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Trent and Wells, eds. Colonial Prose and Poetry. 1901.

Vol. III. The Growth of the National Spirit: 1710–1775

John Barnard

THE REV. JOHN BARNARD of Marblehead is interesting to us precisely because he is not distinguished. Few historians or students of our literature, always excepting Professor Tyler, seem to be aware of his existence. He is a type of the Massachusetts Puritan, as the eighteenth century made him, the new wine straining the old bottles far more than he or his fellows realized. We should know little of him, save the facts to be gleaned from Parish records and tombstones, were it not for the autobiography from which the following extracts are taken. This was prepared apparently when the author was in his eighty-fifth year, at the request of President Stiles of Yale, who wrote to Mr. Barnard at Newport, October 3, 1767: “With great pleasure I have read your life again and again. It has proved a feast to me. So long a life of a gentleman of your figure and extensive connections must contain much ecclesiastical history, abound in political anecdote, and involve very interesting participations in the public occurrences and transactions concerning which you have the honor to say quorum pars magna fui.” But interesting as the narrative is, it lay long neglected, and even suffered some mutilation. It was at last printed in Vol. 5 of the Third Series of the Collections of the Massachusetts Historical Society in 1836.

From this autobiography we learn that Barnard was born in Boston on November 6, 1681, and that at the age of eight he was sent to the school under the direction of the famous Mr. Ezekiel Cheever. At fifteen he entered Harvard College, graduated at nineteen, studied for the ministry, and by 1702 could say “I became almost a constant preacher both on week days and on the Lord’s Day, privately and publicly, insomuch as that I have sometime preached every day of the week but Saturdays, and both parts of the Sabbath, before and after; and as my friends who heard me said to good acceptance.”

Barnard took his Master’s degree in 1703, and in 1704 became assistant in the church at Yarmouth. He accompanied the Acadian Expedition in 1707 as chaplain, experienced the usual “signal deliverances,” visited the Barbadoes and England in 1709, returned to Massachusetts after more than a year’s absence, and in 1714 became assistant at Marblehead, where he was formally ordained in 1716, and continued his connection with the parish till his death on the 24th of January, 1770.

New England Schooldays.

IN the spring of my eighth year I was sent to the grammar school, under the tuition of the aged, venerable and justly famous Mr. Ezekiel Cheever. But after a few weeks an odd accident drove me from the school. There was an older lad entered the school the same week with me; we strove who should outdo; and he beat me by the help of a brother in the upper class, who stood behind master with the Accidence open for him to read out of; by which means he could recite his … three and four times in a forenoon, and the same in the afternoon; but I who had no such help, and was obliged to commit all to memory, could not keep pace with him; so that he would be always one lesson before me. My ambition could not bear to be outdone, and in such a fraudulent manner, and therefore I left the school. About this time arrived a dissenting minister from England, who opened a private school for reading, writing and Latin. My good father put me under his tuition, with whom I spent a year and a half. The gentleman receiving but little encouragement, threw up his school, and returned me to my father, and again I was sent to my aged Mr. Cheever, who placed me in the lowest class; but finding I soon read through my…, in a few weeks he advanced me to the…, and the next year made me the head of it.

In the time of my absence from Mr. Cheever, it pleased God to take to himself my dear mother, who was not only a very virtuous, but a very intelligent woman. She was exceedingly fond of my learning, and taught me to pray. My good father also instructed me, and made a little closet for me to retire to for my morning and evening devotion. But, alas! how childish and hypocritical were all my pretensions to piety, there being little or no serious thoughts of God and religion in me.


Though my master advanced me, as above, yet I was a very naughty boy, much given to play, insomuch that he at length openly declared, “You Barnard, I know you can do well enough if you will; but you are so full of play that you hinder your classmates from getting their lessons; and therefore, if any of them cannot perform their duty, I shall correct you for it.” One unlucky day, one of my classmates did not look into his book, and therefore could not say his lesson, though I called upon him once and again to mind his book; upon which our master beat me. I told master the reason why he could not say his lesson was, his declaring he would beat me if any of the class were wanting in their duty; since which this boy would not look into his book, though I called upon him to mind his book, as the class could witness. The boy was pleased with my being corrected, and persisted in his neglect, for which I was still corrected, and that for several days. I thought, in justice, I ought to correct the boy, and compel him to a better temper; and therefore, after school was done, I went up to him, and told him I had been beaten several times for his neglect; and since master would not correct him I would, and I should do so as often as I was corrected for him; and then drubbed him heartily. The boy never came to school any more, and so that unhappy affair ended.

