|Title:||Nailer Tom’s diary|
|Author:||Hazard, Thomas B.|
|Publisher:||Boston, The Merrymount Press|
|Digitizing Sponsor:||Internet Archive|
|Contributor:||Allen County Public Library Genealogy Center|
Lovers of the South County, as the happy dwellers in southern Rhode Island delight to call it, have long been familiar with the name of Nailer Tom. The Jonny-Cake Papers are full of allusions to him; Mrs. Robinson, in her delightful book on the Hazard Family, has anecdotes of him; not so very long ago the countryside still had its tales of his mousetraps and his neighborhood transactions.
Thomas B. Hazard, born Jan. 23, 1756
It was the King’s Province, or Kingstown, where he was born on the twenty-third of January, 1756, a descendant in the fifth degree from Thomas Hazard, the first emigrant. When Mistress Anne Hutchinson founded the first woman’s club in Boston, and, from repeating the Sunday sermon on a Monday to her shut-in friends began to criticize the preacher’s doctrine, had to seek new fields, there were many who followed her to Portsmouth on the Isle of Aquiday. Roger Williams had already bought the island, for “Rhode Island was obtained by love, by the love and favor which that honorable gentleman Sir Henry Vane and myself had with the great Sachem Miantinomo,” he writes. To this new settlement on Rhode Island Thomas Hazard came, and in 1639 was appointed on the Committee to lay out the town of Newport. His son Robert went to what Bishop Berkeley some time later called the “adjacent continent,” and, as a surveyor, ran the roads and bounded some of the great farms. Thomas was his eldest son, described as gentleman in some of the old deeds. He owned the whole of Boston Neck and bought many acres from Judge Sewall, who had an interest in the Pettaquamscut Purchase. This Thomas had several sons, of whom the eldest was Robert, the father of “Thomas Hazard fon of Robt,” as he always wrote his name, though he was usually referred to as College Tom; and his fourth son was Benjamin, the father of Nailer Tom, Thomas B. Hazard, the B. standing for Benjamin to indicate whose son he was.
It is a lovely countryside, with gentle hills, washed by the Atlantic on the east and south, with Newport to be reached by the ferry and Block Island by a sloop. The Point Judith ponds stretch up into it, with the Saugatucket flowing down through lush meadows to make a runway for smelt and herring — “buckies” — in the spring. It was an isolated and self-supporting community, with families closely related by marriage and friendship, ready to help each other in times of stress, whether watching with the sick or in the merrymaking of husking the corn.
Nailer Tom’s mother was Mehitable Redwood, daughter of Abram Redwood for whom the Redwood Library in Newport is named. His parents both died in his childhood, and he was apprenticed, after the manner of the day, to John Hull, the blacksmith of Tower Hill. Little is known of his schooling.
Nailer Tom’s Diary
In his diary he shows an independence of spelling which does not indicate regular work in that direction. His older cousin, College Tom, has an occasional vagary in his records of the Friends’ Meeting, but writes a scholarly hand and uses accepted methods. In 1778 the Diary begins in little hand-sewn books three and a half by four inches square, just sheets of good strong paper stitched together with stout linen twine. There are twenty-eight books and they are very properly preserved in the library which bears the name of the grandfather of the Diarist. Some years are missing, and the size is not uniform. Apparently Nailer Tom tried experiments in doubling the size of the original books; thus the records for 1804 begin in a larger volume, of which there are twelve.
The late James N. Arnold copied the whole of the Diary, and printed a part of it in the Narragansett Historical Register in 1882. But it proved such dull reading that he gave it up, his friends and financial sponsors finding it very disappointing. And indeed it is, if taken literally on the face of it. There are records of the wind and the weather for every day, but unfortunately no record of temperature. Evidently Nailer Tom had no thermometer, though Fahrenheit lived before his time. The doings of the countryside are all set down: births, marriages, deaths are recorded, with neighborhood transactions of all kinds; spinning and weaving; the barter which resulted from scarcity of money and its depreciation; the building of mills and the damming of streams; the tea drinkings, and Monthly Meetings when “a number of friends dined here.” With the use of a little imagination, the pageant of life is unrolled in those terse sentences.
Some years ago I bought Mr. Arnold’s copy of the Diary, thinking to have it printed, but study of the original showed that he had made amendments and corrections, losing much of its flavor; so I engaged Miss Sybil A. Shaw, of the staff of the Redwood Library, to make an exact transcript, which she has done with the greatest accuracy, the result of infinite pains. This proved to be the work of four years, and the book has been in press two years. It is therefore as exact a copy as print can be of script, keeping all the peculiarities of orthography. Sometimes I have found it impossible to understand what word was intended until I pronounced it, when the sound revealed its meaning. It was truly spelling for the ear, not for the eye. It was also variable, for the Diary is headed “Thomas Hafzard’s Journal — Begun June the 21st 1778.” Later he wrote his name “Hasard” or “Hazard,” using three different spellings for it.
