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OF all the romantic narratives which enliven the pages of early colonial history, none appeals more directly to the interest and imagination of the lover of what is picturesque than the story of Agnes Surriage, the Maid of Marblehead. The tale is so improbable, according to every-day standards, so in form with the truest sentiment, and so calculated to satisfy every exaction of literary art, that even the most credulous might be forgiven for ascribing it to the fancy of the romancer rather than to the research of the historian.
Yet when one remembers that the scene of the first act of Agnes Surriage's life drama is laid in quaint old Marblehead, the tale itself instantly gains in credibility. For nothing would be too romantic to fit Marblehead. This town is fantastic in the extreme, builded, to quote Miss Alice Brown, who has written delightfully of Agnes and her life, "as if by a generation of autocratic landowners, each with a wilful bee in his bonnet."1 For Marblehead is no misnomer, and the early settlers had to plant their houses and make their streets as best they could. A s a matter of. stern fact, every house in Marblehead had to be like the wise man's in the Bible: "built upon a rock." The dwellings themselves were founded upon. solid ledges, while the principal streets followed the natural valleys between. The smaller dividing paths led each and every one of them to the impressive old Town House, and to that other comfortable centre of social interests, the Fountain Inn, with its near-by pump. This pump, by the bye, has a very real connection with the story of Agnes Surriage, for it was here, according to one legend, that Charles Henry Frankland first saw the maid who is the heroine of our story.
The gallant Sir Harry was at this time (1742) collector of the port of Boston, a place to which he had been appointed shortly before, by virtue of his family's great influence at the court of George the Second. No more distinguished house than that of Frankland was indeed to be found in all England at this time. A lineal descendant of Oliver Cromwell, our hero was born in Bengal, May 10, 1716, during his father's residence abroad as governor of the East India Company's factory. The personal attractiveness of Frankland's whole family was marked. It is even said that a lady of this house was sought in marriage by Charles the Second, in spite of the fact that a Capulet-Montague feud must ever have existed between the line of Cromwell and that of Charles Stuart.
Young Harry, too, was clever as well as handsome. The eldest of his father's seven sons, he was educated as befitted the heir to the title and to the family estate at Thirkleby and Mattersea. He knew the French and Latin languages well, and, what is more to the point, used his mother tongue with grace and elegance. Botany and landscape-gardening were his chief amusements, while with the great literature of the day he was as familiar as with the great men who made it.
As early as 1738, when he was twenty-two, he had come into possession of an ample fortune, but when opportunity offered to go to America with Shirley, his friend, he accepted the opening with avidity. Both young men, therefore, entered the same year (1741) on their offices, the one as Collector of the Port, and the other as Governor of the Colony. And both represented socially the highest rank of that day in America.
"A baronet," says Reverend Elias Nason, from whose admirable picture of Boston in Frankland's time all writers must draw for reliable data concerning our hero, "a baronet was then approached with greatest deference; a coach and four, with an armorial bearing and liveried servants, was a munition against indignity; --in those dignitaries who, in brocade vest, gold lace coat, broad ruffled sleeves, and smallclothes, who, with three-cornered hat and powdered wig, side-arms and silver shoe buckles, promenaded Queen Street and the Mall, spread themselves through the King's Chapel, or discussed the measures of the Pelhams, Walpole, and Pitt at the Rose and Crown, as much of aristocratic pride; as much of courtly consequence displayed itself as in the frequenters of Hyde Park or Regent Street."
This, then, was the manner of man who, to transact some business connected with Marblehead's picturesque Fort Sewall, then just a-building, came riding down to the rock-bound coast on the day our story opens, and lost his heart at the Fountain Inn, where he had paused for a long draught of cooling ale.
For lo! scrubbing the tavern floor there knelt before him a beautiful child-girl of sixteen, with black curling hair, dark eyes, and a voice which proved to be of bird-like sweetness when the maiden, glancing up, gave her good-day to the gallant's greeting. The girl's feet were bare, and this so moved Frankland's compassion that he gently gave her a piece of gold with which to buy shoes and stockings, and rode thoughtfully away to conduct his business at the fort.
Yet he did not forget that charming child just budding into winsome womanhood whom he had seen performing with patience and grace the duties that fell to her lot as the poor daughter of some honest, hard-working fisherfolk of the town. When he happened again to be in Marblehead on business, he. inquired at once for her, and then, seeing her feet still without shoes and stockings, asked a bit teasingly what she had done with the money he gave her. Quite frankly she replied, blushing the while, that the shoes and stockings were bought, but that she kept them to wear to meeting. Soon after this the young collector went to search out Agnes's parents, Edward and Mary Surriage, from whom he succeeded in obtaining permission to remove their daughter to Boston to be educated as his ward.
When one reads in the old records the entries for Frankland's salary, and finds that they mount up to not more than £100 sterling a year, one wonders that the young nobleman should have been so ready to take upon himself the expenses of a girl's elegant education. But it must be remembered that the gallant Harry had money in his own right, besides many perquisites of office, which made his income a really splendid one. Certainly he spared no expense upon his ward. She was taught reading, writing, grammar, music, and embroidery by the best tutors the town could provide, and she grew, daily, we are told, in beauty and maidenly charm.
