Biography of James Russell Lowell

James Russell Lowell, in his rhyming letter to the Pennsylvania Freeman, describing the reunited abolitionists at the Anti-slavery Bazaar in Boston in December, 1846, portrays with a few bold strokes this dauntless champion of freedom:-

“Beyond, a crater in each eye, Sways brown, broad-shouldered Pillsbury, Who tears up words like trees by the roots, A Theseus in stout cowhide boots, The wager of eternal war Against the loathsome Minotaur To whom we sacrifice each year The best blood of our Athens here- A terrible denouncer he, Old Sinai burns unquenchably Upon his lips; he well might be a Hot-blazing soul from fierce Judea- Habakkuk, Ezra, or Hosea- His words burn as with iron searers.”

As was inevitable, in Mr. Pillsbury’s book are recorded dark and shameful passages of American history. Impressive and pleasing is the account given of the memorable convention at Nantucket in August, 1841, where Frederick Douglass made his first appearance on the anti-slavery platform, and in a speech, rising to the importance of the occasion and the dignity of his theme, wrought the crowded congregation up “almost to enchantment.” Long afterward Mr. Garrison, having just passed the threescore-and-ten milestone of life’s journey, wrote to Mr. Pillsbury in reply to a congratulatory letter, in which the Douglass incident had been alluded to among others. We quote but in part:-

“Dear friend Pillsbury,-I did not mean that a fortnight should elapse before answering your letter, the receipt of which gave me much pleasure, not only because of the stirring memories of Auld Lang Syne awakened by it, but also for its very kind and fraternal spirit….

“Your coming into the field of conflict was specially timely, and displayed on your part rare moral courage and a martyr readiness to meet whatever of religious obloquy, popular derision, social outlawry, mobocratic violence, or deadly peril, might confront you as the outspoken and uncompromising advocate of immediate and unconditional emancipation. For then the aspect of things was peculiarly disheartening, a formidable schism existing in the anti-slavery ranks, and the proslavery elements of the country in furious commotion. But you stood at your post with the faithfulness of an Abdiel; and, whether men would hear or forbear, you did not at any time to the end of the struggle fail to speak in thunder tones in the ear of the nation, exposing its blood-guiltiness, warning it of the wrath to come, and setting forth the duty of thorough repentance and restitution. If you resorted to a ram’s horn instead of a silver trumpet, it was because thus only could the walls of our slave-holding Jericho be shaken to their overthrow….

“You, too, have seen of the travail of your soul, and may well be satisfied. Laus Deo.

“William Lloyd Garrison .”

Of the prominent workers in the anti-slavery conflict only two besides Mr. Pillsbury now (1897 ) survive; namely, the Rev. Samuel May and Charles K. Whipple. Mr. Pillsbury, it may be mentioned, was one of the trustees, with absolute discretion, to whom Mr. Charles F. Hovey, a merchant of Boston, dying in 1859, left forty thousand dollars to be used in behalf of anti slavery, woman’s rights, and other reforms dear to his heart. Much to the regret of Mr. Pillsbury, owing to the exigencies of the Civil War and the pressing needs of the colored race during that period the whole amount was expended before any of it could be devoted to the interests of international peace, of which he has long been a stanch advocate. Since the close of the war Mr. Pillsbury, by voice and pen, has also labored valiantly in behalf of temperance and woman suffrage, publishing and circulating over fifteen thousand tracts devoted to his favorite reforms. Disbelieving in government by force, he belongs to no political party, and he never votes.

From his boyhood up, the home life of Mr. Pillsbury has been a happy one, the domestic atmosphere cheerful and invigorating, of New England’s best type. On January 1, 1840, he was united in marriage with Sarah H. Sargent, daughter of Dr. John L. and Sally (Wilkins) Sargent, of Concord, N.H. Mrs. Pillsbury was born in Loudon, Merrimack County, N.H. Her father, Dr. John L. Sargent, was born in Chester, Rockingham County, N.H. He was a very successful physician and surgeon, and had an extensive practice. Her mother, Sally Wilkins, daughter of Deacon Jonathan Wilkins, of Concord, N.H., was a woman of rare excellence of character, of refined taste and culture, being an extensive and appreciative reader.

In this connection the biographer desires to say that Mrs. Pillsbury, whose portrait rightfully appears with her husband’s in this volume, was not only an ardent sympathizer with him in his anti-slavery work, but was most efficient in co-operation with him. It was hers to keep the domestic fire burning while he was away, to exercise an economy and thrift unknown to the present generation, that her husband’s time and means might be wholly devoted to the overthrow of slavery. This wife gave her husband the encouraging word when he left the home, and bade him Godspeed with a cheery voice, when her heart was sad as the grave; for she knew that her beloved Sims was remanded from Boston’s court-house to Southern slavery, and again when the hero martyr, John Brown, was legally murdered!

The writer regards it as an honor and a privilege to show in this sketch that in those days that tried men’s souls there were women as well as men who toiled through dark days, and worried and wept through sleepless nights, that there might be accomplished what after years of bloodshed we witness in America to-day-perfect freedom of all God’s children, without regard to color, race, sex, or sect. And so on the page of history, beside that of the anti-slavery hero and apostle, Parker Pillsbury, we place that of the heroine, Sarah H. Sargent Pillsbury, his sympathizer, helper, wife.

Mr. and Mrs. Pillsbury have always resided in this city. They have one child, a daughter, Helen Buffum, who was born June 14, 1843. She was married September 22, 1888, to Parsons Brainard Cogswell, journalist and ex-Mayor of Concord, who died October 28, 1895. Mr. Cogswell came to Concord to learn the printer’s trade of George G. Fogg, who ran the Independent Democrat, a Free Soil paper. Having thoroughly mastered his profession, he set his heart to have a daily paper for Concord; and the Daily Monitor was the child of his conception. It is not too much to say that to P. Brainard Cogswell belongs the honor of Concord’s Daily Monitor. During her married life, as ever before and after, Mrs. Cogswell has continued to make her home with her father and mother, her devotion to whom and ceaseless care for their comfort was most cordially seconded by her husband, who has left the fragrant memory of a noble manhood.



Biographical Review Publishing Company. Biographical Review; containing life sketches of leading citizens of Merrimack and Sullivan counties, N. H. Boston. Biographical Review Publishing Company. 1897.

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