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MEMOIR OF SAMUEL DAVIS, Esq.
The late SAMUEL DAVIS, Esq. of Plymouth, was the son of Thomas Davis, a substantial merchant of that town. Samuel, the fourth of six sons, some of whom have been much distinguished, and all highly respectable in the various walks of life, was born March 5th, 1765. His early education was more thorough than would have been expected from the state of town schools at that period. This was probably more owing to his early taste for books, and his feeble health, which unfitted him for active pursuits, than to the advantages he enjoyed. Mechanical employments were then, as they are beginning again to be considered, the surest means of procuring a respectable establishment in life. In conformity with this opinion, and with a due regard to his own inclination, he was placed as an apprentice with a goldsmith and jeweller in Boston. The leisure hours of his apprenticeship were devoted to the improvement of his mind, and during this period he made valuable contributions to the Centinel, then in its infancy, and which afterwards became one of our most respectable public journals. On the expiration of his apprenticeship he returned to his native town, and there pursued for some years the business to which he was bred, with much assiduity and with unusual taste and skill. His constitution being very slender, and his patrimonial estate being adequate to his wants as a single man, he soon relinquished this business and devoted himself to more congenial pursuits. His attainments as a scholar were very respectable, and he also cultivated the polite arts with much success. Some of his poetical productions, among which may be mentioned his hymn for the celebration of the landing of the Forefathers, discover much of the inspiration of the poet.
During the latter part of his life he applied himself very assiduously to the history and antiquities of the Old Colony, in the knowledge of which none exceeded him, and he thus became more publicly known. Having thoroughly explored the records and traditions of the Old Colony, he acquired an intimate acquaintance with its history, and particularly with
the genealogy of its first settlers. Such was his reputation in this respect, that he was constantly receiving applications from all parts of the country for information upon these subjects, which was always communicated cheerfully and satisfactorily. Harvard University conferred upon him the honorary degree of Master of Arts A. D. 1819. He was Corresponding Secretary of the Pilgrim Society from its establishment to the time of his death. He was admitted a member of the Massachusetts Historical Society January 30, 1812, and he enriched its Collections with the history of his native town and many other valuable articles. He, with the Rev. Dr. Freeman and Benj. R. Nichols, Esq. was appointed by the General Court to make and transcribe selections of the most important portions of the Old Colony records, to be deposited in the Secretary's office. That this duty was faithfully and ably executed, those who know the Commissioners need not be informed. He died July 10th, 1829. The following interesting sketch of the life and character of Mr. Davis was published a few days after his decease, and deserves a higher place than the columns of a newspaper.
"This gentleman was a rare example of the genuine love of antiquity. Living at Plymouth amid the fast disappearing remains of a most remarkable and interesting people, with reverence of the Pilgrims, himself a descendant from them, his thoughts naturally were directed to whatever had connexion with the first settlement of our country. As he was free from domestic cares, and possessed a competence, there was nothing to interfere with the indulgence of his taste, and its gratification soon became the leading object of his life. He appeared to live but in and for the past. The fragments of local tradition strewed over the Old Colony, were with careful hands gathered up by him and stored. There was no rock, nor tree, nor mountain, sacred to Indian superstition or to Pilgrim enterprise, but was familiar to his eyes and thoughts.
"Such indeed was the intimacy and the confidence with which he conversed with the dead, that they seemed to stand to him in the stead of the living. Yet though he courted not society, he was not unsocial. He had friends who looked upon him with esteem and tenderness. To strangers also he was particularly attractive.
"They who have visited Plymouth will not soon forget the
unpretending, but intelligent individual, who made them the offer of his aid and guidance, who recalled to their minds all the touching associations of the place, who caused each stone to tell its own story, and as his reserve gradually wore away by acquaintance, unfolded to them much of their own family history, which they themselves had never heard of before. To assist himself in his researches he devoted much of his time to the study of the Indian languages, and to the examination of Plymouth records. No one indeed had so great a command as he had of all the facts essential to a complete history of the Old Colony. Many of them, it is feared, have perished with him. It is hoped, however, that of the mass of papers, which he has left behind him, some use may yet be made. On the whole his life was pure, tranquil, useful. It was noiseless, but not less happy on that account to one of his feelings. His death was as peaceful as his life. He retired to rest on the evening of the 10th instant, in his usual state of health, and was found the next morning dead in his bed. Thus, while in the arms of sleep, he passed from this world to another. He has joined the mighty company that keep their silent watch on the old hill, which overlooks the town of Plymouth. On that venerable mount he spent no small portion of his life, in deciphering the crumbling monuments that are scattered over it, and there in death, beneath the turf he had so often trod, his body reposes.