The entries for the first year are very brief. Early in January, 1779, he walked to Providence with his cousin George Hazard, a good thirty miles. He “left making Bridle Bitts at Congdon’s shop” in February, which is the only hint of his training in the iron work for which he became famous and which gave him his distinctive name of Nailer Tom. The young people celebrated St. Valentine’s day, for the fourteenth of February he went to Champlins, and “Drowd Volintines with Stephen.” The History of Agricola occupied him, and in March he “began to keep house with George.” That year the iron work is recorded. A tea “Kittle” was sold for twenty dollars, but in 1779 the money was much depreciated, one Spanish milled dollar in January being worth seven hundred and forty-two dollars in paper currency. He “made nails in the night” of a hot July day, after haying for Cousin Hazard. Cousin Hazard, who was College Tom, begins to play a large part in the record. A stone wall was built for him, potatoes were dug, “harvest corn” for him, all in between the making of nails.
The country was unsettled by war. The lighthouse was burned in 1774. November 23. 1778, a man was shot for deserting. Regulars landed at Point Judith and took two boats out of the river in January the next year. A privateer went eastward, and in March fleets were sailing in and out of Newport, “about 20 or 30 sale.” In 1780 “Guns fired at Newport” whose report could be heard on Tower Hill, and in July the movements of the French fleet are recorded. Nailer Tom went to Newport and saw the troops land on the twelfth, and the town illuminated. The Melishey met at Tower Hill, July 31; and the Connecticut soldiers went home in early August. In Newport the ships were all dressed in colors on August 21, and Nailer Tom went on board the French admiral’s. December 15 Admiral de Tierney died, and March 6, 1781, “General Washington went to Newport this day. The town was iluminated.” Jeffrey Watson, an older diarist than Nailer Tom, has an entry for the same date: “General Washington rode by our house, with about twenty soldiers for a guard, about ten o’clock.” So it was over the old Pequot trail that he came, and then to the ferry to cross to Newport. This was the ferry Nailer Tom often used, and the movements of ships could be plainly seen from Narragansett. April 25, 1783, there was a great firing of cannon on account of the “Dickrelashon of Peece.”
As early as March, 1780, when he was twenty-four years old, he “guv evidence between leffrey Champlin and fames Robinson.” This was to be one of his chief occupations in life. The Diary is full of notes of going to court, often in Newport, more frequently at Little Rest, to give evidence. Sometimes it was of relationship, sometimes the Diary was called upon for exact dates, until report has it that Wilkins Updike, the famous lawyer, in despair exclaimed that he would as lief have the devil himself come to court as Tommy Hazard and his book!
His reading is recorded. Besides The History of Agricola, Anson’s Voyage Around the World, A Collection of Prose and Verse, for the Use of Schools, The History of Joseph and His Brethren are mentioned, and The Memorial of America. In September, 1780, he began Robert Barclay’s Apology and The Moral Essays of Paine. Paradise Lost was returned to its owner in 1782, and he had The Young Man s Best Companion. It was in this year that he records the marriage of “Thomas Hazard, son of Thomas, to Nancy Rodman June the Sixth 1780, Amen,” in which entry Mrs. Caroline Robinson finds a hint of romance. This was the Thomas Hazard, second son of College Tom, who later went to New Bedford, from which he was called Bedford Tom, and then to New York, where he lived with his beautiful wife on Beekman street. Her granddaughter, Anna Barker, became Mrs. Samuel G. Ward of Washington, a famous beauty also. “Tommy and Nancy” came often to Narragansett and our Diarist usually lodged at Cousin Hazard’s when they came. Reflections on Courtship and Marriage and The Theory of the Earth concerning the Conflagration were books of this period.
In November of that year he began to keep bachelor’s hall. He shared the duty of watching with the sick. He went to the Meeting of a first day morning, which did not prevent him from going after a pig in the afternoon. He caught eels in the river by candlelight; he “waited on” Cousin Hazard and Nabby Robinson at night to see them home in the shay; he read Penn’s No Cross, no Crown ; he “helpt Cousin Hazard wind wool,” and William Jackson, the Quaker preacher, “had a sitting in our house.” A full and busy life he led.
In April, 1783, Hannah Knowles is first mentioned when she went with her mother and sister to East Greenwich with Nailer Tom, and had a fall from her horse. A little later he went to Monthly Meeting at Richmondton in company with Hannah Knowles, and August 28, 1783, at the Preparative Meeting, “menshoned my layningof my Intenshons of marage with Hannah Knowles before the next monthly meeting.” These were duly laid before the Monthly Meeting of September 1: “Intenshons of marriage with Hannah Knowles, daughter of Joseph Knowles and Bethsheba his wife.” The twenty-ninth “Went to monthly meeting and had my answer that I might proseed in marriage”; and on a fifth day meeting the next week, October 2, 1783, he was “joined in marriage with Hannah Knowles.” One longs for more details. “Brother Redwood” came from Newport and “dined at Father Knowles, with me.” That is all the laconic record gives. The next day he made nails! The young people lived with the bride’s parents for the winter, but the first of April, 1784, he moved “my wife and her goods to the house where George Hazard lives by Wordens’ Pond, which is now my house.” The bride’s mother went with them to help, and there was some snow in the afternoon. About six inches fell in the night; but a floor was laid in the house and the home established, which was to be a very happy one.
There were five children, the eldest, Benjamin, born November 4, 1784. Dr. Perry came a few days later “to see my wife” and dined there, though Bethsheba Knowles, who is often mentioned as watching with the sick, seems to have been in charge. Thomas, whose birth must be recorded in the missing years of the Diary, was the second son; and November 14, 1791,Nailer Tom went for Dr. Perry and Else Congdon, and the daughter Hannah was born. March 27, 1794, Dr. Sen ter, from Newport, “delivered my wife of a son,named Isaac Sen tor Hazard” who lived but two days; and May 11, 1796, another son was given the same name, but lived only a few hours. His father carried the little body to the Friends Meeting-house for burial. The four younger children were born in their Grandfather Knowles’ house, to which they moved in the spring of 1786. “Robert Knowles moved me with two teams,” he records.
