Chapter I. Early Years
OUR story begins on the banks of the almost spiritual river Rhine, at the little town of Caub, nearly opposite St. Goar with its vineyards, and about midway between Mainz and Coblentz. There, in the year of grace 1706, there was born to an army officer surnamed Kemper a son to whom he gave at baptism the name of Jacob. "Kemper" is derived from the familiar German substantive Kaempfer, thus signifying a fighter, a champion. The chief industry of Caub is the quarrying of slate. On a height behind the town rise the mouldering walls of the castle of Gutenfels, and on an island in the river stands a quaint pentagonal structure, the Pfalzgrafenstein, where until quite recently the lords of the territory exacted their feudal toll from passing vessels.
As Jacob Kemper matured in years he developed somewhat of the feudal passion for the possession of land, and this aspiration, denied satisfaction in his native country, was inflamed by glowing accounts of America, as a veritable land of promise, given by the itinerating agents of Dutch ship-owners, and also by news received from his wife's brother, who, excited by such representations, had emigrated to the new world and settled at Rhinebeck on the Hudson river. Thither accordingly, having converted all his property into coin, Kemper removed in the year 1741, accompanied by his wife--the daughter of a Reformed, or Calvinistic, minister at Mannheim. They sailed from Amsterdam to Philadelphia, on their way across New Jersey visited the settlement at New Brunswick, and remained some time with their relative at Rhinebeck.
The year following, a Lutheran pastor named Henry Melchior Muhlenberg came from Hanover to America, having accepted an appointment to minister to the members of his communion in Pennsylvania and the neighboring provinces.
After four years' residence on a farm in Dutchess county, many miles below Rhinebeck, Kemper became dissatisfied with the location and determined to remove. His heart was still set on becoming a great landed proprietor. In 1747 he revisited New Brunswick, and there bought an extensive property,--and there, two years later, his son Daniel was born. The father prospered in his new home until the outbreak of the Seven Years' War caused such disturbance of trade and accompanying monetary stringency that in 1759,--the year of the birth of his youngest daughter, Susan,--he felt constrained to move to New York; where, after peace was concluded, he prospered again.
At this time--about the year 1763--a God-fearing farmer named Dudley Chase, of the fourth generation of his family in Massachusetts, moved from that province, with his wife Alice and their seven children, into the forest primeval of Cornish, New Hampshire. Red Indians were to be met there in every direction; Mrs. Chase was the first white woman that had ever appeared in that wilderness. The log walls of the rude cabin that sheltered the growing family were raised in a single day. Seven more children were added to the household in Cornish; the youngest of them all, Philander, was born on the i4th of December, 1775.
After a course of study at King's College, New York, in which he gave evidence of mental alertness and love of learning, Daniel Kemper married, at the age of twenty-two years, and shortly after threw himself, heart and hand, into the provincial cause in the War of Independence. He held a colonel's office in the continental army, and lavished his means in the service. He was made a member of the Order of the Cincinnati immediately upon its foundation.
At the close of the war, in which he had lost a fortune, he lost his wife also, but soon provided his six young children with another mother by a second marriage. Elizabeth Marius was a woman not of any great powers of intellect, but--what was better--of keen and warm feminine sympathies and practical good sense; and she proved an excellent housekeeper at a time when her husband's affairs most needed looking after. In the practice of a stricter economy, Colonel Kemper moved with his family to a place in Dutchess county, not far from Poughkeepsie, called Pleasant Valley; and there, on Christmas Eve of the year 1789, the third child of this union and the subject of this story was born. Very soon after his birth the family returned to New York city, Colonel Kemper having received, through his old-time General and friend, President Washington, an appointment to a position in the Custom House there. Mrs. Kemper had been a member of the Dutch Reformed communion, but, at the time of their marriage, apparently, she and her husband connected themselves with the Episcopal church. Susan Kemper, the Colonel's sister, had married Dr. David Jackson, of Philadelphia; and her vivacity and cordiality of manner, and the elegant entertainments she gave during the sessions of Congress, made her a prominent figure in the social life of the young nation's capital. Through this combination of circumstances it came about that the child was baptized, by the name of David Jackson, by the assistant minister of Trinity parish, Dr. Benjamin Moore,--with whose name is associated the revival of the church in New York, sadly weakened by the departure of Loyalist families.
