St. Botolph's Town

an account of Old Boston 
in Colonial Days 

BY 
MARY CAROLINE CRAWFORD 

Author of "Among Old New England Inns," 
"The Romance of Old New England Rooftrees," etc. 

1908

 

XIV

A GENUINE COLONIAL ROMANCE

 

No single individual contributed more gen­erously to King's Chapel than Sir Charles Harry Frankland, the hero of Boston's most charming colonial romance. Frankland's intimate friend Governor Shirley laid the corner­stone of the present building (in 1749) and both gentlemen seem to have felt keen interest that services here should flourish. This we must needs keep in mind about Frankland as we follow the outlines of his life-story. For it serves to prove, in n way, the contention of the Boston Puritans that loyalty to Church of England doctrines did not of necessity influence greatly in the middle of the eighteenth century the private life of those in high places.

When Jonathan Belcher was transferred from the governorship of Massachusetts to that of New Jersey and, by the death of John Jekyl, the office of collector of the port of Bos­ton became at the same time vacant, the choice of these royal favours was offered by the Duke of Newcastle to the nephew of Sir Thomas Frankland, then one of the Lords of the Ad­miralty. This nephew — who was also heir­-presumptive to the baronetcy and to the family estates at Thirkleby and Mattersea — was, however, a young man of only twenty-four at this time and could boast no previous experience in colonial affairs, as could William Shirley, — a lawyer who had already lived seven years in this country. The outcome of the matter was therefore, that Shirley, whose wife had strong influence at court, was made gov­ernor and Frankland came to New England as collector of the port of Boston.

Both were well born, highly-bred English­men, Frankland resembling both in manners and person the Earl of Chesterfield, whom he had the happiness to count among his friends. He had been born in Bengal, where his father was a colonial officer, and to this fact his sympathetic biographer, the Reverend Elias Nason, attributes the trend of his talents towards art and literature rather than towards politics or trade. In Frankland's face, also, with its noble cast of features and its expression of peculiar melancholy may be discerned that strain of introspection and self-analysis which not infrequently characterizes the Eastern-born children of English parents.

Both Frankland and Shirley were, of course, bound to count immensely in Boston society of that time. The important question of the day in the highest circles of the town was "How is this done at court?" And here were two handsome fellows who could tell with exactness just the procedure fitting on each and every state occasion. By the Amorys, Apthorps, Bollans, Hutchinsons, Prices, Auchmutys, Chardons, Wendells, and Olivers, who held the money, offices and power in the chief settlement of New England, they were there­fore welcomed with the greatest enthusiasm. Nason, who has made a careful if limited study of the society — which greeted them, tells us that it is hardly possible for us to conceive what distinction title, blood, escutcheon, and family conferred in that regime. "Those gentlemen and ladies who occupied the north, or court end of the town, who read the Spectator, Samuel Richardson's Pamela and the prayerbook, who had manors of a thousand acres in the country cultivated by slaves from Africa... were many of them allied to the first families in England and it was their chief ambition to keep up the ceremonies and customs of the aristocratic society which they represented. A baronet was then approached with greatest deference; a coach and four with an armorial bearing and liveried servants was a munition against indignity; the stamp of the crown upon a piece of paper, even, invested it with an association almost sacred. In those digni­taries, — who in brocade vest, gold-lace coat, broad ruffled sleeves and small clothes; who, with three-cornered hat and powdered wig, side-arms and silver shoe buckles, promenaded Queen street and the Mall, spread themselves through the King's chapel, or discussed the measures of the Pelhams, Walpole and Pitt, at the Rose and Crown, — as much of aristocratic pride, as much of courtly consequence dis­played itself, as in the frequenters of Hyde Park or Regent street."

An excellent contemporaneous description of life in Boston at just this period has come down to us in the manuscript of a Mr. Bennett, from which Horace E. Scudder quotes freely in the invaluable Memorial History: "There are several families in Boston that keep a coach and pair of horses, and some few drive with four horses; but for chaises and saddle-horses, considering the hulk of the place they outdo London.... Their roads, though they have no turnpikes are exceedingly good in Summer; and it is safe travelling night or day for they have no high-way robbers to interrupt them. It is pleasant riding through the woods; and the country is pleasantly interspersed with farmhouses, cottages, and some few gentlemen's seats between the towns. When the ladies drive out to take the air, it is generally in a chaise or chair, and then but a single horse, and they have a negro servant to drive them. The gentlemen ride out here as in England, some in chairs, and others on horseback, with their negroes to attend them. They travel in much the same manner on business as for pleasure, and are attended in both by their black equipages....