Yet in acquiring these gifts and graces she did not lose her childish sweetness and simplicity, nor the pious counsel of her mother, and the careful care of her Marblehead pastor. Thus several years passed by, years in which Agnes often visited with her gentle guardian the residence in Roxbury of Governor Shirley and his gifted wife, as well as the stately Royall place out on the Medford road.
The reader who is familiar with Mr. Bynner's story of Agnes Surriage will recall how delightfully Mrs. Shirley, the wife of the governor, is introduced into his romance, and will recollect with pleasure his description of Agnes's ride to Roxbury in the collector's coach. This old mansion is now called the Governor Eustis House, and there are those still living who remember when Madam Eustis lived there. This grand dame wore a majestic turban, and the tradition still lingers of madame's pet toad, decked on gala days with a blue ribbon. Now the old house is sadly dilapidated; it is shorn of its piazzas, the sign "To Let" hangs often in the windows, and the cupola is adorned with well-filled clothes-lines. Partitions have cut the house into tenements; one runs through the hall, but the grand old staircase and the smaller one are still there, and the marble floor, too, lends dignity to the back hall. A few of the carved balusters are missing, carried away by relic hunters. In this house, which was the residence of Governors Shirley and Eustis, Washington, Hamilton, Burr, Franklin, and other notables were entertained. The old place is now entirely surrounded by modern dwelling-houses, and the pilgrim who searches for it must leave the Mount Pleasant electric car at Shirley Street.
Yet, though Agnes as a maid was received by the most aristocratic people of Boston, the ladies of the leading families refused to countenance her when she became a fine young woman whom Sir Harry Frankland loved but cared not to marry. That her protector had not meant at first to wrong the girl he had befriended seems fairly certain, but many circumstances, such as the death of Agnes's father and Frankland's own sudden elevation to the baronetcy, may be held to have conspired to force them into the situation for which Agnes was to pay by many a day of tears and Sir Harry by many a night of bitter self-reproach.
For Frankland was far from being a libertine. And that he sincerely loved the beautiful maid of Marblehead is certain. He has come down to us as one of the most knightly men of his time, a gentleman and a scholar, who was also a sincere follower of the Church of England and its teachings. Both in manner and person he is said to have greatly resembled the Earl of Chesterfield, and his diary as well as his portrait show him to have been at once sensitive and virile; quite the man, indeed, very effectually to fascinate the low-born beauty he had taught to love him.
The indignation of the ladies in town toward Frankland and his ward made the baronet prefer at this stage of the story rural Hopkinton to censorious Boston. Reverend Roger Price, known to us as rector of King's Chapel, had already land and a mission church in this village, and so, when Boston frowned too pointedly, Frankland purchased four hundred odd acres of him, and there built, in 1751, a commodious mansion-house. The following year. he and Agnes took up their abode on the place. Here Frankland passed his days, contentedly pursuing his horticultural fad, angling, hunting, overseeing his dozen slaves; and reading with his intelligent companion the latest works of Richardson, Steele, Swift, Addison, and Pope, sent over in big boxes from England.
The country about Hopkinton was then as to-day a wonder of hill and valley, meadow and stream, while only a dozen miles or so from Frankland Hall was the famous wayside Inn. That Sir Harry's Arcady never came to bore him was, perhaps, due to this last fact. Whenever guests were desired the men from Boston could easily ride out to the inn and canter over to the Hall, to enjoy the good wines and the bright talk the place afforded. Then the village rector was always to be counted on far companionship and breezy chat. It is significant that Sir Harry carefully observed all the forms of his religion, and treated Agnes with the respect due a wife, though he still continued to neglect the one duty which would have made her really happy.
A lawsuit called the two to England in 1754. At Frankland's mother's home, where the eager son hastened to bring his beloved one, Agnes was once more subjected to martyrdom and social ostracism. As quickly as they could get away, therefore, the young people journeyed to Lisbon, a place conspicuous, even in that day of moral laxity, for its tolerance of the alliance libre. Henry Fielding (who died in the town) has photographically described for all times its gay, sensuous life. Into this unwholesome atmosphere, quite new to her, though she was neither maid nor wife, it was that the sweet Agnes was thrust by Frankland. Very soon he was to perceive the mistake of this, as well as of several other phases of his selfishness.
On All Saint's Day morning, 1755, when the whole populace, from beggar to priest, courtier to lackey, was making its w. ay to church, the town of Lisbon was shaken to its foundations by an earthquake. The shock came about ten o'clock, just as the Misericordia of the mass was being sung in the crowded churches; and Frankland, who was riding with a lady on his way to the religious ceremony, was immersed with his companion in the ruins of some falling houses. The horses attached to their carriage were instantly killed, and the lady, in her terror and pain, bit through the sleeve of her escort's red broadcloth coat, tearing the flesh with her teeth. Frankland had some awful moments for thought as he lay there pinned down by the fallen stones, and tortured by the pain in his arm.