Though I was often beaten for my play, and my little roguish tricks, yet I don’t remember that I was ever beaten for my book more than once or twice. One of these was upon this occasion. Master put our class upon turning Æsop’s Fables into Latin verse. Some dull fellows made a shift to perform this to acceptance; but I was so much duller at this exercise, that I could make nothing of it; for which master corrected me, and this he did two or three days going. I had honestly tried my possibles to perform the task; but having no poetical fancy, nor then a capacity opened of expressing the same idea by a variation of phrases, though I was perfectly acquainted with prosody, I found I could do nothing; and therefore plainly told my master that I had diligently labored all I could to perform what he required, and perceiving I had no genius for it, I thought it was in vain to strive against nature any longer; and he never more required it of me. Nor had I any thing of a poetical genius till after I had been at College some time, when upon reading some of Mr. Cowley’s works, I was highly pleased, and a new scene opened before me.

Absent Treatment for Scarlet Fever.

… IN June, 1693, in my twelfth year, Sir Francis Wheeler, with his fleet, which had in vain made an attempt upon Martinico, came to Boston, and brought with him a violent and malignant distemper, called the scarlet fever, by which he lost many hundreds of his men. The distemper soon spread in Boston, of which many persons died, and that within two or three days of their being taken ill. It pleased God I was seized with it, and through the rampancy of the fever, and a violent pain at my heart, which rendered every breath I drew to be as though a sword had pierced me, I was so bad that life was despaired of. On the third night, (I think,) it seemed to me that a certain woman, wife of a doctor, who used to supply my father’s family with plasters upon occasion, came and brought me some small dark colored pills, and directed me to put one in my mouth, and hold it there till it grew mellow, then squeeze it flat betwixt my thumb and finger and apply it to my right nipple; it would soak in and before I had used them all so, I should be well. I followed the prescription, and when I had used the third pill, my pain and fever left me, and I was well. My tender father, very early the next morning, came into my bedchamber, to inquire how it was with me. I told him I was quite well, and intended to get up presently, and said the pills Mrs. (naming her) had given me last night had perfectly cured me. He said to me, “Child, I believe she was not here; I heard nothing of it.” To confirm him I said, “Sir, I have the remaining four pills now in my hand,” and put my hand out of bed to show them, but they dropped out of my hand into the bed. I then raised myself up to look for them, but could not find them. He said to me, “I am afraid, child, you are out of your senses.” I said to him, “Sir, I am perfectly awake, and in my senses, and find myself truly well.” He left the room with the supposition that I was delirious, and I saw by his countenance that he was ready to give me over for lost. He then inquired of all the house whether that woman had been at the house the day or evening before. They all let him know that they had not seen her here. He betook himself to his closet, and in about an hour came to me again; I continued firm in the story I had told him. He talked to me of some other things, and found in my answers that I was thoroughly awake, and, as he now thought, under the power of no distraction, was better satisfied, and left me with a more placid countenance. By noon I got up, and was perfectly recovered from my sickness. I thought I would have given ever so much to know what the pills were, that others might receive the benefit of them. Finding that the above said woman had not been at our house, and I was perfectly healed, I could not help thinking that a merciful God had sent an angel, as he did Isaiah to Hezekiah, to heal me; and to this very day, I cannot but esteem it more than an ordinary dream, or the wild ramblings of a heated imagination. It seemeth to me a sort of heavenly vision. And what else can you, sir, make of it? The kind offices of the ministering spirits are, doubtless, more than we are aware of. However, thus has God mercifully appeared for my help, when I was brought very low, and in this manner rescued me from the jaws of death. Forever blessed be his holy name! But to return.

Philosophic Matrimony.

THE 18th of September, 1718, I married Miss Anna Woodbury, from Ipswich, an only child, whose parents were both dead; a young gentlewoman of comely personage, and good fortune, but above all, strictly virtuous, and of admirable economy; who is yet living, though now crippled by paralytic or rheumatic disorders in her right leg. It has pleased God to deny children to us; and we are satisfied with the Divine allotment, which is always wisest and best.

