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Bits of Travel at Home (1878) by Helen Hunt Jackson


A MORNING IN A VERMONT GRAVEYARD.

It is the warmest spot I have found to-day; a high wall of soft pines and willow birches breaks the force of the wind on two sides, and the noon sunlight lies with the glow of a fire on the brown crisp grass. The blackberry vines, which this year have brighter colors than the maple-trees, flame out all over the yard in fantastic tangles and wreaths of red, and the downy films of the St. John’s wort and thistle seeds are flying about in the air. Half an hour ago an express train went by, on the river bank, many feet below, and the noise seemed almost unpardonable so near the graves. Since then not a sound has broken the stillness, and the fleecy clouds have seemed to come down closer and closer until they look like thin veils around bending faces.

Do they take note, now and then, of their graves, I wonder, the old worthies and unworthies who have passed on? The Mrs. Jemima Tute by whose grave I am sitting might well remember to come back to this hillside sometimes, for she went through terrible days here. Only a few rods off stood Bridgman’s fort, from which she and her seven children were carried into captivity by the St. Francis Indians in the summer of 1755. She was then Mrs. Howe. On the 27th of July,—how well she must still recollect the day,—she and two other women—Mrs. Eunice Gaffield and Mrs. Submit Grout—were left alone with their children in this fort, while their husbands went to hoe corn in the meadow. No doubt the day seemed long; but when twilight set in and their husbands did not come home their terror grew great. They crowded around the door of the fort anxiously listening to the faintest sounds. At length came the trampling of horses’ feet, and voices; the excited women never stopping to make sure that they were the voices of friends, hastily threw open the door, when, in the language of the quaint old Bunker Gay, who wrote out the story in 1809, “Lo, to their inexpressible disappointment and surprise, instead of their husbands, in rushed a number of hideous Indians, to whom they and their tender offspring became an easy prey.”

Their husbands, on their way home, had been surprised by this same party of Indians. Grout escaped unhurt; Gaffield was drowned in attempting to swim the river, and the unlucky Howe, having had his thigh broken by a fall, fell from his horse, was scalped and left for dead. He lived, however, till the next morning, and was found by a party of men from Fort Hinsdale. His body had been thrust through by a spear, and a hatchet had been left sticking in his head, but he knew his friends, spoke, and did not die till after he was carried into the fort.

Mrs. Howe’s experiences during her year of captivity are told with simplicity and minuteness in a narrative by Bunker Gay, in Bingham’s “American Preceptor” for the year 1809. She is also mentioned in the “Essay on the life of the Honorable Major General Putnam,” written in 1788 by David Humphreys, one of General Washington’s aids, and minister at Madrid.

Major Putnam met Mrs. Howe at the home of General Schuyler, who had ransomed her from the French officer to whom she had been sold by her Indian master. By General Schuyler’s aid, she recovered five of her children and returned to the colonies under Major Putnam’s escort. She must have been a woman of uncommon beauty and charm; and her experiences as a captive were in consequence rendered much more distressing. Major Putnam himself seems not to have escaped wholly from the power of her beauty. Humphreys says, “She was still young and handsome, though she had daughters of marriageable age. Distress, which had taken somewhat from the original redundancy of her bloom and added a softening paleness to her cheeks, rendered her appearance the more engaging.. Her face, which seemed formed for the assemblage of dimples and smiles, was clouded by care.” The grass is netting its meshes and roots more and more closely round the base of the old slate stone at her grave, and I had to separate it with my fingers and tear it away before I could copy the last lines of the epitaph:

Mrs. Jemima Tute,
Successively relict of Messrs. Wm. Phipps, Caleb Howe and
Amos Tute.
The two first were killed by the Indians:
Phipps, July 5, A. D. 1743;
Howe, June 27, 1755.
When Howe was killed she and her children,
Then seven in number,
Were carried into captivity.
The oldest daughter went to France,
And was married to a French Gentleman;
The youngest was torn from her Breast,
And perished with hunger.
By the aid of some benevolent Gentle’n,
And her own personal heroism,
She recovered the rest.
She had two by her last Husband,
Outlived both him and them,
And died March 7th, 1805, aged 82;
Having passed thro’ more vicissitudes,
And endured more hardships,
Than any of her cotemporaries.

No more can Savage Foes annoy,
Nor aught her wide-spread Fame destroy.”

Mr. Amos Tute’s grave is next to his wife’s. Its marble stone although fifteen years older than hers, looks comparatively modern, and the inscription is clear. It is strange that with the white marble ready to their hands on so many hillsides, the old Vermont settlers should have put so many of their records into keeping of the short-lived slate:

“Mr. Amos Tute,
who died April 17th,
1790, in the 80th
year of his
Age.

“Were I so tall to reach the Pole
    Or grasp the ocean with my span,
I must be measured by my soul,
    The mind’s the standard of the man.”

