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Chapter 5 - Pages 43-51

HISTORIC REHOBOTH 43

THE ORATION, BY HON. T. W. BICKNELL.

 

MR. PRESIDENT,-- LADIES AND GENTLEMEN:

An occasion of unusual interest and importance calls together this large assemblage in this old New England town to-day. The event justly commands the attention of all her citizens, and stirs a just pride in all hearts within her borders. All dedicatory services have a somewhat sacred significance, proportionate to the value of the work to be inaugurated, be it the dedication of a home, a store, a workshop, a mill, a school, a capitol, a church, a cathedral, or a temple; all in their inner life and meaning stand for something which is helpful to man in his material, social, or soul concerns. The structures we rear, be they humble or costly, are the outer environment, which have much to do in the creation of the man, of society, the state, the church. They are in a sense the expression of the values men place on the offices for which these great institutions stand. Their absence shows the want of development in all that relates to the higher nature of man, his duties and his destiny. Stanley tells us that in his long journey across the Dark Continent he found only the embryo of the home, in the huts of the dwellers in the vast Congo valley, or on the borders of the Victoria Nyanza. The Apache chief mounts his Indian pony, followed by his family, his household goods; all his worldly possessions are borne on the backs of the pack train. He pitches his tent at night, and in the morning folds his tent like the Arab and silently steals away. Dedications there are none, for there is naught to be dedicated, and no want which seeks satisfaction in the fixed home the centre of all that is best in man, and about which clusters all that adds to his life’s progress and happiness. How unlike this is

 
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the dear New England life into which we were born, and of which we have such occasion for honest congratulations.

On the deck of the May Flower were 101 loyal souls, sworn to stand or fall together in this new land. Between her decks was a cargo, the value of which far exceeds "the wealth of Ormus or of Ind, or where the gorgeous East with richest hand showers on her kings barbaric pearls and gold." The families on board represented the millions of happy homes which now distinguish our land above all others. Their children needed the guiding hand of education, and the school house was as natural an outgrowth of the home as the children for which the school was created. As religion was the chief concern of these Pilgrim founders, the church was the essential expression and home of this band of faithful men and women, and as civil society was the bond of their faith in each other they built the town house and state house. There needed to be in old New England what exists in new New England so plentifully these outer shrines, which should shelter the worshippers at the altars of home, the school, the state, the church.

The origin and structure of the beautiful edifice, which we meet to consecrate to-day, are blessed with happy auguries, which are full of good omens for the future. The conception and birth of the scheme were from the fruitful brain of the pastor of the Congregational Church of Rehoboth, a most worthy successor of Revs. Samuel Newman, David Turner, Robert Rogerson, Otis Thompson, John C. Paine, Charles P. Grosvenor, and others. While his presence forbids the utterances which are in all hearts, we can never cease to remember or to be grateful to the Rev. Geo, H. Tilton for his benevolent purpose,

 

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his practical plans, his contagious magnetism, his unstinted labors, his unflagging zeal, and the wealth of his inventive resources in the leadership of this movement, which has culminated in this elegant public building. Did I say less than this at this opening hour, I should prove myself unworthy of the honor you have granted me as the speaker of the occasion.

Still further, how fortunate that Rehoboth, in the midst of so many loyal sons and daughters, had one whose benevolence and ability responded so promptly and cheerfully to the wants of this community; one, whose loyalty to a noble ancestry and devotion to his native town led him to aid most generously in the erection of this edifice, which as long as the "Goff Memorial" shall stand, will be a monument to well-directed industry, great business sagacity, and a life consecrated to the interests of his fellows. By this act our honored friend and benefactor wisely be-comes his own executor, setting a worthy example, so honorable and praiseworthy and not uncommon in these later days, by which other large-hearted and liberal-handed men may be inspired and guided to do likewise, in this and other places, in tribute to the ancestry that bore and the town that nurtured them. In behalf of this grateful people, I may wish for you the full enjoyment of all the good gifts your energy and business ability, with the blessing of Heaven, have brought you, a long continuance in the enjoyments of friendships fairly won, and a late return to Heaven.