"For their domestic amusements, every afternoon, after drinking tea, the gentlemen and ladies wall: the Mall, and from thence ad­journ to one another's house to spend the evening, — those that are not disposed to attend the evening lecture; which they may do, if they please, six nights in seven the year round. What they call the Mall is a walk on a fine green common adjoining to the south-west side of the town. It is near half a mile over, with two rows of young trees planted opposite to each other, with a fine footway between in imitation of St. James Park; and part of the bay of the sea which encircles the town, taking its course along the north-west side of the Common, — by which it is bounded on the one side and by the country on the other, — forms a beautiful canal in view of the walk.... Not­withstanding plays and such like diversions do not obtain here [the famous performance of Otway's "Orphan" at the British Coffee House, with its attendant theatrical riot, did not occur until 1750] they don't seem to be dispirited nor moped for want of them, for both ladies and gentlemen dress and appear as gay, in common, as courtiers in England on a coronation or birthday...."

It is this Boston that we see in the pictures of Copley, himself a Bostonian by birth, and described by Trumbull, when he visited him in London, as an "elegant-looking man, dressed in a fine maroon cloth with gilt buttons."

Small wonder that a young man who became the pet of a Boston like this felt that he could not marry, even though he must needs love, a girl whom he had found scrubbing the floor of a public house. The time of that historic first encounter at the Fountain Inn in quaint old Marblehead between these famous lovers was the summer of 1742. Frankland's official duties had sent him riding down to Marblehead where the fortification, since named and to-day still known as Fort Sewall, was then just being built (at an expense of almost seven hundred pounds) for the defence of the harbour against French cruisers. On the way to the fort he stopped for a draught of cooling ale at the Inn where Agnes did odd jobs for a few shillings a month.

nd lo! scrubbing the tavern floor there knelt before him a beautiful child-girl of six­teen, with black curling hair, shy dark eyes and a voice that proved to be of exquisite sweetness, when the maiden, glancing up, gave her good-day to the gallant's greeting. The girl's feet were bare, and this so moved Frankland's compassion that he gently gave her a piece of gold with which to buy shoes and stockings. Then he rode thoughtfully away to conduct his business at the fort.

But he did not by any means forget that charming child just budding into winsome womanhood whom he had seen performing with patience and grace the duties that fell to her lot as the poor daughter of some honest hard-working fisher-folk of the town. When he happened to be again in Marblehead on busi­ness he inquired at once for her, and then, seeing her feet still without shoes and stockings, asked a bit teasingly what she had done with the money he gave her. Quite frankly she re­plied, blushing the while, that the shoes and stockings were bought but that she kept them to wear to meeting.

This reply and the sight for the second time of the girl engaged in heavy work for which her slender figure and delicate face showed her to be wholly unfitted put it into Frankland's head to take her away to Boston and educate her for less menial employment. The consent of the girl's parents to this proposal appears to have been given with rather surprising readiness; but it is more than likely that Agnes took the matter into her own hands, as many a girl since has done, and that to permit her to go was regarded as the wiser course. Women matured early in those days, and a strong reciprocal emotion, innocent though it undoubtedly was in its nature, must have been aroused in this girl's heart by the ardent ad­miration of the handsome gentleman from Boston. Moreover the Reverend Dr. Edward Holyoke, who had been the family pastor at Marblehead, was now president of Harvard College, and it was probably expected that he would exercise pastoral oversight over this maiden he had known so long.

To do Frankland justice, however, it should at once be said that his intentions at the start seem only to have been those of a friendly guardian. If the heir to Sir Thomas Frank­land is seized with a benevolent impulse and wishes to undertake the expense of educating a young person of humble parentage, who is there to say him nay'? Mrs. Shirley might laughingly shake her finger at him and tell him to "beware" on one of those occasions when Agnes has looked unusually charming while dining with her and her daughters at Shirley House in Roxbury, but Frankland would of course protest his excellent intentions, — and the matter would be dropped.

It seems to me, indeed, as I examine the evidence, that the relation between these two continued to be that of ward and guardian until Agnes was well over eighteen, the age at which a girl becomes legally her own mistress. For several years she is taught reading, writing, grammar, music and embroidery by the best tutors the town can provide, and though she grows steadily in beauty and maidenly charm she still retains that childish sweetness and simplicity which first won Frankland's heart. Then these two suddenly discover that they are all in all to each other. The thought of being separated is insupportable to them both. But Frankland has been suddenly elevated to the baronetcy and is no longer his own master. Agnes's father, on the other hand, has died and there is no one to take the matter firmly in hand on her behalf. And so it comes about that this low-born girl and this high-born man find themselves in a situation for which Agnes is to pay by many a day of tears and Sir Harry by many a night of bitter self-reproach. Of course he paid in money, too. How else can one understand his purchase, for the sum of fifty pounds "lawful money," at the close of the year 1745 of Mrs. Surriage's "right and title to one seventh part of a vast tract of land in Maine " inherited by her from her father? Frankland never did anything with this land and the grantor's title to it was none too clear. One can only conclude, therefore, that this transfer of fifty pounds was by way of delicately making a substantial gift to the widowed mother of the girl the baronet felt himself to be wronging.

