Imagens das páginas
PDF
ePub

in point of intellect developed, and have then risen like a blazing comet and illuminated the world. By several of the signers of the declaration of rights, this position was fully and beautifully demonstrated.

Among these was John PENN, a native of Caroline county, Virginia; born on the 17th day of May, 1741. He was the only child of Moses Penn, who married Catharine, the daughter of John Taylor. The education of the son was neglected by the parents, who sent him to none but the commonest of common schools, which unfortunately for the youth of the neighbourhood, were the only kind then in that vicinity. A little learning has been called a dangerous thing, but the quantum taught in some common schools even at this enlightened age, is too small to be dangerous, too limited to do much good.

As a redeeming trait in their neglect of duty towards their son, they taught him by example and precept, social virtue and moral honesty. Upon the retirement of a farm and in its cultivation young Penn plodded along with his father, who had no books of value or a desire for them, until he arrived at the age of eighteen, when his paternal guardian died, and left him a competence, but not a large fortune. About that time he became inclined to read, this inclination ripened, his mind began to expand and his thirst for knowledge increased. Destitute of a library, he communicated his ardent desire to improve his education to Edmund Pendleton, a neighbour and relation of his, who was an accomplished scholar, a profound lawyer and an able statesman. Convinced that Mr. Penn possessed strong native talent he made him welcome to his valuable library and became deeply interested in his improvement. After exploring the fields of science for a short time, this young philomath commenced the study of law, and soon exhibited mental ores, taken from his long neglected intellectual quarry, that were of a rich and rare variety:

He surmounted the barriers that lay before him with an astonishing rapidity, and before some of his friends supposed he bad mastered the elementary principles of Blackstone, he presented himself at the court for examination, was admitted to practice, and at once exhibited the bright plumage of a successful lawyer and an able advocate. But three years before, his now soaring talents were buried deep in their native quarry, unknown and unsuspected; a strong admonition to the reader, if under similar circumstances, to examine closely the powers of his own mind. The professional eminence of Mr. Penn rose as rapidly as his appearance at the bar was unexpected. He gained the confidence of the community, the respect of the courts, and the esteem of his senior brethren. In 1763, he added to his original stock in the firm of the social compact by leading to the hymeneal altar the amiable and accomplished Miss Susannah Lyme, thus avoiding the hyemal frost that creeps chillingly over the lonely bachelor.

In 1774, Mr. Penn removed to North Carolina, and carrying with him a high reputation as a lawyer, soon obtained a lucrative practice. He had also participated largely in the patriotic feelings that were spreading over the colonies like fire in a praire, relative to the oppressions of the mother country. He had imbibed fully the principles of

his venerable preceptor and friend, who was among the boldest of the bold Virginians in the vindication of chartered rights, and was a member of the Congress first assembled at Philadelphia. His liberal views and splendid talents did not escape the notice of his new acquaintances. On the 8th of September, 1775, he was appointed a member of the Continental Congress, to supply the vacancy occasioned by the resignation of Mr. Casewell. He repaired to the post of honour and of duty the next month, and became an active and vigorous member of that venerated assembly of sages, whose wisdom, sagacity, and intelligence emblazoned the historic page with a lustre before unknown. He served on numerous committees, and acquitted him-: self with great credit in the discharge of every duty that devolved upon him. In the committee room, in the house, among the people, in every situation in which he moved, he made the cause of liberty his primary business. So highly were his services appreciated by his constituents, that they continued him in Congress until the accumulating dangers that hung over his own state induced him to decline a re-election at the close of 1779. He was an early and warm supporter of the declaration of rights, and when the joyful day arrived to take the final question, he most cheerfully sustained the measure by his vote and signature; thus enrolling his name with the brightest constellation of illustrious statesmen that ever illuminated a legislative hall, surpassing all Greek, all Roman fame.

South Carolina had been devastated by Lord Cornwallis, who had dispersed the army under General Gates; and North Carolina was next to be visited by the conquering foe. Emissaries from the British were already within its precincts to prepare the way for the entry of his lordship. Already had the friends of royal power received instructions to seize the most prominent whigs and the military stores, with an assurance of immediate support. The cruelties that had been practised in South Carolina spread a terror over all “but hearts of oak and nerves of steel.” The sacrifice of Colonel Hayne'at Charleston, will give the reader some idea of the spirit of revenge that actuated some of the British officers.