Choosing a College President.

THE Rev. Mr. Holyoke lived in the strictest brotherly love and friendship with me in our two separate churches in Marblehead, till it pleased God, on March 23, in the year 1737, to remove by death the Rev. Mr. Benjamin Wadsworth from his Presidentship at the College, to a higher sphere of action and honors, among the blessed above; which necessitated the Corporation and Overseers to look out for another proper person to supply his place. Some of the Overseers and Corporation were pleased to propose it to me to accept of the presidentship, informing me that many of them had their thoughts upon me. But I gave them to understand that, through long disuse, I looked upon myself so much unacquainted with college literature, as utterly incapacitated me for that service, and therefore, I could not, in prudence or justice, accept of the offer, if it should be made to me; but I thought the Rev. Mr. Holyoke the fittest person for that station of any I knew in the Province. And attending upon President Wadsworth’s funeral, I took the opportunity, at Cambridge, to mention the Rev. Mr. Holyoke to several both of the Corporation and Overseers; from which time he became a candidate for the place, the eyes of the people being generally fixed upon him. Some of the Boston ministers were ready to think that the choice should be made out of themselves, and could not well bear it that there should be any thought about those who lived in the country; and therefore made some exception to Mr. Holyoke, as that they should vote for him if it were not for his principles. In the midst of this public talk I happened to be invited to Gov. Belcher’s table. While we were sitting together, before dinner, with a Boston minister present, his Excellency was pleased to ask me who I thought was a proper person for President. I readily answered, “In my humble opinion there is no fitter person in the Province than the Rev. Mr. Holyoke, of Marblehead.” Upon which the minister present said “I should think so too were it not for his principles.” I confess I was nettled and said “Sir, do you know of any bad principles he holds?” He replied “No; but he should be glad to know his principles.” I then said to him, with some smartness, “Sir, I am surprised that a gentleman of your character should insinuate bad principles of a brother, when you say you know of none; especially since that gentleman has been approved as a valuable minister among us for above 20 years.” His Excellency then asked me, what I thought of Mr. Holyoke’s qualifications. I answered him, “May it please your Excellency, I think the grand qualifications for a President are, a virtuous, religious man, a man of learning, a gentleman and one of good spirit for government; and all of these meet in Mr. Holyoke. He is universally known to be a virtuous, religious man; and were he but of common capacity with his brethren, yet his having lived fourteen years at the College, and the greatest part of that time a tutor there, gives him so much the advantage above others, as leaves no room to call in question his learning. That he is a gentleman in his behavior, we all know, and so fitted for converse with all gentleman-strangers, who visit the College; and I know no man better qualified with a spirit for government, who knows how to treat his equals and inferiors with due civility, while he preserves a proper distance.” “Well;” said his Excellency, “Mr. Barnard, I agree with you in your qualifications of a President; and if a man had all the learning of Cicero, and sanctity of St. Paul, but was destitute of a spirit for government, he would not be fit for that place. But,” said his Excellency, “will you vouch, Mr. Barnard, for Mr. Holyoke’s Calvinistical principles?” To which I replied, “If more than thirty years’ intimacy, and more than twenty years’ living in the same town with him, and often conversing with him, and scores of times hearing him preach, can lead me into the knowledge of a man’s principles, I think Mr. Holyoke as orthodox a Calvinist as any man; though I look upon him too much of a gentleman, and of too catholic a temper, to cram his principles down another man’s throat.” “Then,” said his Excellency, “I believe he must be the man.”

Clerical Amenities.

