Portsmouth Asylum
Thomas R. Hazard Bio From Jonny Cake Papers

  Introduction and biographical sketch of Thomas R. (Shepherd Tom) Hazard from his "The Jonny Cake Papers" by his grandnephew Roland G. Hazard, From the Reprinted Edition of 1915

Thomas Robinson Hazard, of the seventh generation of Hazards in Rhode Island, Shepherd Tom for short, was born on the 3rd of January, 1797, in the house of his grandfather, "College Tom," standing then on the east slope of Tower Hill in Narragansett. The site can still be traced, but hardly one stone of the foundation remains upon another. He died in New York, March 26, 1886.

During his long life of more than eighty-nine years, he was a prolific writer, and yet literature was not his profession. He was by choice a shepherd, not only of sheep, but a shepherd of men. Of a generous, sympathetic nature, he was quick to espouse the cause of the weak and downtrodden. He truly loved his neighbor as himself, and misfortune was ever the key to his heart. Thoroughly democratic in every fibre, he only required to be convinced of the justice of a cause to become its vigorous supporter. For the weak and defenseless he would go to any length. He was often called Quixotic, and he was doubtless somewhat hasty at times; especially is this true of his more youthful jousts.

In his riper manhood, his attention was called to the conditions of the insane poor, and in a report upon that subject made to the legislature in 1851, he forcibly depicted the desperate case of the poor in the State of Rhode Island. He supplemented by personal visits a searching series of questions addressed to all the keepers of the poor in the state, and described what he saw in vivid terms. The considerable sensation aroused resulted in a movement to improve the condition of the poor throughout the state, wherever found. upon this report depends much of the serious consideration which his fellow citizens have always accorded to the memory of Shepherd Tom.

Descended from "a self-willed race of independent thinkers," he was himself a type specimen of the Snip Breed.

Mr. Hazard made a deep impression on most people who met him, and he was my favorite among my granduncles. In person he favored the men of his race. Six feet in his stocking feet, heavily built, but not portly, he moved quietly, as is the wont of very strong men. While not handsome, he was distinguished-looking, with thick, close, curly, nut-brown hair of a silky fineness. Blue eyes, which pity softened and the recital of the wrongs of others made steely hard, were set deep under overhanging brows. As a man of eighty, he wore a beard, much grizzled, and I remember well his chuckling laugh, constrained, almost throttled, it seemed, by a set of false teeth which he feared to lose by too hearty abandon. Yet it was a laugh full of real humor, and I have often seen him forced to pause in the middle of an amusing situation , shaking with laughter and speechless, so keen was his enjoyment of the picture conjured up by a memory as vivid as it was accurate. His hands, though large and bony, were full of character, and his dry palm and fingers hat that silky texture usually found only in the very young and the old. One could easily imagine such hands tenderly caring for the stray lambs of his flock.

His manner of speech was somewhat blurred; it was not always easy to understand him, but no doubt this was more noticeable as an old man, on account of the loose set of teeth already mentioned. A story occurs to me, however, which shows that Thomas, as well as his brothers, Isaac and Roland, had a fashion of rapid, indistinct speech. A stranger, noticing the three tall, fine-looking young men, absorbed in debating a business matter asked, "What language are they talking?"

He was remarkably self-controlled, except in argument, when I used to fear that personal violence might result. But under personal affliction, and I have often seen him so, he was not only wonderfully brave, but had a forced cheerfulness of manner, most pathetic to see, for no one could doubt a heart so tender must be bleeding. Thus, as an old man, hale and hearty, he stands for the chivalrous, for the clean mind, the pure heart, prompt to denounce evil, ready to acclaim the good, fonder, however, of denunciation.

It seems hardly in character that one who could do such serious work as that for the poor and insane should also maintain in New York a Stanhope gig, a two-wheeled affair, for his personal use when visiting that city. He was wont to stop at Bunker's Hotel, then a fashionable resort in Rector Street, and his occasional visits are remembered by a few as those of a bright and active-minded man. His voyage to England and the continental countries, about 1831, was seldom spoken of by himself, although Americans who crossed the ocean in the ships of that day were few in number, and showed some enterprise.

He was a master hand at controversy, as is attested by a long list of pamphlets issued by him in self-defense or to attack others. His most famous case excited intense feeling in the state, and led to impeachment proceedings against a Chief Justice. He was always a champion of those whom he considered in need of his assistance.

He was bred in the strictest school of the Quakers' doctrine, and himself used the plain language so long as he lived. And yet he quotes three articles of faith taught "in nearly every well-ordered family in Narragansett" when he was a child: First, that ye love one another and your neighbor as yourselves. Second, that ye hate the Puritans of Massachusetts with a perfect hatred. Third, that ye hold the Presbyterians of Connecticut in like contempt. His early schooling was supplemented by three years (August, 1808-October 16, 1811) at Westtown school near Philadelphia, then as now under Quaker control.