We caught a hint from Dunton's letters that Boston morality had been somewhat vitiated by the introduction of the habits and standards of crown officials. By Frankland's time many a thing for which a man would have had to suffer the stocks and women the ducking-stool — or worse — in the old days was winked at because the parties concerned sat in high places. The heart of the people was still sound, however, and those Puritan maidens who had been Agnes's school-fellows, naturally shrank from her when they came to realize that she and the collector of the port of Boston were unwedded lovers. Gradually, too, the ladies whose good opinion Frankland valued grew indignant at him. Thus it was that at this stage of the story he decided to live in rural Hopkinton rather than in censorious Boston.

Already a former rector of King's Chapel, the Reverend Roger Price, had purchased land and started a mission church in this charming village of Middlesex county. From him Frankland bought nearly four hundred acres, building upon them (in 1751) a commodious mansion house. The following year he and Agnes took up their abode on the place. Here it was, then, that Frankland wrote the greater part of that interesting Journal, which is still preserved in the rooms of the Massachusetts Historical Society, of two hundred handwritten pages and which reflects so strikingly the man's varying moods. Of politics there is here and there a dash, of horticulture one finds a great deal, of current events there are interesting mentions; but the bulk of the book is given over to philosophical reflection that bears witness to the strain of introspection in Frankland's temperament and stamps him at once as far removed from the careless libertine some writers would make him out.

Under the date of March 17, 1755, we read: "Mr. Coles gathers anemone seed. Wrote by packet to mother; Park and Willis for shoes. Paid for shaving in full. for this and the next month.

"Nothing considerable can ever be done by the colonies in the present disturbed state. The plan of union as concerted by the commissioners at Albany, if carried into execution, would soon make a formidable people....

"The uneasiness thou feelest; the misfortunes thou bewailest; behold the root from which they spring, even thine own folly, thine own pride, thine own distempered fancy....

"In all thy desires, let reason go along with thee; and fix not thy hope beyond the bounds of probability, so shall success attend thy undertakings, and thy heart shall not be vexed with disappointments."

Horticulture was Frankland's delight and he introduced upon the Hopkinton estate a great variety of the choicest fruit, — such as apples, pears, plums, peaches, cherries of excellent quality, apricots and quinces from England, — and upon the extensive grounds of the place he set out elms and other ornamental trees, embellishing the walks of his garden with box lilac and hawthorn...

That Sir Harry's Arcady never came to bore him was very likely due to these diversions, and occupations. Moreover, he had his dozen slaves to oversee, there was good fishing as well as good hunting, — and Agnes had a mind able to share with him the enjoyment of the latest works of Richardson, Steele, Swift, Addison and Pope, sent over in big boxes from England. The country about Hopkinton was then, as today, a wonder of hill and valley, meadow and stream, while only a dozen miles or so from Frankland Hall was the famous Wayside Inn where his men friends could put up by night after enjoying by day the hunting and wines he had to offer. Then the village rector was always to be counted on for companionship and breezy chat. For that worthy seems not to have felt it his duty to admonish Frankland. And Sir Harry, on the other hand, carefully observed all the forms of his religion and treated Agnes with all the respect due a wife. He still continued, however, to neglect the one attention which would have made her really happy. A close approach to death was needed to bring this duty home to him.

I have elsewhere told the story of the visit these two made to Lisbon in 1755 and of Agnes's heroic action in her lover's behalf during the earthquake of that year. Frankland's awful suffering it was, at the time when he lay pinned down by fallen stone and tortured almost beyond endurance by the pain of the wound in his arm, that brought him to himself. He then solemnly vowed to amend his life and atone to Agnes, if God in his mercy should see fit to deliver him, and he wasted not a moment, after his rescue, in executing his pledge to Heaven. His spirit had been effectually chastened, as the Journal shows. For he there writes down, "Hope my providential escape will have a lasting good effect upon my mind."

The summer of 1756 was passed by the knight and his lady at Hopkinton, but the following October Frankland purchased of Thomas Greenough, for the sum of twelve hundred pounds sterling the celebrated Clarke mansion on Garden Court street, Boston. This is the house described in Cooper's Lionel Lincoln (although there incorrectly said to stand on Tremont street) and it adjoined the farfamed Hutchinson house whose splendour it was intended to rival. The site was all that could be desired and the house itself was, for that period, very elegant and commodious. It was built of brick, three stories high, and contained in all twenty-six rooms. It bad inlaid floors, carved mantels and stairs so broad and low that Sir Harry could and did ride his pony up and down them with safety. This amusement was probably a feature of those stag­-parties held during his wife's absence in Hopkinton, in the course of which Frankland used his famous wine glass of double thickness, a possession which enabled him to keep sober long after all his guests were under the table.