MEMOIR OF THE REV. JAMES FREEMAN, D. D. By F. W.
The Massachusetts Historical Society will always honor the name of JAMES FREEMAN. He was one of its founders. His concern for its usefulness and interests was zealous and unceasing. He labored for it abundantly. His time and pen were freely employed in its service. Much of its success may be attributed to his exertions. Now that he rests from all his earthly labors, it gratefully enrolls him among its fathers and benefactors.
Though the character of Dr. Freeman was unobtrusive, and his life was signalized by no striking exploits, yet neither the one nor the other could with any justice or propriety be called common. His character was marked with some rare lines, and his life is inseparably connected with the religious history of our country.
It will be necessary in the course of this Memoir, to speak of differences of religious opinion, and to make use of terms which denote these differences; but the writer trusts that this will be done in such a manner, as to give no just cause of offence to any denomination or individual. He intends to state facts, and not to discuss, far less to prescribe, doctrines. He feels that he should deserve rebuke, if he were to introduce an unworthy sectarian feeling into the Collections of a Society, which has nothing sectarian in its character, and the members of which meet together on the broad ground of a common interest in the history and antiquities of their country.
James Freeman was born in the neighboring town of Charlestown, where his parents, Constant and Lois Freeman, at that time resided, on the 22d of April, 1759.* He received his preparatory instruction at the Public Latin School in Boston, under Mr. Lovell; entered Cambridge College in 1773, and was graduated at that institution in 1777, at the age of 18. Among his classmates I find the names of the late Dr. Bentley, Judge Dawes, Rufus King, and Dr. Porter. Both at school and at college his morals were pure, and his scholarship, though not distinguished, respectable. He was in the habit of undervaluing his own youthful proficiency; but his few surviving cotemporaries do not speak of it so disparagingly. In after years he was certainly considered to be a ripe scholar, by those who could not well be mistaken in their judgment. He was then an excellent mathematician; was well acquainted with geography and history at large, and thoroughly so with the geography and history of his own country; and could read with ease and pleasure the Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish languages.
* Constant Freeman was a native of Truro, Barnstable County, as was also his first wife, Lois, whose maiden name was Cobb. He was a man of strong mind and excellent character, and his life was marked by enterprise and vicissitude. He was the third Freeman who had borne the name of Constant, aud was a descendant of Samuel Freeman, who came from England to this country among the first planters of Massachusetts, in the year 1630.
His youth was not destitute of incidents. The last years of his college life were spent during the troubles and strong excitements of the opening revolutionary war. It is known that his own feelings were so decidedly enlisted on the side of his native and in opposition to the mother country, that he engaged in drilling a company of men, which was raised on Cape Cod for the ranks of the colonial army.
"In the summer of 1780 he sailed for Quebec with his sister and youngest brother. The vessel in which he embarked was fitted out as a cartel; but not being acknowledged as such by the Governor of Quebec, on his arrival he was made a prisoner, and put on board a guard-ship. He remained in this situation till December, when the severity of winter no longer suffering the guard-ship to lie in the river, he was admitted on shore a prisoner on parole. In the summer of 1782, he obtained permission of the Governor to go to New York, and embarked in a letter of marque, which, after she had been out a week, was captured by a privateer from Salem, and he carried into that port. Immediately on his arrival he began to preach."*
It is probable that the theological studies of the subject of our memoir, were pursued in rather a desultory manner, which was indeed the only manner which the times permitted. He had passed a year at Cambridge as a resident graduate, afterwards made use of the libraries of his friends, both ministers and laymen, and studied at Quebec as he could.
Just at the close of the revolutionary war, the event took place, which was to have the principal influence on Mr. Freeman's life-I mean his pastoral connexion with the congregation of King's Chapel in this city.
On the evacuation of Boston by the British troops' in March, 1776, the rector of King's Chapel, Dr. Caner, who espoused the English cause, accompanied them; and his assistant, Mr. Troutbeck, also went away some months afterward. For about a year the Chapel remained shut. In the autumn of 1777, the congregation of the Old South Church, whose house of worship had been spoiled by the British
* This event is here more correctly stated than it was in the funeral sermon, for it is stated in Dr. Freeman's own words. I quote the passage from a brief memoir, written by himself, which is contained in a manuscript volume of family histories, with a sight of which I have lately been favored by one of his nieces. His purpose in going to Quebec was to place his sister and brother with their father, who was then a merchant in that city.