There has recently come into my hands a little chapbook which doubtless played its part in my Uncle Tom's early education. The book is full of maxims of the sort which he practiced all his life. His standards were high; and he was scrupulously truthful in all important matters. One of the maxims in this chapbook reads: "There are lying looks as well as lying words, and even a lying silence." This gem condensed from "Mrs. Opie on Lying," would have appealed to him strongly.

At fifteen he left school and returned to Narragansett, where he soon became deeply interested in sheep. By strenuous efforts he managed to bring a part of his flock through the heavy snows of the severe winters, but there is no hint in his memoirs that he ever led the piping shepherd's life of indolence. In fact, there was not a lazy bone in him. He seems to have been full of vigor, energetic beyond the ordinary.

In one of Shepherd Tom's pamphlets, entitled "Cruelty to Dumb Animals," written in 1875, he blames himself with characteristic frankness, "being engaged in an arduous branch of business, and possessed of a strong constitution, as well as an ardent energetic and hasty temperament myself, I was too apt to disregard the physical weaknesses and inability of others, whether man or beast."

Not long after his return to his father's house, he began to assist in the primitive manufacturing of that early day. The woolen mills at Peace Dale had been at work for ten years when our Thomas Hazard left his schooling, and the part he was given was to ride forth to leave rolls of carded wool with spinners who spun on hand wheels in their own houses. At the same time he took the yarn spun since his last visit, carrying it upon his pommel, to be woven in the mill. In this way he came to know the whole countryside, as well as all the people in it; his minute knowledge of tradition and of the affairs of his neighbors shows clearly in his later literary years.

In 1821 he bought ten acres of land in Rocky Brook from Abigail Rodman, widow of Robert Rodman, and, in the same year, he also bought of Freeman P. Watson the right to erect a dam and flow another ten acres. That same year he build the dam and the wooden mill to house one set of woolen machinery. In 1822 he bought from his father, Rowland Hazard, seventy acres adjoining his previous purchase from Abigail Rodman. At the end of seventeen years he was able to retire from business, and did so.

Of the one absorbing romance in his life, his courtship and marriage of the famous beauty, Frances Minturn, in 1838; of his business successes, through which he gained a modest competence at an early age (43); of his settlement at the beautiful Vaucluse near Newport; of his life there, and death of his adored wife and five beautiful daughters, who followed each other in swift succession, slight record remains.

With his marriage began his career of public service. These sixteen years of married life must have been his happiest years. As the children grew up at Vaucluse, it was the usual thing for Shepherd Tom to drive in to Meeting on First Days, whither his handsome span of buckskin horses used to convey the delightful daughters. Afterwards girl friends would be taken back to Vaucluse for the night, a treat fondly remembered by some still living.

The death of Shepherd Tom's wife was the pivotal event in his life. It was a blow so cruel and crushing, and it fell upon a nature so gentle and loving, that for years it changed his whole outlook. His mental vision became suddenly astigmatic.

Personally, I saw much of my uncle's grief, for I attended the last rites of at least three of my cousins, and helped to lay them in the family burial ground on the farm at Vaucluse, after the old Rhode Island custom. There was a grim pathos about these occasions which impressed me mightily. Uncle Thomas would often chide those who were in open grief, if he noticed red eyes or swollen, by saying something of that happy state to which death had called his child, and urging us to be more cheerful. So he sought to hide his own grief. So clear was his belief in the future life that it is quite possible he really felt fewer pangs than the ordinary selfish nature, which grieves for the loss of those who minister to us. His was surely an unselfish soul.

So strong was his dread of cant, that he never, so far as I can remember, had any clergy in attendance, but chose rather to have a prayer put up by one of his own blood. Neither did he ever permit a paid undertaker to be in charge.

He turned to Spiritualism for comfort when his wife died, and records his devotion to that cult, saying that he "has no higher ambition than that his name should be handed down to the coming generations" as a worker in the cause of Spiritualism.

To this sore and wounded soul came the plundering host of so-called "Spirit mediums," whose liberal patron he became. His advocacy of this cult was thoroughly sincere, as one would expect. Whatever he did, he did with all his might. His writings enumerate the names of all the well-known and many obscure mediums of his time. He quarreled on the subject with George William Curtis. He believed in Henry Slade and his magic slate writing, Mrs. Cushman, one Gordan, Charles H. Foster, Mrs. Seaver, Mrs. Mary Andrews of Moravia, - but why record the names long since forgotten? He honored them all as honest men and women. He could not think them other than himself. Once, while vexed at my persistent doubt, he handed me one-half of a stage moustache, such as actors often use, saying he had it from the spirit of an Indian who "materialized" for him at a recent "séance." He had told this Indian spirit that he never had seen him wear a moustache before; on which the brazen impersonator had pulled off this half and handed it to him , saying "There's a nut for you to crack." Even this did not shake his faith a particle.