The Knowles House
It was here his life was lived. The shop stood across the highway, opposite the little hill above the Saugatucket where the Knowles’ house stood, on the site of the house of Mrs. Sumner Mowry. The farm extended on both sides of the river, including land on which the Riverside Cemetery is now, which still has some escaped garden flowers upon it from his son’s garden; and southerly including land which the High School now stands upon, which was bought from Nailer Tom by the elder Rowland Hazard (born 1763) and was given to the town by his grandson Rowland (born 1829). To this pleasant house, one of the two oldest in the country, built by Robert Knowles, his wife’s grandfather, many friends came. The visits are all recorded. “Beau Jonathan” (Jonathan J. Hazard), who was chosen president of the town council in 1793, and was one of our first congressmen, stayed there. College Tom often dined there. Many people “drank tea.” Elisha R. Potter and others from Little Rest came riding down. Only one shay, which belonged to College Tom, is mentioned for a long time. Everyone else rode on the good Narragansett horses which were brought to the shop to be shod.
Work in the Shop
In the daily routine of work duly recorded, there are occasional startling sentences. Trammels and gridirons we are accustomed to, mink traps and eel spears, shovels and ladles; but a pair of handcuffs made for a crazy woman, a black woman named Patience, gives one a shock. It reveals the barbarous treatment of the insane, stalled in outhouses, fettered and chained, literally outcast from human society, a condition which so stirred Shepherd Tom (Thomas R. Hazard) a little later that he visited every town farm in the state, and aroused public opinion to such good purpose that the Butler Hospital was established in Providence.
Life was simple. Nailer Tom and his wife rode to meeting on the same horse; sometimes she fell off, but “did not hurt herself much,” he says. She took part in the meeting, also, and read reports of the women’s committees or a paper of acknowledgment or denial. Then came the dinner for a “number of friends.” Often five or six “lodgd here.” How they did it is indicated perhaps by the fact that once a young man slept on the floor. The house was a large one for that day, and was full. “Drank tea upstairs with Mother,” he notes in June, 1794, and occasionally they “dined in Brother Robert’s room.” A woman, whose name is usually given,came to wash about once a fortnight, and “my wife paid her” is always recorded. Flax was hatchelled in the autumn, and the oil mill ground the seed. A tailoress came twice a year, apparently, to make the family clothes from cloth which had been spun and woven in the house, or from the broadcloth that Joseph Oatley wove to order. Seventeen yards and a quarter he brought in 1808. A boot-maker came and cut out the shoes from leather tanned at home. Hats had to be bought, and who made them better than Cyrus French at Little Rest, who was paid as much as five dollars for a hat? This orderly routine was badly shaken in 1791 when Thomas Mount was sentenced to death for stealing, and, on May 27, was hanged at Little Rest.
A very interesting study could be made from the entries of wages and prices. Barter entered largely into the bargains: fish at a penny each, potatoes borrowed and paid back again, a pair of knitting needles to a young woman for part of a day’s work, a head of tobacco — all were used. In 1785 a man was engaged at three axes, and one silver dollar a month; a woman worked who took payment in apple sauce, and another was paid in white beans two years later. It is no wonder we read, “tried to settle accounts but could not,” or that Nailer Tom was often on committees to visit friends for this purpose.
The medical practice of the time is also of interest. May 23, 1783, Rowland Hazard and his cousin William Robinson went to New London to be inoculated for the small pox. This is startlingly modern in comparison with some of the other entries. Old Dr. Torry’s death is mentioned, who was both doctor and minister at Tower Hill; but Dr. Perry, probably a son of Freeman Perry, was already practicing there. Dr. Aldrich, of Little Rest, is called in consultation, and later Dr. George Hazard, whose house on the Matunuck road is still standing. Dr. Woodward inoculated the boys in 1810. They all used bleeding, after the fashion of the day. Hannah Hazard had their attention, and apparently was bled before her children were born. No doctor is mentioned in connection with her first baby, her mother and Else Congdon taking charge of her, though Dr. Perry was there when the daughter Hannah was born, and Dr. Senter came from Newport in 1793. In 1819 Dr. Amos Collins, who cut a cancer from a patient’s mouth, is mentioned. Nailer Tom himself was something of a practitioner. He records bleeding both people and animals, as cows occasionally required this service. He also pulled teeth, made “soot tea” for a pain in the stomach “and it helpt him”; he had his own ear cut, and cut the boys’ ears for the toothache.
The first mention of the second son is in January, 1791, when “Tommy fell in a tub of water.” Years later Son Thomas, as he is always called, was badly hurt. April 23,1807, son Thomas burst a pistol and cut his face very bad. Dockter Hazard cum to dress it.” He was about eighteen when this happened, and from that time was subject to a nervous seizure which made him rigid. The story is told that in a wrestling frolic he seized a companion’s shoulder and could not let go till they both went to a neighbor’s, where Tommy was given a glass of rum and the neighbor played his violin, at which the tense muscles relaxed. I had always considered this somewhat apocryphal, but May 29, 1824, Nailer Tom records: “Went to Elias Clarke’s with son Thomas to get James Clarke to play on his violeen to loose son Thomas tong and jaws.”