Jacob Kemper, the patriarch of his race in the new world, lived just long enough to be remembered by his little grandson, dying in 1794, at the age of eighty-eight years, leaving behind him the memory of a just man. Here it may be mentioned, in order to give an idea of the extraordinary longevity of the stock, that Daniel Kemper lived to the patriarchal age of ninety-eight, and three of his daughters by his first wife to the ages of ninety, ninety-six, and one hundred and two years respectively. Of his children by Elizabeth Marius, two died in infancy, David Jackson Kemper lived to be over eighty, and two others, daughters, died unmarried at advanced ages, but short of eighty years.
Although his parents earnestly desired him to study for the Congregational ministry, the young Philander Chase had no aspiration beyond the life of the woods and the farm until his matriculation at Dartmouth College, in the sixteenth year of his age. In his second year there he first came upon a copy of the Book of Common Prayer, and that, by God's grace, effected what his parents' urgency had not been able to do. So contagious was his enthusiasm that his family followed him into the Church. He was graduated in due course of time by his Alma Mater, and the following year, 1796--in which he attained his majority--was married to Mary Fay.
In May of that year, in the mother-country across the sea, George Upfold was born in the pleasant county of Surrey; the son of a yeoman farmer and his wife, both members of the Church of England. And in September of the same year, William Augustus Muhlenberg, great-grandson of the Henry Melchior above mentioned, was born in Philadelphia. Kemper and Muhlenberg! For two of the most illustrious names in her annals the Church in America is indebted to German ancestry.
There were no theological seminaries in those days, no societies to assist candidates for Holy Orders in their preparatory studies; young Chase went to read divinity with an English clergyman settled at Albany. That was about as near his home as any place where he could enjoy an equal advantage; something he had known or heard, some previous connection, would seem to have determined his selection; and anything to the westward always exerted a powerful attraction over him. He was admitted to the diaconate by Bishop Provoost, in St. Paul's Chapel, New York, in the summer of 1798, and was immediately despatched on a missionary tour in the northern and western parts of New York state by the newly organized "Committee for the Propagation of the Gospel," the missionary society of the diocese: one of the first of such organizations, if not the very first, in the American church. Chase visited some Indian settlements on his way to Utica, which he found to be a raw village, the fresh stumps of trees still obstructing its streets. He organized parishes there and at other places; the site of Syracuse was then a marsh. In 1799 he was advanced to the priesthood by the same bishop, and was put in charge of the church at Poughkeepsie, where, to supplement his slender stipend, he taught in an academy, thus beginning his educational career. Already he was looking earnestly westward, troubled in heart and conscience as he reflected upon the ignorance, infidelity and depravity of the rapidly growing settlements upon the frontier.
Meantime the little Kemper was growing up, "a pretty boy," as he was remembered by many, "with long fair ringlets," and was going to school with his sisters in New York. He was his mother's favorite, for the other boys, his brother (who afterward entered the navy) and especially his half-brother, Daniel, were turbulent and reckless spirits. There subsisted a particularly strong bond of affection between him and his eldest half-sister, Sophia. From earliest boyhood he manifested a highly susceptible temperament, especially with regard to religious impressions; herein revealing the close temperamental tie between him and his mother,--a woman of deeply devout and affectionate disposition. The whole family attended both morning and evening prayer every Sunday at St. Paul's Chapel. As the century wore to its close, his father's circumstances improved, with the country's, and the family moved into a finer, better furnished house. The dining-room in particular was furnished with expense: years after, the bishop remembered how he went as a boy with his mother to purchase andirons, mantel ornaments, and India china,--a tea set and punch bowls. Then, too, his father could satisfy his literary tastes by forming a library, in which such standard works as Johnson's Lives of the Poets, Hume's History of England, and Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire were contained. At this period, the Kem-pers spent their summers, in part, upon Long Island. An Episcopal Academy having been established at Cheshire, Connecticut, the boy Jackson was sent there in 1802, at the age of twelve, to finish his schooling.
