by Rev. Henry Hedges Prout
Originally published in the Windham Journal from February 18, 1869 to March 31, 1870. Article 20 published on July 15, 1869. Extracted from the microfilm copies of the Windham Journal located at the Vedder Research Library.
Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin
The Columbian Orator, a school book famous in Old Times, full of patriotic spirit, and liberally sprinkled with the dew of budding eloquence, taught us that –
Tall oaks from little acorns grow.
Of this board and justly famous maxim the one-horse wagon, the first one owned here—mentioned in the last number of these sketches—affords an illustration. It was bought of John Burgess, by Col. Zadoc Pratt—not by his father—and to pay for it, the purchaser worked all night to finish a saddle, till it was done, and delivered in part payment to the seller, in the morning. So the acorn was planted. The night toil in the saddler’s shop was afterward transferred to the Committee Rooms of the National Congress. The one-horse wagon affair served to develop the bold energy which first took strong hold of, and resolutely pushed forward the Pacific Railroad enterprise in Congress, now happily completed—a magnificent step in the world’s material progress. So the acorn became the tree. Consider also the whole race of carriages, buggies, rockaways, sulkies, vehicles of every order, name, color, and shape, of which that stiff, but much admired wagon was the lineal progenitor. One can but wish that a relic of it had been preserved. Not a spring about it; no varnish. It flinched not for the stones, but struck the impediment boldly, and sung out defiance and endurance as it banged along. Let the springy, glossy, smooth-going inventions remember it as they roll along so noiselessly and sumptuously. Let the leather-hung, leather-cushioned miniature-limbed affairs of the modern time know how they differ from the ancestral One-horse Shay, and bear what ever honors they may have, with becoming veneration of the past, remembering that all oaks of the present have once been little acorns.
To resume more directly the line of our history, and if the reader will permit, refer to the writer’s family. John Prout, Sr., removed from South Farms, one mile for Middletown, in the year 1799. His sons, Harris and Curtis Prout had spent the previous year here, and went back and came on with the family. A cart with three yokes of oxen, and a wagon drawn by two horses, bore them and their effects to the new land, at the rate of 20 miles a day. When they stopped for the night, their beds were unrolled and spread for their accommodation, and they ate their own bread and provision on the way. The family consisted of the parents and seven children. A year or so afterward, Darcy Prout and Rachael Prout, brother and sister of John Prout, Sr., joined the family, Darcy Prout rode on horseback from Conn., carrying in his hand a willow switch, which, having set in the moist ground near the gate in front of the house, is now the large and venerable tree so well known. Middletown was then a good sized village, having two houses of worship, The Episcopalian, of which the Rev. Dr. Jarvis, afterward Bishop of Connecticut, was Rector, and the Presbyterian, of which the Rev. Enoch Hunting was minister. Catskill was then an unambitious hamlet of a few houses. The ferry man ran their "Scow" up into the mouth of the creek and landed the hopeful band on the banks, the Point not having then been constructed. Of all the band only one remains, Curtis Prout, the venerable father of the writer. He was then about 20 years of age, and though now in his ninetieth year, has a very clear and accurate recollection of the events of the early time. Schuneman’s Tavern in Leeds, was their first stopping place this side of the river; the next Jones’, near the top of the mountain; the next, their home. As they passed along the people were employed in raising the frame of the Old Meeting House, and Silas Lewis, Sr. was at one of the corners fitting on "the plate." Solomon Hubbard was head carpenter. He had been a jobber and carpenter in Middletown. Of his two children it is related that they were appointed to eat their portion of bread and milk out of one and the same pewter porringer. So they sat down facing each other, with the porringer between them and a stick laid across it to define the share of each. But the keen appetite on one of the boys completely overleaped the bounding stick, and set at naught right and equity, and then the other in his mad indignation seized the pewter vessel, turned it upside down and jumped upon it.
As an instance showing the abundance of wild game and of good skill in gaming, my father recollects killing six deer in one season, firing six shots, missing once and killing two at another shot.
John Prout, Sr., died of acute disease, aged upward of 70 years.
Darcy Prout was but little known, almost an invalid for the greater part of his life, but possessed peculiar gentleness of character. The writer would gladly leave some record of his thankful remembrance of a good man the aged companion of his childhood. His placid quietness of deportment was peculiar and almost uninterrupted. The usual anxieties of life bore lightly on his spirit. A nervous tremor, which shook his frame was his affliction. But when this had proceeded so far that he could not walk abroad, there was no abatement of his habitual cheerfulness. He could not attend at public worship on account of his infirmity, but he read and loved the Bible, and his own copy, still in possession of the family, was printed in 1611, consequently is more than 250 years old. And in very good preservation. In Middletown, in Dr. Jarvis’ day he joined habitually in the church service. The unworldly life and serene death of this venerable man in whom there was no guile, from one of the most marked of the writer’s early recollection. Very vividly impressed on his memory are his bent form and tottering steps, as when a child he accompanied him in his familiar walks, and had good natured prattle with him. "Did you hear that sweet music, that beautiful singing last night?" was one of this frequent morning salutations, as he drew toward the end of his pilgrimage. Whether or not it was indeed a heavenly symphony, there was diffused over his spirit at the thought of what he heard in the night watches, a deep and gentle composure of feeling. He appeared to become more and more quietly absorbed in a happy peace of mind, and so passed away, at the age of eighty-eight years. Rachael Prout, his sister, died aged ninety-seven years. "Blessed are the pure in heart."
