Page images


such it had been incorporated in 1783–34, as a town in Essex County, Massachusetts, under the name of Rumford, probably from a town of that name, generally called Romford, about twelve miles from London, whence some of the original settlers in the New England wilderness had emigrated. The name has interest for us, as it was chosen by Benjamin Thompson for a title when he was made a.Count of the Holy Roman Empire.' The name of the town was changed to Concord, to mark the restoration of harmony after a long period of agitation as to its provincial jurisdiction and its relations with its neighbors. It was gratitude which prompted Thompson to make the name of Rumford titular, and he expressed most tenderly and reverently his sense of obligation to the venerated minister of the place,—his patron, guide, and father-in-law.

Thompson bad reason for this gratitude and sense of obligation. Had be fallen upon peaceful times, and made his native country his home for life, the propitious start which he received in Concord and the friends which there made his family circle, would have secured for him high position and success.

The Rev. Timothy Walker, the first minister of Concord, New Hampshire, a native of Woburn, and connected already with the Thompson family, had joined the fortunes of the early settlers in 1730 as their spiritual guide, and continued in their service as such till his death, September 2, 1782, after a ministry of fifty-two years. He was one of that class of ministers, characteristic of New England from its colonization down nearly to our own times, who, while holding a position and authority officially and conventionally supreme among the people of a settlement, proved worthy of esteem, and used their influence for unqualified good. Mr. Walker was the most honored citizen of Concord, as well as its beloved minister, and he has been honored in the line of his descendants. He had been thrice sent on missions to England on business connected with the disputes about the jurisdiction of the town and province, and had there impressed the legal counsel which he employed, and the tribunal before which he was heard, in a manner that insured his success. He also nsed his opportunities abroad for observation and acquisition, so as to enhance his influence at home. His son, Colonel Timothy Walker, a lawyer, was also a man of talent and position.

But next to the minister, just previous to Thompson's visit to Concord, Colonel Benjamin Rolfe held place and power in the vilJage. Ile was the squire, was rich and public-spirited. He is distinguished as having been the first owner and driver of a curricle and a pair of horses in New Hampshire, always excepting the Gov




[ocr errors]

ernor's at Portsmouth. Colonel Rolfe having lived as a bachelor till he was about sixty years old, then married Sarah, the daughter of the Rev. Timothy Walker, she being at the time about thirty. Unfortunately, some of the interleaved almanacs in which the good minister was in the babit of entering his official acts and matters of church record have been lost, and thus we are left in ignorance of some dates which would interest us. The Concord town records say that Sarah Walker was born October 6, 1739. She was married to Colonel Rolfe in 1769. They had one son, afterward Colonel Paul Rolfe. The father died December 21, 1771, in his sixty-second year, leaving to his widow and son a large estate. He built a fine house at the so-called • Eleven Lots,' since known as the Rolfe House. It was here that his widow, as the wife of Count Rumford, lived, and died on January 19, 1792, at the age of fifty-two.

When Benjamin Thompson went to Concord as a teacher he was in the glory of his youth, not having yet reached manhood. His friend Baldwin describes him as of a fine manly make and figure, nearly six feet in height, of handsome features, bright blue eyes, and dark auburn bair. He had the manners and polish of a gentleman, with fascinating ways, and an ability to make himself agreeable. So diligently, too, had he used his opportunities of culture and reading, that he might well have shined even in a circle socially more exacting than that to which he was now introduced. We may anticipate here the conclusion to which the review of his whole career will lead us,that, as a boy or man, he was never one to allow an opportunity of advancement to escape him. He seems to have given satisfaction as a teacher. The traditions that linger in the older homes at Concord, like those at Wilmington, include a large element of the reminiscences of certain accomplishments and activities of the young teacher which were not of strictly official character. He was skilled in vaulting and other athletic feats, and he won very early in his life the repute of gallantry.

When Count Rumford, looking back from the achievements and honors of his foreign career, told his friend Pictet of his deep indebtedness to the Rev. Mr. Walker for kindly oversight and counsel, for fostering patronage, and for fatherly love, his thoughts must have turned into feelings as he tenderly recalled some happy scenes and hours in that country parsonage. There, and to the house of the younger Walker, Thompson often went to give account of his pedagogueship and to enjoy social pleasures. There and at other places, he would meet the daughter and sister in her early widowhood. The tradition is that she facilitated what is often to the young man the difficult crisis in a relation which is easy before and after that crisis is past. An engagement was speedily effected between the parties with the entire approbation of the reverend father.

The before-mentioned curricle,' left among the effects of Colonel Rolfe, was now put to service. The lady invited the young teacher, who was no longer to preside over a school, to accompany her on an excursion to Boston, & drive of over sixty miles, she having friends on the way wbose bospitality was sure.