As the constant drain is made from the country to the city, of its population, its enterprise and its wealth, it reminds one of the constant flow of the rivulets to the rivers, and of the rivers to the sea, carrying from hill and mountain slopes the rich soils, forming the alluvial

 
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meadows and broad prairies which grow the world’s harvests. Were there no returns of moisture in the evaporation of the ocean, which the winds carry in fogs, rains and snows to add new supplies to the unfailing springs among the hills, these fountains of fertility, of beauty, of growth, and of wealth to the valleys would cease. So there may be a just return of the blessings of wealth from wealth centres, by sending back to the sections less favored by wealth the means which shall keep a healthy supply of intelligent population to make good the wear, the weakness and the decay of forces attendant on large populations and undue wealth.

And yet again we are all mindful of the consecrated gifts and deeds which have come from so many persons to supplement and crown the benevolence of the principal donor. You are all shareholders in a greater or smaller measure in this public building. The widow’s mite, the gifts of children, the labors and prayers of all are so inter-linked and built into this edifice that it would fall to the ground a useless heap of rubbish without them. Its masonry and girders are Rehoboth stock. It is a matter of universal remark that the most beautiful ornamentation of this building is in the foundation stone, wrought from the quarries on Rocky Hill. Shall we not all agree that the spirit of the people, their deep interest in the work, and their generous gifts proportionate to their ability are also a solid and beautiful foundation which shall uphold and sustain this work throughout its future. We seem to see these toils and sacrifices and contributions transformed into hearts that shall protect the interests centered within these walls, and we also seem to see the coming generations, grateful for your deeds, and ever mindful of the service you are this day rendering, in

 

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more beautiful and honorable lives. To this end our labors are devoted and fortunately happy shall we be if this rich result shall follow.

There is great significance in the construction and uses of the building we dedicate to-day. The architect has arranged within these walls a commodious room for the Historic-Antiquarian Society of Rehoboth, another for a Public Library, a third for a Public High School, and over all as a superintendent and supporter of the other three, this public hall for the town’s use, where its town meetings will be held, the town’s business transacted, and the interests of the people discussed in lectures, debating clubs, farmers’ associations, temperance unions, concerts, school exhibitions, and all other matters that will tend to regulate and elevate society. Like the fabled giant I3riareus it is a living thing, having fifty heads and a hundred hands. It looks through its historic society into the past., and with its hands seizes all that the old time has to give. The school and the library have a forward look and grasp in fitting the boys and girls for the warfare of life, in the strength and protection of education; while the town, in its corporate life and work, represents the busy interests of the passing hour, debating, counseling, acting, and in its various agencies working the works of to-day. Of each of these plans I propose to speak briefly.

American life is now in a transition period; old things are passing away, all things becoming new. We are to-day on a mount of vision, looking back into old Rehoboth of the past, and forward into the New Rehoboth of the future. Out of the old the new is born, and the laws of heredity are too compulsory to be set aside. There comes a time to every man and society when it is both wise and profitable to take a backward look. The poet’s words are true—

 

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‘Tis greatly wise to talk with our past hours,

And ask them what report they’ve borne to Heaven, 

And how they might have borne more welcome news;

Their answers form what men experience call."

 

Youth and prophecy have their eyes on the to-morrows of life-age and history on the yesterdays, while our yesterdays and our to-morrows must find their full fruition in the results of our to-days. How beautifully this fact is illustrated in the almost historic painting of Malbone, our Newport artist, in the Three Graces, or as the Greeks personified them, Eunomia, Dice and Irene, in the Atheneum at Providence. The artist’s conception is to paint an ideal of life, and three female figures are presented, full of all the grace and loveliness art could give. The form on your right is glowing with beauty, and radiant with sublime hopefulness. She stands as the type of youth and the future. The central figure is severely earnest, devout, courageous, and this is manhood, and the present. The figure on the left has her head partially averted. She is serious, meditative, introspective, and represents age and the past. Each by herself is a study of the three important epochs of human life, and each has its lessons, but what the artist would tell us, it seems to me is this, that the perfect, the harmonious human life has in it, the hopefulness of youth, the earnestness of manhood, and the contemplativeness of age; that the past must chasten the future, and that its lessons, its traditions, its life, must be read and understood that we may most truly work the works of to-day. He who respects the past has the truest interest in the present, and the highest regard for the coming time. We may rejoice, therefore, that this dedication service relates to all that is worthy of possession in the treasures of the past, the active labors of the present, and the hopes of the future;

 

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and the Town Hall, the Antiquarian Society rooms, the Blanding Library and the School have each a place in this threefold mission of the town —preservation, protection, progress.