An interesting relic remains illustrating the character of the writer’s venerated grand mother, the wife of John Prout, Sr. It is a short address of the Rev. Mr. Stimson, delivered at her funeral, and appears as if a supplement to the regular sermon and service, as conducted by the Rev. Mr. Holcomb. It is introduced quite as much on account of the historical position of the speaker, as for the illustration of the character of the subject of his remarks; but the writer is still fully sensible how much he ventures and how severe is the test to which he is exposing his own critical judgment. But such written documents are rare, and indeed these are the only ones of the kind met with hitherto; they are therefore given in the full consciousness of the delicacy of the procedure, and earnestly deprecating critical censure. It was toward the close of the official career of the speaker, that this short address was delivered. The following is a copy of the address in part.
My dear afflicted friends: God in his holy and wise providence has seen fit to call you into deep mourning, by removing from you by death your aged and dearly beloved parent, and grandparent. In this afflictive dispensation of his providence, I can not only sympathize with you, but participate with you in your grief, for she was not only your parent and grandparent, but she was a mother in Israel. for almost thirty years I have lived by her as one of her nearest neighbors, and as a family we have shared largely in her benevolence, her friendship, her counsels, and I trust her prayers. Probably there were but few instances where two families have lived so near each other, and for so long a time, where there has been less unfriendly feeling and unkind remarks than has been in our two families, and with respect to your deceased parent, I am sensible there has been nothing but purest friendship and kindness. You will allow me then to say I not only sympathize with you in your grief, but am a sharer with you in your affliction; for I feel that I have not only lost a neighbor and a friend, but a parent also. We conceive your loss to be great. You have lost a kind and affectionate parent, who has dandled you on her knee, and nursed you at her bosom. She has watched over you in infancy, been your guide in youth and your friend and counsellor in you riper years. She has been anxious for your welfare, and doubtless has poured out many fervent prayers for your good. But her voice is now silenced in death. You see her no more. Nevertheless she being dead yet speaketh. Her voice to you is, "My children and grand children, be followers of me so far as I have followed Christ. Love one another; live in peace; be kind to each other; and prepare to follow me whenever God shall call." She had left behind her six children, thirty-one grandchildren, and seven great-grandchildren. These will be following her one after another. Be exhorted, my dear friends, so to live, while you live here in this world, that when you meet your dear parent in the eternal world, you may meet her at the right hand of the Judge, where sorrow and sighing shall cease, where all tears shall be wiped from all eyes, and where there will be no more death."
This address is preserved apparently in the handwriting of my mother, and I would hope the reader will not be displeased at a short extract from the sermon preached at her own funeral, by the Rev. Mr. Judd, on Easter Day, April 12th, 1852. The Rev. Thomas S. Judd was for many years Rector of Trinity Church, Windham, and his memory is dear to many now living, who will be glad to see a perfectly authentic extract from a sermon of his and will recall by means of it the thought of a good man.
"With those who have preceded her in the Christian conflict, and who, through Him who is the author and finisher of our faith, were conquerors, she shares, we doubt not, the smiles of the Redeemer’s favor. Possessed of a solid understanding, and judgment, and a well-formed mind, she was well fitted to sustain with respect and usefulness the station she was called to fill. To her husband she was not only the affectionate companion, but the discreet adviser and faithful sharer of his cares. She looked well to the ways of the household, and guided her family with discretion, being to each member a wise judge and example, and by her uniform pureness of character, and kindliness of spirit, commanded over their reverence and their love. Her piety was of a cheerful character, not boastful but firm. She rests, we doubt not, with those who die in the Lord, and who the voice from heaven declares are blessed. Short will be the time of separation. Our treasure then being in heaven, there should our hearts be also. On its blissful employments and joys would we delight to dwell. On the Saviour of our souls in His full and final glory would we without intervening medium fix our admiring view. We should not cling too fondly to the present scene. We should not desire to live here always. We should not be afraid to die, but willingly be placed where the Lord lay."
A two-fold motive has led to the transcribing of these short extracts; First, they are fragments which many will like to see from men who still live in the hearts of some of the present generation; second, they are authentic and genuine illustrations of the character of the departed who rest from their labors.