Son Thomas (Pistol-Head Tom) must have been a constant concern to his father. A curious entry in the Diary reads: “Feb. 16,1814. I am informed that son Thomas was married to Ruth Carpenter yesterday by Enoch Stidman.” The twenty-eighth of the same month “Son Benjamin and Joanna Carr laid their intenshons of marriage before the meeting,” and May 12 they were duly married in Hopkinton, where the bride lived, with Nailer Tom lodging at Sarah Carr’s house. Two days later “Son Benjamin brought home his wife” and the next day they all dined at Rowland Hazard’s,Son Benjamin and his wife,and Son Thomas and his wife. A real wedding party it must have been. They all stayed to tea, except Son Thomas and his wife, making a day of it. The next day they were all together at Nailer Tom’s, and one can fancy the festivities; but the excitement must have been too much for Pistol-Head Tom, for that same week his father “Went to see Son Thomas, he had one fit while I was there.”
Death of College Tom
In June, 1796, College Tom was very sick, and, following the custom of the neighborhood, various friends watched with him, among them Nailer Tom, who watched two nights, ten days apart. But he lived a while longer, and constant visits are mentioned. August 26, 1798, Thomas Hazard died. “I help lay him out, and George Kenyon, Jun. , and I watched with him.” Two days later he records, “I carried my wife to the burial of Thomas Hazard.” It was held in the new Meeting-house which Nailer Tom had helped to raise on the fourth of July, 1792, when he records that “about forty persons more than belonged to this house dined in it.” The old Meeting-house burned down in 1790, and the meeting immediately met to consider where to continue. Benjamin Rodman’s house was used for a time, and Nailer Tom’s, also. But July 27, 1795, the first meeting since the house was burned was held in the new building.
It was in this Meeting-house that Nailer Tom read the London epistle in 1798, and to this Meeting came all the distinguished friends of the time. David Sands, David Greene, and John Townsend came in the eighties; John Storer “preached powerfully” in 1785. It was in this year that Nailer Tom was appointed an overseer of the Monthly Meeting, at the age of twenty-nine. Thomas Colley came from old England; Esther Griffin from Pennsylvania; and in 1790 Patience Brayton, the preacher devoted to the freedom of the slaves, who must have found a warm welcome from College Tom who had been active in the cause for many years. She was Patience Greene of the Greenwich Meeting, who married Preserved Brayton, and who later had a call to visit England, where she presented a petition to the King in regard to “freeing the slaves in thy dominions.” It was this ardent and devoted woman who dined with Nailer Tom on an October day. Samuel Emlin came, and Peter Yarnell. Maria Rotch spoke, and Abigail Rodman. John Wilbur from Westerly, the founder of the Wilburite division of Friends, lodged with him in 1823; and later, when he came with his wife and Abel Collins, who also spoke in Meeting. A long list of distinguished men and women came to dine or drink tea or lodge in Nailer Tom’s hospitable home. For their entertainment “My wife baked mins pyes.” There were turkeys, geese, and chickens, veal and mutton, and vegetables from the garden. In the autumn brine was made and both beef and pork salted for the winter. The meat was put in the chimney to smoke regularly. There was always meal from Benny Rodman’s mill for jonny cakes, and tea, which in 1811 cost five shillings a pound, from Philip Taylor’s store at Little Rest.
Yearly Meeting in Newport, in June, was evidently the great event. As the children grew older the whole family went, but Nailer Tom, and generally his wife, never missed it. They lodged at “Sister Tanner’s ” or at “Aunt Clarke’s,” and later at Dr. Mann’s. The three or four days’ meeting, with the pleasant trip across the ferries made the outing of the year.
But the Quarterly Meetings were also important. Such a meeting in Providence in 1812, is typical. The journey was made on horseback, the first stage being only to Little Rest, where Nailer Tom spent the night of October 31 at Elisha R. Potter’s. He dined at John Case’s at Wickford, and went on to Providence. Christopher Healy spoke at the meeting the next day, and also at the Old Baptist Meeting House. The Monthly Meeting at Cranston was visited and November fourth he dined at Moses Brown’s; the next day at John Chace’s in Swansea; the sixth at Nicholas Brown’s in Providence. On the way home he stopped for dinner with Wilkins Updike, and spent the night with Elisha R. Potter, reaching home next day.
Hopkinton Monthly Meeting is visited, and Son Benjamin and Daughter Hannah often went there. In 1818 Joanna and the children went, also, and lodged at Peleg Carr’s, her father’s.
War of 1812
The War of 1812 did not affect Narragansett very deeply, although several entries throw a local light upon it. September 28 there was a “Ginneral Muster” at Exeter. The sixth of December “The British Ship Macedonia, a prize to the U. S. Frigate United States got into Newport.” February 15, 1815, “Peace declared between this country and Great Britain.”
The death of Captain Raymond Perry on June 1, 1818, at Newport is duly recorded. He was the father of our two admirals of the early days of the navy, Oliver Hazard Perry of Lake Erie fame, and Matthew Calbraith Perry of Japan. Captain Perry’s mother, Mercy, was the daughter of Oliver Hazard and, as he lived on the Perry farm in Matunuck in early life,he must have been well known to Nailer Tom.