Near these two graves is that of her son Jonathan, whose epitaph certainly takes place high on the list of church-yard oddities:

“Here lies, cut down like unripe Fruit,
A son of Mr. Amos Tute
And Mrs. Jemima Tute, his wife,
Called Jonathan, of whose Frail life
The days all summe’d (how short the account),
Scarcely to fourteen years Amount.
Born on the Twelfth of May Was He,
In Seventeen Hundred Sixty-Three.
To Death he fell a helpless prey,
April the Five & Twentieth Day,
In Seventeen Hundred Seventy-Seven,
Quitting this world, we trust for Heaven.
But tho’ his Spirit’s fled on High,
His body mouldering here must lie.
Behold the amazing alteration
Effected by inoculation.
The means improved his life to save,
Hurried him headlong to the grave.
Full in the bloom of youth he fell.
Alas! what human tongue can tell
The Mother’s Grief, her Anguish show,
Or paint the Father’s heavier woe,
Who now no nat’ral offspring has
His ample Fortune to possess,
To fill his Place, stand in his Stead,
Or bear his name when he is dead.
So God ordain’d. His ways are Just.
The empires crumble into dust,
Life and the world mere bubbles are,
Set loose to these; for Heaven prepare.”

A few rods from the graveyard, is a small red farm cottage in which live some of Mrs. Howe’s descendants. I stopped there one day to talk with them, and to see the door of Bridgman’s fort which I was told they had.

The door turned out to be not a door at all, but a single board which might or might not have been part of a door, and at any rate did not belong to Bridgman’s fort, but to another which stood a little further north, and was never picketed, but in which Mrs. Howe and her family had lived. The board was roughly hewn, many inches thick, and had a bullet hole in it. A girl, perhaps thirteen years old, was playing in the yard with her little brother. Her beauty was striking: a finely cut outline and the rarest coloring. She was a great-granddaughter of Mrs. Jemima Tute. Somehow she seemed to me a much closer and more direct link with the old story than the board, which had doubtless been often swung to and fro by her great-grandmother’s hands.

Only a few steps from the immortalized Jonathan is the grave of another:—

“The unfortunate Miranda, daughter
Of John and Ruth Bridgman,
Whose remains are here interred,
Fell a prey to the flames
That consumed her father’s house,
On ye 6th of June, 1771,
Aged 28.

The room below flamed like a stove;
Anxious for those who slept above,
She entered on the trembling floor;
She fell, she sank, and rose no more.”

In another sunny corner, lie side by side the three wives of Mr. Abijah Rogers. The first died in 1784. Her tombstone bears the following epitaph:—

“Look down on me: i slumber here;
    The grave’s become my bed;
And think on death that’s always near,
    For life may quickly fade.”

Five years later, the unlucky Mr. Rogers buried another wife in friendly neighborhood to the first, and avoided all appearance of partiality by putting on her tombstone precisely the same stanza, line for line, letter for letter, except that the personal pronoun in the first line is represented by a capital, but this was probably due to the progress of education in the country, and not to any unhandsome distinction in Mr. Rogers’s mind. In 1798, the again bereaved widower was called to put up a third stone at the third wife’s grave, and this time the village muse (or his own) took a new flight, as below:—

“Reader, behold, and shed a tear;
Think on the dust that slumbers here;
And when you read the fate of me,
Think on the glass that runs for thee.”

Last of all, the man died also, and appears to have been buried as far from all three of his wives as possible, and to have eschewed poetical epitaphs.

It is strange to see how some one mortuary stanza would have a run, so to speak, in a neighborhood, and be put on stone after stone, for male and female, old and young, and (we must suppose) righteous and unrighteous alike. Here is one such which occurs no less than six times in a few rods’ space:—

“Sickness sore long time I bore
    Physician’s skill in vane
Till God did send death as a friend
    To ease me of my pane.”

One of the most moss-grown stones in the yard, though not one of the oldest, is a double one, two arches joined by a Siamese twin arrangement, and in memory of a husband and wife. The husband died in 1789, and under his name stands this strikingly matter-of-fact statement:—

“In health one night as heretofore,
He went to bed and rose no more;
Death lurks unseen, and who can say
He’s sure to live another day.”

The other half of the stone waited just ten years for its record of the widow’s death. A business-like view of such events must have been a family trait throughout that community, for they found nothing more tender or solemn to say of her, than—

“Death is a debt to nature due,
Which I have paid and so must you.”

By a round-about road through pine and beech woods, dark with the undergrowth of shining laurel, we wind down from the hill into the town below. We shall pass another curious burial-ground on our left. It is not enclosed; has no tombstones; and, so far as anybody knows, there have been no interments in it for thousands of years. The only traces of builders which are to be seen in it, are the marks of the teeth of beavers, who had dams in it when it was a pond. Now it is only a muck bed. The most distinguished, or, at any rate, the biggest person ever buried there, was an elephant. Two years ago, some Irish laborers dug part of him up. Even in a muck bed, among the Green Mountains, he was not any safer than he would have been in Trinity Church yard in New York; all they found of him—only forty inches of one tusk, to be sure—is on exhibition at the State Capitol, and has been mended with glue by the State Geologist.


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