When that city fell into his possession, Lord Cornwallis issued a proclamation, promising all who would desist from opposing the authority of the king the most sacred protection of person and property, on condition that each should sign an instrument of neutrality, which, by legal construction, whilst it put its signers under an obligation not to take up arms against the mother country, exonerated them from serving against their own.

Being a prisoner and separated from his wife and six small children, then residing in the country and surrounded by the small pox, Colonel Hayne, with his mind long poising on the pivot of uncertainty as to what was his duty, finally, with great reluctance, signed the fatal instrument upon the assurances and solemn promises of the English officers, and James Simpson, intendant of the Britsh police, that he never should be required to support, with his arms, the royal government. Colonel Hayne, like Bishop Cranmer, subscribed to that which bis soul abhorred and detested, that he might be permitted to fly to

[ocr errors]

the relief of his suffering family. And, as in the case of Cranmer, his enemies persecuted him

the more, and never gave him any peace until their vengeance was wreaked upon him by inflicting an ignominious death, in violation of all law, justice and humanity.

Soon after his return to his wife and children, he was called upon by the British to take up arms against his country and kindred, and threatened with close confinement in case he refused to comply with the order. In vain he referred them to the conditions upon which he so reluctantly signed the article of neutrality. In vain he claimed protection under the militia law that imposed a fine where a citizen chose not to render personal service. To his relentless oppressors, all was a dead letter. He ther pointed them to the partner of his bosom, the mother of his children, sinking under the small pox, and fast approaching the confines of eternity. In vain he endeavoured to excite their sympathy or move their compassion. In a few short hours, Mrs. Hayne took her departure to "that country from whose bourne no traveller returns,” “where the wicked cease from troubling and the weary are at rest.” Upon her own couch, peaceful and serene, she closed her

eyes in death. A different fate was in reserve for Colonel Hayne. His foes still pursued him, and by their own breach of good faith, and of the contract of neutrality before entered into, absolved him from its obligations. It was no longer binding upon him, and he again entered the continental army, preferring death rather than enter the ranks of the invaders of his country. A short but brilliant career awaited him. He was soon made prisoner, and was sent to Charleston, where Lord Rawdon loaded him with irons, submitted him to a mock trial, exparte in its proceedings and determinations, based upon revenge and cruelty, resolved on the death of his victim, and that without delay. Colonel Hayne was doomed to be hung. This sentence produced amazement and dismay, indignation and surprise amongst all classes of people. The finest feelings of sympathy were excited in the breasts of a large proportion of the

adherents of the crown, who deemed the transaction a species of murder. A petition, headed by the king's governor and numerously signed by persons of high standing and advocates for the mother country, was presented to Lord Rawdon in behalf of the unfortunate prisoner-but all in vain.

"Fell revenge sat brooding on his dark and sullen brow,

And the grim fiends of hell urged his soul on to murder." The ladies of Charleston, the wives and daughters of both whigs and tories, next united in a petition, couched in the most moving language, praying that the life of Colonel Hayne might be spared. This met with a cold reception and a prompt refusal. As a last effort to rescue the father from the scaffold, his infant children, dressed in their mourning habiliments, were led before Rawdon, and on their knees, their cheeks bathed in tears, implored him, with all the thrilling and heart-rending eloquence of childish innocence, to spare their only surviving parent and earthly protector.

“But still he stood unmoved,
Hard as the adamantine rock,
Dark as a sullen cloud before the sun."

your mother."

So melting was this scene that veteran soldiers could not refrain from weeping, and all were astounded at the cruel severity of the unyielding and blood-thirsty Rawdon.

A request was then made that Colonel Hayne might be permitted to die as a military officer, instead of being hung as a felon. This was also denied.

As a devout christian, the martyr resigned himself to his cruel fate, and prepared his mind to meet the approaching crisis. His youthful son was permitted to visit him in prison, who, when he beheld his father bound in irons, burst into tears. “Why," said the father, "will you break my heart with unavailing sorrow? Have I not often told you that we came into this world but to prepare for a better? For that better life, dear boy, your father is prepared. Instead of weeping, rejoice with me that my troubles are so near an end. To-morrow I set out for immortality. When I am dead, bury me by the side of No pen can fully describe that scene.