That year, George Upfold, then six years old and their only child, was brought by his parents to America. His father, to whom by right of seniority the homestead in Surrey belonged, by some underhanded dealing of a brother was ousted, and resolved to leave England. He settled in Albany, supporting himself by teaching school, Mrs. Upfold assisting by teaching the younger pupils. She was a woman of sincere piety and charity and much strength of character. She started the first Sunday-school in that part of the country; it was of the primitive type, designed to impart the rudiments of education to the ignorant poor. So depressing to one of her ardent religious temperament was the lack of zeal in the Episcopal church, particularly in the diocese of the latitudinarian Provoost, that for a time she was on the point of connecting herself with the Methodists, and was only finally restrained from the step by their requirement that she put away her wedding ring. Her husband became a warden, and ultimately for many years senior warden, of St. Peter's Church, Albany.
In 1803 was born in New York one whose life was destined to be interwoven with Philander Chase's at its close: Henry John Whitehouse, son of James Whitehouse, of an old English family, who, like the Upfolds, had lately come to America. Mrs. Whitehouse came of a family that was socially superior to her husband's, and that had given many sons to the priesthood of the Church of England.
Soon after the Louisiana purchase, several of the newcomers in New Orleans, belonging to different evangelical denominations, combined to form a kind of union organization for public worship which they called "The Protestant Church," and agreed, as a compromise, to call an Episcopal minister. Through Dr. Benjamin Moore, then assistant bishop of New York, and a hearty friend of domestic missions, Philander Chase was invited to complete the organization. He left his charge at Poughkeepsie, accordingly, in the year 1805, and sailed from New York to New Orleans, where, after much diplomacy, he succeeded in bringing the somewhat anomalous society into accord with parochial models, under the name of Christ Church, and in securing for himself rectorial authority. The new parish placed itself under the jurisdiction of the bishop of New York, he being quite as accessible and more efficient than the nearest bishop geographically,--the moribund Madison, of Virginia. To eke out his salary, inadequate for the support of his growing family, Chase opened a school in New Orleans. The boy Kemper meantime was not happy in the academy at Cheshire, which was regarded, apparently, too much in the light of a house of correction by parents of unmanageable boys. It may be that he was somewhat fastidious, used as he was to refined, feminine environment,--but a coarse and rude element was undoubtedly in the ascendency there. On one occasion his tormentors forced him to smoke until he was sickened,--with a lifelong result: he contracted therefrom such an aversion to tobacco that he never touched it again. In after life he always believed that his mother's influence and prayers saved him from contamination at that trying time. Another result his experience had, in that he derived from it an invincible dislike of boarding schools. He was convinced that home influence was better. He wrote to his father, begging him to take him away from the school, but for a time Colonel Kemper deprecated such removal. The correspondence between father and son in the year 1804 brings out the character and disposition of the former in an interesting and attractive light; he writes to the boy of fourteen as if he were a young man, exhibiting an implicit confidence in him--which was, in truth, deserved,--and a graceful deference to his opinions and regard for his wishes. There is nothing more graceful in life than friendship between father and son. In one letter Colonel Kemper seeks to impress upon him, even thus early, and with every consideration for his inclination, the importance of reflecting upon the choice of a profession: upon that choice his future success and happiness will depend; therefore he must take his time about it. He prays God to direct his son's mind in the matter. In July, he writes of his horror (deepened by his piety and his Federal principles) at the murder of Alexander Hamilton. In the ensuing autumn, he consented to Jackson's return home. As one more year of preparation was necessary before the lad could enter college, he was placed under the instruction of one of the finest classical scholars and most successful teachers in the country,--the Rev. Dr. Edmund Barry, an Irishman, and a graduate of Trinity College, Dublin. Among his new schoolmates were Benjamin Onderdonk and William Wyatt, the latter being his deskmate, and ever after a faithful friend. In the fall of the year 1805, at the close of his sixteenth year, he entered Columbia College, then under the presidency of Bishop Moore, one of its early graduates. Onderdonk and Wyatt accompanied him thither, and among other classmates he made friends with J. W. Francis and Murray Hoffman.