In 1807 he was elected senator from his town, and records his majority as over one hundred. December 17 the next year, “The Committee went to Point Judith to view the land and appraise it to set a lighthouse on,” a light which still shines. He was appointed administrator by the court of Henry Barber’s estate about this time, and Peter B. Hazard’s estate kept him busy for years. The Assembly met in Providence and Newport, and also in Kent (East Greenwich) and Little Rest. One absence to attend it had a tragic sequence. February 19, 1818, Nailer Tom went to Providence to attend the Assembly on account of Joseph M. Taylor’s petition. It does not appear what the petition was, but Joseph M. Taylor was in Nailer Tom’s employ for several years and he naturally interested himself in it. The twenty-fourth the Lower House passed the petition, but he “Received a few lines from Son Benjamin giving an account of his Mother’s being very sick, went to East Greenwich. Met Isaac P. Hazard. He informed me that my dear Wife died last evening about 11 o’clock.”
Death of Wife Feb. 19, 1818
Isaac Peace Hazard was Rowland Hazard’s eldest son, now a young man of twenty-four. They lodged at Updike’s tavern together in East Greenwich and reached home the next day. The most touching entry in the Diary follows for the twenty-sixth of February: “Went to meeting. My Wife was carried their and buried in the yard. Peter Hoxie and William Peckham’s wife spoke. The 2nd day of 10th month last past was 34 years that I have lived with my dear and Beloved wile, 4 months and 24 days since that time, in all 34 yr. and 21 d. Have lived with her in Perfeckt love without Ever giving her one Cross word to my Nolage, and at the Meeting House where I carried her this day I put my hand on her Forehead and in my heart said I bid thee a Long, Long, Long Farewell, and it seems as tho my Heart would have Broke. O Dredful thought that I never, never, never shall see her again.”
But life had to go on. The day after his wedding Nailer Tom made nails; the day after the funeral of his wife he “did writing” and Son Benjamin settled an account for him. He went to Meeting, but it was not until the fourth day after the funeral that he worked “a few minutes in the shop. “His friends came to see him; “Rowland Hazard dined and log’d” with him; and the two women who washed were “paid for the same in Potatoes and Salt Bass.” He took a week’s trip to Coventry, Chepachet, Scituate, and Providence. He went to Little Rest to settle accounts, and to town meeting. “Returned home — bled son Thomas — David Carpenter workt on my skiff” is an April entry. Evidently he carried on bravely, though with so sore a heart.
One cannot help wondering if it was” good Son Benjamin who this spring interested fishing as a business. He had always been a fisherman. The Diary is full of records of good fishing. Once “better than thirty pounds of tautog” is recorded. He fished from the River Rocks, spending the night at Thomas G. Hazard’s where he went after “Sea correl.” He went out to Whale Rock to fish; he caught eels in Narrow River and “turkles” in the Saugatucket. But this spring of 1818 after his bereavement the boat was put in order. Edward Harvey came to mend seine, and Son Thomas and Arnold Holland went with the nets. They must have been successful, for the next day Joseph M. Taylor — who worked for him at $100 a year and a pair of boots, and whose business it was that took him away from home at the time of his wife’s death — set out with a wagon load of 1,833 fish to sell, and brought home $11.21 the third day. May 21 they caught a very great haul of fish in his seine, 8,050 counted, and Taylor set out for Providence with 3,000 of them. The next day he salted 1,220 fish — “in all I salted 2,929,” he writes — and Son Benjamin hung up fish to smoke. It was evidently an association of neighbors who went into this “bucky” business, for “Thurston Robinson and I settled off, borrowed and lent fish so we are square.” The records continue with enormous numbers of the herring. Sixteen hundred were salted on a June day and seventeen hundred and ninety-one the next. The nineteenth of June the seine “drawed 1,056 fish,” and early in July Taylor set out for Providence with thirty-six hundred smoked. Lobsters were also caught, twenty-six one night, and fifty-one in July.
That July at Monthly Meeting, “there was but two friends dined here.” A sad contrast to the old days, and in August Daughter Hannah evidently arranged that it should not happen again to depress him,for at the Monthly Meeting “a number of friends dined here. Betty Hazard washed here and helped kuck, etc.”
For a year or two the fishing was carried on, but, apparently, it led to controversies, for February 1, 1819, Nailer Tom gave his evidence of “a seine being set across the narrows in Point Judith Pond last spring to hinder the herren from coming up into the Upper Pond, given befor John Brown, Esq., by request of Christopher Robinson.”
Billington’s Cove was the place where Nailer Tom and his son Benjamin carried the fishermen some supper every night during the fishing in May. Thirteen hundred fish were his part — Taylor had a full wagon load again to set out with, 3,600 smoked fish for Providence. The herring were strung on a stick, twenty to a stick usually, so the counting was an easy matter.
The southern part of Rhode Island is full of pleasant brooks and streams, many of them with lovely ponds, often full of lilies, with the water trickling idly over the old dams. Queen’s River is perhaps the longest, but Indian Run and Rocky Brook join the Saugatucket, which rises on the western slope of Tower Hill, to make a considerable river emptying into the Point Judith ponds. It was on this stream that “Benjamin Rodman and Daniel Williams began to make up their mill dams” on the twenty-sixth of March, 1784. The corn had to be ground for meal, and a grist mill was established. These dams were carried away in an August flood in 1795 and again in March, 1798. They were evidently built up again, but February 15, 1807, “William’s mill dam and Rodman’s mill dam went away last night occasioned by heavy rains.”