When summoned to the place of execution, his firmness was worthy of the christian, the hero, and the patriot. When upon the fatal drop, with the accursed halter around his neck, he shook hands with his friends, bade them an affectionate farewell, urged them to persevere in the glorious cause of freedom, recommended his children to the protection of three gentlemen present, and the next moment was struggling in death. The sight was too much for his son, his brain became disordered, his reason fied, and he soon died insane, lisping his father's name to the last moment of his life.

Fortunately for North Carolina, the efficient and sagacious Greene and his brave officers and soldiers, checked the triumphant and murderous career of the British army. The operations of this brave general were greatly accelerated by the exertions of Mr. Penn. In 1780, when Lord Cornwallis penetrated the western part of the state to Charlottetown, the crisis became awfully alarming, and this bold patriot was placed at the helm of public affairs in the state, and invested with almost unlimited power. He was authorized to seize supplies by force, and to do all things that in his judgment were necessary to repel the approaching foe. He proved himself

equal to the emergency. He understood his duty, and performed it efficiently and with so much prudence that no complaints of injustice were heard, and the state was saved from the grasp of a merciless foe. Tarleton was humbled, Ferguson killed, and Cornwallis retreated.

Mr. Penn, after discharging the public duties imposed upon him by his own state, again retired to private life and the pursuit of his

profession. In 1784, he was appointed receiver of taxes for North Carolina; a high encomium upon his reputation for honesty and integrity, Fatigued with public service, he resigned this office in a few months after. This closed his public career, and he bade farewell to the busy and perplexing scenes of political life, decked with a civic wreath, surmounted with an unfading and permanent fame. He again entered into the enjoyments of domestic felicity, which were soon exchanged for those of another and a brighter world. In September, 1788, he

was gathered to his fathers and laid in the silent tomb, there to await the resurrection of the great day.

In all the relations of private life and public action the examples of Mr. Penn are worthy of imitation. As a lawyer he stood pre-emi- . nent. His forensic eloquence was admirable and strongly pathetic.

The court and jury were often suffused with tears when listening to his appeals, and his own feelings of sympathy were not always suppressed on such occasions. As a patriot and statesman he stood approved and applauded by his country. His disposition was mild, benevolent and amiable, but firm in the performance of every duty. He was an honest man. Let every reader imitate John Penn in the effort to become useful, and banish the doctrine that merit is to be monopolized by a few, which should never gain credence in a government like ours, where every individual is equally interested in the first and dearest principles of freedom-personal rights equally enjoyed and personal liberty equally secured.

ELBRIDGE GERRY.

That man who moves only within the circumference of self, reflecting no social rays upon the community in which he moves, contributing in no way to the advancement of human happiness, winding himself up in the hermitical cocoon of a miser's cell or of total seclusion from the world, makes his life a vacuum and his death a burletta. The acutest metaphysician can never demonstrate the problem of his creation, the lemma of his existence has no corollary in philosophy. The following apothegm from ELBRIDGE GERRY should be deeply impressed upon the mind of every reader: “It is the duty of every citizen, though he may have but one day to live, to devote that day to the service of his country.” This precept he enforced by the examples of his brilliant career.

ELBRIDGE GERRY was a native of Marblehead, Massachusetts, born on the 17th of July, 1744. He was the son of an enterprising and respectable merchant, who bestowed upon him a classical education. He graduated at Harvard University in 1762, with a scholastic and mental reputation creditable to himself and pleasing to his friends. Judging the tree by its fruit, the seed from which it sprang must have been of the purest kind, and its vegetation not retarded by the absorbing and poisonous weeds of vice. Its incipient pruning and growth must have been directed by a master hand, to produce a form of so much symmetry and beauty

After having completed his collegiate studies, Mr. Gerry entered the counting-house of his father and ultimately became one of the most enterprising and wealthy merchants of his native town. From the nature of his business he was among the first to feel the weight

« AnteriorContinuar »