Графични страници
PDF файл

to these hosts of heaven, but we give them our faith and confidence.-We hope for physical benefits from those of them whose dominion is friendly to our interests, while the reign of the malignant ones is an object of dread and painful apprehension.

Let us not boast very much of our science, civilization, or even christianity, while this column of the relics of paganism still disgraces the christian calendar.

I have made these observations with a view to discredit the remnants of superstition still existing among us. While dreams, the howling of the dog, and the croaking of the raven, are prophetic of future events, we are not good christians. While we are dismayed at the signs of heaven, we are for the time being pagans. Life has real evils enough to contend with, without imaginary ones.




In the section of the country where my father lived, there was, for many years after the settlement of the country, "neither law nor gospel." Our want of legal government was owing to the uncertainty whether we belonged to the state of Virginia or Pennsylvania. The line which at present divides the two states, was not run until some time after the conclusion of the revolutionary war. Thus it happened, that during a long period of time we knew nothing of courts, lawyers, magistrates, sheriffs or constables. Every one was therefore at liberty "to do whatsoever was right in his own eyes."

As this is a state of society which few of my readers have ever witnessed, I shall describe it as minutely as I can, and give in detail those moral maxims which in a great degree answered the important purposes of municipal jurisprudence.

In the first place, let it be observed that in a sparse population, where all the members of the community are well known to each other, and especially in a time of war, where every man capable of bearing arms is considered highly valuable as a defender of his country, public opinion has its full effect, and answers the purposes of legal government better than it would in a dense population in time of peace.

Such was the situation of our people along the frontiers of our settlements. They had no civil, military or ecclesiastical laws, at least none that were enforced; and yet "they were a law unto themselves,” as

to all the leading obligations of our nature in all the relations in which they stood to each other. The turpitude of vice and the majesty of moral virtue were then as apparent as they are now, and they were then regarded with the same sentiments of aversion or respect which they inspire at the present time. Industry in working and hunting, bravery in war, candor, honesty, hospitality, and steadiness of deportment, received their full reward of public honor and public confidence among our rude forefathers, as well as anong their better instructed and more polished descendants. The punishments which they inflicted upon offenders by the imperial court of public opinion, were well adapted for the reformation of the culprit, or his expulsion from the community.

The punishment for idleness, lying, dishonesty, and ill fame generally, was that of "hating the offender out," as they expressed it. This mode of chastisement was like the alimca of the Greeks. It was a public expression, in various ways, of a general sentiment of indignation against such as transgressed the moral maxims of the community to which they belonged, and commonly resulted either in the reformation or banishment of the person against whom it was directed.

At house-raisings, log-rollings, and harvest-parties, every one was expected to do his duty faithfully. A person who did not perform his share of labor on these occasions, was designated by the epithet of "Lawrence," or some other title still more opprobrious; and when it came to his turn to require the like aid from his neighbors, the idler felt his punishment in their refusal to attend to his calls.

Although there was no legal compulsion to the performance of military duty; yet every man of full age and size was expected to do his full share of public service. If he did not do so, he was "hated out as a coward." Even the want of any article of war equipments, such as ammunition, a sharp flint, a priming wire, a scalping knife, or tomahawk, was thought highly disgraceful. A man, who without a reasonable excuse failed to go on a scout or campaign when it came to his turn, met with an expression of indignation in the countenances of all his neighbors, and epithets of hishonor were fastened upon him without mercy.

Debts, which make such an uproar in civilised life, were but little known among our forefathers at an early settlement of this country.After the depreciation of the continental paper, they had no money of any kind; every thing purchased was paid for in produce or labor. good cow and calf was often the price of a bushel of alum salt. contract was not faithfully fulfilled, the credit of the delinquent was at an end.


If a

Any petty theft was punished with all the infamy that could be heaped on the offender. A man on a campaign stole from his comrade a cake out of the ashes in which it was baking. He was immediately named ‘the Bread rounds.' This epithet of reproach was bandied about in this way. When he came in sight of a group of men, one of them would call, Who comes there? Another would answer, "The Bread-rounds.' If any one meant to be more serious about the matter, he would call out, “Who stole a cake out of the ashes? Another replied by giving the name of the man in full. To this a third would give confirmation by exclaiming,

That is true and no lie.' This kind of tongue-lashing' he was doomed to bear for the rest of the campaign, as well as for years after his return home.

If a theft was detected in any of the frontier settlements, a summary mode of punishment was always resorted to. The first settlers, as far as I knew of them, had a kind of innate or hereditary detestation of the crime of theft, in any shape or degree, and their maxim was that 'a thief must be whipped.' If the theft was something of some value, a kind of jury of the neighborhood, after hearing the testimony, would condemn the culprit to Moses's law, that is, to forty stripes save one. If the theft was of some small article, the offender was doomed to carry on his back the flag of the United States, which then consisted of thirteen stripes. In either case, some able hands were selected to execute the sentence, so that the stripes were sure to be well laid on.

This punishment was followed by a sentence of exile. He then was informed that he must decamp in so many days and be seen there no more on penalty of having the number of his stripes doubled.