We now approach the tragedy in his family. His half-brother before mentioned, Daniel Kemper, Jr., was a restless, adventurous spirit, who had never acquired any fixed principles of religion or morals, owing to his having instinctively adopted, as a youth, the doctrines of French infidelity, widely disseminated in this country by Thomas Jefferson, now at the head of the government. Colonel Kemper had been at great expense in starting his wayward son in life,--and now the young man, infatuated with the projects of the Venezuelan agitator, Francisco Miranda, for crushing the power of Spain in the new world, abandoned every advantage and sacrificed brilliant prospects and opportunities, to go on a mad filibustering expedition in the Caribbean Sea. Obscurely connected with Miranda's designs were the fantastic schemes of Aaron Burr for detaching from the American Union the western states and territories, which were to be united with the revolted Spanish colonies in a Napoleonic empire that was to stretch to the western ocean and the tropic of Capricorn.
With an attention undistracted by such visions, Jackson Kemper was pursuing his studies at Columbia. Living at home, he enjoyed his college course and the friendships made there. He found that for him winter was the best season for study. He went once, for the only time in his life, to the theatre, and was disappointed; the play was "Hamlet," and it was not up to his expectations. In the school at Cheshire he had acted in some play, taking the part, it is said, of "Isabella,"--presumably the Spanish Queen; it is not likely that it was the heroine of "Measure for Measure." This visit to the theatre, and the temperament revealed in a record of a walk he took with a college mate along the Long Island shore, remind one that it was the day of discovery of natural and poetic beauty in America, when the charm and grandeur of Trenton and Niagara Falls and the White Mountains were being made known,--heralding the rise of schools of landscape art, both gardening and painting, and poetry; that it was the day of Irving and Paulding, of Joseph Dennie and Brockden Brown,--the almost forgotten fathers of American literature. The passage referred to exhibits the spirit in which Bryant's poetry originated. The comrades strolled by farms and orchards to the Narrows, and thence along "the sandy shore, which was scattered profusely with old shells, until the Ocean itself limited our sight. Such a view!--the boundless Ocean before us, a rich country on each side, and the Sun urging toward the West yet shining with full splendor, raised in my mind such ideas and thrilled my soul with such delight as I had but seldom felt before, and made us determine when Summer returned often to take a pedestrian journey. Before we returned home we had walked twenty miles, and felt no fatigue."
The fervor of this description renders it hard to understand--but the fact is that Kemper experienced great difficulty in English composition. He was not often as inspired by his subject. He applied himself pretty closely to his studies, and at the end of his Sophomore year, in the summer of 1807, was what we would call "run down." In fact, he seemed so delicate that his parents apprehended some deep-seated disorder, some weakness of the lungs, and accordingly gladly encouraged his plan of a vacation outing in New Jersey and Pennsylvania. His father keenly regretted that his diminished resources would not enable him to provide for a more extended tour. At the outset, the youth visited, with interest, the college at Princeton. At Trenton he greatly admired the bridge ("the handsomest I have ever seen") over the Delaware river. Philadelphia pleased him much; he stayed with his relatives, the Jacksons; and after a course of sight-seeing decided that, home associations excepted, he liked the city better than New York. From a point beyond Philadelphia, he wrote his father, in the middle of September, that his vacation was more than half over; that he wanted to do some reading before returning to college; that he strongly desired to complete his college course, but not if his father were anyway unable to afford it. (Colonel Kemper was becoming deeply involved, financially, through heavy endorsements for his son Daniel; Jackson had seen his mother weep, with apprehension of ruin, at having to sign papers for him.) His father responded affectionately: he is as desirous as his son that he should return to college--"but alas! my situation is precarious. Your mama and myself have daily anxiously reflected." They are fearful lest renewal of study should cause a relapse of his regained health. He knows enough Latin for the law: would it not be well to contemplate entrance into a lawyer's office? The writer would "by no means enforce this measure, but only recommend it to your consideration." If his heart is still set upon re-entering college, "a kind Providence may enable me to bear the expense, and I will do so with the greatest pleasure." In his reply, the youth appealed to his father's own experience: he had left college without taking his degree, and ever after regretted it. He also appealed to the judgment of a kinsman, a lawyer, who earnestly advised him to finish his course; and concluded by dutifully leaving the matter for his father to decide,--and the indulgent father decided upon college.
