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   Chapter 1 BIRTHPLACE AND YOUTH

Old Put" The Patriot" By Frederick A. Ober Characters: 9285

Updated: 2017-12-06 00:03


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This is the life story of one who was born on a farm, and died on a farm, yet who achieved a world-wide fame through his military exploits. It has been told many times, it will be told for centuries yet to come; for the world loves a man of high emprise, and such was Israel Putnam, the hero of this story.

He was born January 7, 1718, in Danvers, then known as Salem Village, Province of Massachusetts Bay, in New England. His father's Christian name was Joseph, his mother's Elizabeth, and Israel (as he was called at baptism, after his maternal grandfather, Israel Porter) was the great-grandson of his first American ancestor, John Putnam, who had come from England, where the original name of the family was Puttenham. He had settled at Salem more than eighty years before, and his son, Thomas, built, in 1648, the house in which Israel was born in 1718. On the death of Thomas it had become the property of Joseph, who first occupied it in 1690, after his marriage to Elizabeth Porter.

Here the young couple passed through the perilous "witchcraft times," during the worst period of which, in 1692 (it is a tradition in the family), Joseph Putnam kept a loaded musket at his bedside every night and his swiftest horse saddled in the stable, ready for a fight or a flight in case the witch-hunters should come to carry him off to jail. They had accused his sister, who saved her life only by fleeing to the wilderness and remaining in hiding until the insane furor was over. He and his wife survived that gloomy period, and in the ancestral homestead lived happily for more than thirty years, raising a "baker's dozen" of children, of whom Israel was the eleventh.

On both the maternal and paternal side Israel Putnam was descended from a line of sturdy, prosperous farmers. The grandfather whose name he bore had married a daughter of William Hathorne, who came from England and settled in Salem about the year 1630, and who was an ancestor of the famous romancist Nathaniel Hawthorne. John Hathorne, son of William, was a military man and a magistrate. He presided at the infamous witchcraft trials in Salem, and, like the near relatives of Joseph Putnam, looked with severe disfavor upon any one who showed sympathy for the persecuted witches.

Joseph Putnam died in 1723, leaving his widow with eleven surviving children, nine older than Israel, who was then but five years of age, and one, little Mehitable, only three. Several of the older children were already married, and when, in 1727, Mrs. Putnam took a second husband, one Captain Thomas Perley, of Boxford, only the younger members of her family went with her to live in the new home. There Israel resided until he was about eighteen, and Boxford being only a few miles distant from his birthplace, in the same county (Essex), he made frequent visits to the old farm, to which he finally returned as part owner before he attained his majority.

Numerous anecdotes are still related of him in Danvers, all tending to illustrate the early development of those high qualities for which in after-life he became conspicuous. Courage, enterprise, activity, and perseverance, says his original biographer, were the first characteristics of his mind. His disposition was frank and generous, as his mind was fearless and independent. From his earliest years he craved, and was always in pursuit of, some daring adventure, yet he was the most sober and apparently contented youth in the village, loving hard work, even seeking to perform a man's task at daily labor, while yet a mere stripling. Brought up mainly on the farm, spending his days in severe labor and his nights in sweet slumber, he became the peer of all his companions in athletic feats involving strength and skill. He could "pitch the bar," run, leap, wrestle with the best of them, and more than held his own with the most doughty champion. But he never boasted of his strength, nor sought occasions to display his skill, being content with their mere possession.

His sense of fairness and self-respect, however, would not allow him to become the butt of other people's ridicule, and when the need arose for putting forth his energies in a good cause, he held nothing in reserve. Such an occasion occurred the first time he paid a visit to Boston, the metropolis of his State. He was roaming about in rustic fashion, when he attracted the attention of a youth twice his size, who began to "make fun" of him. Young Putnam bore the insult as long as he could, then he "challenged, engaged, and vanquished his unmannerly antagonist, to the great diversion of a crowd of sp

ectators."

There were very few diversions for the youth of Putnam's time, so long ago; but the boys, like those of modern times, indulged in bird's-nesting now and then. Climbing to a tree top one day, in his endeavor to secure a nest, "Young Put" had a fall, owing to a branch breaking in his hands. He was caught by a lower limb, however, and there he hung, suspended by his clothes betwixt heaven and earth. His cries attracted some companions, one of whom he commanded (as he had a gun) to fire a bullet at the limb and try to break it. This the boy did, after much coaxing on Putnam's part, and was so successful that his friend came tumbling to the ground. He was bruised and lamed, but no bones were broken; and the very next day the intrepid boy climbed up to the nest again, and this time secured it. That was the "way with 'Old Put,'" the man who in later years succeeded "Young Put" the youth. His motto was: "If at first you don't succeed, try, try again."

He always tried, and with his utmost endeavor, to accomplish the task that faced him at the time. What is more, he generally succeeded; and that is the chief reason why he is considered worthy a biography. There are few men, perhaps, who did so many things worthy of emulation, and so few unworthy. Dangerously near the latter, however, was one act of his youth, when he caught a vicious bull in a pasture, and, having mounted astride the animal's back, with spurs on his heels, rode the furious creature around the field until it finally fell from exhaustion, after seeking refuge in a swamp.

Young Putnam's education, as may have been inferred already, was obtained mostly in the woods and open fields. While he possessed great mental endowments, as afterward displayed in his career, yet his early education was grossly neglected, in the school and college sense. Having mastered the rudiments of reading, writing, and arithmetic, he was considered well equipped for his destined calling, which was to be that of a farmer. Throughout his whole life he suffered from this neglect of early instruction. His letters, particularly, though they always "displayed the goodness of his heart, and frequently the strength of his native genius, with a certain laconic mode of expression, and an unaffected epigrammatic turn," were "fearfully and wonderfully made," the despair of his correspondents and the ridicule of his enemies.

It is doubtful if he had any greater ambition than to become a good farmer, as good as was his father before him, and like him, attain to a competency. He was already fairly well to do the year he became of age, for his father, after providing generously for the other children, had bequeathed to him and his brother David the homestead, house and farm attached. His mother was to have a home there so long as she desired; but on her second marriage she relinquished her claim upon the homestead, and the two brothers shared it between them. Israel's portion was set off in 1738, and the next year he built a home in a remote corner of the farm, but within sight of the house and room in which he was born. For, after the fashion of those primitive times, when early matrimony was encouraged, young Israel had been "courting" a lovely girl, the daughter of a neighbor, who lived about four miles distant from the home farm, near the boundary-line between Salem and Lynn. Hannah Pope was her name, and she also was descended from one of the first families of Salem Village. Being a sensible girl, she accepted Israel Putnam as soon as he proposed, and the 19th of July, 1739, they were married, when he was twenty-one years of age and she only eighteen. Taking his young wife to the little house he had built with his own hands on the farm, there Israel Putnam and Hannah, his wife, began their married life. The next year a son was born to them, the first of ten children who blessed their union, and he was called Israel.

The house in which the first Israel Putnam was born, an old colonial, gambrel-roofed structure, still stands where it was erected by his grandfather in 1648, near the foot of Hathorne Hill, in Danvers, on the turn-pike road half-way between Boston and Newburyport. It contains many relics of Putnam's time, but the most interesting portion of the house itself is the little back chamber, with its one window looking out over the farmyard, where the infant Israel first saw the light.

Of the house which he himself built, on a distant knoll of the home farm, nothing now remains but the cellar and foundation stones, near which is the well he dug, now choked with rubbish and overgrown with brambles.

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