our midst and give cause for thought. Man interferes with nature with an eye to the present, not knowing and little realizing the remote consequences of his action.