Mr. Hazard was proud of his ancestry, and became a genealogist of sorts, printing a "Genealogy of the Family of Hazard or Hassard" in connection with his delightful "Recollections of Olden Times," published at Newport in 1879. Genealogies of the Robinson and Sweet families also appeared in this collection.

It is noteworthy that the quaint reminiscences recorded in the "Jonny-Cake Papers" hark back to the early days in Narragansett. Hardly any mention is made of the school at Westtown, Pennsylvania, where he was given all the schooling he ever had. His brief, but strenuous, business life gave him personal acquaintance with the group of worthies on Little Rest Hill.

A series of papers afterward collected under the title "A Constitutional Manual; Negro Slavery and the Constitution," published two years after his wife's death (1856), takes as model Washington's Farewell Address. It is an impassioned plea for the preservation of the Union, and clearly points out in prophetic vein the inevitable evils of the Reconstruction period. He undertakes to set out "an authentic narrative of outrages, wrongs, and cruelties equally numerous and atrocious as those detailed in 'Uncle Tom's Cabin' out of the abuses occurring within the last thirty years in the asylums and poorhouses in Rhode Island alone." Throughout this pamphlet runs a strong religious tone, but Jesuits and their ways are fiercely denounced. In his later writings denunciation takes full possession, and supplants religion in his mind; in fact it became a religion, negative yet positive.

The "Providence Journal" in 1878 said of him that he had rendered four distinguished services. First, his labors in behalf of the poor and insane. Second, his successful campaign against capital punishment. Third, his earnest advocacy and munificent support of African Colonization. Fourth, his originating the movement in this country to relieve the Irish famine, concluding, "No one who knows him doubts the earnestness of his convictions, or the purity of his personal character, and he carries his years as lightly as a man of fifty."

As Shepherd Tom lay a dying, he said, "I fear I'm better, and am sorry, for I'm eager to begin the new life."

So much may be said, yet there remains much more which must be left unsaid. Upon the back of the portrait of himself given me at the time of writing the "Jonny-Cake Papers," he wrote in his clear, rugged hand "To my dear Cousin," A Shakespearean use of the term, still common among Friends.

As such I delight to think of him, and I expect to meet him on that further shore. If he chides me gently for this writing, as is not unlikely, I shall tell him that I have tried to do a filial duty. As he himself never shrank from duty, he will forgive tis faulty sketch, and I trust his kinsfolk will be equally kind.

It is not unlikely that Shepherd Tom would be not only surprised but perhaps a little chagrined to think that the republication of his "Jonny-Cake Papers" has furnished the moving cause for this brief note upon his life and writings, for it is distinctly remembered that he regarded them as a mere amusement.

The origin of these papers is just what it appears to be from the quotation taken from the Providence Journal at the head of the "first baking." The Journal's challenge, evidently issued in friendly spirit, happened to fall under his eye at the psychological moment.

The first paper was so favorably commented upon, and so many of his friends urged him to finish what he had begun, that he was easily led on through the whole series, which appeared at somewhat irregular intervals through a period of about two years. The whimsical style adopted naturally led along a path whose branches are legion. To some this is undoubtedly rather an annoyance than otherwise, but the general favor with which the papers were received made him one of the popular authors of the moment.

The original form in which these papers were reprinted was in two pamphlets, twelve "bakings" in the first, and fourteen with a supplement in the second. There were two editions in this early reprint, both published by the indefatigable Sidney S. Rider of Providence. Both have been out of print for many years.

In arranging the present republication, the supplement is placed first as an introduction to the main body of the book. Dealing as it does with the Narragansett schools, it seems to deserve to lead. Moreover, it is one of the most admired specimens of Shepherd Tom's discursive style.

Special thanks are due to Mrs. Hiram F. Hunt for the loan of the portrait of the Witch, Sylvia Tory, by Mrs. Samuel Rodman of Rocky Brook, from which the drawing was made.

To Thomas G. Hazard, Jr., also, thanks are rendered, as without his special knowledge and careful work the map presented with this edition could not have been drawn. Acknowledgments are due to Mr. Dexter W. Hoxie, who has read the proofs with the greatest care and intelligence, and to Miss Edith Carpenter, to whom the completeness of the Index is largely due.

ROWLAND GIBSON HAZARD
Of the Ninth Generation in Peace Dale


Thanks to: Rich Tucker RMC(SS)ret. of Salty's Stamps.

 

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