SO long ago as the year 1727, I understood that Mr. John Checkley (who was fixed afterward in your parts and possibly known to you,) was gone over to England to take orders, and, (as I was told at Boston,) with an eye upon Marblehead Church of England which was then destitute. I knew the man to be void of a liberal education, though he had got some Latin at school, and that he was an indefatigable enemy to the churches of this country, and a Non-juror to the British Government; for which reasons I consulted the Rev. Mr. Holyoke, and we agreed to write to Dr. Gibson, then Bishop of London, if possible to prevent so troublesome a man coming among us. Accordingly, I drew a letter, which Mr. Holyoke signed with me, and sent it, unsealed, enclosed in another, to Mr. Henry Newman, a very worthy gentleman, whom I knew in England, desiring him, if he approved of it, to seal it and deliver it to his lordship; but if not, to destroy it. Mr. Newman wrote me word that he not only highly approved it himself, but his lordship, when he had read it, expressed himself as greatly pleased with it; and desired him to acquaint us that, if he could find time, he would write us an answer with his own hand, (which he did not,) and inform us that he would take special care to appoint for the church in our town, a good man, of catholic temper, and loyal to the Government; and it seemed, by Mr. Newman’s letter, as if his lordship had his eye upon Mr. Price, who soon after was sent to Boston. But the Church of England in Marblehead, hearing of Mr. Pigot, at Providence, agreed with him, and sent to his lordship to appoint him for them. He complied with their request, and he was fixed for a time among them, till he run from them. The consequence of our letter was, the Bishop inquired of our former Governor Shute, then in London, and finding we had wrote the honest truth, in our character of Mr. Checkley, refused to admit him to orders; though afterward the Bishop of Exeter (if I mistake not) did, and sent him to Narraganset. Thus our town, and the churches of this Province, through the favor of God, got rid of a turbulent, vexatious and persecuting-spirited Non-juror. Blessed be God for his kind dealings with us! I have a copy of the letter by me.

Progress of Marblehead.

SUFFER me to turn aside, and take a view of the very different state of the town, upon worldly accounts, since I came into it. When I first came, [in 1714] there were two companies of poor, smoke-dried, rude, ill-clothed men, trained to no military discipline but that of “whipping the snake” as they called it; whereas now, [in 1766] and for years past, we are a distinct regiment, consisting of seven full companies, well clad, of bright countenances, vigorous and active men, so well trained in the use of their arms, and the various motions and marches, that I have heard some Colonels of other regiments, and a Brigadier General say, they never saw throughout the country, not in their own regiment, no, nor in Boston, so goodly an appearance of spirited men, and so well exercised a regiment. When I came, there was not so much as one proper carpenter, nor mason, nor tailor, nor butcher in the town, nor anything of a market worth naming; but they had their houses built by country workmen, and their clothes made out of town, and supplied themselves with beef and pork from Boston, which drained the town of its money. But now we abound in artificers, and some of the best, and our markets large, even to a full supply. And, what above all I would remark, there was not so much as one foreign trading vessel belonging to the town, nor for several years after I came into it; though no town had really greater advantages in their hands. The people contented themselves to be the slaves that digged in the mines, and left the merchants of Boston, Salem, and Europe to carry away the gains; by which means the town was always in dismally poor circumstances, involved in debt to the merchants more than they were worth; nor could I find twenty families in it that, upon the best examination, could stand upon their own legs; and they were generally as rude, swearing, drunken, and fighting a crew, as they were poor. Whereas, not only are the public ways vastly mended, but the manners of the people greatly cultivated; and we have many gentlemanlike and polite families, and the very fishermen generally scorn the rudenesses of the former generation.

I soon saw that the town had a price in its hands, and it was a pity they had not a heart to improve it. I therefore laid myself out to get acquaintance with the English masters of vessels, that I might by them be let into the mastery of the fish trade, and in a little time I gained a pretty thorough understanding in it. When I saw the advantages of it, I thought it my duty to stir up my people, such as I thought would hearken to me, and were capable of practising upon the advice, to send the fish to market themselves, that they might reap the benefit of it, to the enriching themselves, and serving the town. But, alas! I could inspire no man with courage and resolution enough to engage in it, till I met with Mr. Joseph Swett, a young man of strict justice, great industry, enterprising genius, quick apprehension, and firm resolution, but of small fortune. To him I opened myself fully, laid the scheme clearly before him, and he hearkened unto me, and was wise enough to put it in practice. He first sent a small cargo to Barbadoes. He soon found he increased his stock, built vessels, and sent the fish to Europe, and prospered in the trade, to the enriching of himself; and some of his family, by carrying on the trade, have arrived at large estates. The more promising young men of the town, followed his example; that now we have between thirty and forty ships, brigs, scows, and topsail schooners engaged in foreign trade. From so small a beginning the town has risen into its present flourishing circumstances, and we need no foreigner to transport our fish, but are able ourselves to send it all to the market. Let God have the praise, who has redeemed the town from a state of bondage into a state of liberty and freedom.