|William Wallace Crapo
|Henry W. Paine
Charles Carleton Coffin
THE BAY STATE MONTHLY.
A Massachusetts Magazine
VOL. III. APRIL, 1885. NO. I.
CHARLES CARLETON COFFIN.
Among the emigrants from England to the western world in the great Puritan exodus was Joanna Thember Coffin, widow, and her son Tristram, and her two daughters, Mary and Eunice. Their home was in Brixton, two miles from Plymouth, in Devonshire. Tristram was entering manhood's prime—thirty-three years of age. He had a family of five children. Quite likely the political troubles between the King and Parliament, the rising war cloud, was the impelling motive that induced the family to leave country, home, friends, and all dear old things, and become emigrants to the New World. Quite likely Tristram, when a youth, in 1620, may have seen the Mayflower spread her white sails to the breeze and fade away in the western horizon, for the departure of that company of pilgrims must have been the theme of conversation in and around Plymouth. Without doubt it set the young man to thinking of the unexplored continent beyond the stormy Atlantic. In 1632 his neighbors and friends began to leave, and in 1642 he, too, bade farewell to dear old England, to become a citizen of Massachusetts Bay.
He landed at Newbury, settled first in Salisbury, and ferried people across the Merrimack between Salisbury and Newbury. His wife, Dionis, brewed beer for thirsty travellers. The Sheriff had her up before the courts for charging more per mug than the price fixed by law, but she went scot free on proving that she put in an extra amount of malt. We may think of the grave and reverend Justices ordering the beer into court and settling the question by personal examination of the foaming mugs,—smacking their lips satisfactorily, quite likely testing it a second time.
Tristram Coffin became a citizen of Newbury and built a house, which is still standing. In 1660 he removed with a portion of his family to Nantucket, dying there in 1681, leaving two sons, from whom have descended all the Coffins of the country—a numerous and widespread family.
One of Tristram's decendants, Peter, moved from Newbury to Boscawen, New Hampshire, in 1766, building a large two-storied house. He became a prominent citizen of the town—a Captain of the militia company, was quick and prompt in all his actions. The news of the affair at Lexington and Concord April 19,1775, reached Boscawen on the afternoon of the next day. On the twenty-first Peter Coffin was in Exeter answering the roll call in the Provincial assembly—to take measures for the public safety.
His wife, Rebecca Hazelton Coffin, was as energetic and patriotic as he. In August, 1777, everybody, old and young, turned out to defeat Burgoyne. One soldier could not go, because he had no shirt. It was this energetic woman, with a babe but three weeks old, who cut a web from the loom and sat up all night to make a shirt for the soldier. August came, the wheat was ripe for the sickle. Her husband was gone, the neighbors also. Six miles away was a family where she thought it possible she might obtain a harvest hand. Mounting the mare, taking the babe in her arms, she rode through the forest only to find that all the able-bodied young men had gone to the war. The only help to be had was a barefoot, hatless, coatless boy of fourteen.
"He can go but he has no coat," said the mother of the boy.
"I can make him a coat," was the reply.
The boy leaped upon the pillion, rode home with the woman—went out with his sickle to reap the bearded grain, while the house wife, taking a meal bag for want of other material, cutting a hole in the bottom, two holes in the sides, sewing a pair of her own stockings on for sleeves, fulfilled her promise of providing a coat, then laid her babe beneath the shade of a tree and bound the sheaves.
It is a picture of the trials, hardships and patriotism of the people in the most trying hour of the revolutionary struggle.
The babe was Thomas Coffin—father of the subject of this sketch, Charles Carleton Coffin, who was born on the old homestead in Boscawen, July 26, 1823,—the youngest of nine children, three of whom died in infancy.
The boyhood of the future journalist, correspondent and author was one of toil rather than recreation. The maxims of Benjamin Franklin in regard to idleness, thrift and prosperity were household words.
"He who would thrive must rise at five."
In most farm-houses the fire was kindled on the old stone hearth before that hour. The cows were to be milked and driven to the pasture to crop the green grass before the sun dispatched the beaded drops of dew. They must be brought home at night.
In the planting season, corn and potatoes must be put in the hill. The youngest boy must ride the horse in furrowing, spread the new-mown grass, stow away the hay high up under the roof of the barn, gather stones in heaps after the wheat was reaped, or pick the apples in the orchard. Each member of the family must commit to memory the verses of Dr. Watts:
"Then what my hands shall find to do
Let me with all my might pursue,
For no device nor work is found
Beneath the surface of the ground."
The great end of life was to do something. There was a gospel of work, thrift and economy continually preached. To be idle was to serve the devil.
"The devil finds some mischief still for idle hands to do."
Such teaching had its legitimate effect, and the subject of this sketch in common with the boys and girls of his generation made work a duty. What was accepted as duty became pleasure.
Aside from the district school he attended Boscawen Academy a few terms. The teaching could not be called first-class instruction. The instructors were students just out of college, who taught for the stipend received rather than with any high ideal of teaching as a profession. A term at Pembroke Academy in 1843 completed his acquisition of knowledge, so far as obtained in the schools.
The future journalist was an omnivorous reader. Everything was fish that came to the dragnet of this New Hampshire boy—from "Sinbad" to "Milton's Paradise Lost," which was read before he was eleven years old.
The household to which he belonged had ever a goodly supply of weekly papers, the New Hampshire Statesman, the Herald of Freedom, the New Hampshire Observer, all published at Concord; the first political, the second devoted to anti-slavery, the third a religious weekly. In the westerly part of the town was a circulating library of some one hundred and fifty volumes, gathered about 1816—the books were dog-eared, soiled and torn. Among them was the "History of the Expedition of Lewis and Clark up the Missouri and down the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean," which was read and re-read by the future