How intensely interesting is the history of towns and town life of old New England, and especially of this old town, and how delightful it is to review some of its half. forgotten pages, to draw lessons there from for present use. Here in this roomy place, breathing an atmosphere filled with the traditions of an earlier day, in the midst of the graves of an honored ancestry, looking upon some tomes that far antedate the Revolution, and upon ancestral estates which still bear the landmarks set by the early planters, our hearts are stirred by strange influences, and we must not forget old Rehoboth in our rejoicing over the new Rehoboth that is, and is to be. For two hundred and forty years it has stood for the principles of the founders of Plymouth Colony, of which it was an integral part. When Rehoboth received its charter in 1645, there were but ten towns within the jurisdiction of the Mother Colony— Plymouth, Duxbury, Scituate, Sandwich, Taunton, Barnstable, Yarmouth, Marshfield, Eastham, Rehoboth. When Stephen Payne and William Carpenter made a journey to Plymouth in 1645, to secure articles of incorporation for the Indian Seacunck, this was the western frontier town of Massachusetts. Wm. Blackston, the first white inhabitant of Rehoboth, dwelt in his Eutopian hermitage at a place called by him "Study Hill," on the Blackstone near the present village of Lonsdale.

Roger Williams, with his faithful followers dwelt as yet unrecognized, save as outlaws and reprobates, on the west bank of the peaceful Pawtucket, at the head of Narragansett Bay. On the south the nearest dwellers were

 

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the Wampanoags under the wise and pacific Massasoit, occupying the territory now known as Swanzea, Barrington, Warren and Bristol, after the deed of the ten mile purchase of Seekonk in 1641. A few of the first families of Taunton had settled along the banks of the Titicut, on the line of the route marked out by Bradford and Winslow on their first visit to Massasoit at Sowans in 1621. Here lay a great tract of unsettled country, with a good southern and western outlook, which bordered on Narragansett Bay with its fisheries and future commerce, and hither the family emigration, which set in in 1620 at Plymouth, continued to flow, to settle the waste places between the Titicut and the Pawtucket, and this family social exodus from England to America, the planting of the towns of Plymouth and the Bay Colonies, are the remarkable characteristics of this permanent occupation of New England. Rehoboth, the large place, was waiting the sifted wheat of three plantings.

As the unit of society is the individual, so the unit of civilization is the family, and to carry our arithmetic still further, the town is the unit of the American State. When the Northmen landed on our shores, so says the historian, only one woman attended these bold sea rovers. Men can discover continents alone, but they cannot found a state. To the Pilgrim and the Puritan, wife, children, house, home, family, church, were the most precious possessions. Nothing human could divorce ties which nature had so strongly woven. And whenever we think of our honored ancestry, it is not . as individual adventurers; but we see good-man. good-wife, and their children as the representatives of the great body of those who with them planted homes, families, society, civilization, in the Western world. They came together, or, if

 

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alone, to pioneer the way for wife and children or sweetheart by the next ship, and they came to stay, as witness the names of the old families of Plymouth, Weymouth, Salem, Boston, Dorchester, in the leading circles of wealth and social position in all of these old towns. "Behold," says Dr. Bushnell, "the Mayflower, rounding now the southern cape of England, filled with husbands and wives and children ; families of righteous men, under covenant with God and each other to lay some good foundation for religion, engaged both to make arid keep their own laws, ~expecting to supply their own wants and bear their own burdens, assisted by none but the God in whom they trust. Here are the hands of industry, the germs of liberty, the dear pledges of order, and the sacred beginnings of a home." Of such, only, could Mrs. Heman’s inspired hymn have been written:

There were men with hoary hair

Amidst that pilgrim band;

Why had they come to wither there

Away from their childhood’s land.

 

There was woman’s fearless eye,

Lit by her deep love’s truth;

There was manhood’s brow serenely high,

And the fiery heart of youth."

 

 

Hither from Weymouth came Peter Hunt and family Walter Palmer, ditto; Rev. Samuel Newman, William, Edward and Henry Smith, Robert Martin, Richard Bowen, Stephen Payne, John Browne, Obadiah Holmes, Robert Wheaton, Thomas Bliss, John Miller, John Daggett, Richard Bullock, William Blanding, John Allin, Mr. Peck, and among others, possibly not least in some of their transactions, William Devil, with a numerous progeny.