For many years after the law was put in operation in the western part of Virginia, the magistrates themselves were in the habit of giving those who were brought before them on charges of small thefts, the liberty of being sent to jail or taking a whipping. The latter was commonly chosen, and was immediately inflicted, after which the thief was ordered to clear out.

fn some instances stripes were inflicted; not for the punishinent of an offense, but for the purpose of extorting a confession from suspected persons. This was the torture of our early times, and no doubt sometimes very unjustly inflicted.

If a woman was given to tattling and slandering her neighbors, she was furnished by common consent with a kind of patent right to say whatever she pleased, without being believed. Her tongue was then said to be harmless, or to be no scandal.

With all their rudeness, these people were given to hospitality, and freely divided their rough fare with a neighbor or stranger, and would have been offended at the offer of pay. In their settlements and forts, they lived, they worked, they fought and feasted, or suffered together, in cordial harmony. They were warm and constant in their friendships. On the other hand they were revengeful in their resentments; and the point of honor sometimes led to personal combats. If one man calied another a liar, he was considered as having given a challenge which the person who received it must accept, or be deemed a coward, and the charge was generally answered on the spot with a blow. If the injured person was decidedly unable to fight the aggressor, he might get a friend to do it for him. The same thing took place on a charge of cowardice, or any other dishonorable action. A battle must follow, and the person who made the charge must fight either the person against whom he made it, or any champion who chose to espouse his cause. Thus circumstanced, our people in early times were much more cautious of speaking evil of their neighbors than they are at present.

Sometimes pitched battles occurred, in which time, place, and seconds

were appointed beforehand. I remember having seen one of these pitched battles in my father's fort, when a boy. One of the young men knew very well beforehand that he should get the worst of the battle, and no doubt repented the engagement to fight; but there was no getting over it. The point of honor demanded the risk of battle. He got his whipping; they then shook hands, and were good friends afterwards.

The mode of single combat in those days was dangerous in the extreme. Although no weapons were used, fists, teeth and feet were employed at will; but above all, the detestable practice of gouging, by which eyes were sometimes put out, rendered this mode of fighting frightful indeed. It was not, however, so destructive as the stiletto of an Italian, the knife of a Spaniard, the small sword of the Frenchman, or the pistol of the American or English duelist.

Instances of seduction and bastardy did not frequently happen in our early tines. I remember one instance of the former, in which the life of the man was put in jeopardy by the resentment of the family to which the girl belonged. Indeed, considering the chivalrous temper of our people, this crime could not then take place without great personal danger from the brothers or other relations of the victims of seduction, family honor being then estimated at a high rate.

I do not recollect that profane language was much more prevalent in our early times than at present.

Among the people with whom I was conversant, there was no other vestige of the christian religion than a faint observance of Sunday, and that merely as a day of rest for the aged and play-day for the young.

The first christian service I ever heard was in the Garrison church in Baltimore county, in Maryland, where my father had sent me to school. I was then obout ten years old. The appearance of the church, the windows of which were Gothic, the white surplice of the minister, and the responses in the service, overwhelmed me with surprise. Among my school-fellows in that place, it was a matter of reproach to me that I was not baptized, and why? Because, as they said, I had no name. was their notion of the efficacy of baptism.





THE American revolution was the commencement of a new era in the history of the world. The issue of that eventful contest snatched the sceptre from the hands of the monarch, and placed it, where it ought to be, in the hands of the people.

On the sacred altar of liberty it consecrated the rights of man, surrendered to him the right and power of governing himself, and placed in his hands the resources of his country, as munitions of war for his defense.The experiment was indeed bold and hazardous; but success has hitherto more than justified the most sanguine anticipations of those who made it. The world has witnessed, with astonishment, the rapid growth and confirmation of our noble fabric of freedom. From our distant horizon, we have reflected a strong and steady blaze of light on ill fated Europe, from time immemorial involved in the fetters and gloom of slavery.Our history has excited a general and ardent spirit of inquiry into the nature of our civil institutions, and a strong wish on the part of the PEOPLE in distant countries, to participate in our blessings.

But will an example, so portentous of evil to the chiefs of despotic institutions, be viewed with indifference by those who now sway the sceptre with unlimited power, over the many millions of their vassals?Will they adopt no measures of defense against the influence of that freedom, so widely diffused and so rapidly gaining strength throughout their empires? Will they make no effort to remove from the world those free governments, whose example gives them such annoyance? The measures of defense will be adopted, the effort will be made; for power is never surrendered without a struggle.

Already nations, which, from the the earliest period of their history, have constantly crimsoned the earth with each other's blood, have become a band of brothers for the destruction of every germ of human liberty. Every year witnesses an association of the monarchs of those nations, in unhallowed conclave, for the purpose of concerting measures for effecting their dark designs. Hitherto the execution of

those measures has been, alas! too fatally successful.

It would be impolitic and unwise in us to calculate on escaping the hostile notice of the despots of continental Europe. Already we hear, like distant thunder, their expressions of indignation and threats of vengeance. We ought to anticipate the gathering storm without dismay, but not with indifference. In viewing the dark side of the prospect before us, one source of consolation, of mubh magnitude, presents itself.

« ПредишнаНапред »