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was being well-born. His mother was a woman of great worth, of a highly intellectual and religious character. His father, a man of talent and education, left his native town of Boston, when about twenty years old, to take charge of the public writing-school in Charlestown, at the invitation of the inhabitants of that place; sustained his charge “with the highest reputation," * till the battle of Lexington alarmed him for the safety of his family; then repaired to Chockset, the west precinct of Lancaster, since called Sterling, where he became captain and paymaster in a regiment raised for the service of the country; and there dying, October 30, 1778, at the early age of thirty-four years and three months, was buried with military and religious honors, leaving behind him the memory of a just, kind, and good man. Of these parents Thaddeus was the first-born child. His constitution was delicate, and his health exceedingly precarious in infancy and early childhood; so that great fears were entertained for his life. And this is all that we hear about him till the first great trouble that crossed his young life, - one that convulsed the whole country, and shook the shores of Old England and the European continent. Just before the battle of Bunker Hill, when he was not quite seven years old, his father and mother were driven by their apprehensions from the home-spot that was so soon to be a scene of blood and fire, and took their departure, without any distinct purpose or thought whither or how they should be led. It was a hasty flight. “With a few necessary
66 articles of clothing, such as they could easily carry, they set out, - Thaddeus with his twin-sisters next in age to himself, the father and mother each carrying a child in the arms, an aged grandmother being also with them. On arriving at Lexington, they spent a night at Munroe's tavern, kept by a widow woman to whom they were distantly related. While they were there, an empty wagon was about leaving the public house; and in this they bespoke a passage, to go wherever the owner was bound. It took them to Chockset, a part of Sterling.” He soon went back to his forsaken dwelling for the sake of bring
* Joshua Henshaw, in the Independent Chronicle, Nov. 19, 1778.
ing away a few articles of value which had been left behind. He was but just in season, for now came the great fight. By the burning of Charlestown and the scattering of its inhabitants, he lost not only his school, but a new and commodious house, which he had built and furnished with the savings of eleven years. His father-inlaw, Mr. Mason, lost a large and elegant mansion, together with a great deal of valuable property, by the same conflagration. Thus he was suddenly reduced from a state of competence to poverty. He obtained temporary employment as a teacher in some of the country towns; but the unsettled state of public affairs rendered this uncertain and unprofitable; and he was at length induced to join the army, as has been said. But he was soon swept off by a violent fever, while on a visit to his family, which he was compelled to leave in most trying and indigent circumstances. After his father's death, “ Thaddeus went to live with
, Mr. Houghton, a farmer. He afterwards went to Deacon Kilbourne's at Westminster, where he became acquainted with Rev. Asaph Rice. His next remove was to Mr. Kendall's at Templeton, where he experienced the kind offices of Rev. Ebenezer Sparhawk. In the latter part of 1779 he returned to Chockset, and was soon introduced into the family of Dr. Ebenezer Morse of Boylston, who had been obliged to leave the ministry on suspicion of Toryism, and was supporting his family by the practice of medicine and the fitting of boys for college. This good man took the unprotected orphan into his study, and prepared him for college at the same time with his own son. While here, young Harris did something towards his own support by stripping ash or walnut clefts for the manufacture of brooms; and by making axe-handles, whip-lashes, button-moulds, and cat-gut for bass-viols and violins. At length he procured wild honey, with the profits of which he clothed himself for college.” In July, 1782, he went to visit his mother, who, after suffering much distress from grief and poverty in her widowed state, had entered into a second marriage somewhat more than two years before, with Mr. Samuel Wait of Malden, who opened for
her and her children a comfortable home.* He informed her of what had taken place ; , and that he had completed his preparatory studies under the charge of Dr. Morse, who advised him to present himself for admission into Harvard College, trusting to the beneficiary provisions there made for needy students. This plan, however, did not meet with her approbation. She opposed strongly such aspiring views, and persuaded him to become an apprentice to the trade of saddle-tree making. This project was broken off by a fortunate misfortune.