Meanwhile Agnes, waiting at home, was prey to most terrible anxiety. As soon as the surging streets would permit a foot passenger, she ran out with all the money she could lay hands on, to search for her dear Sir Harry. By a lucky chance, she came to the very spot where he was lying white with pain, and by her offers of abundant reward and by gold, which she fairly showered on the men near by, she succeeded in extricating him from his fearful plight. Tenderly he was borne to a neighbouring house, and there, as soon as he could stand, a priest was summoned to tie the knot too long ignored. He had vowed, while pinned down by the weight of stone, to amend his life and atone to Agnes, if God in his mercy should see fit to deliver him, and he wasted not a moment in executing his pledge to Heaven. That his spirit had been effectually chastened, one reads between the lines of this entry in his diary, which may still be seen in the rooms of the Massachusetts Historical Society in Boston: "Hope my providential escape will have a lasting good effect upon my mind."
In order to make his marriage doubly sure, he had the ceremony performed again by a clergyman of his own church on board the ship which he took at once for England. Then the newly married pair proceeded once more to Frankland's home, and this time there were kisses instead of coldness for them both. Business in Lisbon soon called them back to the Continent, however, and it was from Belem that they sailed in April, 1750, for Boston, where both were warmly welcomed by their former friends.
In the celebrated Clarke mansion, on Garden Court Street, which Sir Harry purchased October 5, 1756, for £1,200, our heroine now reigned queen. This house, three stories high, with inlaid floors, carved mantels, and stairs so broad and low that Sir Harry could, and did, ride his pony up and down them, was the wonder of the time. It contained twenty-six rooms, and was in every respect a marvel of luxury. That Agnes did not forget her own people., nor scorn to receive them in her fine house, one is pleased to note. While here she practically supported, records show, her sister's children, and she welcomed always when he came ashore from his voyages her brother Isaac, a poor though honest seaman.
Frankland's health was not, however, all that both might have wished, and the entries in the diaries deal, at this time, almost entirely with recipes and soothing drinks. In July, 1757, he sought, therefore; the post of consul-general to Lisbon, where the climate seemed to him to suit his condition, and. there, sobered city that it now was, the two again took up their residence. Only once more, in 1763, was Sir Harry to be in Boston. Then he came for a visit, staying for a space in Hopkinton, as well as in the city. The following year he returned to the old country, and in Bath, where he was drinking the waters, he died January 2, 1768, at the age of fifty-two.
Agnes almost immediately came back to Boston, and, with her sister and her sister's children, took up her residence at Hopkinton. There she remained, living a peaceful, happy life among her flowers, her friends, and her books, until the outbreak of the Revolution, when it seemed to her wise to go in to her town house. She Entered Boston, defended by a guard of six sturdy soldiers, and was cordially received by the officers in the beleaguered city, especially by Burgoyne, whom she had known in Lisbon. During the battle of Bunker Hill, she helped nurse wounded King's men, brought to her in her big dining-room on Garden Court Street. As an ardent Tory, however, she was persona non grata in the colony, and she soon found it convenient to sail for England, where, until 1782, she resided on the estate of the Frankland family.
At this point, Agnes ceases in a way to be the proper heroine of our romance, for, contrary to the canons of love-story art, she married again, Mr. John Drew, a rich banker, of Chichester, being the happy man. And at Chichester she died in one year's time.
The Hopkinton home fell, in the course of time, into the hands of the Reverend Mr. Nason, who was to be Frankland's biographer, and who, when the original house was destroyed by fire (January 3, 1858), built a similar mansion on the same site. Here the Frankland relics were carefully preserved, the fireplace, the family portrait (herewith reproduced), Sir Harry's silver knee buckles, and the famous broadcloth coat, from the sleeve of which the unfortunate lady had torn a piece with her teeth on the day of the Lisbon disaster. This coat, we are told, was brought back to Hopkinton by Sir Harry, and hung in one of the remote chambers of the house, where each year, till his departure for the last time from the pleasant village, he was wont to pass the anniversary of the earthquake in fasting, humiliation, and prayer. The coat, and all the other relics, were lost in April, 1902, when, for the second time, Frankland Hall was razed by fire.
The ancient Fountain Inn, with its "flapping sign," and the "spreading elm below," long since disappeared, and its well, years ago filled up, was only accidentally discovered at a comparatively recent date, when some workmen were digging a post hole. It was then restored as an interesting landmark. This inn was a favourite resort, legends tell us, for jovial sea captains as well as for the gentry of the town. There are even traditions that pirates bold and smugglers sly at times found shelter beneath its sloping roof. Yet none of the many stories with which its ruins are connected compares in interest and charm to the absolutely true one given us by history of Fair Agnes, the Maid of Marblehead.
1 "Three Heroines of New England Romance." Little, Brown & Co.
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