As Lady Frankland Agnes was cordially received by those who had formerly looked coldly upon her, and the spacious parlours, with their fluted columns, elaborately carved, their richly gilded pilasters and cornices, their wainscoted walls and panels, embellished with beautiful landscape scenery, were the background for many an elegant tea-party and reception. The Inmans, the Rowes, the Greenoughs and the Sheafes were constantly entertained at supper and dinner here, and Dr. Timothy Cutler, first rector of Christ Church (built in 1723 when the Episcopalians of the town became too numerous to be accommodated in King's Chapel) was a frequent and an honoured guest. Very likely the good old man many a time talked over with Lady Frankland in a quiet corner of her own sitting-room the best ways of launching in life the children of her sister Mary, whose guardian she had become. All in all it was a good and gracious life that the humbly-born Marblehead girl led in her noble mansion-house on Garden Court street.

Warm weather, of course, found the family often at Hopkinton. Once they had a narrow escape from a tragic end while making the journey from their country to their town house. The account of this may be found in the New Hampshire Gazette of September 2, 1757: "Boston August 20, 1757. Thursday last as Sir Henry Frankland and his lady were coming into town in their chariot, a number of boys were gunning on Boston neck — notwithstanding there is an express law to the contrary,­ when one of them discharging his piece at a bird missed the same, and almost the whole charge of shot came into the chariot where Sir Henry and his lady were, several of which entered his hat and clothes, and one grazed his face but did no other damage to him or lady."

Frankland's health, however, was not rugged and in July, 1757, he sought and obtained the post of consul-general to Lisbon, a place for which he was well fitted by reason of his knowledge of the language and customs of the country. The entries in the Journal concerning the articles which he determined to purchase in London "for Lisbon" are interesting: "silver castors; wine glasses like Pownal's; two turreens; saucers for water glasses, dessert knives and forks and spoons; common tea­kettle; jelly and syllabub glasses; fire-grate; long dishes; tea cups etc., clothes etc., for Lady Frankland. Consul's seal combs; mahogany tray, press for table-linen and sheets; stove for flatirons; glass for live flea for microscope; Hoyle's Treatise on Whist; Dr. Doddridge's Exposition on the New Testament, 16 handsome chairs with two settees and 2 card tables, working table like Mrs. F. F. Gardner's."

Our hero, it will be observed, has now become a thorough-going family man. It is greatly to be regretted that his Journal no longer deals with Boston and its affairs, for he seems in a fair way to become as gossipy as the delicious Sewall. Once he puts down the weight of all the ladies taking part in a certain pleasure excursion, — we thus know that Lady Frankland weighed 135 pounds at the age of thirty-six, — and again he tells us that linseed oil is excellent to preserve knives from rust!

The year 1763 found the pair back once more for a brief visit in Boston and Hopkinton. But Frankland could not stand our east winds and so the following winter he returned again to the old country, settling down at Bath to the business of drinking the waters. In the Journal he writes: "I endeavor to keep myself calm and sedate. I live modestly and avoid ostentation, decently and not above my condition, and do not entertain a number of parasites who forget favors the moment they depart from my table.... I cannot suffer a man of low condition to exceed me in good manners." A little later we read that he is now bedridden. He died at Bath, January 2, 1768, at the age of fifty-two and was, at his own request, buried in the parish churchyard there.

Agnes almost immediately came back to Boston and, with her sister and sister's children, took up her residence at Hopkinton. There she remained, living a peaceful happy life among her flowers, her friends and her books until the outbreak of the Revolution, when it seemed to her wise to go in to her town house. The following entry relative to this is found in the records of the committee of safety: "May 15, 1775. Upon application of Lady Frankland, voted that she have liberty to pass into Boston with the following goods and articles for her voyage, viz. 6 trunks: 1 chest: 3 beds and bedding: 6 wethers: 2 pigs: 1 small keg of pickled tongues: some hay: 3 bags of corn: and such other goods as she thinks proper."

So, defended by a guard of six soldiers, the beautiful widow entered the besieged city about the first of June and thus was able to view from the windows of her mansion the imposing spectacle of Bunker Hill. With her own hands, too, she assuaged the sufferings of the British wounded on that occasion. For, of course, she was an ardent Tory. Then, too, General Burgoyne had been among her intimates in the happy Lisbon days.

Rather oddly, neither of Lady Frankland's estates were confiscated, but she herself found it convenient soon to sail for England, where she lived on the estate of the Frankland family until, in 1782, she married Mr. John Drew, a rich banker of Chichester. And in Chichester she died in one year's time. It is greatly to be regretted that no portrait of her is obtainable, for she must have been very lovely,  — and she certainly stands without a rival as a heroine of Boston romance.