He injured one of his wrists in performing some piece of labor, and was thus obliged to give up the place that had been provided for him. He now went to write in his grandfather Mason's office, being always remarkably expert with his pen; and his thought was to become a merchant. In order to obtain means for engaging in this pursuit, he agreed with his grandfather to defray the cost of his board by writing, and repaired to the school in Cambridge kept by Mr. Kendall. This gentleman, afterwards Dr. Kendall of Weston, finding the youth an apt scholar, earnestly recommended a collegiate education for him. So warm an interest did he take in this, that he induced Rev. Drs. Stillman and Thacher of Boston to issue subscription-papers on behalf of the young man, which procured for him funds to meet his college expenses. He was admitted to that institution in July, 1783. Such favor did he find, through the docility of his manner and his evident literary tastes and ambition, that in the outset of his Freshman year he was invited to live, free of all charge, in the family of Professor Williams, whose son was his classmate. During the two following years, a waitership in the Commons Hall entitled him to free board. . He was thus taken care for as to what he should eat. But how he should be clothed was another matter. In the month of March, 1786, while he was in the Junior
* This exemplary woman died, February 2, 1801, a little more than sixty-two years old. Her son, in an appendix to a sermon on her death, says of her : “ To have consecrated her heart to God, to have formed her religious principles, and commenced her pious habits so seasonably,”: so early as her fifteenth year, was a source of pure and increasing satisfaction to her through life, of support and comfort in the various trials and afflictions with which her faith and patience were exercised, and of hope and triumph in her death."
year, his mother came to his room to ascertain the state of his wardrobe. She found it scanty and poor enough; indeed, so very destitute, that she proposed to him to take up immediately whatever money was due to him from his grandfather for his services as scribe, and invest it in proper articles of dress. Arrangements were made accordingly. He was to apply for his earnings, meet his mother on a certain day at Charlestown, and go with her to Boston, where she would help him lay out his money to the best advantage. But as an evil angel would have it, or rather an improvident spirit of his own, he neglected to call for his little fund till the morning of the very day that had been appointed for the expedition. He was too late. The good old man had left Cambridge, and was nowhere to be found. In vain did he try to borrow what he needed. Every help for the exigency was as far off as his grandfather. With an anxious and bitter heart he set out on a weary trudge and a bootless errand, to a conference that he was ashamed to meet. If we may take his own word for it, he gave way to many moody and not very religious reflections on his hard lot. As he pursued his disconsolate way he whittled for himself a walkingstick, after the New England - manner, and indulged in complaining thoughts of the Divine Providence, after the usual manner of man's peevish spirit. His personal troubles, however, were not allowed to make him insensible to those of others; and his needy circumstances, pinched as they were, were yet made to contribute something to the necessity that was greater than his own. He gave the few coppers that he had about him to a poor crippled soldier, who solicited his charity by the road-side, and who appeared to be faint and famishing. As he was crossing Charlestown Neck, where it had been raked but a few years before by the British shot, and while he was thinking less about that than about the battle that was going on in his own mind, he perceived that something had fastened itself to the end of his stick, and with all his brandishing he could not shake it off. On examining it, he found that it was a metallic substance, of what kind he knew not. Without giving much heed to it, and supposing that it might be some outcast bawble from a negro hut that stood near by, he dropped it into his pocket, where there was nothing that it could disgrace by its company. As he was leaning over the side of the ferry-boat, which had at that period to perform the office of a bridge, the new tenant of his pocket hurt his side. He took it out to be rid of it, and discovered that the friction it had undergone had given it quite a bright look. This encouraged him, on his arrival in Boston, to carry it to a jeweller's shop. The goldsmith, on cutting it open, pronounced it to be of pure gold, and pointed out to him a motto graven upon it, “ God speed thee, friend." He then offered him two dollars as the value of the ring. This affected the young man to tears. He felt as if Providence was thus rebuking him for his despondency and complaint, and was providing for him in spite of his rebellious dispositions. The goldsmith, in return, struck with the sensibility that he saw displayed, added another dollar to the sum. Harris now hastened to find his mother, who it seems had failed to keep her appointment with him, to communicate to her the unexpected good fortune, and more than mere fortune, that had befallen him. She went at once with him to the shop, that she might see the curious little treasure with her own eyes ; and the tears sprang into them as she saw and read. The goldsmith's sympathies were again awakened, and he doubled the amount of what he had already given. Six dollars may seem to be a stinted allowance for the refitting of a young student's stock of apparel. But it was amply sufficient” for the present necessity.
This simple occurrence produced a very deep and permanent impression on his mind. On the 3d of the following month of May he became a communicant member of the church in Cambridge, then under the pastoral care of Rev. Timothy Hilliard, who preached a special sermon on the occasion, from Psalm cxix. 9: “Wherewithal shall a young man cleanse his way? By taking heed thereto according to thy word.”
He was graduated at Harvard College in July, 1787, at the age of nineteen. In the class of that year were President John Quincy Adams, Judge Putnam, Judge Cranch, Hon. James Lloyd, and other gentlemen, among whom he