August 31, 1804, “Warner Knowles raised a Factory House yesterday by the Grist mill.” This was Benjamin Rodman’s mill to which Nailer Tom often brought corn to be ground into the white meal Shepherd Tom loves to call “ambrosia.” The new factory was evidently soon finished, for in September he writes, “carried my wife to see the carding machine; and November 20, Deborah Rodman hurt her hand very much with the carding machine.” This is the machine for which the receipt is preserved in the Hazard Memorial in Peace Dale, dated November 20, 1804, in which Jonathan Nichols sells to Rowland Hazard for two hundred dollars “all my right, title and interest of the first Carding Machine sett at South Kingstown at Rodman’s Mills in this State the year past with the avails or profits which are due me for the same, being one-third part of said machine, the other two-thirds I having sold to Joseph Congdon heretofore.”
With this interest in the new process, Rowland Hazard moved from Newport to what he named Peace Dale, in honor of his wife, Mary Peace, and bought Benjamin Rodman’s house. July 12, 1805, his family moved into it from Newport, and Warner Knowles began an addition to the house a fortnight later. The new machine was still dangerous. August 3, 1807, “Warner Knowle’s sister Elizabeth hurt her head with the carding machine.” And a year or two later Nailer Tom took Dr. George Hazard to see the carding machine, “He wanted to see her card.”
To this first carding machine in South Kingstown there was a notable addition. In 1813 Nailer Tom “went to the oil mill to see Thomas Williams weave by water – This was the first power loom, to which Rowland Hazard bought the rights in 1814. Thomas R. Williams on the eighteenth of January of that year, in consideration of the sum of one thousand five hundred dollars, “licensed and by these presents do licence and permit the said Rowland Hazard . . . four of the said water looms.” This is also a paper preserved in the Hazard Memorial in Peace Dale, and confirms the Diary.
But the trouble with the dam on the Saugatucket was not over. February 10, less than a month after the purchase of the looms in 1814, “Rowland Hazard’s mill dam went away last night”; and two years later a February flood carried it away again. In 1823 there was a heavy storm and “part of Isaac P. Hazard’s mill dam ” (which had been Rowland Hazard’s),”part of Asa Stedman’s and part of Thomas R. William’s dam went away,” and “son Thomas’ bridge” across the Saugatucket to his house and garden, where the Riverside Cemetery now is.
The Peace Dale Manufacturing Company was not incorporated till 1848, after Nailer Tom’s day, and the present dam on the Saugatucket has stood many years.
All who knew Nailer Tom spoke of his kindly nature, his gift of humorous anecdote, and his natural shrewdness. These qualities must often have been called into play in the many instances recorded of endeavoring to settle disputes. As an overseer of the Meeting, he walked fifteen or sixteen miles to treat with friends one afternoon; and he had much work as an administrator and guardian.
These are all referred to in the Diary. He was one of the men to take an inventory of the estate of College Tom. Elizabeth Hazard sent for him to come to see her, and he records spending the night at her house. In spite of his Quaker principles, he had one or two lawsuits, long drawn out, the one with Dr. Easton of Newport often taking him there, where he got depositions from various people. He gave evidence “in perpetual memory,” he wrote in 1820. These experiences made him something of a lawyer, and he drew people’s wills, as well as their teeth. He was on juries in Little Rest, once out all night on a case. He attended the sessions of court at Little Rest, and the Assembly, usually, when it was held there. He represented his town a few years, which took him to Providence, East Greenwich, and Newport, as well as to the beautiful old room in Kingston, now used as a library, which often saw him at the sessions of the legislature. Elisha R. Potter was his friend, and Wilkins Updike, the foremost lawyers of the time. His human interests are fully indicated in the entries of births, marriages, and deaths. He was also very exact, as when he recorded the death of a woman who had drowned herself. The next day a laconic denial is entered: “Misinformed, not so.”
This human side of his character is shown in his love of his family. That he and his wife went blackberrying or “agraping” is as important as any other entry. After her death, the children of his son Benjamin occupied him. A charming picture of the family is given on New Year’s Day, 1823, when he weighed the whole family. Daughter Hannah must have been a little woman. She was then thirty-two years old, and weighed only a hundred and five pounds; Granddaughter Sarah, who was eight years old, weighed sixty-two and a half pounds, and her sister Hannah, a little younger, fifty-two and a half. He puts his own weight down as a hundred and fifty-six pounds. He was then sixty-seven years old, and could not have been a very large man. Daughter Hannah, though a little woman, must have been clever. She kept school in her father’s house a couple of months each summer, as in 1823, or sometimes at Benjamin Curtis’s. She watched with the sick; she attended Meeting regularly, and was put on committees. Son Benjamin’s wife was not strong, apparently, and died January 3, 1820. Her sister Mary came to help with the children, and June 5, 1823, Benjamin married Elizabeth Earl in Swansea. Nailer Tom was there, and “brought Elizabeth and daughter Hannah home with me.” In the autumn, attending court to give evidence in a case, he had the pleasant relief of seeing a “larg number of Wild Beasts. Gave 25 cents for the site.”
