Judith Sargent Murray Society
JSM's dates: 1751-1820
The Repository. No. XVII.
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This essay appeared in the February 1794 edition of the Massachusetts Magazine under the name "Constantia." It was written, however, in 1775. The Loyalist couple described here are Judith's uncle and aunt Epes Sargent and Catharine Osborne Sargent. They did leave Gloucester for Boston for their safety, and contemplated relocating to Halifax as many Loyalists did. Instead, not wanting to leave their families, they returned to Gloucester to take their chances. Before Epes Sargent died of small pox, he was instrumental in helping to establish Gloucester's Universalist congregation.

The Sargent family's experience illustrates the extent to which the American Revolution really was a Civil War that tore families apart. Two of Judith's Sargent uncles supported the British side, and left the country. She never saw her uncles or their families again.

The Repository. No. XVII.
(Written at a period of our late contest with Great Britain, replete with apprehension and distress.)

It is a delightful morning -- a few clouds seemed to chase each other athwart the sky -- but the rising sun hath dispersed them, and it hath spread the firmament with the brightest azure: -- So, just so, may we not suppose that the great, the glorious Son of righteousness will, on the auspicious day of the restitution of all things, dispel the clouds, clear up every doubt, and wipe away every tear, from the faces of the then not sorrowing family of man.

The feathered songsters have been hours since hymning their great Creator -- their sweet and harmonizing melody charms me as I write. Ethereal airs breathe on me their chaste and salutary influence, and soft is the breath of gentle zephyr. Order, at this present, seems constituted regent of the natural world; but all man, savage man -- who, as if the day was too short for their hostile triumph, are already parading our streets, proudly exulting with their instruments of death towering in the air. How have we exchanged the delightful scenes of peace and security, for all the horrors of war, and of civil war too! Parents draw the sword to sheathe it in the bosom of their enraged children! And children are aiming at the hoary heads of those who are the authors of their being! -- O my Country, how art thou deluged in blood! -- how art thou torn by intestine tumults! -- Who but must wish for some Days-Man to step between, and reconcile the contending parties -- heal, heal these disorders, Oh our God, we humbly beseech thee -- save our political world for thy great mercies' sake, and say unto this our nation, Learn war no more.

Great is the anarchy and confusion which prevails: Lawless power hath exalted itself, and sitting as supreme judge, it wantonly tries, and condemns all whom ignorance and prejudice audaciously arraign. I tremble for myself, I tremble for my friends, tenderly attached to many persons warmly engaged in opposite parties, by consequence my spirit must be greatly agitated. This Massachusetts test act, arbitrary in its designation, encroaching even upon the liberty of reflection, and, if carried into execution, destructive of the most upright among us. Two persons I know, of unblemished integrity; they are among the dearest of my friends; they have not been active in the present contest; much have they contributed to the public weal; yet their sentiments correspond not with the popular measures; but they presume not to oppose, they wish only to preserve unbroken silence; in the decline of life they are only solicitous to pass the remainder of their days amid the sweets of calm retirement and of friendship.

They wish not to embark on the troubled ocean of politics; hitherto they have persevered in the path of rectitude; their moral characters are irreproachable -- amiable pair, how have they been admired at the head of their family -- as parents, as master, as mistress, as most bountiful benefactors to the sons and daughters of adversity: Full often have they dried the swoln eye of sorrow, and soothed the heart that was well near bursting with anguish: Their hospitable mansion was well known to the stranger and the captive, and with them amity hath taken up her abode, yet they have already suffered many indignities, the gothic mob have assaulted and insulted them, and this arbitrary act, unprecedented in civilized annals, and summoning the secrets of the soul, will compel them to wander in a state of exile far from their peaceful home. Well assured of their unyielding veracity, that they will never stoop to a public avowal of sentiments foreign to their hearts; already their children, and their friends, croud around them, as if the moment to bid them a last, solemn adieu, was even now arrived. To banish the man of virtue is surely impolitic -- at an advanced time of life too, and for no one crime. Thought, merely opinion, ought never to be subject to human jurisdiction -- for the freeborn soul will still assert her right.

Yet if they must be exiled, they would consider it as mitigation, might they be permitted to retire to some part of America, for Europe, they mildly observe, will be distancing them too far from those who are very, very dear to their hearts. Surely the face of this once peaceful village, is already sufficiently changed. The habitations where heretofore Friendship, and her sister Peace, with smiling competency, went hand in hand, are now desolate, forsaken and forlorn -- how dreary towers the deserted mansions -- once indeed they were famed for hospitality -- but now -- Can this be the cheerful village? are these the happy dwellings? Where, alas! are the banished inhabitants? -- if they were lodged in the silent tomb, reason, by degrees, would cease to lament them, and we should hail them happy upon the shore of immortality -- but they are driven hence by hostile terror, they have fled to preserve their persons from the calamities of war -- they are wretched dependents upon a false, and an ungrateful world. Cease thou sovereign of the British world -- cease thy proclamations, lend a compassionate ear to thy still petitioning subjects -- see, we are harrassed, feattered, and suffering -- final destruction probably awaits.

Oh Britain! Oh America! adopt, for your bleeding countries' sake, adopt conciliating measures, if ye would not that impending ruin should speedily fall upon your wretched son, your wretched daughters -- confusion, we repeat, prevails: No energetic Legislature -- the barriers of the law are thrown down -- licentiousness, with baleful influence, becomes triumphant, and every neighbour may safely purloin each other! The good are tired of this bad world, and, for me, my coward soul shrinks from, and trembles at, the prospect which is opening. What a dreary wilderness this globe! My full heart joins issue with the Poet, and, adopting his language, can experimentally say -- I have indeed grasped the shadows, and I have found them air, lighter than air, altogether vanity; if I had weighed them ere my fond embraces what darts of agony had missed my soul.



2007 © Bonnie Hurd Smith

Independent scholar and author Bonnie Hurd Smith is the president and CEO of History Smiths, a marketing company that works with businesses to incorporate history -- their own and their community's -- into their branding, marketing, and community outreach to attract customers, boost customer loyalty, and secure a high status reputation in the communities they serve.