An Historical Address -- Part 4

Delivered at Hampton, New Hampshire,

on the 25th of December,


In Commemoration of the Settlement of That Town:

Two Hundred Years

Having Elapsed Since That Event.

By Joseph Dow, A. M.

Published by Request.

Printed by Asa McFarland, Concord.
(Opposite the State House.)
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What important and wonderful changes have taken place during the period which we have been contemplating. If we compare our condition with that of our ancestors at the commencement of this period, in almost every circumstance we shall perceive a great alteration. The same sky is indeed spread out over us, which covered them. The same sun enlightens us by day, and the same moon by night. The same stars still beautify the heavens, and the same ocean, too, extends along the eastern border of the town; but even that is viewed with very different emotions from those felt by our ancestors, when they looked upon its broad bosom. Now, many of the little eminences within our borders afford picturesque and delightful views of the ocean and the scenery near it. Pleasant roads lead to its shore; and as we stand upon this shore, and observe the waves rolling forward and dashing upon the sand, and then look abroad upon the ocean itself, our minds are filled with agreeable sensations. We see vessels moving in various directions, and occasionally a steam-boat passing rapidly along, almost in defiance of winds and currents, having its source of motion within itself. But let us go back, in our imaginations, two hundred years, and how unlike the present! Seldom was a vessel seen off our coast; but rarely was the shore itself visited by the early settlers, as between that and their settlement were fens, creeks and marshes, rendering the way almost impassable. When they did stand by the ocean and look abroad upon its mighty mass of waters, their emotions must have been very different from ours.

They were undoutedly reminded of a place beyond the ocean; of the land of their nativity. They would naturally call to mind the scenes of their infancy and childhood -- the loved scenes, the kind and affectionate friends, they had left behind, and that were separated from them by the world of waters upon which they were gazing. With their other feelings, then, must have been blended those of sadness.

But suppose we go and stand upon the sea-shore during the raging of a storm, when the water is lashed into tremendous commotion by the violence of the tempest; our feelings are indeed indescribable, but those of sublimity or grandeur are predominant. With our ancestors, other feelings must have been most powerful. When they, from their log cabins, heard the noise of the tempest; when they saw the violent agitation of the forest, as the wind moaned among its branches; and when, in addition, they heard the roar of the ocean, they must have been reminded, even more forcibly than on other occasions, of the separation to which they had been called. They then felt that an almost impassable barrier was between them and their native land.

Besides these great natural objects, how few things there are in which there has not been an almost entire change. Two centuries ago nearly the whole township, except the land bordering upon the ocean, and the marshes which skirted the river, was a thick forest, the growth of ages. From the original settlement, formed around yonder common, which as early called the meeting-house green, there might indeed have been an opening in one direction, where the marshes stretch away to the south, as far as the eye can reach. With this exception, the infant settlement was hemmed in with thick woods. No path lay through them, except such as the wild beasts had formed, or the lone foot-path, made by the Indian hunter in pursuit of game, or as he bent his course to the river in search of shell-fish from its banks. Where are the forest now? Almost all have been prostrated by the woodman's axe, and in their place we find meadows, orchards, and cultivated fields. Instance of the winding footpath, and the Indian trail, we have good and convenient roads, in almost every part of the town. How different, too, is the mode of conveyance. Our fathers seldom rode; never, except on horseback. When the second minister of the town was called to Dover, to advise with other gentlemen in regard to ecclesiastical affairs, history informs us that he went on foot. How is it now? Station yourselves near one of our principal roads in a fair summer day, and let the scenes you witness, answer.

Another change we may notice. When our fathers came hither, the only dwellings they found were Indian wigwams, the smoke of which was seen here and there curling up in the very midst of the forests; their own dwellings, at first, were log-houses, rudely constructed, and few in number. Now, as we pass along our roads, we observe on either side, and, in some places, compactly situated, dwelling-houses of various forms and sizes, some new, and others exhibiting signs of age; scarcely any of them, indeed, elegant; but nearly all betokening comfort. In regard to neatness of appearance and taste in their construction and position, there is room for much improvement. Still most of our dwellings are abodes of comfort. In many of them are individuals who are by no means strangers to rural felicity. They do not, indeed, dwell in splendid domes, nor are they vexed with the cares and anxieties of those who usually inhabit such structures. Of many an individual here, may we say in the words of the poet:

"Sure peace is his; a solid life, estrang'd
To disappointment and fallacious hope;
Rich in content; in nature's bounty rich,
In herbs and fruits."

Within two centuries, a great change has also taken place in the inhabitants themselves. When our fathers came hither, they found no inhabitants but Indians. These have all passed away. Not one of them remains. The smoke long since ceased to ascend from their wigwams, and their wigwams themselves have entirely disappeared. Their hunting grounds have been broken up and transformed into cultivated fields, and even their graves are now unknown.

But "our fathers, where are they?" They, too, are gone. Death has been busy among them, and has swept them away. About six generations have gone down to the grave since the settlement of the town was commenced. We pass by yonder graveyards, and the stones which affection has erected in memory of departed friends, remind us of the ravages of mortality. But upon the stones themselves the hand of time has not been inactive. Many of them are fallen; some have crumbled with the dust they were intended to commemorate; from others the inscriptions are worn away, so that only the position of the stones indicates that a grave is beneath them. The graves of those who died during the first half century from the settlement of the town, are now unknown. Their inmates have moldered to dust, and will continue mingled with other dust, and undistinguished from it, until the morning of the resurrection, when their dust, though for ages scattered abroad, shall be collected again, and the bodies, which moldered so long ago, will be reanimated, never more to decay.

If time permitted, it would be interesting to notice the changes in regard to the means of mental and of moral improvement; to point out our superior advantages, arising from the multiplication of books; from the improved character of our common schools; from the academy in our midst; and from the establishment of Sabbath schools, furnished with libraries, adapted to expand the intellect and improve the heart.

The period we have been considering forms an important portion of the history of the world. I cannot, however, even glance at the mighty political and moral revolutions which have occurred since its commencement, in different parts of the earth. To illustrate its importance, I will merely observe, that, if we go back through a little more than nine such periods since our town was settled, we shall find our Saviour on earth,"going about doing good." And we need not go back through quite thirty such periods, to arrive at the time when "the earth was without form and void;" when God said, "Let there be light and there was light;" when "the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy."

But on this interesting occasion, it is not necessary to confine our attention to the past. Our thoughts naturally and unavoidably run forward into futurity. Let us allow them to range freely. Let us pass onward, in our imaginations, through another century. At its close, we may suppose the people here will assemble, as we have this day done, to review the occurrences of the past. And it is probable that the third century of our history will exhibit as great and as interesting changes as either of those already past? Let us, in imagination, take our stand in the assembly that will then be convened. All will be strangers to us; -- not one countenance with which we are familiar. Where then will be the people with whom we are now associated? Death will have swept them all away. Yes, every individual of this assembly will then be sleeping in the dust, as our ancestors now are. Not one of us will participate in the exercises of that occasion. What other changes will take place within one hundred years, we know not. We cannot doubt that they will be great and important. Their character will, unquestionably, depend in some measure on the course pursued by the present generation. Let us, then, consider well what duties we have to perform, and pursue such a course, that "future generations shall rise up and call us blessed."

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