There was a constant menace from overheating in winter. March 10, 1823, the house took fire on the south side and burned very badly. The ninth of the same month Rowland Hazard’s house took fire, and “son Benjamin and I went there to help put it out.” Coal brands, burnt in Edward Gavit’s coal pit, were still the fuel in 1820. He records getting “bushels of coal,” and cutting wood for coal every year.
From the time that Rowland Hazard, College Tom’s son, and his family came to live in Peace Dale in 1805 until they left it to go to Newport again in 1829 Nailer Tom was often with them. Almost always on a first day he dined or drank tea there, and they came often to his house. The daughters are all mentioned by name, the younger ones being about the age of his granddaughters, Sarah and Hannah, Son Benjamin’s children by his first wife. The sons were older, but, as young men from twenty to thirty, all seem to have enjoyed spending the evening with Nailer Tom. They brought their friends — William Rotch of New Bedford is mentioned, and Charles Hunter of Newport. Shepherd Tom (Thomas R. Hazard) says that Nailer Tom could tell a new story every day in the year, and he often is recorded as coming to the house. The ladies came, too, bringing their guests. Mary Bryan, from Charleston, and some of the younger Peace cousins came. The entertainment was constant. Sixteen people often dined with him on Monthly Meeting days. People dropped in for supper and for the night. Nailer Tom went to Little Rest to see Elisha R. Potter and “lodged there.” No indication of any preparation is given.
Time of Trouble
But things were not going so very well, apparently. Bedford Tom, from New York, writes to his brother Rowland, January 19, 1826: “I am sorry that surrounding circumstances should be such as to depress the spirits of our old friend and Cousin Thomas B. Hazard. His uprightness and integrity of character through a long life seem to deserve a better fate.” The next year Son Thomas was put in jail for debt. Rowland Hazard stood by and gave bond with Nailer Tom for him to have the liberty of the jail bounds, and in a few days he was discharged. In 1830 he was again arrested. Son Benjamin,also, was in trouble with a lawsuit which demanded many trips to Newport and to Little Rest by his father on his business. This also meant advancing money. September 27, 1828, “took for Son Benjamin $100 out of the Bank, and renewed his note for $42.” These were large sums when one considers the usual entries in the Diary. In 1826 a yard of wire was bought at three cents, and a quarter of a pound of raisins cost four and a half cents. Everything was on a small scale. In 1830 eight dozen eggs were sold for a bushel of corn. Notes of considerable size are recorded renewed, and though Son Benjamin had a judgment of $400, April 29, 1830, the following June 24, Nailer Tom went to Newport to settle his son’s accounts.
He was getting on in years, seventy-four years old in 1830, and had seen many changes. In his youth there was a store at Tower Hill, and one at Little Rest. Now several are mentioned — the factory store at Peace Dale, and, in 1824, one in Wakefield, where February 3 he “got of W. A. and Edward M. Robinson six cents worth Hippekeckoanna.” The descendant of this Robinson store is still an excellent one.
Edward Mott Robinson, one of the founders, has a special interest, as it was he who, following the example of Judge Sewall, left a school fund to the town of South Kingstown which is still productive and is used in the maintenance of the High School. His daughter,Hetty Robinson Green, became a very wealthy woman, and her son, following in his grandfather’s footsteps, has lately given a large sum to Wellesley College for an Administration Hall, to be called by her name. So closely does time weave the thread of life.
On an April day in 1818 Nailer Tom “let my wheels go to carry William Wilbur to the Grave,” and it seems as if they were often used as the time goes on, in spirit, if not literally. Cousin Thomas Hazard of New York (Bedford Tom) died July 24, 1828. A little later Nailer Tom “went to the Meeting House to show Jeremiah Knowles where to dig Jounice Congdon’s grave.”
But there were more cheerful things. September 22, 1828, “Went to Monthly Meeting. Wm. R. Hazard and Mary Wilbur had their answer.” And October 3, “Rowland G. Hazard brought his wife to his Father’s last 4th day from Pennsylvania.” In between these happy events he “eat watermellons with son Thomas.” That same year (1828) Son Benjamin carried his two daughters to the Friends School in Providence, Sarah and Hannah A. , and a month later, November 17, Nailer Tom “Slept and lodged at Friends School last night, dined at Rowland G. Hazard’s in Providence.” The girls,apparently, were at school two years. On December 12, 1830, they came home from Providence, being then about fourteen and sixteen years old. They were evidently a pleasure to Nailer Tom, and he records taking “my granddaughters” to various places to drink tea and spend the evening.
He was an intensely human person. In 1798, September 17, he solemnly records, “left off smoking.” But in 1805 the same entry comes, and to the end of his life he buys pipes, generally a dozen at a time, and tobacco. He raised a little tobacco, also, and occasionally paid for some work with a head of it. As time goes on a “jill of jin” or a “point of Rum” is bought. Cherry brandy is mentioned, and occasionally that he “kept house with lame foot. “Gout was considered a necessary evil, and he was soon walking again.
Nailer Tom loved his garden, and his friends. In the early days he got white roses from Beniamin Rodman’s to set out: Carolina musk melons, French turnips, and carrots were planted; onions, peas, and beets are mentioned. Cabbages were put in the cellar, and potatoes. He had fruit, also, and carried peaches to his friends. In 1824, “Robert Polock plowed my old garden to sow a nussery of apple trees.” Oats were borrowed and paid for — eight bushels in April to be paid for by ten bushels in the fall, rather a high rate of interest. Husking parties are mentioned, and apple-paring bees, when a large number of young people came to pare, quarter, and string the apples for drying.