His property was well-nigh gone, consumed by his sadly abused and ruinous devotion to his eldest son. That indulgence which was justified in Jackson's case, by his consistent conduct and career, was hopelessly misdirected in the case of the unworthy Daniel, now hastening to his disgraceful end. The expedition that he had joined was a ludicrous and lamentable failure, and he was captured and put to death. This tragical consummation took place in the year 1808. Colonel Kemper was completely crushed by it; his fortune gone for the second time, the son in whose promise and welfare he was so wrapped up having come to a violent end, and he himself verging upon sixty years,--for years thereafter he was utterly depressed both in spirits and finances. And yet his affliction cannot be said to have shortened his days, seeing that he lived on for nearly forty years. He was able to retain his pleasant home, in a pleasant neighborhood. Jackson took the reduction of his allowance and the loss of his patrimony very philosophically: "it is not fortune that I covet," he wrote, "but the being freed from real property and complicated misfortunes." The one indelible impression that would seem to have been left upon his mind by his brother's fate was a conviction of the unwisdom of political scheming. He conceived a rooted aversion to all such manceuvering, and carried his scruples touching a strict demarcation between Church and State to such a point that he even abstained from voting.
The unfortunate Miranda perished in a Spanish prison; but the movement that he had initiated progressed rapidly until in a few years her continental dependencies in both Americas were torn from the crown of Spain.
The subject of our story was always known at home and among his friends by the name of "Jackson" simply, though up to the date of his correspondence with his father just noted he had usually signed his full name. At that time, in consequence, presumably, of something that was said or that happened during his visit to his Uncle Jackson, he quietly and finally dropped his baptismal name, "David."
All of his best friends had long divined his fitness for the sacred ministry. The sweetness and evenness of his temper, the harmony of his talents, his unsullied purity of character and motive, and the unbroken course, from boyhood, of his Christian nurture, had already set him apart, in their estimation. But he, though for some time he had been yet more deeply interested than they in the prospect, with characteristic tenderness of conscience, hesitated. He shrank from the responsibility of a decision; he would leave it to divine direction; he must not presume, not having had an evident call of the Holy Spirit. (He was always instinctively reticent upon the subject of his religious impressions and experience.) Meantime, while yet in college, he joined a class that had been formed by Dr. John Henry Hobart, the active and influential assistant minister of Trinity Church, and that met weekly for theological study, under the direction of a clerical instructor.
In the month of August, 1809, he was graduated, as the valedictorian of his class, at Columbia College. He then entered upon a year of theological training, reading the standard English commentators, divines, and homilists, under the supervision of Bishop Moore and Dr. Hobart. These studies were broken only by occasional excursions into the country and visits to relatives, and by correspondence, in which he delighted and indulged himself with youthful fervor, in spite of the time and cost involved.
His friend Wyatt was ordered deacon at the autumnal ember season of 1810, and went immediately to work on Long Island, much to Kemper's envy. His scruples were now quieted, and he was impatient for ordination, but had to wait yet a few months until he should attain his majority,--the canonical age. In December he was fully prepared, and his ordination had been provided for,--when, to his sorrow and suspense, his bishop was stricken with paralysis. Unwilling to undergo an indefinite postponement, he applied to the ecclesiastical authority of the diocese for recommendation to the Presiding Bishop; and on the 11th of March, the second Sunday in Lent, in the year 1811, he was ordained to the diaconate by Bishop William White, in St. Peter's Church, Philadelphia.