Chapter 7




Traveling Bostonward from historic Plymouth by the Old Colony Line, we were set down in twenty minutes at Webster Place, the nearest railway-point to Green Harbor, the former home of Daniel Webster. The Place was only a flag-station, and its sole building a shed that served as a waiting-room for passengers. In answer to our inquiry for the Webster farm, the boy who acted as station-master pointed out a broad, dusty highway leading eastward through the wood, and told us we were to go up that a mile until it forked by a schoolhouse, and that then half a mile by the left fork would bring us to the farm. The country is level here, and as we emerged from the forest upon cultivated fields we saw across them the blue line of the ocean. We easily found the fork in the road, and the schoolhouse, and were shown, on the corner directly opposite, the quaint, mossy, low-roofed house that once sheltered Governor Josiah Winslow of the Plymouth Colony. Leaving this relic, we followed a beautiful country road through the farms between several neatly painted farmhouses, and past


A Day at Green Harbor

the pretty country-seat of Adelaide Phillips, the singer, to the smoothly laid walls and well-kept fields of the Webster estate. The old family mansion, burned in 1878, stood some distance back from the street, on a little knoll, in the midst of a park of thirty acres, well shaded by forest trees. It was a long, low, rambling structure of the colonial era, and had achieved a history before Webster bought it, having been occupied by the British troops in the Revolution, at which time it was the scene of some rather tragic incidents. But a fatality attends American historic houses, and this structure, dear to all Americans from Webster’s connection with it, was burned to the ground on the morning of the 14th of February, 1878, and with it nearly all the objects of interest and art that had been gathered by its former owner. The mistress of the estate, Mrs. Fletcher Webster, rebuilt, on the former site, but with no attempt to reproduce the farmhouse of her ancestor’s day. Her home was not open to visitors, as was the old dwelling, but on our presenting ourselves at the door we were kindly invited in, and a member of the household was deputed to introduce us to everything of public interest which it contained. A few relics intimately connected with the great statesman were saved from the flames that destroyed his house. His study-table of mahogany, veneered, and covered with green baize worn and ink stained, occupied a prominent position in the entrance hail. Near it was his




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library chair, a huge affair, with leather-covered arms and seat and fitted with a foot-rest and bookholder. Here, too, were the fire-screen and andirons from the fireplace of his study. Stuart’s portrait of Mr. Webster occupied a good position over the mantel; and Ames’s portrait of him, as he appeared in farm-costume, faced it on the opposite wall. Above the latter was the great white wool hat that always protected his head while fishing or walking about the farm, and with it his favorite walking-stick. The walls of the wide stairway and of the hall above were adorned with portraits of Grace Fletcher, Mr. Webster’s first wife, and of his friend Judge Story, and with busts of his last wife, Caroline Le Roy, and of his daughter Julia. In the parlor was a rosewood table from the old house, covered with the china in daily use by the family during his lifetime. This table was of rosewood, marble-topped and brass-bound. Another interesting object here was a table presented by the mechanics of Buffalo, in 1855, "in testimony of their respect for his distinguished services in defense of a protective tariff and of our national union." The material was of black walnut, the first ever used in furniture-making. A very pretty memento was a case of Brazilian beetles and butterflies presented to him by the Brazilian government. A beautifully embossed leather armchair, with gilded frame and top, the gift of Victor Emmanuel, in the music room, and an album containing signatures


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of Jefferson, Everett, and other famous men, were the only other mementoes of note spared by the flames. Most of these relics, it was said, Mrs. Webster would present to the Webster Historical Society.

Out in the park we were shown two elms standing near together, their branches interlocked, which were planted by Mr. Webster himself, one at the birth of his son Edwin, the other at the birth of his daughter Julia, and which he called brother and sister. Another interesting object here was the great elm that sheltered the old house, half of it scorched by fire, the other green and vigorous.

Green Harbor River, or rather Inlet, comes up to the boundaries of the park in the rear of the house, and at high tide is navigable for small boats to the ocean, some two miles distant. Beyond this, over bare, brown uplands, one sees the white tombstones of a country graveyard. The yard is perhaps a quarter of a mile from the house, and the same distance from the highway, access to it being had by a rude road winding through the fields. It is one of the district cemeteries so common to New England, and holds the dust of perhaps a score of the families of the neighborhood, obscure and titled, for what was our surprise, in strolling among the tombs, to find, on a great table of brown-stone supported by four pillars, inscriptions to the memory of some of the first magistrates of the Plymouth Colony! The yard was enclosed on three



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sides by a mossy stone wall, and on the fourth by a modern iron fence. There were no trimly kept walks there; low stunted cedars, sumach, wild rose, and other bushes grew luxuriantly, and it had in general a neglected air. The Webster lot was in the southwest corner of the yard, near the entrance, and was enclosed by a heavy iron fence. The tomb of the statesman is a great mound of earth surmounted by a marble slab, at the north end of the lot. The stone has this inscription: "Daniel Webster, born January 18, 1782; died October p24, 1852. ‘Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief," and beneath this, "Philosophical argument, especially that drawn from the vastness of the universe compared with the apparent insignificance of the globe, has sometimes shaken my reason for the faith which is in me; but my heart has always assured and reassured me that the gospel of Jesus Christ must be a divine reality. The Sermon on the Mount cannot be a merely human, production. This belief enters into the very depths of my consciousness. The whole history of man proves it. Daniel Webster."