He lived to see great changes. The Revolution and the War of 1812 he had known. travel was by sail-boat — the packet from Newport to Providence was a novelty in the early days — but in 1827 on the eighteenth of July he went from Newport to Providence in the “Steem boat Babcock, Captain Bliss.” It was not until some years later that Robert Taylor came to lodge with him and stayed several months. August 18, 1835, he records that Robert Taylor and family returned home after starting “the steem injoin at the factory.” The next day, August 19, the entry is complete: “They started the steam engine this day at Isaac P. Hazard’s factory.” In the early days there was hand spinning and weaving. Nailer Tom saw the carding machine set up, and the “water-weaving” power looms, and now the introduction of steam. The Peace Dale Mills were beginning their work.
More and more frequent are the entries of deaths. His friend and cousin Rowland Hazard had moved to Pleasant Valley in New York after leaving Peace Dale in 1829, but made him visits each year. April 4, 1834, he and his daughter Caroline, Rowland G. Hazard’s wife, spent the afternoon at Nailer Tom’s. He was “seventy-one years old this day,” the entry reads. The next year he spent several days lodging with Nailer Tom, in March and April, again spending his birthday with him. In July of that year he died. The entry comes as calmly as the others, July 4, 1835, recording his death on the first. There is no word of his feeling, but the sole entry for the next day is “not well.” All his sorrow, all his remembrance, find their only expression in that brief word.
In 1831 Dr. Wilbur begins to be mentioned. He inoculated son Benjamins two daughters for the kine-pox in August, and they saw much of him at the house; so one is prepared for the entry of January 4, 1838: “I went to meeting. Sarah Hazard and Dockter Wilbur was married. Many people was there.” The house was full, apparently, with the wedding guests. It proved a happy spring, with Sarah and the Doctor constantly at the house. Her sister Hannah became ill, and the watchers with her are recorded.
Death of Grand-daughters
July 8, 1838: “My Grand-daughter Hannah A. Hazard died this forenoon about ten o’clock aged twenty-one years and one month lacking one day.” Her funeral followed the next day, and Nailer Tom, in his own grief, went to Dr. Wilbur’s the following day to see his other granddaughter. He is still able to notice the external world. July 20, “The corn began to silk.” In October Sarah had a daughter born who died the same day. She herself was very ill. Daughter Hannah and her father both watched with her, and we may be sure her doctor husband used his utmost skill. But November 29,1838, “My Grand-daughter Wilbur died about half after three this afternoon.” So he was doubly bereft within six months.
The entries grow shorter. He goes to Meeting more regularly than in his active days, when he often records, “did not go to meeting, had chores to do” or “not well.” It is interesting to observe that the Saturday previous and the Monday following there is no indication of illness, and full days are recorded. The fifth day Meeting is more often attended, and the Monthly Meetings almost always. It was probably one of these occasions of which the story is told. One of the younger members who did not agree with him interrupted. Nailer Tom “fixed him with his eye and, motioning with his finger, said: ‘Sit down, William, sit down; thee has already said far more than thy capacity will warrant thee in saying.’”
The next year, 1839, a steam saw-mill is mentioned, and in April he went up to “the depo.” The Providence and Stonington Railroad was already running trains to Stonington one day and back to Providence the next.
End of the Diary
May 10, 1839: “The nabors met this evning to oppose seling Rum,” an early instance of a temperance meeting in which Son Benjamin was interested. In the beginning of autumn, September 4, there were “strange Northern lights last night.” His eye must have been undimmed, in spite of his eighty-three years. The entries grow still shorter, often no more than a word of the weather; and June 13, 1840, one reads, “I began my Diary the 28 of June 1778 and stopt this day. “In spite of this, there are a few more entries — six for July, the same number for August, ten in September, and four and five, respectively, in October and November.
But he had still five years to live. His great-granddaughter Sarah, Son Thomas’ granddaughter, told me that in 1845 he was wanted at the Hopkinton Quarterly Meeting for some important business. He shrank from so considerable a journey, but was over-persuaded. It proved to be his last earthly Meeting; for he fell ill, and died in Hopkinton, September 28, 1845.
Here in his journal, covering sixty-two years, is the condensed story of his life; and not only of his life but the life of his community. It is a minute chronicle of homely goings and comings, of sales and bargains, of births and deaths. How did they live, these forebears of ours, in our own countryside, looking upon the same streams and ponds and ocean which we see today? The chronicle of their marriage and giving in marriage, of their planting and reaping, of their horses and cattle, of their hens and turkeys, of their geese marked by clipping the nail of the middle toe of the web — all these are here. An expert could make a genealogical table from these records, an economist find the curve of price levels. It is dry reading, dry as dust, unless one can look behind and beyond the written word and feel the human kindness which received “two nagar boys” to lodge with the same courtesy that was offered Congressman Jonathan. Life must have been hard. The stove was moved for winter, and again in summer; the house banked up with seaweed against the snow; the pig had to be put in the cellar some days to keep from freezing. But the corn began to silk, and there were strange northern lights. It was a broad, free, universal life, unlimited by class distinctions, with the Friends ministers, who “preached powerfully,” showing the imminence of Divine life.
Notes About the Book
- 808 pages 29 cm
- “Four hundred copies printed.”
- Copyright not renewed as per Stanford database.
- Damaged pages.