She took


with his owo efficient coöperation, to have him furnished in Boston with all that was requisite at the time for fashionable array, including the offices of tailor and hair-dresser. Of course the color of his garments was his own favorite scarlet, ominous of the ill esteem into which he was soon to fall as too friendly to those whose military garb was of that hue. Tradition reports, that as the pair, not yet married, were on their homeward way, the lady ordered the curricle to stop at the door of Mrs. Pierce's house, the mother of her companion. That motber, being as yet ignorant of the change that had come over the fortunes of her son, was amazed at the apparition at her humble doorway, and especially at the gorgeous and extravagant array of her son, the village schoolmaster, and the not idle, but unprofitable busy experimenter. She is reported to have given vent to her surprise in the rebuking question, Why, Ben, my son, how could you go and lay out all your winter's earnings in finery?' The tradition continues that the mother, hesitating somewhat about the character of her son's female companion, and the explanation given by her, was finally, through the intervention of Dr. Hay, made to understand the circumstances of the case. She still wished time to think

upon it, but on the next day gave her consent. Benjamin Thompson was married to Mrs. Sarah Walker Rolfe in November, 1772—their only child Sarah, who afterward was received at the Court of the Elector of Bavaria, as Countess Rumford, was born Oct. 18, 1774, in the Rolfe Mansion in Concord. On their marriage tour to Portsmouth, the husband made the acquaintance of Governor Wentworth, who was so pleased with his address that he soon gave him a commission to fill a vacant Majorship in the Second Provincial Regiment of New Hampshire. That commission, addressed as it was to his weak point,-his personal vanity -detached him from his old friends and the great majority of his fellow-citizens in the widening chasm between the colonies and the mother country; and on the outbreak of open hostilities, he accepted the conditions, and left his home, his wife and child, and clove to the royal cause.




RESIDENCE AND OCCUPATION IN ENGLAND—1776–1783. Benjamin Thompson arrived in England in the British frigate Scarborough in May, 1776, the bearer of gloomy dispatches from General Gage, who had just evacuated Boston, to Lord George Germaine, the British Secretary of State for Colonial Affairs—by whom he was soon offered a post in his office. Of whatever nature were the services which Thompson rendered to the public business, they must have been of considerable value; for in 1780, four

years after his arrival in England, he was raised by his patron, Lord Germaine, to the post of Under-secretary of State for the Colonies; an instance of promotion which, considering the circumstances in which the subject of it stood, is almost unexampled. The usual accompaniment of such a situation was, and is, a seat in parliament; and according to the practice of those days, when noblemen had seats in the House of Commons at their disposal, Lord Germaine, if he had so chosen, might have conferred a seat on his American protége; but it was probably imagined that the admission into parliament of a man so unpopular in America would be attended with disadvantages, and that, at all events, Thompson's talents were better fitted for the desk than the senate. The income and consequence, however, which he derived from his office gave him admission to the highest metropolitan circles; and he had thus opportunities not only of becoming known, but also of exercising his inventive mind in many pursuits not immediately connected with his official duties. Fertility-a disposition to propose improvements in all departments —seems to have been his most striking characteristic; and it was probably this ready genius for practical reforms in every thing which came under his notice, that recommended him so much to public men, A man who, in his general intercourse with society, can drop valuable suggestions, allowing others to grasp at them, and enjoy the credit of carrying them into effect, is likely to be a favorite. Thompson appears to have been such a man—a person who, holding no ostensible post but that of Under-secretary for the Colonies, could yet, out of the richness of an ever-inventive mind, scatter hints which would be thankfully received by men of all professions.

While concerning himself generally, however, in a variety of matters, Thompson was at the same time following out certain specific lines of scientific investigation. As early as 1777,' says his biographer, he made some curious and interesting experiments on the strength of solid bodies. These were never published, and would probably have been superseded by more full investigations made by subsequent experimenters. In 1778, he employed himself in experi

ments on the strength of gunpowder and the velocity of military projectiles, and these were followed up by a cruise of some months in the Channel fleet, where he proposed to repeat his investigations on a larger scale. On this subject, Thompson communicated sereral papers to the Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society, of which he had become a member. Passing over these scientific lucubrations, we hasten to reach that period of Rumford's life at which he found himself in a situation to give full scope to his genius for improvements.

As the war between Great Britain and the Colonies proceeded, it became evident that the latter must triumph. The anti-American party in Great Britain lost ground; and on the news of the capitulation of Lord Cornwallis reaching England, a division took place in the Cabinet, and Lord George Germaine found it necessary to resign office. As his policy, bowever, in American affairs had been agreeable to the wishes of George III., he retired with the honors of a peerage, and was able still to forward the interests of his friends. Not the least distinguished of these was Under-secretary Thompson, who, whether he had coöperated with his principal in all his measures and views, or whether, according to his own statement afterward to Cuvier, he was disgusted at Lord Germaine's want of judgment,' had at least done a sufficient amount of work to deserve a parting token of regard. Accordingly, by the influence of the fallen minister, Thompson was sent out to New York, in the year 1781, with the royal commission of major, which was afterward changed for that of lieutenant-colonel, charged with the task of organizing an efficient regiment of dragoons out of the broken and disjointed native cavalry regiments which bad been fighting on the royalist side.

His appearance on the military field, at the close of the American war, has not added to the permanent reputation of the subject of this memoir. He had no opportunity of showing his peculiar genius in organization or sanitary improvements; and his exploits consisted in occasional sallies with a small cavalry corps out of Charleston (where he landed, the fleet having been driven by adverse winds beyond New York), in the winter of 1781-2, in search of supplies for the command of General Leslie stationed there; or in organizing the King's American Dragoons, out of the remains of the Queen's Rangers (composed originally of Connecticut and New York Tories and other loyalist troopers), and in building and holding a fort in the town of Huntington, on Long Island, in the winter of 1782. He returned to England in April, 1783, and in August, on the recom- .

« PreviousContinue »