The plot is well filled. Grace Fletcher the first wife, and Julia the favorite daughter, are buried at the left of the husband and father. At their feet are three daughters of Fletcher and Caroline Webster. Near his father’s right rests Major Edward Webster, who died of disease at San Angelo in Mexico, in Taylor’s campaign of 1848. The most interesting grave, how-



A Day at Green Harbor 

ever, next to the Senator’s, is that of Colonel Fletcher Webster, the gallant soldier who fell at the head of his regiment in the war of the rebellion. The inscription on his stone is so eloquent that it should be given in full; it reads:

"Colonel Fletcher Webster, 12th Massachusetts Volunteers, son of Daniel and Grace Fletcher Webster; born in Portsmouth, New Hampshire, 25th July, 1813; fell at the head of his regiment on the old battle-field of Bull Run, Virginia, August 30, 1862.

"And if I am too old myself, I hope there are those connected with me who are young and willing to defend their country, to the last drop of their own blood.’

"Erected by officers of the 12tb regiment Massachusetts Infantry to the memory of their beloved colonel."

Webster was fond of this old yard, and chose it above all others for his last resting-place. I could not but be struck with the unique almost weird view presented from its summit.

To the eastward are marshes and the sea, the latter flecked with sails. On the south is a pleasant country of farms, with a hamlet of white cottages set in its midst. On the west one sees a stretch of bare, undulating down, bounded by a dense forest. Northwest across the fields is seen Marshfield village and spire, and on the north lies a wild country of pastures and downs. The spot seemed designed for meditation,



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and in fancy we pictured the bent figure of the great commoner among the tombs, communing with his dead, or drawing inspiration from the scene about him.

Leaving the Webster plot and going for a little ramble among the other graves, we made a discovery that ought to commend us to the Society of American Antiquaries,

that, namely, of the Winslow tomb. The grave is marked by a great table of brown stone supported by four stone pillars. The Winslow arms, in slate, are set into the stone, and beneath are the inscriptions. Several of the famous persons of the name whose portraits one sees in Pilgrim Hall are here commemorated:

Governor Josiah Winslow, the first native-born Governor of Plymouth Colony, who died in 1680; his wife Penelope; the Honorable John Winslow, a major-general in the British army, and the officer who removed the French Acadians from their country; the Honorable Isaac Winslow, Esq.; with later and less distinguished members of the family.

On our way back to the station we called on Porter Wright, formerly overseer of the Webster farm, and almost the only person then living who was on intimate i terms with Mr. Webster. He managed the farm for some twelve or fifteen years preceding the latter’s death, and readily consented to give us some details of his stewardship, as well as recollections of his employer. He first saw Mr. Webster on the occasion of the latter’s second visit to Marshfield, and was at once



A Day at Green Harbor

struck with his appearance. "He would have been a marked man, sir, in any company. He had a powerful look. I never saw a man who had such a look. He had an eye that would look through you. His first purchase here was the homestead, comprising some one hundred and fifty acres; but he had a passion for land, and kept adding farm to farm until he had an estate of nearly eighteen hundred acres. The farm extended north and south from the homestead, and to tide-water on the east. When I became his overseer I used to see him daily when he was home, which was as often as he could get away from public duties. He loved to walk about the farm in his plain clothes, with a great white wool hat on his head, and oversee the men. He usually gave me my directions for the day in the morning. We spent the latter part of the summer making plans for the next season’s work; and when be was in Washington I bad to write him nearly every day how things were at the farm; and I received instructions from him as often. He cared little for horses, but had a passion for a good ox-team. We had several on the farm, the finest in the county, and I have known him on his return from Washington pay them a visit before entering the house. At home he was an early riser, generally completing his writing for the day before other members of the family were up. He breakfasted with the family at eight, unless going on a fishing excursion, when he took breakfast alone at



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five. Fishing was his favorite amusement. He had quite a fleet of sail-boats and row-boats, and fished along the coast from the Gurnet to Scituate Light. He caught cod mostly, but took also haddock and perch. When company was present, he invited them to go with him; but if they were averse he generally fitted them out with some other amusement and went his way alone. He entertained much company, governors, statesmen, and the like, but was averse to giving balls or parties or making any display. He attended church at Marshfield regularly, sometimes going with the family in the carriage, and sometimes on horseback alone. He often spoke to me about retiring from public life and spending his days quietly on the farm; but that time, as you know, never came. He died in 1852, and the farm was divided to the heirs his son Fletcher, and the children of his daughter Julia."